Friday, April 18, 2014

Vilification: The Easiest Way to Win an Argument

I see one liners and memes on social media all of the time. The purpose of these is to make a point. But what point are they trying to make?

Let's talk vaccination. There is a debate on whether or not its good for children. Some parents feel it can be harmful. Others feel it's more harmful (for everyone's kids) not to.
So how should this be discussed? I would assume through documented research, appropriate analysis, and a discourse on freedom and responsibility. Instead, we get memes.
Those on the side of vaccination will throw around pics of anti-vax-er, Jenny MacCarthy, with phrases like, "not a doctor." Then comes the one-liner about anti-vaccination being based on a, "singular, debunked study." My favorite, however, was the comparison to allergy rules in public schools, in which the person asks, "why can't my kid bring peanut-butter to school, but yours can be a petri-dish for disease?"

This all leads to an educated response, right? Sometimes. Though, often, drawn out explanations will include the outrage of being spoken too like a villain, and the questioning of the intelligence of those who are pro vaccination. And of course, out come the memes for their side. There will be a picture of actress Mayim Bialik (famous for her role as Blossom, but also a neuroscientist), with her quotes on why she doesn't vaccinate. Then comes the one-liner, "if vaccinations are so great, why are you scared your kid will catch something from mine?"

I'm not trying to debate vaccinations here, but it's a hot topic that perfectly illustrates this point. Rather than discuss a situation, have a spirited debate, and agree to disagree, it has become one said explaining how idiotic the other side is for not thinking the way they do.
Maybe that doesn't sound like vilification, but in American rhetoric, it's the stupid people who ruin it for everyone else. It's the idiots who don't vaccinate that cause your children to come down with illness, or so they would have you believe.

And why is this the case? Because it's easier to vilify someone than it is to persuade them. This is everywhere in politics. Republicans aren't trying to save the lives of unborn children, they actually hate women. Democrats aren't trying provide quality healthcare, they're purposefully creating a welfare state. Christians hate gays. Muslims are terrorists. Don't like global warming and you're a science denier. Etc, etc, etc.

But who is this rhetoric for? No one can possibly believe suggesting someone is stupid, ignorant, or intentionally evil, would make them change their minds about their stance.
Really, it's for two people. First, it's for those who agree with the author/sharer if the statement. It's meant to get them to pass it along, and reinforce that they are good, smart people, because they believe the way this meme suggests they should (which is kind of ironic).
Second, it's for those on the fence because they don't know what to believe. It's meant to shame them for ever being open minded about the subject. It's meant to scare them into being labeled as stupid, as a sheep, or as a hater. Like the cowboy with the cigarette, it's meant to show them how cool they can be, simply by hitting the like button. It's about bullying them into conforming

The discussion of America today disgusts me. Everything is rhetoric, satire, or hateful. We belittle each other in the name of comedy, and when someone is called on it, they tell you to lighten up. But these aren't laughing matters. They are every day decisions that shouldn't be dictated by social media popularity, or comedy central ratings. They should be informed decisions, that are respected by our peers, even when in disagreement. And our motives should not be in question. We should not be called evil for taking a different path, nor should we lay that charge against others.

I hope I see a day when respect joins our conversations. I hope that I can live up to my own standards.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Making the Right Decisions

Let me tell you something I love about my wife. We were at comic con this past weekend, which was expensive, when we came across forty dollars on the ground. That could be enough to buy some more merch, or claim back what we spent on an autograph.
My wife immediately knew what to do with the cash. She took it to a convention worker to place in lost in found. "I wouldn't feel right spending it," she said, though we both understood there wasn't much likelihood it would get to its owner.
This was a perfect opportunity to claim we had been blessed to find the cash, and allow it to enhance our experience. But when I thought about how I would have felt to lose that much, knowing what I would have spent it on, it would have been the wrong thing to do.

A few days later I was doing our taxes. Every year I buy and sell stock, maybe eight shares, and it has to get claimed on the taxes. It never impacts our taxes by more than $20, but it is kind of confusing, and I was doing our taxes myself for the first time in six years. When I went to add them in, it increased the cost of the tax software by $25, and decreased our refund by the aforementioned $20. I really wanted to just wipe it off, and save the cash. It seemed like a lot to pay to just have to owe the government a little more. Additionally, I hate the tax system, and think it to be unfair and evil, so to cheat it for $45 is easily justifiable. Instead, I did what I was supposed to, and lost the money.

I'm not writing this because I want people who read it to know how, "righteous," my wife and I are. The truth is, I've made a number of bad decisions in this regard. I've stolen and cheated in the past. I've found nothing in it but regret and consequence. It felt really good to be able to say we did the right things in this regard, which carries me a lot farther than the money we could have walked away with. And, it encourages me, that when the stakes are higher, I'll be able to make the right decision then too.

I understand that being faithful in the small choices isn't exclusive to be faithful in the big ones, but it certainly helps. You see how it effects you, and how it doesn't. It's like practice. Anything can be justified, but what good is it if you have to convince yourself that what you're doing is okay? It's better to do what you know is right, rather than come up with a reason another action is good enough.

Monday, March 17, 2014

New Approach and Familiar Responses

Whenever I'm working on a writing project set in a fictional world, of my design, I struggle to keep a good idea of where everything is, the geography, and so on. In the past, I've attempted to make maps with shapes in Pages, but, as is the case with any software I've tried, I feel the page isn't big enough. Everything always feels smushed on the screen.

So, I went to Wal-Mart (don't tell anyone I still shop there), and bought this giant pad of paper. It's the gray, news print style. Fairly cheap, and very effective for mapping. I hope to use it for more than mapping, though. I also like to draw out timelines, or connect the dot's on characters and plot points in a visual manor. I think this may help.

As for the, "familiar response," the story I submitted on Friday was rejected. The editor simple said, "(it) didn't work for me." I guess that's okay. I did feel it was fairly strong, so I really need to examine my current writing, and pinpoint what is and isn't working. Is it the characters? The plot? The way I word it? The pacing? etc. It's difficult to grow without a lot of professional feedback. I'm not asking for a point by point slideshow (or anything for that matter) from the publishers, as I know they are busy. I would just like to learn, somehow, about how to improve in this craft, and how to know when you've actually improved.

That's all for this evening. Goodnight.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

New Projects and Submissions

I've been meaning to post here for a couple weeks, but haven't gotten around to it. First, I was going to publish a political piece, but thought better of it with the advice of some friends and family. After that, I thought I'd do another video game diary, discussing the less than finer points of overall great games. But that didn't happen either.

As it turns out, just after I began writing the aforementioned article, a friend reached out looking for contributors to a fan review site. Obliging, I began to rethink if I should put video game reviews here, or keep them for that site. I've decided to put that review info there, and, maybe, sometimes, link to it here, if I want to do that.

Because of that decision, I haven't had much to write about in this blog, and have been focusing on that one instead. My goal is to still post here a minimum of once a week, if not more. We shall see how that goes.

The site I'm contributing to is called It's new, and still getting some polish, but we hope for it to take off soon.

In other news, I submitted a new short story yesterday. I wrote it up in the fall, then set it aside. Later, I found a posting on Duotrope Digest that I thought it would be perfect for, so I polished it and sent it in.

What I enjoyed most about this story was trying a new perspective. I love writing first person, and know I have to write more third person, but this was second person. Which, I thought, was fun. Shortly after submitting it, I read one of the codas from the end of Redshirts, by John Scalzi. It was also written in second person, but I felt mine was better. Which was odd to think I had out-written a successful author.

When I hear back, I'll be sure to update. Until then, check out my reviews at the link above.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Witcher Meets Snow White?

I've begun reading The Final Wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski, and so far, I like it. I decided to read the book after playing the gam The Witcher, a polish made PC game following Geralt, the hero (or anti hero) of the story. It wasn't until I had started the game that I discovered it was tied to a series of stories.

I'm only a hundred pages in, but I've noticed Andrzej did something very interesting. His monster hunting hero is crossing paths with famous fairy tails, retold to match the dark and mature content included throughout.

It started with a story involving a man cursed to live looking like a beast, with added strength, and magical powers over his mansion. He was cursed by a priestess, and he grows roses in his garden. I thought to myself that it sounded like Beauty and the Beast, or at least contained some of the same symbols and concepts.

Now I'm on a story that included a stepmother queen who uses a magic mirror, and tried to have a hunter kill her stepdaughter. The daughter survives and takes up with seven gnomes. It was then that I understood what the author was doing.

Hopefully this trend continues as I finish the book.

Monday, February 17, 2014

We Fight (Flash Fiction)

* The following is a flash fiction story I wrote during our trip to Disney World. I wanted to find a place to submit for publishing, but have decided instead to share it here. I hope you enjoy it.

We Fight

"Fight me!"
His challenge echoes around us. There is no fear in his voice. He charges, but I am faster. My hand comes like lightning, knocking him off his feet. I grip the corner of a makeshift weapon with my freehand, bringing it down on top of him.
As quickly as I struck, he is back on his feet. He collects his own weapon, identical to mine, and almost as tall as he is. More than twice his size, I tower over him, but he does not care. I am a mountain to be climbed. I am a lion to be tamed. I am a giant, and he a young shepherd, destined to one day be king.
He charges again, flailing his weapon, but I snatch it as I knock him down again. He is up for another charge, but I have his weapon and my own. They meet, with him between them, bringing him down yet again. And yet again, he rises.
I throw the weapons down, and pick him up with one hand. With little effort, I hoist him onto my shoulder, then flip him forward. He spins in the air, landing squarely on his back. He gets up again, laughing at my efforts.
"Come and get me!" he yells, still unfazed by my size and strength.
We continue this dance, sometimes with our weapons, sometimes with our bare hands. Occasionally I let him past my guard that he may land a blow, but it causes me no harm, and the outcome remains the same.  He, however, laughs, continuing to challenge, never seeming tired. It is clear he does not fight for the victory. He does not desire to smite me to the ground, standing over me haughtily. He fights for the joy. The excitement of the battle. Even in defeat he is undefeated. The fight is what he wants, and more so, he wants to fight me. The battle is special to me as well.
I pick him up again, and flip him once more. He summersaults through the air like an acrobat off a trampoline, landing on his back as he has many times already. This time he pauses. He lays for a moment, finally tired, and puts his thumb in his mouth.
I change in an instant. My arms, which had brought him down, now lift him up and cradle him. We lay on the bed that was our battle mat. Our pillows, once weapons, are firm beneath our heads
"We snuggle now, Daddy?" He asks, thumb still in his mouth.
"Yeah, Son," I reply, "we snuggle now."
My heart is overcome by his, and he has wrestled his victory from me. I would have it no other way.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

An Open Letter to my Local Barnes and Noble

Dear B&N,

Ever since the demise of Borders, I have found myself in your store with increased frequency. When I want to purchase a book, there is no better place around that I know of. The Starbucks Coffee helps too.

As is my custom in any bookstore, I often start in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy section, looking over all of the books for sale. I start with the new books, and once I finish that shelf, I always go straight to the W section. What I find there always leaves me perturbed.

I always find a copy of each book in Brent Weeks Night Angel Trilogy. My wife really enjoys those books. Additionally, you have several books by Tad Williams, whose work I have never read, but I understand to be considered very good. The Once and Future King, by T.H. White is there too, a classic for sure. Sometimes there will be multiple versions of this, different covers, and such. Then there are couple of random books by people whose last name also ends in W tucked in-between.

The above books fill an entire shelf, but you have two shelves of books by authors with a last name that starts with W. The entire first shelf of the Ws consists of one singular author. David Weber.

I have nothing against David Weber. I have not read any of his work. I had to look him up on Wikipedia to even know anything about him. He seems like a very interesting guy. He has written a number of paperback books, most famously, a sic-fi militaristic series about a female officer named Honor Harrington.

Now, these may be fantastic books, by a fantastic writer, but I have to question your decision to fill an entire shelf with just these books. Consider that each shelf is roughly two to three feet long. You have four to six feet of shelf space for the Ws, and you have chosen to give half to David Weber books. I know he is a national bestseller (now that I've looked him up), but are you sure this was the best idea?

Consider this, that you have given one whole shelf to Weber, but have neglected to stock a single book by Gene Wolfe. Mr. Wolfe is only considered to be one of the greatest living writers alive today, with a list of award winning books that are incredibly important to the genre. Take his New Sun series, one of the greatest blending of sic-fi and fantasy ever witnessed on paper. Or the follow up series, the Book of the Long Sun, equally fantastic and praised.

Want something more straight fantasy? The Wizard Knight books take an ordinary kid, place him in a strange and mid-evil new world, where he meets a cast of classic fantasy type creatures, though reimagined as only Wolfe can imagine them. Your shoppers are hurting for this series and they don't even know it.

Want a brilliant pirate story with elements of time travel? Try Pirate Freedom. Want to follow the adventures of a Roman Mercenary who suffers from amnesia? Try Latro in the Mist. Want something more modern? How about Peace. Don't forget The Sorcerers House, Free Live Free, or An Evil Guest. And his newest book, The Land Across, would have popped as a hardback on your shelf for new releases. I looked when it came out, but it wasn't there.

In short, it bothers me that you never have any books by Gene Wolfe. He is one of the greatest writers of all time, and his work should be available for purchase wherever books are sold. That includes the B&N by my house.

Keep a shelf dedicated to David Weber. That's fine. But open up a third shelf of Wolfe books, and introduce your shoppers to the best stuff they will ever read.