Posted by: New Class Traitor | January 28, 2016

Foreboding

I have been filled with a sense of foreboding recently.

The lib-left Inner Party has been overreaching and playing with fire. Soon they may get a reward they never bargained for, and the rest of us may get a cure that is as bad as the disease.

When you have insanity like this going on (just the most recent of heaps of examples)

SIGNS OF CIVILIZATIONAL COLLAPSE: Danish teen fought off her attacker – now she’ll face fine… via

And anybody who speaks up is shouted down by tarring them with the “R”, “S”, or “H” scarlet letters, eventually people get so angry that they will glom onto the first demagogue who dares say out loud what they themselves are thinking, and who does not try to wish the elephant in the room away (or worse, play a shell game with it).

Furthermore, when you keep trying to muzzle people by speciously accusing them of being “racists”, “sexists”, “homophobes”,… eventually some will say “I may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb” and join truly unsavory elements.

All of this is utterly predictable to anyone with an elemental feel for mass psychology. Hence the rise of a blowhard demagogue like Trump. Note that I am not accusing him of being the R, S, or H words – I think Trump’s entire ideology starts and ends with his own 0bama-sized ego. Nature abhors a vacuum, Trump saw it, filled the void, and is obtaining the narcissistic supply from it he seeks. Think of the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of Star Trek (TOS), and what 0bama would look like in the parallel universe where Spock had a beard.

Trump may not get the nomination. If he does, he stands a very serious chance of being elected. Contrary to the prejudices of some, this prospect is giving many constitutional conservatives sleepless nights. A number of years ago, a dystopian novel named “Caliphate” (Baen Free Library Link) was published which prefigured not only the rise of an ISIS-like movement but also the rise to power of a populist politician who promptly proceeds to use the legal and bureaucratic tools put in place by his lib-left predecessor against the ones who created them in the first place.

 

And that is just the US. In Europe, I see similar things happening. Sane liberals, moderates, and constitutional conservatives alike watch in horror as a three-cornered psychodrama unfolds: between an ever more delusional looney left out-virtue-signaling each other; an ever more psychotic Islamofascism; and a yearning for/resurgence of authoritarian populist-right strongmen.

Cinema buffs may know the following eerie Chopin Prelude (No. 2 in A minor) from the Ingmar Bergman movie “Autumn Sonata”. All the preludes were given nicknames in Hans von Bülow’s edition (e.g. the “Raindrop” for No. 15 in Db major). This one was given the heading “Todesahnung”, German for “foreboding of death”.

I’m a natural “dark optimist” — worried about things that can go wrong, wanting to stitch in time to save nine, but fundamentally with a deep sense thing will turn out alright in the end.

But like in the hoary Jewish joke, “you think it’s easy being an optimist?”

 

Posted by: New Class Traitor | January 26, 2016

Publishers, you need to hear this

The same sort of hidebound small-mindedness that is decimating the music industry is now doing the same for publishing. Meanwhile, production values of Big Five books keep declining while those of indie books keep improving. Another chapter in the Chronicle of a Death Foretold

madgeniusclub

It continues to amaze me that now, years after e-books became a viable alternative to printed books, we are still having discussions about e-book pricing. When you look at what the Big 5 are saying about e-book sales vs what you see in the Author Earnings reports, you have to ask if they are operating in different worlds, maybe even universes. One tells us that e-book sales are slowing to the point of almost being flat. The other tells us the opposite. You look at the best seller lists on Amazon and you see more and more mid and small press books — as well as indie — finding their way onto the lists. So who is right?

If you want to be honest, both are. I have no doubt sales for Big 5 e-books are slowing. All you have to do is look at the pricing of their e-books…

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Within a couple of days, both of the co-moderators of CLFA (Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance) had noteworthy books come out, one indie, the other published under the auspices of Amazon’s own Kindle Press. Kindle Unlimited subscribers can enjoy both books for free. If you do not own a Kindle, official reader apps are available for all major computer and mobile device OSes.

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Chasing Freedom” ($2.99 on Kindle, $10.99 in paperback),  Marina Fontaine’s powerful debut novel, was seeded by a short story submitted to a flash fiction context at Liberty Island. The story itself does not appear in the book, but the premises of its world building are rooted in it.

The novel is a near-future dystopia, but a very realistic one. Technology features, but all of it extant and in use as of the time of writing. As the author herself puts it, you can’t have much technological progress in a society where creativity is stifled.

The government is ‘elected’ between nominally ‘different’ Tweedledee and Tweedledum parties. In practice, it is best described as ‘soft totalitarian’. It holds an iron grip on both the flow of information and the lives of its subjects. Suburbs have been forcibly emptied out in the name of ‘restoring the environment’, with most people living in micro-apartments in overcrowded cities, eating subsistence-level processed rations. Healthcare is spotty and heavily rationed. The population resorts to a variety of coping and avoidance mechanisms that sound familiar to anyone who has lived in the former USSR or one of its satellite states. (Marina emigrated to the USA as a young adult.)

A Russian author invariably evokes images of very long novels that move at a glacial pace. As the fictional Howard Anderson quipped to his former operations officer, admiral Ivan Antonov, in “The Stars At War”:

“I read a Russian novel once,” Anderson cut in bleakly. “People with unpronounceable names did nothing for seven hundred and eighty-three pages, after which somebody’s aunt died.”

Not this novel. It is written very tightly (though not unpleasantly so), with essentially no fluff. The author was almost apologetic about its ‘short’ length, until I pointed out her book is about the same length as “Brave New World”, about 65K words (roughly the median length of novels on Amazon).

If you need superpowers, over-the-top action, and improbable Mary Sue superheroes to enjoy your fiction, go elsewhere. One of the most refreshing features to me was the novel’s realism: the protagonists are clever and resourceful but not implausibly so, while the antagonists are not ‘love-to-hate’ cartoon villains but ordinary, flawed people who gradually sell their soul to an inhuman system.
Marina writes like a native speaker. I could only find one typo: “his metal state”, which may have been Freudian, considering Marina’s musical predilections.

I read the book in two sittings and enjoyed the heck out of it.

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In contrast, Kia Heavey’s third novel “Domino” is a tale set in the animal kingdom. Its device of anthropomorphism in animals goes back to at least Aesop’s Fables — fittingly, Kyriaki (Kia) is of Greek heritage herself. Unlike Marina’s independently published novel, this book was published by Amazon under its own Kindle Press imprint after being nominated through the Kindle Scout program.

The eponymous protagonist is a tomcat keeping the suburban house of his mistress free of mice and rats. He lives in an uneasy truce with the dog and protects the chicken coop against small predators. In the process he makes the acquaintance of a mysterious but beguiling female feline who lives and hunts in the wild. The cats have an informal social life of sorts.

Then a mysterious feline orator named “Socrates” moves into the neighborhood, and starts preaching a message of coexistence between cats and rats. This ‘community organizer’, if you like, is manipulated by a couple of rodents through stroking his enormous intellectual and moral vanity. (Sounds familiar?)

Soon the entire neighborhood is predictably infested with rodents, who then start nibbling away (literally and metaphorically) at the lives of the others and upsetting the local equilibrium.

The theme of ‘social justice’ being imposed by moral preeners who need not live with the consequences, or make any of the sacrifices, runs strong. It gets to the point where cats with kittens are forced to feed ratlings out of ‘fairness’ even when they can hardly keep their own alive.

It is difficult to talk more about the plot without leaving spoilers. Suffice to say, the tale is well told, at a fairly brisk pace, and its denouement surprising.

One need not be a cat person to enjoy this book: I’m a lifelong dog person and was quickly drawn in, to furious yips and howls of ‘Treason!’ on the part of my faithful rat terrier.

Amazon appears to outsource its editing to a well-known firm in the business: the book looked as professional as anything I’ve seen from a major publishing house.

“Domino” can be enjoyed on several levels. For children and young teenagers, there’s a delightful animal adventure. For those who love the outdoors, Kia offers plenty of great atmosphere without getting long-winded.

Older and more politically literate readers, of course, will surely recognize the allegory: although the book is not an outright roman à clef , many of the calamities that befall the animals in the wake of “Socrates” have parallels in current or historical events, even as any allegory can only be taken so far.

Both “Chasing Freedom” and “Domino” are highly enjoyable reads, and both eBooks a steal at $2.99 and $3.49, respectively. I suggest buying both. Kindle Unlimited subscribers of course, can read both books for free.

 

 

Posted by: New Class Traitor | January 6, 2016

Is Recruiting the Laziest Part Of A Company?

Read and weep.

The Arts Mechanical

It would seem so.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-steps-recruiters-use-select-best-r%C3%A9sum%C3%A9s-bob-mcintosh-cprw-mbti?trk=hp-feed-article-title-comment

Look how hard they work to avoid doing their job.  First they have the computer flush 75% or more of the people applying.

First, reduce the number of résumés to be read

By now you’ve heard about the applicant tracking system (ATS) and understand its purpose, to eliminate as many résumés to read as possible. Simply stated, it screens résumés for keywords and phrases. Those without the proper keywords don’t make the cut.

To give you an idea of the sheer number of applicant for each job: according to Jobvite.com, nearly 100 résumés are submitted for professional positions and 150 for other entry level.

The ATS effectively eliminates 75% of résumés submitted for a position, but even reading 25 résumés can be a burden

Heaven forbid they should actually read the resumes people send to them.

And the ones that get glanced at?

Second, read the…

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Posted by: New Class Traitor | January 3, 2016

Global Cooling – 1870s Style

From “TXRed”, some interesting observations about climate history in Texas, and how global cooling could make us BEG for “global warming”

Cat Rotator's Quarterly

Some of my long-term research projects require paying attention to local and regional weather and climate patters, often going back several hundred years if possible. When you start digging that far at that level of detail, interesting things appear, the sort of thing that makes you sit back and go, “huh. I’m kinda glad I wasn’t there then,” or “Geepers, no wonder they [action]. If both those rivers went dry, I’d [action] too.” As more and more historians are pulling more and more climate data and weather observation into their work, it’s becoming apparent that while we certainly cannot, and should not, credit or blame climate events for all human actions, the weather has played more of a role than we’ve previously given it credit for. Geoffrey Parker’s book about the 17th century is probably going to become one of the classics in terms of that, up there with Le…

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Posted by: New Class Traitor | January 1, 2016

Of New Years and Old Calendars

The Gregorian calendar is so deeply embedded in Western culture that people take it for granted — even those of us who deal with another calendar for religious purposes. But what exactly does it stem from? Below is an attempt at a “TL;DR” summary.

Calendar systems

All the leading calendar systems in the world can be classified in three categories: solar, lunar, and lunisolar. It was from Bernard Lewis, I believe, that I first read about the link between calendar system and type of society. Early Roman society, for instance, was agricultural so it gravitated toward a solar calendar, as the rhythm of the seasons dictated. In contrast, early Islamic society was primarily urban and nomadic, and seasons meant very little, so the Islamic calendar is lunar (to this day). Lunisolar calendars, such as the Babylonian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese,… calendars, reflect mixed agricultural-urban societies.

The vagaries of the different calendar systems, then, are attempts to cope with two basic astronomical facts: the moon taking an average 29.53 days to complete one orbit around the earth (“synodic month”), and the Earth taking an average 365.24219 days to do the same around the sun (“tropical year”).

Ancient Roman calendars

The first documented calendar was attributed to Romulus, legendary co-founder (with Remus) of Rome in 753 BCE. It had 10 months of 30 or 31 days with a total of 304 days, plus a winter period. The first month was the month of vernal (spring) equinox: Martius (named after Mars, the Roman idol of war). The second through fourth months were named Aprilis (from “aperta”/open, as the Earth was ‘opened’ for seed); Maius from Maia, the idol of growth; and Junius, possibly from Juno (the wife of Jupiter). The remaining six months were prosaically named “5th” through “10th” in Latin: Quintilius, Sextilius, September, October, November, and December.

Under the 2nd of the Seven Roman Kings, Numa Pompilius, a reform took place, in which the winter period was replaced by two new months: Januarius (after the two-faced idol Janus) and 28-day Februarius (after Februa, the Roman festival of purification). As even numbers were considered unlucky, all months except Februarius had either 31 or 29 days. The total of 355 days meant that every few years, by priestly decree, an Intercalary Month had to be added to keep the calendar roughly aligned with the solar year: it was inserted between 23 February and 24 February.

 

Years were counted AUC (ab urbe condita, from the founding of the city, i.e., Rome).

Julian calendar

From considering equinoxes and solstices, ancient Greek astronomers already had figured out that the solar year is something close to 365 1/4 days, even if they had it backwards as to what rotates around what.

This, combined with the difficulty of communicating a priestly decision across a far-flung empire,  inspire the 46 BCE (708 AUC) calendar reform by Julius Caesar (hence “Julian”). The months acquire their current lengths, leading to a 365-day year, plus a leap years with an extra day in February every 4 years. Sounds familiar?

After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Quintilis was renamed in his honor and memory as Julius in 44 BCE; during the reign of the first “official” emperor Augustus, Sextilis was renamed in his honor 8 BCE. So now we have the year pretty much in the form we know it.

Gradually this calendar was adopted throughout the Western and Eastern roman empire, later to all lands that became Christianized.

Gregorian calendar

The solstices and equinoxes shift by about 11 minutes a year in the Julian calendar. As a result, Christmas and Easter drift away from the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, respectively, by about one day every 131 years.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII promulgated a calendar modification in which the leap year is skipped at the turn of every century, except if the century is divisible by four. The resulting average year of 365.2425 days is tolerably close to the solar year. A onetime realignment correction was made: the days from October 5-14, 1582 were simply skipped.

Catholic countries made the switch immediately, Protestant ones followed suit later. The UK and its colonies officially switched in 1752. Where ambiguity exists about which calendar a given date refers to, dates are conventionally followed by O.S. (“Old Style”) if Julian, and N.S. (“New Style”) if Gregorian.

Countries in which the prevailing religion was Orthodox Christianity were much slower to abandon the Julian calendar. Russia only switched in 1918, February 1 (O.S.) becoming February 14 (N.S.). This is the reason, incidentally, why the October Revolution (O.S.) actually took place in November (N.S.) for the West. Greece switched even later, on March 1, 1923 (N.S.).

Of the principal churches of the Eastern Communion, the Greek Orthodox Church (including its US branch [*]) has switched to a Revised Julian Calendar proposed by M. Milanković (yes, he of the cycles!), which is effectively identical to the Gregorian until 2800. The Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian,… Orthodox churches continue to use the Julian calendar, as do the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem and the Greek Old Calendarists. Until 2100, Julian dates can be converted to Gregorian ones by adding 13 days: for example, Russian Orthodox Christmas actually takes place on January 7.

In Russia since Soviet days, January 1 (N.S.) is celebrated as a secular winter holiday (“Novy God”) into which many Christmas/Yuletide traditions were co-opted.

Here’s to a Happy Gregorian New Year!

 

 

 

[*] Many thanks to Kia Tsakos Heavey for clarification.

 

Posted by: New Class Traitor | December 25, 2015

J. S. Bach, Christmas Oratorio BWV 248

Merry Christmas to my Christian readers, Facebook friends, and tweeple!

In honor of the holiday, herewith Bach’s Weinachtsoratorium BWV248 (Christmas oratorio). The full text and translation can be found here.

Bach was a devout Lutheran all his life: at great expense, he procured a collection of theological works that, in his day, would have been the pride of many a church. (I got to see a portion of it with my own eyes, during a visit to his birth house in Eisenach, presently a museum.)

You don’t have  to sit through the whole thing:), as rewarding as that experience will be: just the opening “Rejoice!” will put you in the mood for holiday mirth.

Here is a somewhat “historically authentic” performance conducted by John Eliot Gardiner :

Those of us with absolute pitch may prefer this performance by the King’s College Choir and the Academy of St. Martin In The Fields, on modern instruments tuned to A=440 rather than Baroque chamber pitch.

Enjoy!

PS: today is also Isaac Newton Day (born December 25, 1642 O.S.). For non-Christians, as well as for those Christians of the Eastern Communion who observe the holiday according to the Julian calendar, this can be an alternative observance:)

 

Posted by: New Class Traitor | December 24, 2015

In praise of Tina S, teenage guitar goddess

The other day I stumbled onto the YouTube channel of Tina S., a teenage guitar prodigy  from Paris who is a student of French fusion jazz guitarist Renaud Louis-Servais. According to an interview, she started out at age 6 playing classical guitar in junior conservatory but switched to electric at age 13.

There are a number of “guitar girl” channels on YouTube but Tina stands out. Her playing is precise as well as versatile, seemingly in total possession (as the French would say) of her instrument and material.She generally plays with great economy of motion rather than with theatrical flourishes – for this amateur musician she is a delight to watch.

Her versions of Steve Vai’s “For the love of G-d” and Jason Becker’s “Altitudes” brought tears to my eyes.

 

 

But also this Gary Moore rendition is very moving:

 

At the same time, somewhat incongruously, this sweet, unassuming girl plays Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” with a controlled ferocity that does great credit to this all-time metal classic. Her recording uses the original vocal track with its bitter tale of manipulation and addiction: she plays both the lead and the rhythm parts live, with no overdubbing. (She plays only the top part of the twin-lead section at the beginning of the first solo: live, Metallica drop the rhythm part so James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett can do the leads together. It seems the incomparable John Petrucci plays both lines simultaneously in Dream Theater’s cover.)

Her currently most popular video seems to be her cover of Dragonforce’s “Nintendo Metal” hit:

 

 

At the other extreme, she even does not shy away from David Gilmour’s signature lead on Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. Despite (hopefully) being way too young to truly grasp the emotions described in the lyrics that David Gilmour so brilliantly succeeded in evoking, Tina offers a surprisingly convincing rendition.

Something tells me this young woman will go very far. I am looking forward to hearing some original material from her. Merci beaucoup et chapeau, Tina!

Posted by: New Class Traitor | December 21, 2015

On proxy issues in psychology and politics

Some debates about the Omnibus bill drove home a few things. On the one side, there is a wide sense of betrayal among the conservative and libertarian base that Paul Ryan has sold out to The Worst President In History. There is also the sense that a 2,000-page bill that was passed in record time cannot but contain some fugly stuff. (Echoes of 0bamacare.)
On the other side, people that have actually read the bill and have experience in dispassionately analyzing long documents found that 0bama paid for his pet concerns (and those of the party base) by major concessions on less eye-catching issues.
I can in all sincerity say I sympathize with both sides of the argument. The fracas drove home again to me the concept of a proxy issue. This is something one sees in politics as well as during arguments within relationships.
What is a proxy issue? In short, it is a comparatively trivial issue that takes on a larger-than-life importance in a relationship or political debate, not because of its intrinsic value, but as a stand-in for a deeper issue.
How many of you remember the hoary joke about the man who got his wife a beautiful present for their anniversary, took her to a nice restaurant and a show she was sure to like, then had to sleep on the couch because he had forgotten to write her a card? That joke is really a cartoonish exaggeration of the concept of a proxy issue.
Take, for example, the issue of additional H-2b visas in the Omnibus. The numbers involved, less than 60,000 unskilled workers, are but statistical noise in a labor market the size of the US. Some of the anger created may be due to innumeracy, to be sure. But much of it is about a deeper issue: that Congress really seems to not care about the plight of US workers in a ‘jobless recovery’, or that an unholy alliance of left-wing transnational oligarchic collectivists (“tranzis”) and big business lobbyists seems hell-bent on ramming ever more immigration down our throats. Not to mention the security concerns, pooh-poohed by tranzis especially.
Another example of a proxy issue. Israel’s Law of Return offers immigration and an accelerated citizenship path to people of Jewish ancestry and their families, as well as to converts to Judaism. (Contrary to widespread belief, Israel is not unique among democracies in this regard.) The Orthodox parties on one side, and the (in Israel tiny) Reform and Conservative denominations in alliance with left-wing parties on the other side, have been engaged in a tug-of-war for decades about whether this law extends to non-Orthodox converts. Based on the amount of noise on both sides, one would think we were talking about at least tens of thousands of people each year (out of a population of eight million). In fact, the actual number of such cases is in the dozens (!). While its actual, sociological importance is therefore essentially nil, it has become a proxy for the debate “who really calls the shots here, the Chief Rabbinate or the secular Jews”?
I have noted with wry amusement older US women well past child-bearing age saying they must vote Shillary because she will protect her right to have an abortion. Muggeridge’s Law at work? Or is it not really about the abortion per se, but a proxy for the very concept that religious scruples in these matters would have any effect whatsoever on society?
This is not to be confused with single-issue voting. I know a number of stridently pro-life activists got extremely upset when they saw the Omnibus Bill does not defund Planned Parenthood. This is *not* a proxy issue: PP is too large-scale an operation to qualify as such. In this context, a proxy can instead be seen on the other side: their insistence that the extremely disgusting and indefensible practice of partial-birth abortion remain legal.
[ ]
[*] Full disclosure: numbers are quite literally my livelihood.

Posted by: New Class Traitor | December 4, 2015

So what do we know? It appears to be a case of premature detonation.

Executive summary: Nicki goes through what is known about the San Bernardino massacre, and concludes they were prepared for a big attack elsewhere but something made them “go off prematurely” at the county employees event instead.

The Liberty Zone

Note to some readers, whose attention span is that of gnats on meth: I wrote this piece as events were unfolding. I also tried to take everything we knew then and know now into account when examining the events in San Bernardino. There are some strange details about this attack that make it seem like it was a bit more spontaneous than a normal jihadist attack. And if you actually read to the end, my assessment is that there may have been a bigger attack planned, but Farook probably lost his temper at the party and launched an unplanned, spontaneous attack on his coworkers, rather than waiting to execute a bigger event elsewhere that he and Malik probably planned. In essence, this is my attempt to analyze the actual details of the event and provide a deeper analysis than just “OMG JIHAD!”


Yesterday’s shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San…

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Posted by: New Class Traitor | December 2, 2015

Rush, “Losing it” (live)

Any fiction lover and/or aspiring fiction writer can relate to the heart-breaking lyrics of Rush’s ballad about the aging Ernest Hemingway losing his faculties. Here is a snippet from the lyrics:

The writer stares with glassy eyes
Defies the empty page
His beard is white, his face is lined
And streaked with tears of rage

Thirty years ago, how the words would flow
With passion and precision
But now his mind is dark and dulled
By sickness and indecision
…And he stares out the kitchen door…
…Where the sun will rise no more…

The song was never part of their live set, as it has an extensive solo violin part (performed by Ben Mink on the record) and Rush historically refused to use additional stage musicians. They have no problem relying on technology (e.g., sequencers to play synthesizer lines) but always drew the line at live musicians, Geddy Lee quipping that “our audience pays to hear just the three of us”. Indeed, quite a few Rush fans point to the powerful and complex arrangements they play with just a trio as one of the things that attracts them to the band.

Since the “Clockwork Angels” album had extensive string orchestra parts, however, they started taking a small string section along, and this must have prompted the addition of the song to the live set.

 

Posted by: New Class Traitor | December 2, 2015

How I learned to stop worrying and love the 2nd Amendment

I was asked to contribute this guest post at the Zelman Partisans site (“Jews. Guns. No compromise. No surrender.”). In it, I describe how, starting from the European pro-gun control position I grew up with, my views gradually evolved to embrace the Second Amendment.

You may read the whole thing here.

 

Posted by: New Class Traitor | December 2, 2015

Social Justice Morons Blame Income Inequality for the Rise of Daesh

Nicki from The Liberty Zone mercilessly fisks Thomas Piketty’s latest theory that ISIS arises from “social injustice”.

The Liberty Zone

Once again I have to ask: Have you ever seen something so stupid that it leaves you not only scratching your head until your scalp bleeds, but wondering if we’re at a point where the Sweet Meteor of Death (SMOD) would be the only remedy for the vast amounts of retardery put out into the world by the self-loathing social justice warrior set?

I know I’ve asked this question a lot, and sometimes I’m encouraged by what I read on the Internet. Today is not one of those days.

Yesterday, the Washington (Com)Post plucked a rumination out of its belly button lint examining whether Western nations are to blame for the rise of Daeshbag violence, because… Ready for this?

INCOME INEQUALITY!

The (Com)Post admits that the idea is “controversial” and that this is a debate that’s “just beginning” even as it examines the brain droppings of one Thomas Piketty, whose entire academic existence…

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Posted by: New Class Traitor | November 13, 2015

Prescriptive and descriptive writer’s advice

In my earlier post on advice to fiction writers, I drew an analogy with the difference between an algorithm (a mathematical ‘recipe that always works’) and a heuristic (a search strategy that usually works, but may not necessarily be the optimal one for the case at hand).

Another analogy can be drawn: the difference between descriptive and prescriptive language standards.

A number of the major Western languages have prescriptive standards: a centralized body serves as the final authority on how the language should be spoken and written. For instance, the Académie Française, among its other activities, also regulates correct spelling, grammar, syntax, pronunciation… of the French language. German has a Rat für Deutsche Rechtschreibung (Council for German Spelling — note its more limited mandate), and Hebrew the Academia la-Lashon ha-Ivri (Academy of the Hebrew Tongue/Language).

In contrast, English has no prescriptive standard at all. Instead there are two competing descriptive standards: the Oxford English Dictionary (for the Queen’s English) and Merriam-Webster (for American English) are based not on how things should be written (from a theoretical-linguistic point of view) but on how the language is actually used. This is, by the way, one of the main reasons for the maddening irregularity of English in some respects — its mixed Romance-Germanic heritage is another. (English could be called the “mutt” of world languages.)

Likewise, advice to writers — be it from books, workshops, blogs,… — basically comes in two kinds: prescriptive and descriptive. “Prescriptive” advice usually derives from literary pretensions, ideological agendas, or both, and often the ones most vocal about it have little in the way of published output that anybody actually wants to read. (One subtype has been called “grey goo fiction” by the Beautiful but Evil Space Princess :))

“Descriptive” advice does something else: it analyzes the work of successful entertainment fiction authors, and tries to distill down what they actually do into guidelines. Again, one must beware of absolutism: what works for most writers may not work for you or your chosen genre.

In the days when a handful of big publishing houses ruled the roost, prescriptive standards held more sway as a book often got nowhere if the major publishers nixed it. Now that effectively independent publishing has eaten deep into their market share, at least within the US (especially for eBooks), descriptive standards will be more relevant than prescriptive ones. And even so, a book could in principle violate all the established conventions and still become a bestseller if it compels enough readers to keep reading.

There is no such thing as “the way a novel should be written”. But a lot of empirical wisdom can be obtained from what has worked for others. If one is wary of following any sort of “advice book”, one might instead reverse-engineer one’s own rules from what has worked for other books in the category one seeks to write in. Such “bulk reading to learn the rules” has its own risks, namely that of churning out warmed-over fan fiction. There is a reason I deliberately chose a genre far outside my usual reading fodder for my first long-form writing project:)

Posted by: New Class Traitor | November 2, 2015

Algorithms, heuristics, and creative writing: some reflections

[Draft 0]

There was a heated discussion on CLFA about the merits, or lack thereof, of creative writing advice. Of course, one finds all sorts of “English Lit Ph.D.”s who of course must be having all wisdom for lease (priceless Dutch expression) — often without having published anything anybody wants to read themselves — saying one must do this, then that, and woe betide who does the other,…

At the other extreme there are those who say all  such advice is worthless, since there is no formula for success.

I do believe the truth lies somewhere between those extremes, and that many people are making a category error: mistaking heuristics (search strategies) for algorithms (recipes guaranteed a correct answer). Allow me to explain.

In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is a procedural description that, if followed to the letter and applied within its stated limitations, is guaranteed to yield a correct answer. Long division is a simple algorithm we all used to learn in school. Here is another simple example. Wanna know all the primes below 100? Simple.

  1. write out the integers from 1 to 100
  2. start at 2
  3. circle the number as a prime
  4. cross off all multiples of that number
  5. find the next number not crossed out
  6. if you’re not yet at the end, go back to step 3

The numbers circled are the primes you want. Works every single time, whether it’s below 100, 500, 10000,…. The recipe is older than dirt: it’s called the Sieve of Erasthothenes.

Now there are many mathematical problems of practical importance for which no such “always works” recipe exists. Consider, for example, minimization of functions in many variables. There are all sorts of algorithms that, within certain constraints, will give you a local minimum (the bottom of a valley), but no guarantee it is the global minimum (i.e., the deepest valley). One could do the brute-force thing: just chop up space into a grid and scan all the points, but that quickly becomes computationally intractable as the number of variables goes up.

There are, however, search strategies (such as simulated annealing) that give you a good chance of locating such a global minimum, a chance which gets better the more CPU power you can apply to it. Such strategies are called heuristics.

We all apply heuristics in daily life. Consider, for example, doing business: absent rent extraction, there is no algorithm  to guarantee you make a profit, but there are sure as heck heuristics that give you a good-enough chance of doing so.

A lot of writing advice — both fiction and nonfiction — should be taken in the same spirit.  There are no magic formulas for a bestseller or even just a book that doesn’t, well, aspirate. There are, however, a variety of techniques/heuristics: some will work better for writer type X, others for writer type Y, yet others better for genre Z. Some are more universal than others, but often advice that works well for the typical writer (e.g., begin with short stories, work up your way to novellas, then attempt a novel) may for some reason not work for you personally. For example, you may have been plotting this long-arc story with lots of details in your head, and it’s just fixing to come out. Or you are a natural ‘pantser’ rather than a ‘plotter’ so outlining won’t work for you.

Some more technical things apply nearly universally, across both fiction and nonfiction. For example, even people who can spot typos in everybody else’s writing will miss them in their own, not out of narcissism but because the brain ‘knows’ what it wrote and corrects the typos on the fly while reading. (Hence recommendations such as trading proofreading with another writer, copy-editing on paper if you wrote on the computer, having text-to-speech read the MS out to you,… or proofread only some time after you wrote, so you don’t have the text loaded in your brain anymore.)

Pat Patterson pointed me to Chuck Wendig’s The Kick-Ass Writer . If your sense of humor is as irreverent as Pat’s or mine, you will laugh out loud at least once every couple of minutes. (If you’re offended by salty language or risqué metaphors, prepare to be shocked at least as frequently.) In his humorous way, he however packs in a ton of useful advice and “why haven’t I thought of this?” ideas about language, characterization, plot,…  But what I like just as much about the book is that Wendig recognizes the limits of such advice — that he sees and states explicitly that every rule can and should be broken if doing so pushes the story forward. (Now if you *have* no story to tell, you have other problems.)

On a related note: do not believe those (in writing, music,…) who claim they never needed to learn anything and just let their innate talent speak. What these people really mean is that they honed their talents in ways other than formal schooling. Consider this: one of the greatest pieces of electric guitar music ever recorded, Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” (his only #1 hit ever, posthumously) was recorded live in the studio the 2nd time the band played the track (well, the two other guys just laid down a foundation for Jimi to work his magic over). Does that mean it just magically appeared out of thin air? Heck no. Jimi honed his clearly immense innate talent by practicing every available waking moment until he got famous, and quite some time after. He’d reached the point where if inspiration hit him, he was completely prepared to exploit it to the max.  “Chance favors the prepared mind”, Louis Pasteur used to say about serendipitous discoveries in science. Likewise, in fiction, inspiration favors the honed pen.

Posted by: New Class Traitor | October 31, 2015

Classical and classical-crossover Halloween music

Daniella Bova at the CLFA posted a compilation of scary classic rock songs suitable for Halloween.

At her suggestion, here are some of my classical and classical-crossover picks.

Hector Berlioz, “March to the Scaffold” from his Fantastic Symphony. It describes the nightmare of a man who dreams of his own execution.

Franz Liszt, “Les Funérailles” (the funeral). It was written on the occasion of Chopin’s death, hence the nod to the middle section of Chopin’s “Heroic Polonaise” about 2/3 of the way through.

Sergey Prokofiev, “Diabolic suggestion”, one of his youth works and the first to become well known.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer recorded, under the title “The Barbarian”, a rock arrangement of Bela Bartok’s “Allegro Barbaro”. The middle piano section follows the original quite closely: the Hammond and distorted bass guitar theme bookending is was derived from the thematic material. As I wrote and explained earlier, this is to me a rare example of a rock arrangement being more powerful than the classical original.

“Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath is of course not a classical piece, but (by Geezer Butler’s own admission in an interview) the first riff was inspired by the melody of “Mars” from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”. The song (and band) are named after a horror movie starring Boris Karloff that was playing in the movie theater across the street. The gang (then an indifferent blues band) decided that if people pay good money for scary movies, then they’ll pay for scary music. The next gig they played this at, the audience went bonkers and asked for two repeats: then they know they were  onto something.

And here is a piece that isn’t just creepy but truly scary: Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, written at the height of the Great Purge, the composer never knowing when the knock on the door would come.

BONUS: probably my favorite horror/thriller soundtrack: “Sorcerer” by electronica pioneers Tangerine Dream. This was the soundtrack for William Friedkin’s remake of “Wages of Fear”. Unusually, the movie was shot and edited to the soundtrack rather than the other way around.

Posted by: New Class Traitor | October 31, 2015

Blood Pressure Medicine: J. S. Bach, Chaconne in D minor played on guitar

Laura Snowden was a finalist at the 2013 London International Guitar Competition. She did not win, but one of her pieces was the highlight of the whole 2.5 hour finale concert for me and my musician wife.

Below (I hope this works!) is a “tubechop” of that segment of the concert. She plays at a brisk tempo that might seem rushed on a violin (or another sustained instrument), but works wonderfully for an acoustic guitar.

Enjoy! Okay, TubeChop embed doesn’t work on wordpress.com, here is a time-stamped YouTube link to where she begins.

TubeChop link to Laura Snowden playing Bach Chaconne in D minor

And here’s an embed of the full youtube:

Posted by: New Class Traitor | October 13, 2015

Theater of the absurd: silent intifada edition

There is currently a bloody wave of stabbings and other impromptu terror attacks going on in Israel. The perpetrators appear to be principally East Jerusalem Arabs with Israeli (“blue”) ID cards, who therefore have freedom of movement in Israel. As usual, the Islamofascists’ useful idiots in the West and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself) ignore the suffering or blame the victim.

The Border Police (technically a branch of the IDF) is doing the L-rd’s work protecting us, and courageous bystanders to attacks have responded with whatever improvised means at hand (in one case in Ra`anana, an office worker attacked the stabber with his umbrella!).

Which makes some Americans, used to the 2nd Amendment, wonder: why no more Israelis with firearms on the street? Believe it or not, gun ownership in Israel is actually severely restricted. A detailed summary in English of Israel’s firearms legislation can be found here at the Law Library of Congress. In short, Israel is a ‘discretionary issue’ country, where one must demonstrate a need for the possession of a firearm by one’s place of residence (e.g., in the disputed territories or otherwise in the proximity of ‘Palestinians’), by one’s profession (e.g., a driver who routinely transports parties of five or more people can get a handgun license fairly easily). Other eligibility requirements include passing periodic psychological evaluations and firearm proficiency tests. Licenses are easier to obtain if one has served honorably in an IDF combat unit or in the police, especially at officer rank. As of 2012, only about 175,000 valid firearm licenses (which typically cover one firearm and a supply of 50 bullets) are in circulation in Israel (with a population of about 8 million). Twice as many licenses used to be in circulation when the population was much smaller.

IDF soldiers on active duty in combat units are allowed to bring home their service weapon (typically an assault rifle or submachine gun), since they should be available for action at a moment’s notice. IDF noncombat personnel in ‘day service’ positions (i.e., many female recruits) often travel to and from the base in uniform with no other protection than pepper spray and whatever unarmed combat skills they may have acquired on their own. This effectively makes them sitting ducks to such stabbers.

Behold the theater of the absurd: an army called the Israel Defense Forces that is effectively depriving a substantial portion of its manpower of the means to defend themselves. Had the recent stabbing attacks been attempted in my other home in the Dallas suburbs, chances are the terrorist svolochy would have been turned into sieves in short order at the hands of whatever civilians who were carrying.

The ‘logic’ behind hamstringing the IDF noncombat manpower is probably a combination of risk-averseness (in a country with mandatory service), political correctness, inventory issues, and fear firearms may fall into the wrong hands (terrorists or underworld). I dearly hope somebody has the wisdom to rethink this. A defense force that is disallowed to defend itself sounds like an… 0bamination.

Posted by: New Class Traitor | October 9, 2015

The women of Renoir: models, muses, and partners

[Updated November 1, 2015 with information from Dictionary of Artists’ Models by Jill Berk Jiminez]
After all the “spin” and “strangeness” of the last days, time for a bit of charm.
While I’m primarily a words-numbers-and-music kind of guy, I do have visual arts preferences. One painter that has always had a very special place in my heart happens to be Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Renoir is usually pigeonholed as an impressionist, but in truth his work ranges from the impressionistic to the classically figurative.
This post is inspired by Sarah Hoyt’s post on PJMedia about appreciating the female form — something Renoir was one of the greatest masters in history of.  Aside from the many commissioned portraits of women and young girls he painted, below are the brief stories of his principal models, muses, and “women in his life”.
Click “more” for the whole article. “Trigger warning”: some tasteful, exquisitely artistic, female nude paintings.

Read More…

Posted by: New Class Traitor | August 23, 2015

Burning Down The Field in Order to Save It

The title pretty much sums it up. Sarah Hoyt pulls no punches. Go read the whole thing.

According To Hoyt

So, I thought I didn’t care about the result of the Hugos, because in making the establishment lose their collective sh*t at the “non approved” nominations, we’d proven our point: that there is a political color bar in SF/F; that the self-proclaimed elites of sf view what fans like as problematic and therefore view the supposed “fan” award as the toy of the glitterati; and that NATIONAL PUBLICATIONS marched in lockstep with the narrative of a tiny clique over an award that in the past has sometimes been given with hundreds of votes (after which display it’s pretty hard to claim that the left doesn’t have a death lock on the media. And btw nothing was weirder than being told by the National Media we were the ones wanting to drive people off the field, while nominee after nominee was hounded off the ballot by leftist who — since WE…

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