Your Politics Suck

Willy Wonka explains it allMost of you reading this live somewhere with free speech. This is wonderful. It turns Orwell’s vision of Big Brother on its ear because while Big Brother is watching, he’s seeing a lot of middle fingers waved at him.

However…

Let’s talk about social media, shall we? I get that you’re passionate about your beliefs. It’s why too many atheists sound like Jehovah’s Witnesses these days.

“Religion is the root of all bigotry and hatred in the world.”

That’s nice, dude, but I only asked if you liked the Seahawks in next week’s game.

I tend to ignore religious posts. The point of most religions, including atheism, is “Don’t be an asshole. You’re not that important,” a universal and undeniable truth. What are people usually mad about? Other people being assholes. Sometimes, it’s assholes arguing with other assholes. Sometimes, I’m even an asshole, though I try not to be.

And then we come to politics. I submit that politics, not religion, makes for the most morally bankrupt posts on social media. Why? Let’s look at Mr. Webster’s fine book on what words mean, shall we? Here’s the online entry for politics:

Most of you think you’re “debating” this:
1a:  the art or science of government
What you’re really ranting (I won’t dignify it calling it “debating”):
3c: political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices

And so we get Facebook walls full of such egregiously stupid things as “Obama is a socialist” (posted normally by people who could not define socialism if you put a gun to their head) or some faux outrage from salon.com pointing out that Mitch McConnell forgot to wipe his ass once in the Senate restroom before shaking hands with the Pope.

Enough.

Let’s be clear at something. 75% of political posts on Facebook have nothing to do with facts, or the facts are conveniently chosen with no context. The most benign quotes are spun in the worst possible light. And how about that rant you posted two days ago on Rand Paul or Hillary Clinton that just got debunked on snopes.com? Why don’t you feel like the idiot you just made out of yourself?

I don’t believe in grand conspiracies. They require too much cooperation and effort on the part of people who frankly don’t give a damn about each other’s interests, let alone yours. I do believe in trends, however, and every outrageous factoid you post is carefully designed to stir up your outrage and get you frothing at the mouth so you’ll vote against whoever it is that’s against whomever the source loves/works for. That’s not a conspiracy, kids. That’s marketing. It’s the same reason you know the Golden Arches mean fast food along that lonely stretch of Interstate. It’s why some of you buy into the Cult of Apple while Samsung makes billions off some of you who hate it. Marketing.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s your willing participation in the process. Stop that.

Now I’m not going to insult your intelligence telling you I’m objective. I’m not. It’s no secret I lean left, though I’m not sure I’m quite left enough to be called liberal. I openly mock a lot of conservative posters because they tend to post the most nakedly stupid things on Facebook. But…

You may be surprised to learn that I’ve unfriended and unfollowed more people who agree with my views than those who oppose them. Why?

Tell me, why do I want to wallow in your hatred and negativity when I don’t want to listen to theirs? All you do is feed the machine campaign managers depend upon. Why is it okay for you to post questionable facts and passive-aggressive bullshit, but not the other person? Doesn’t that make you just like the person you despise? What, exactly, are you trying to accomplish? To impress your like-minded friends? How do you think we got a useless Congress in the first place. If you foam and froth at the mouth at the slightest provocation, those tasked with getting politicians elected are going to see that as a valid means of getting the job done.

The question you must ask yourself is this: Does this accomplish anything besides expressing whatever outrage I’ve been told I have this morning? If the answer is no, you screwed up.

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Repost: A Very Kenwood Christmas

My first Christmas in Cincinnati found me doing my first ever Christmas Eve shopping dash.  I ended up at Kenwood Towne Center, the mall nearest the then-inlaws’ place.  Big mistake.  In looking for a parking place, I wound up in a standoff with another guy waiting for the same parking space to open.

I stared.  He stared.  Somewhere nearby, a car stereo blared the theme from A Fistful of Dollars. Finally, the car pulled out and away.  It was on.

Or was it?

Before I or my nemesis could get our feet off our respective brakes, two women in expensive sedans whipped around us and shot into the same parking space.  Or tried to.

As Michio Kaku will explain on his many television appearances, two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  What a waste of a Lexus and a BMW.

My nemesis and I got out, looked at each other, then watched the two vicious ladies cuss each other out.  One of these ladies was a eucharistic minister at my church at the time.

“You know,” I said to my nemesis, “it’s really not a bad day to walk.”

“I’m parking over by the Kroger,” he said.

“I’ll join you.”

Half the Kroger lot was empty.  Nemesis and I parked without incident or conflict.

I suspect the two ladies got lumps of coal in their stockings.

You Are Not Victims. Get Over It.

There’s a growing debate in social media these days about geek culture and whether or not it is under siege. It’s risen to new heights of hysteria as one gaming critic received death threats and had to leave her home temporarily for the safety of her family. What’s going on?

Well, for a certain subset of geek culture, the move to the mainstream threatens their very identity. And therein lies the flaw. The culture itself is not under threat. If anything, it’s growing, changing, becoming more interesting and more relevant. ComicCon is covered the way rock concerts and fashion shows were once on MTV. It’s hip to be seen with Chris Pine or Peter Dinklage or Hugh Jackman. It’s cool to dress up as your favorite Game of Thrones character or Batman at a large gathering. Suddenly, the public gets the whole Halloween all year vibe of geek culture. Cosplay is in. Video games are in. Scifi/fantasy/horror are in. Wil Wheaton, who spent years taking flack for playing one of the least liked characters on a Star Trek series is rapidly becoming the next Jon Stewart. Welcome to the new age, my friends.

So why the hate?

When I first got into IT back in the nineties, computers were becoming mainstream, and there was a certain degree of this sort of angst around it by people who hunkered down and did arcane things with the pre-Netscape Internet, with distant Unix boxes, and with cryptic command-line operating systems. Now PC’s and even Linux boxes started to look like Macs. “Oh, noze,” they cried. “Everyone can do this now. We’re not special anymore!”

Since I got into the technology realm in the mid-1990’s, I had no stake in the “old ways.” If someone told me to quit using a mouse and use the DOS prompt on a PC, I looked at them like they were stupid. They certainly were telling me stupid things. But the mouse represented change, and not the cool kind of change like big hard drives and high-speed Internet brought. Those icky muggles now knew how to do magic. Ew!

Eventually, that went away, and to some degree, the novelty for the non-technically inclined went away as well. I used to have a rule that, if you graduated high school after me, you had damn well better know where the Start button was, what it could do, and, oh, you also forfeited the right to complain when I said “Reboot” sometime around the Y2K changeover. The old guard looked at these things as secrets of a mystic art. I looked at it (admittedly being an arrogant ass in the process) as a benchmark one needs to function in the modern era. We got more than three channels on the TV, Corky. Better master that remote or no HBO for you.

So it is with geekdom. One columnist complained that too many hot chicks were wearing costumes at conventions without earning their geek cred. Said columnist got his ass handed to him by John Scalzi, whose initiation into geekery happened roughly at the same time as mine did (even though John is younger.) As creator of the Old Man’s War series, a noted expert on all things scifi, a Heinlein scholar, creative consultant for one of the Stargate series, and probably the most popular SF author today, Scalzi made two declarations that, I’m sorry, but are not open for debate: 1.) Anyone who wants to be a geek is a geek. No exceptions; 2.) there is no king of the geeks (though Wil Wheaton could make a case) nor any rules for initiation. It is not a closed society. It is not a mystic cult.

And therein is the parallel to the technology sector in the 1990’s. Long time geeks don’t like all this change!

Man up, buttercup. When you go mainstream, you have to open the gates. Otherwise, you’re no better than those idiots in pretentious literary circles sniffing their own farts and sneering at anything that doesn’t sound like Hemingway or Faulkner and whining if their work does something horrifying like sell over 10,000 copies. (I’m looking at YOU, Franzen, you self-absorbed pretentious hack!) You are no longer the outsiders. Isn’t that what you’ve been pining for? Acceptance? Respect? A little bon ami for whatever franchise it is that you love?

Well, here’s the second part I alluded to earlier. There’s a culture of victimhood in geekery. Not every geek has thought this way. I did cosplay back in the 1990’s when it was “grownups in silly costumes.” And it was fun. It let me blow off steam. It gave me (Surprise!) social skills. But there were plenty of folks in that then-smaller community that felt slighted by the mainstream. They felt hurt to be ridiculed, and much of it was carry-over from adolescence and childhood, when a love of Star Trek or Star Wars replaced the mandatory love of the NFL. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were supposed to be your gods, not Captain Kirk and Han Solo.

And I get that. I was not the most athletic child. I sucked at baseball. (A few dozen men who played Little League with me are reading this and going, “No! Really?” One star pitcher reminds me of it on my birthday every year as a joke.) I found solace in Star Trek, in the monster movies on Saturday afternoons, in repeated viewings of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back on HBO when we first had it. I loved this stuff. I wanted to make up my own.

And then, as a young adult, I fell in with the Trekkies. Often ridiculed, most of them didn’t care. We had a blast together, and it was about more than the television show. I drifted into the Klingon fan groups because, frankly, they threw better parties and were better draws for charity events. Plus, you haven’t lived until you and several of your friends barge into a Denny’s dressed as alien berserkers and growl at the manager, “We demand finger food! Bring us pudding!”

But there’s that obsessive component of which the victim mentality plays into. Fandom began to suck up all my time. The politics of the clubs started intruding on other aspects of my life. I was going broke trying to pay for all the gear it took to be a Klingon, and, alarmingly, I had little time to actually watch the show we all claimed to love. One day, I posted my farewell on a local Fidonet bulletin board, took my costume (which a few fanatics insisted I call a “uniform”), and dumped it in the Salvation Army clothing bin, latex forehead and all.

I have never taken so much flack for a decision in my life. When someone called or emailed me, hurt that I’d turned my back on the group, I said, “I’m in debt. I need to go to school and learn some skills. And I need to have time to myself that’s not devoted to a television show you guys won’t give me time to watch.”

“But that’s not fair!”

No, working sixty hours a week at three jobs for two years so I could catch up on my debts was not fair. Driving cars that were expensive rolling death traps bought for less than I now pay on my mortgage each month wasn’t fair. Having no social life beyond the group wasn’t fair. Even the most fanatical churches acknowledge you have a life beyond the sanctuary (unless it’s a cult.) All this did was bolster my decision to leave. Too many people made it central to their lives, and I, having been vetted and approved to join the sacred congregation, was a traitor.

Some of those people I still called friend afterward. One of them is an online member of my current writer’s group. But the mentality is still there across all franchises and formats, from gaming to movies to comic books and beyond. A small group of hardcore fans feels threatened that they’re suddenly not special anymore. And that victimhood of being outsiders is a huge component of that core belief.

All I have to say, having been in that world and having fond memories of most of it is…

The only threat to geek culture are the hardcore fanatics who can’t stand change. If you want to know what’s threatening your culture?

Go look in the mirror.

 

Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys.

The title of today’s blog post comes from the inimitable Chuck Wendig, who has had it up to here with the whole Amazon-Hachette thing. The last straw was a long, rambling, barely coherent email sent to Amazon KDP authors (myself included, even though I took The Compleat Winter out of the program a couple months ago) asking for independent authors’ support of Amazon in their struggle against Hachette.

As I said, I got the email. I mostly skimmed it. In fact, Gmail treated it as spam. I had to double-check it.

Here’s the deal. First off, Amazon is not the only place on Teh Intrawebs to buy books. Not even close. It’s just the biggest and the most user friendly. I say this as I’m about to use an Amazon gift card to order John Scalzi’s latest, Lock In. But I can go to Barnes & Noble either online or wait until my scifi writers group meets next weekend. Or Indiepub. Or Powell’s. Or hey, lookie here. There’s a Books-a-Million ten minutes from my office and a Joseph-Beth’s nearby where I frequently have met John Scalzi in person.So the idea that Amazon is cutting Hachette out of the loop is complete and utter bullshit.

Some say that I should boycott Amazon to support Hachette authors. First off, see above. If you haven’t figured that one out yet, please stop trying to prove your intellectual cred. You clearly have none. Second, you would be asking me, as an independent writer, to cut off my nose despite my face. I’m fond of my nose. My wife is fond of my nose. My nose stays. You’re just not that important, and anyway, see above. If I really want that Hachette book, I’ll get my hands on it. Amazon is not that omnipotent.

But…

Amazon is not all. It is not omnipotent. It’s just freaking huge. No need to bow and worship it. So when the email came through, my attitude was “Really? You’re going to tell someone what price they can sell their product?” Even Walmart has to face the possibility that a supplier will simply tell them “Screw you.” They frequently do. It even happens to Starbucks, a much more responsible big company (healthcare for part-timers, fair trade coffee, college tuition for employees). So why does Amazon feel they are a victim if Walmart and Starbucks (and I suspect a dozen other huge ass retailers) just shrug this off? They want a monopoly? Hello, Mr. Bezos. I’d like to direct your attention to the half-dozen or so biographies of President Benjamin Harrison listed on your fine web site. Ben signed a law that says you can’t do that. Go ask BP North America (formerly Standard Oil). Go ask IBM. Go ask AT&T. Ask Microsoft. And yes, two of those companies got their corporate asses kicked by Republicans, one of them Ronald Reagan. So, no, Adam Smith did not say you could bogart the market artificially.

But why hammer on indie writers? We don’t care. We have no horse in this race. If Hachette never sells another book on Amazon… Well, goodie. More room for me. If Hachette boycotts Amazon, hey, guess what? Walmart sells books. Apple sells ebooks. And guess who wins if this scenario happens? Independent bookstores, who would love a new way to compete. It’s likely they will eventually own the print book market in the near future, particularly if Barnes & Noble fails to emerge from their current downward spiral.

So as a reader, this really does nothing for me. Amazon is not the only place I get my books. As a writer… Well, if the agent I’m courting gets me a deal with Hachette, well…  Eons ago, I signed at a handful of Barnes & Noble stores. I can always link to them and go to their stores. No biggie.

Here’s the real deal: Amazon is TimeWarner. Or Comcast. Or Dish. Or DirecTV. They’re a conduit into my house for literary crack. Hachette is Disney. Or NBCUniversal. Or CBS. Or whoever owns your local TV station. This is the battle between who supplies your TV and who supplies your favorite programming to them. At the end of the day, both sides are evil simply for allowing this to happen.

Only it’s hard to bypass your cable/satellite/fiber op provider. I can buy books just about anywhere.

Here’s an original thought. Try not screwing over your authors or your customers, because really, we don’t give a damn about you. We just don’t. Capitalism functions on buyers coming to the market to obtain goods. Amazon, Hachette, you’re in the market’s way, you filthy communists you.

Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

Recruiters: Pay Close Attention

There seems to be a growing arrogance in IT recruiters these days. They contact you at work or during business hours on the attitude that you need them more than they need you. Which is funny because, when I get the call, I notice that I already have a job.

But it goes beyond that. In 2010, I was laid off from BigHugeCo, the discreetly aliased Fortune 500 company where I worked for 10 years. For about six months, I was able to live off desktop support contracts and severance pay. Then I signed on with Medishack, and just my LinkedIn profile (which you can’t see from here, so don’t look) indicated a change in my focus. I now listed my specialties as C# and SQL development.

Understandably, I got phone calls asking if I wanted to do desktop support for about a year after I took that job. But then something strange happened. I got a call from the receptionist saying my “friend” Ben wanted to talk to me. This was about six months into the new job. Ben finally got through, scolded me for not putting my cell phone on my LinkedIn profile, and insisted I needed to interview with his client located a mere ten minutes from my house. I’d have loved to look at that job, but 1.) I had just started this new job and wasn’t ready to abandon it, and 2.) why would I trust someone who had to lie their way to my direct extension? I told Ben thanks but no thanks. He left me with a warning about missed opportunities. Well, that wouldn’t be the first time.

Ben’s company called again, and I finally shot the firm an email telling them that getting me fired was not going to make me amenable to interviewing with their client. Thankfully, I’m blacklisted with them.

With my new job, it gets even more interesting. I’m the first direct hire with BigTinyTechCorp (again, an alias) in about five years. During the interview process, I noticed an uptick in recruiter calls. A few became specific about where I would interview: An e-commerce company in the northern suburbs. The job description sounded exactly like…

My new job. I even got a call after I turned in my notice about this very company. Sigh. All that tells me is the contracting firm did not do their homework regarding the company, never mind me as a potential prospect.

But it gets more interesting, my friends. All my job board profiles (which have been turned off for over a year) say “Not willing to relocate.” I keep getting emails about an immediate need for a 6 month contract-to-hire development job in Columbus/Chicago/Dallas/Seattle/Vladivostok. During my unemployment, a recruiter also scolded me for going to night school as it interfered with my ability to do the job he wanted me to interview for (which was outside my skill set). Another suggested I should take a pay cut because “it’s a really good company.” (Hint: A really good company is going to pay me more to leave.)

So recruiters, if you’re reading this, listen up. You need us more than we need you. You need a commission. We need a paycheck, which, by the way, is much easier in 2014 to find than it was in 2010. I found my current job because my employer’s HR department did their homework. I found my last job because I networked. My first manager at Medishack was a coworker at BigHugeCo, which I also found because someone recommended me to take over their job. And don’t tell me it’s a great opportunity if it’s a Java development job, and I’ve been writing C# for several years now. When I say “No relocation,” your job prospect had goddamn well better say “Cincinnati” or show up on Google maps as within 30 minutes of my Zip Code.

Do your homework. Stop alienating prospects. You’ll make more money, and your prospects will be happier.

Get Back In Your Box. Get! Get! Get!

Wonka lays down the smackI had to double check the source of this article when I read it. Ruth Graham suggests that we, as adults, should be embarrassed to read YA fiction. Yes, it’s normally reasonable The Slate, not salon.com which will fight to the death its right to condescend to you over the most trivial offenses.

Ms. Graham’s premise is this: Those books aren’t written for you (unless you’re 12-17). You can’t relate.

Uh-huh. Well, here we are, ten years after JK Rowling killed her last wizard, and many readers who were adults when the original books were out are demanding more. They don’t see it as a supernatural version of Degrassi Junior High. The see it for what it is: An epic along the lines of Game of Thrones.

I suppose I should let sleeping dogs lie, but this article really incenses me. It’s entire premise is “Don’t read certain things. They’re not fashionable.”

Ladies and gentlemen, screw fashion. Fashion is for shallow pinheads who want their worlds all orderly and categorized. Really? Hey, sweetie, I’m a college senior pushing fifty. Categorize that. And if you categorize it as pathetic, I am legally entitled to be extremely rude to you.

It seems like every we turn around, someone is offended by someone else’s stubborn refusal to conform. I’m trying to find an upside to this idea. There isn’t one.

We want people to read more. Ms. Graham, acting more like a teen than teens who read YA, wants us all to stay in our little cliques. Guess I’m supposed to go read some manly stories.

Ms. Graham suggests that it’s embarrassing for adults to read something like The Hunger Games or Divergent. May I humbly suggest we ought to be more embarrassed by the hate-filled political screeds we read under the guise of “nonfiction”? Or what about the irritating and self-important need for literary writers to complain that no one wants to read their highly stylized, long-winded doorstops about…  Well, let’s see, I made it through 11 pages of The Corrections before throwing it across the room, and yet Jonathan Franzen still insists he’s a really important writer and whines that people are reading the wrong books.

Let me be blunt here. If you have to tell everyone else what is “proper” to read, you’re irrelevant.

The War On The War On Christmas

This is your only warning. I use “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” interchangeably. If you take that as an opportunity to go off on a rant about how I used the wrong one, I will punch you in the throat.

The fact is if you have to make the holiday season part of your culture wars, you have failed miserably to understand the season. It is a time for finding the best in people. If your default position is to go off on some self-righteous tirade about how you’re somehow being attacked because someone doesn’t do it the way you want, you are a very bad person. No one is stopping you from saying “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Just because someone doesn’t do things the way you think they should does not mean you’re way of life is under attack. Leave that bullshit to overpaid pundits who make their living scaring people into buying foot powder. ‘Kay?

Happy Holidays, folks. And have a Merry Christmas.

gbeck

Study on it. Pray on it.