Academic (Non)Sense

11 Feb

So this pops up in my Facebook feed, this morning. Go read it first.

There’s a question this guy has to ask himself, one that doesn’t seem to have crossed his mind. If it had been a white student instead of a black student, would he have done the same thing?

If the answer to that question is yes, then he has nothing to reproach himself for.

There’s two points here. The micro point and the macro point.

Going to college, or university, is nothing like buying a new car. You’re not buying a product, but a service. What use you make out of it is up to you. As I noted earlier, what you get out of education depends – very much so – on what you put into it. Paying out vast sums of money to go to a university is nothing more than a waste, if you spend your time having parties instead of actually studying. The tutors are there to help you, but you’re the one who has to do the work.

Now, lectures are rarely one-on-one. A lecturer has to give a talk to a large group of students, who need to focus on his words. A student who comes in late, plays with his iPod or chats merrily in the background is a distraction. Their actions will make it harder for other students to learn. Maybe allowances should be made for a student who is late once (although, by the law of averages, there’ll be a late student every class) but a lecturer has every right to question the commitment of a student who is repeatedly late.

Being on time, believe it or not, is a valuable skill. Employers do not, as a general rule, take an employee’s circumstances into account when they are repeatedly late. If you turn up for your 9-5 job at 9.30 or later, regularly, your employer will eventually sack you.

I’ve heard that a number of diversity training officers (a profession that makes traffic wardens look decent) are pushing the idea that being late is part of black culture. That is simply not true – it is merely making excuses for people who are pushing the limits, not doing anything to actually tackle the problem. Being late at university may have no consequences, but being late in the workforce can result in early and permanent unemployment.

The problem here is that tutors are being deprived of the ability to give feedback – or punished if they do give honest feedback. Students who are allowed to slide because they can claim ‘victimhood’ status are in for a nasty surprise, when they enter the workforce. Reprimanding a black student (or any student) for being late is not racist, but simple practicality. If nothing else, the student will be distracting other students from learning.

There’s a difference, an all-important difference, between picking on someone because of their skin colour (or whatever) and reprimanding them for their behaviour. Students in America and the West are growing increasingly unable or unwilling to tell the difference, unable or unwilling to recognise that their own behaviour gets them into trouble. And political correctness makes it impossible for tutors to stand up and actually tell their charges the truth. They are physically adults, but mentally children.

Academia can only work when it is solidly focused on a culture of merit. Skin colour does not matter. Gender and sexual orientation does not matter. The only thing that matters is being able to do the work.

The macro point is a little more complex.

People who are unwilling to come to terms with the true cause of a problem – let alone cope with it unflinchingly – have a habit of making excuses. In this case, the writer excuses his students by asserting that they are the victims of systematic discrimination. Leaving the validity of that point aside, does that excuse their behaviour?

It is unfortunately true that people who are treated badly at one point in their lives often treat other people badly as they grow up. Victims of child abuse often become victimisers themselves; the bullied often become the bullies. This happens for several reasons, ranging from a belief that this is actually normal to a burning hatred against society or a simple desire to exert a little control in their lives. A person who has been bullied savagely will often lose the ability to empathise with others.

I can – I do – feel sorry for a person who has been victimised. But I don’t think that excuses their behaviour towards others.

Severus Snape is a good example of precisely why this sort of behaviour is so toxic. Snape is a great character, but a horrible teacher. He was bullied relentlessly by Harry’s father, which drove him towards the Death Eaters (who else was going to protect him?) … but he takes his anger out on Harry. James Potter was an unrepentant bully, yet Harry – despite his flaws – is nothing like his father. And yet a great many fans excuse Snape for his behaviour.

The author asks what perspectives [non-white students] bring to the class. This is one of the core arguments in favour of ‘diversity,’ but it is badly flawed (particularly in the hard sciences). The laws of science work exactly the same for black people as they do for white people. Two plus two is always four, regardless of who’s doing the counting. Science is a constant process of discovery; a theory is proposed, tested and then either kept or discarded. Science demands merit, not social justice.

And even the soft sciences (should) have the same requirement. The law should be blind. Murder is murder, regardless of who was killed, by whom. A black man being killed by a white man is as serious as a white man being killed by a black man. The law should not be interpreted differently, depending on who is involved. And even gender studies and religious studies require a certain ability to comprehend and contextualise that is often alien to their students.

But social justice proponents have systematically undermined the whole concept by introducing so-called ‘diversity’ into academia and the workforce. In teaching students (and everyone else) that they have no control over their lives, that they are the victims of racism or sexism (or anything else along the same lines), they have undermined the concept of personal responsibility – and personal improvement. The idea that a student should be held accountable for his failings is impossible for them to grasp when they are too busy making excuses for their behaviour. Instead, they want sympathy for First World Problems.

The blunt truth is that sympathy has its limits. Someone who wallows in their own victimhood is going to receive less and less sympathy as their life goes on, as people who are forced to listen to them lose patience. That someone went through hell does not automatically provide an excuse for bad behaviour – and victimhood is not, in a rational world, an excuse for anything.

In education, the only thing that matters is merit. What you get out of education depends, very much, on what you put in. That’s a simple fact …

… And far too many students don’t even begin to understand it.

Thunderbirds Are Go Season One

10 Feb

Comparing Thunderbirds Are Go to the live-action Thunderbirds movie is like comparing cream to excrement. There just isn’t any reasonable comparison. But comparing Thunderbirds Are Go to the original Thunderbirds series is much more productive. On one hand, the animated show is very much a genuine remake of the series that captures the charm and grace of the original, but – on the other hand – it does have problems of its own.

(Before you go any father, read my original review here. I’m being a little more negative in this article.)

The original series worked, as a general rule, because it never talked down to kids. Thunderbirds was never a show where the evil plots of adult gangsters were foiled by a bunch of meddling brats. It was a show about adults, even as it was aimed at children. The handful of children who did appear in the series were children, not mini-adults. (This is part of the reason the movie flopped.) Overall, Thunderbirds Are Go manages to avoid that pitfall (mostly). But it does have some problems that need to be acknowledged.

The first one, perhaps, is that the writers are trying to cram too much into fairly short episodes (the original series episodes were twice as long). This means that a number of plotlines are mentioned, then discarded; there just isn’t the time to explore them properly. When an episode is focused on a single problem, that doesn’t matter so much, but when there needs to be two plots running in tandem, one suffers more than the other. This is particularly noticeable in Chain Of Command, where Lady Penelope’s investigation into Colonel Janus takes second place to International Rescue’s troubled attempt to carry out a mission. (The same sidelining of the Lady Penelope plot can also be seen in Under Pressure.) There just isn’t the time for moments of introspection intermingled with action.

The second is the show’s treatment of its female characters, which is partly a regression from its roots. The first Lady Penelope was a middle-aged woman who was a cool, composed secret agent, effortlessly balancing her life with her work. Thunderbirds Are Go has a girl who is, at most, in her early twenties, who sounds faintly ridiculous when compared to the original character. (She acts like a film star, complete with a tiny doggie.) The relationship between her and Parker feels off to me; there’s no reason why he would respect her, not when he’s clearly a great deal older and more mature (and I don’t think she respects him that much). There is an attempt to explain this, by suggesting that it was Penny’s father who recruited Parker rather than Penny herself, but it isn’t convincing.

Kayo has a slightly different problem. The original format of the show didn’t have a place for her, leaving her as the Sixth Ranger. She’s much more of a badass than Penny, but like far too many ‘strong female characters’ she was created without much of an idea of what the writers could actually do with her. She is, in fact, largely missing from much of the show. The tension she feels because of her heritage – she’s the Hood’s niece – is artificial. There’s nothing stopping her from telling the Tracy brothers long before it blows up in her face – and Grandma Tracy, who already knows, would have backed her up. Again, this is something that could probably have been solved with longer episodes – the two-part Ring of Fire managed to showcase each of the characters very well.

The third is that the show does have some pretty odd (and jarring) morals for children.

Gerry Anderson was a product of a time where science and technology was the answer to everything, particularly atomic power. The original Thunderbirds were all piloted by atomic power, along with many other vehicles. Thunderbirds Are Go, however, has a strong anti-nuke message that, quite frankly, grates. (I’d be more forgiving if it was a pro-fusion message, I suppose, but there’s no hint of what replaces nuclear power.) And then the episode where the power goes out in London leaves Virgil (normally the level-headed one) fretting over how much he relies on technology. It’s a pretty silly moral when International Rescue can only operate because of its high technology. Without Thunderbird Two, Virgil struggles to carry out a rescue that would have been easy with his mighty ship.

And then there’s the episode where Virgil comes home, on his birthday, to discover that his family have eaten all the cake while he was out, a rather OOC moment for the Tracy brothers …

The fourth is that a couple of episodes are very definitely more aimed at children than adults. A particular offender is Designated Driver, which has an absurd premise (Alan, who flies a rocket ship and various pod-vehicles, learning to drive FAB-1) and includes a great deal of slapstick humour that fails to amuse. Ned (who has had at least three different jobs, as the plot demands) talks to his potted plant (and it seems to talk back). And what looks like Parker preparing to beat information out of a security guard turns into said guard having his photograph taken with Penny’s dog. (Said dog is also prone to chewing on Parker’s trousers at bad moments.)

Overall, Thunderbirds Are Go is definitely a fun way to spend half an hour. But it doesn’t quite come up to the standards of the original series.

In Contempt

8 Feb

I have a terrible confession to make.

When the original Sad Puppies kicked off, I wasn’t too concerned.

I wasn’t concerned because, frankly, I had lost interest in the Hugo Awards long ago. The early winners were often great books, but after 2001 the only winner that – I felt – actually deserved it’s award was Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell. A Hugo no longer indicated good science-fiction or fantasy to me. My favourite authors were rarely nominated for the award, let alone victors.

What changed my mind, I think, was the response of the Puppy-Kickers to the Sad Puppies.

There is a bit of me that likes to consider itself a gentleman. Not in the sense of having aristocratic blood – perish the thought; my origins are distinctly middle-class – but in the sense of playing the game fairly. One does not win a game of chess by smashing the board; one does not win a debate by knocking out the other debater and holding the judges at gunpoint until they agree to vote according to my wishes. There is a difference between ‘I disagree with you’ and ‘you are the enemy who must be crushed and broken.’

I see that there are legitimate and illegitimate ways to debate. Discussing matters openly may make some people uncomfortable, but it brings issues into the light that have to be considered. One should always allow one’s opponent room to retreat, room to admit he was wrong without (metaphorically) kicking him while he’s down. A person who disagrees with me does not have to be treated as the enemy. He may have a different viewpoint, he may be reasoning from incorrect data (or I may be reasoning from incorrect data myself), he may merely be playing devil’s advocate … it does not make him the enemy.

Illegitimate forms of debate, on the other hand, are nasty. Personal attacks; accusing your opponent of being racist/sexist/etc. Mocking the messenger, mocking his sources, mocking him; linking his name with evil people. (“You’re a vegetarian. So was Adolf Hitler. Ergo, you are the same as Hitler!!!!”) Misrepresenting his words, taking them out of context or flat-out lying about them. Appealing to authority; begging the moderators (or whatever) to silence dissent on spurious grounds. And so on, and so on; anything but addressing the issue in question.

Such people may be trolls or they may genuinely believe that their opponent is truly evil, but it doesn’t matter. I have nothing but contempt for those who use such attacks and for those who enable them.

The Puppy-Kickers indulged in such attacks repeatedly. Suggesting, for example, that a white man married to a black woman, with a mixed-race kid, is a racist is not only absurd, it’s the kind of behaviour that is utterly contemptible. (And, for obvious reasons, it’s not the sort of behaviour I want to encourage.) Branding Vox Day everything unpleasant under the sun, then threatening to smear everyone else unless they disowned him … those are tactics right out of the Soviet Union’s playbook. Calling the Sad Puppies ‘a bunch of white men’ when it wouldn’t take more than ten minutes to disprove the assertion …

… And, above all, complaining loudly about the Sad Puppies engaging in the same behaviour as themselves for years (and only doing a better job of it.)

Like I said, such attacks are contemptible. And they moved me from not really caring – most writers would prefer to sell a thousand books without an award than ten books with an award – to genuinely hoping that the Sad Puppies proved their point.

This is not the only contemptible issue that has popped up over the last year.

One goes to university/college to learn, to expand one’s mind … what is the point of demanding ‘safe spaces?’ Apparently, academic freedom – the freedom to enquire – is not as important as shielding particularly dunderheaded students from opinions that (horror of horrors) disagree with theirs. Now, if someone is idiotic enough to want to be treated as a child, that’s their problem. I am a firm believer that consenting adults can do whatever they like – in private. But I can never respect someone who goes to college and demands a ‘safe space,’ or whines about ‘micro-aggressions,’ or tries to get someone expelled or fired for expressing a dissident opinion. It’s contemptible.

Hilary Clinton – a front-runner in the latest presidential election – breaks the rules in a staggering fashion (after making sure that a number of peons were punished for far lesser breaches) and yet somehow manages to carry on. The mere fact that Hilary established an insecure server to store classified documents is a criminal offence in its own right. There is a very good chance – perhaps an utter certainty – that that server was leaking American secrets to Russia, China and every other country that dislikes the United States. And yet she’s still in the race for the White House!

And so on. I could give a dozen examples of particularly contemptible behaviour over the last year without breaking a sweat.

Contempt is a dangerous emotion. I may dislike someone, I may outright hate someone, without holding them in contempt. But when I feel contempt, I tune that person out completely. I refuse to believe that they have anything worthwhile to say. Their opinions simply do not matter because I have reached a point where I believe their opinions are useless, silly or dangerous. What is the point of listening to someone who uses tactics I deem illegitimate?

And that can be a dangerous attitude.

If someone tells me something I know to be a lie and expects me to swallow it uncritically, instead of debating the point, I will hold that person in contempt. If that person, instead of accepting my right to disagree, tries to silence me, I will hold that person in contempt. And if that person, instead of trying to convince me he’s right, attacks my reputation by spreading lies and suchlike, I will hold that person in contempt. I will not, I cannot, accept that someone has the right to dictate what I think, or say, or do, on a personal level.

Right now, I think there is a growing majority of people who have just had enough of contemptible social movements, everything from ‘political correctness’ to ‘social justice warriors.’ Those people are simply tuning out the nonsense, bitterly resenting having to pay attention to absurdities and having to watch what they say, for fear that someone – somewhere – will be offended. Very few people genuinely believe that being a victim is a badge of honour. Nor do they believe that one should ‘respect’ the ‘unrespectable’.

Call me a cynic if you like, but the sheer level of bitterly-repressed contempt is likely to do a great deal of damage, when it finally bursts free. But really, that’s what you get when you try to keep people from speaking their minds.

UP NOW–Vanguard (Ark Royal VII)

1 Feb

The third trilogy in the hit ‘Ark Royal’ series begins now!

HMS Vanguard is the most powerful battleship ever to be commissioned by the Royal Navy, but she is not a happy ship. Her commanding officer is eccentric, rarely seen on the bridge; her former XO has deserted his post and her first middy is resentful because he hasn’t been promoted as he deserves …

But when a first contact mission goes badly wrong, HMS Vanguard and her crew are plunged into an interstellar war against a new and deadly alien threat.

And if they don’t make it back to friendly space in time, they will merely be the first to die in a new interstellar war.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase the book from Amazon  (US/UK/CAN/AUST) NOW!

 

Oh No More Updates …

30 Jan

Hi, everyone – just some minor updates.

First, Vanguard goes live on 01/02/2016. Feel free to pre-order it from Amazon now (links and free sample HERE).

Second, paperback copies of Hard Lessons, The Black Sheep and Storm Front are now available from CreateSpace. Signed copies will be available from me personally, soon.

Third, an audio version of Never Surrender is up for pre-order now. Audio versions of A Learning Experience and Schooled In Magic books are on the way.

Fourth, as I keep being asked this question, the current schedule is Sons of Liberty (underway), They Shall Not Pass (TEC 12), Infinite Regress (SIM 9), Chosen of the Valkyries (Twilight 2) and [classified] (SIM 10).

Fifth, I’m currently sketching out notes for a couple of new stand-alone books; more on those later.

And finally, check out my Facebook fan page for a great free offer!

Chris

Cuckservative: How "Conservatives" Betrayed America

30 Jan

-Vox Day, John Red Eagle

If there is nothing else that can be said about Vox Day – and a great deal of nonsense has been written about him – it is that his mere existence is a testament to the damage done to free speech and common sense by the politically-correct. To try to avoid giving unnecessary offense is a laudable goal, but to declare whole fields of study verboten because of the potential for offense is just plain stupid. Worse, perhaps, when the difference between words and reality becomes impossible to avoid, it undermines faith, the faith we need to keep our society running. Reality does not change on command.

After the runaway bestseller SJWs Always Lie (reviewed here), Vox Day tackles two subjects that don’t, on first glance, seem to go together. On one hand, there is the tidal wave of immigration pouring into America (and Europe) and, on the other hand, there is the supine surrender of American Conservatives to liberal thoughts and ideals that have very little relationship to reality. These people have become known as ‘Cuckservatives’ – a combination of ‘cuckoo’ and ‘conservative’ and the fact that the word itself has been declared offensive tells you a great deal about its power.

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A cuckold is a man who, unknowingly, raises the child of another man as his own. (The word itself comes from the cuckoo’s habit of laying its eggs in another bird’s nest, then relying on the mama bird to raise the baby cuckoos (at the expense of its own) until the babies are large enough to flee the nest.) A Cuckservative, not to put too fine a point on it, is a Liberal pretending to be a Conservative, a person who may stand for election (in America) as a Republican, but upon being elected acts as a Democrat. These people are also known as RINOs; Republicans In Name Only. The charge is that Cuckservatives not only betray the people who elected them, but the country itself.

This is most prominent when it comes to immigration. Vast numbers of Americans (and Europeans) want the doors slammed shut, while their elites want the doors left open. It doesn’t seem to occur to the elites that allowing vast numbers of people from a different cultural background into America (or Europe) does not automatically make them good citizens. Vox is at pains to deconstruct both the ‘magic dirt’ and ‘blank slate’ theories, although neither theory stands up to even the slightest hint of examination. The American ‘melting pot’ worked, at least in part, because immigrants were not only separated from their homelands by vast oceans (no longer a problem, thanks to air travel) but forced to blend in to get along. Even then, there were problems, most notably when the immigrants couldn’t hope to pass for locals.

As has been noted elsewhere, Vox illustrates how the charge of ‘racist’ has been used to silence opposition to everything from immigration to multiculturalism. By declaring whole fields of study off-limits (as I noted in the first part of this review) the elites only created a vast mass of seething citizens who were unable to articulate their concerns – or were attacked savagely, when they dared. The logic of this is not only hazy, but non-existent. One simply does not have a country if one cannot control who enters, let alone enforce the laws in large swathes of the land. The idea that denying immigration rights is somehow racist is thoroughly absurd.

This largely accounts for the rise of Donald Trump, whose defiance of the elites has turned him into a (somewhat unexpected) champion of people who feel themselves downtrodden and ignored by the elites. Frustration with the elites and fear of the enemy within have pushed Trump up to the point where he is a serious contender for President, even though he might well make a poor President.

At base, the interests of the elites and the people they represent have shifted. The elites get to feel good about themselves (as well as getting cheap labour) while the people they represent get shafted. Quite apart from the social problems, an influx of cheap labour makes it harder for uneducated natives to get work, turning them against the immigrants. The conviction that immigrants get everything on a silver spoon, while hard-working natives get nothing, is lethal, even if it isn’t true.

It is worth noting that Vox overlooks two separate aspects of the ‘Cuckservative.’ The first is the nature of American politics, which has been a two-party system for centuries. A ‘Republican’ or a ‘Democrat’ may be very different from his fellows, but still under the same tent, thus we have Jeb Bush and Donald Trump, or Hilary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. The various politics thus blur together as the party prepares for the next election.

The second, perhaps more corrosive, is that elites generally meet other elites. Jeb Bush has far more in common with Hilary Clinton than he has with Joe Average. There is an understandable inclination to please those who are closest to them, particularly when they are living away from their states. This would be bad enough, but it also works on an international scale. Their perception of foreigners may be driven by people who were educated in America (majored in Western Hypocrisy?) and know how to present themselves to Westerners. Thus Hilary Clinton can meet with a diplomat from a country where women are chattel and genuinely get along with him, even though he is not representative of his country.

Coping with this problem requires constant refreshing of the tree of politics, by refusing to re-elect politicians for more than two terms in office. But I rather doubt that any politician will genuinely propose term limits for anyone.

Overall, like its predecessor, Cuckservative is a must-read. You may not agree with Vox Day (the person or the straw demon portrayed by his detractors), but you should consider his arguments before choosing to dismiss them. At least you’ll know what you chose to dismiss.

Not A Zero-Sum Game

22 Jan

I had a discussion with someone about publishing, promotion and suchlike that led to this article <grin>.

A year or so ago, there was a brief buzz about an article that insisted that JK Rowling should stop producing books because other writers needed a shot at the golden ring. The article attracted a great deal of scorn, understandably. Why should JK Rowling stop writing when she has literally millions of fans?

The odd thing about it, at least when it comes to traditional publishing, is that the author had a point.

Baen Books, the smallest of the big publishers, puts out around six books a month. They also have a handful of writers – David Weber, John Ringo, Eric Flint – who are heads and shoulders above the rest, in terms of books sold. If Baen had a choice between a new Weber book and a book by an unknown author, which one do you think they’d choose to publish? Baen is pretty much the best major publisher at finding and putting out new authors, but I’d be surprised if they chose to skip a Weber book for an unknown. Tor, too, would be foolish to put an unknown in front of George RR Martin or Brandon Sanderson. They need to make a profit.

This happens, at least in part, because publishing a book can be expensive. Traditional publishers pay for everything, from heavy-duty editing to producing paperback books and paying the author a small advance. Even the biggest publishing firms cannot publish too many books in one month for fear of over-extending themselves. Therefore, in traditional publishing, there is a case to be made that established authors freeze newcomers out of the field.

But this simply isn’t true of indie publishing.

People read faster than authors can produce novels. That is a simple fact. No author, not even JK Rowling, has fans who are devoted to her and her alone. I don’t believe there were many Harry Potter fans who read nothing else between the publication of Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, or gave up reading when the series finally came to an end. No, they went out and looked for other books to read. JK Rowling kick-started hundreds of thousands of kids into reading books, but she didn’t keep them all to herself. No author could hope to produce enough books to do that. Even if they did, I doubt many traditional publishers could handle it.

Traditional publishing does produce winners and losers. A famous author will get far more promotion than a newcomer. And yes, some of those authors will be unjustly treated because they have the misfortune to be competing with someone who started out by selling better before they ever got into the field. Traditional publishing is a zero sum game. The books have to be balanced.

This is not true of indie publishing.

Indie publishing has two great advantages over traditional publishing. First, anyone can publish a book (this is, of course a great downside too) at minimal cost. Second, the field is so large that one writer doesn’t dominate the field simply by existing.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I am not in cutthroat competition with Chris Kennedy, James Young or any other indie author you care to mention. My success doesn’t overshadow them; their success doesn’t overshadow me. None of us really benefits from engaging in genteel backstabbing as there is nothing to be gained by it. We are not in direct competition over a scarce handful of publishing slots or promotional efforts. The field of customers is immensely vast and, more importantly, it is not exclusive. I can’t hog all my readers to myself even if I wanted to.

A handful of newcomers to the field don’t seem to grasp that, I will admit. There is no shortage of stories about ‘kindle authors behaving badly.’ Getting published traditionally tends to give newcomers a maturity that many kindle authors lack. But I think that most kindle authors recognise that they are not playing in a zero-sum game. There is room enough for everyone.

There are other advantages, of course. There are no gatekeepers. In traditional publishing, books can be rejected because the editor was having a bad day or the writer’s politics clashed strongly with the editor’s. Though indie publishing, the author can appeal directly to potential fans and build a reputation that isn’t dependent on any publisher. But, most of all, there is room enough for everyone. Success – or failure – no longer rides on a publisher.

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