Friday, May 22, 2015

Individual planning and the 2-month increment

Businesses often carry out their planning in quarterly units. In our personal lives, we are conditioned to think in terms of the four seasons, which are based on the solar cycle. Each season (fall, winter, spring, and summer) is three months long.

The quarterly unit seems to work for organizations. Organizational plans require the mobilization of a wide range of resources.

But three months is a long stretch for mid-range planning for the individual. When one three-month period passes, the year is 25 percent gone. Two such periods and the year is half gone.

Some people therefore try to base their short-range plans on the calendar month.

The calendar month, though, is too short a period when attempting to implement a plan of any real complexity. Seldom can the results of any new initiative, change, or focus be meaningfully observed within a 28- to 31-day calendar month.

I've found from experience that it makes sense to base your individual short-range plans on increments of two months.

At the personal level, the quarter or season is too long to be truly short-range, and the calendar month is too brief--even for short-range planning purposes.

Two months is just right.

Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms": Discussion and reading

Hemingway's semi-autobiographical novel set in WWI provides a solid introduction to the author's writing style, and his doctrine of "write what you know":

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Learning Japanese: general advice

From my YouTube channel: Some general advice for those who starting the Japanese language:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Naughty nurses in the Middle Kingdom

As China modernizes, the ultra-post-modern is often juxtaposed with the feudal and the old-line Maoist.

On one hand, China is entering a demographic crisis brought on by three decades of one-child-per-couple family planning policies, and a cultural discrimination against female infants.

On the other hand, many among China’s Internet-savvy, Western-leaning entrepreneurial class sometimes swing in the opposite direction.

A promotional campaign by, a large Chinese retailer, provoked public outrage when it created a series of racy ads to commemorate International Nurses Day. The ads featured an assemblage of winsome Western and Chinese female models clad in skimpy “naughty nurse” attire—the sort of outfits that you would tend to associate with Victoria’s Secret rather than your local hospital.

The ad campaign resulted in widespread outrage from the public—as well as a backlash from real members of the nursing profession in China. After a few self-defeating attempts to convince everyone that the promotion had been intended in a spirit of good clean fun,’s management pulled the ads.

Here we see a case of how Westernization in Asia often proceeds unevenly, and with less than beneficial results.

I can’t claim to have sifted through all 4,000 years of China’s cultural artifacts, but I’m pretty sure that the lingerie ads sprung not from Chinese influences, but from foreign ones. The “naughty nurse” is a Western motif. And it has its place, at least in some imaginations.

But and Walmart would know better than to explicitly associate lingerie-clad nurses with the real ones—who do everything from emptying bedpans to monitoring the condition of intensive care patients. Western companies’ marketing execs would harbor no doubts about the reactions that the lingerie shots would provoke.   

"Giants in the Trees" free May 20th and 21st on Amazon Kindle

From my Hay Moon short story collection. Supernatural mayhem in a backyard in suburban Ohio. Get it free today and tomorrow on

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thoughts on reading Shakespeare

Some simple advice for better understanding and appreciating Shakespeare's plays. Disclaimer: There is nothing ultra-profound here; but you may find it useful if you're struggling.

The politics of horror fiction

Writing in National Review, Tim Cavanaugh suggested that the horror genre is reflexively conservative, even if the explicit political ideologies of some horror authors are not:

“The King of Horror himself, of course, is a political lefty who calls Maine governor Paul LePage a “stonebrain,” but his work is shot through with hard-headed pragmatism and traditional morality that, if viewed from a certain angle (i.e., directly), seem clearly conservative. Few horror creators (Clive Barker being an occasional exception) ask us to root for the devil.”

Stephen King isn’t the only horror author who reflects conservative values—perhaps subconsciously. Brian Keene (author of The Rising and Ghoul) is a self-declared independent. But when he does sound off on political issues in his Twitter feed, he usually criticizes conservatives and Republicans rather than liberals and Democrats.

Yet one of Keene’s recurring protagonists is Levi Stolzfus, an ex-Amish magus who begins each battle against the supernatural with an explicitly Christian prayer. Keene’s two linked zombie apocalypse novels, The Rising and City of the Dead, contain an (Judeo-Christian) theological subplot.

All horror fiction (as opposed to science fiction or fantasy fiction) is based on a fundamentally realist (and therefore conservative) message: that individual human lives are fragile, and that much of the universe is beyond human control.

In some novels, that “much of the universe” is supernatural (The Exorcist). In other works, the “beyond our control” element is naturalistic, more or less. The well trodden subgenre of zombie film and fiction has become reliant on the convention of animating the undead by viruses, radiation, or toxic chemicals.

Other works seem to attempt (with varying degrees of success) to adopt a middle position. H.P. Lovecraft declared himself an atheist; and there is no trace of a recognizably Judeo-Christian cosmology in his stories.

However, it is difficult to imagine Lovecraft’s fictional universe without some version of supernatural (i.e., spiritual) beliefs. Lovecraft saw humanity as pawns at the mercy of impersonal but undeniably supernatural forces. The main difference between Lovecraft’s worldview and a Christian’s worldview was that Lovecraft saw the triumph of evil as a foregone conclusion. H.P.’s spirituality was dark and nihilistic, without any hope for salvation or redemption. There is no concept of “heaven” in Lovecraft’s work, but there is a fair approximation of hell.

Any variety of horror fiction strikes a contrast to the hyper-optimism and hubris that surrounds the contemporary cult of science. Horror authors do not deny the practical, limited benefits of science, it should be said. But scientific advances often bring untended and negative consequences—like nuclear weapons and zombie plagues. Science, moreover, has its limits. Science cannot conquer the inevitability of death, nor answer the question: “What happens when we die?”

And for some problems, conventional science is useless: In The Exorcist, numerous doctors attempt to find out what is wrong with Regan MacNeil. They end up mostly doing more harm than good. What Regan MacNeil finally needs is a priest—i.e., spiritual faith.

Is Latin "useful"?

People who ask, “Where can you speak Latin?” aren’t necessarily asking an irrelevant question, but they are missing the point.

Latin, admittedly, has not been a conversational lingua franca for centuries. (Nor is its revival in this capacity likely in the foreseeable future.)

People don’t learn Latin because it will useful for travel or gathering marketing data on the Internet. People learn Latin because a knowledge of Latin has long been a hallmark of being an educated person. Latin also helps one learn other languages (including English).

There will, of course, continue to be those who insist, “But you’re never going to use Latin!” I would ask these same individuals: When was the last time you made use of your knowledge of quadratic equations?

Does this mean that the study of algebra is worthless? Of course not. Some things we learn because they are immediately applicable. Other things we learn because they enhance us intellectually. In this way, the study of Latin (like the study of algebra) might be compared to weightlifting for the mind.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Harvard vs. Asian-Americans?

Further proof that the concept of "white privilege" is an anachronism. (Otherwise, how do Asian-Americans manage to be more successful than whites, on average, in "racist" America?)

I think it's unlikely that there is a specifically anti-Asian bias at Harvard. This is, however, further evidence of the follies of trying to deal with people as representatives of racial groups rather than as unique individuals.

There is a simple way to use the university admissions process to counteract "privilege": Use socioeconomics as a factor in selection, and forget about race entirely.

Fitness for bookworms

As I've mentioned previously, I've spent a lifetime engaged in the War on Weight. I know I am not alone, which is why I made the video below.

And if you happen to be one of those rare people who can scarf down doughnuts and pizza "without gaining a pound": Yes, you may safely assume that I hate you.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

When product names don’t translate

Japan has come up with some truly fantastic English product names. “PlayStation,” for example, is terrific. Then, there are some product names that are bad. Wonderfully so.  
This isn’t really Japan’s fault. The country’s language, like English, borrows a bunch of foreign words and has done so for hundreds of years. In Japanese, these words and phrases become “gairaigo” (外来) or literally, “words that come from abroad.” They’re Japanese, but foreign in origin. To the Japanese ear, these borrowed words and phrases might sound a-okay! English can often take on a different meaning or nuance when it’s absorbed by the Japanese language, just like English gives foreign words new meanings when it takes words from other languages.

My two favorites from the article: Creap and Calpis

Thomas Edison’s creepy talking dolls

Dolls and mannequins have always freaked me out, anyway….

Friday, May 15, 2015

"An army of exorcists"?

Whatever you believe, this is an interesting development.

“The Vatican are training up ordinary doctors, teachers and psychologists to cope with a rising tide of demonic possessions.

More than 40 years after The Exorcist left cinema audiences green, the Vatican has gathered a team of experts including practising exorcists to give ordinary Catholics the tools needed to recognise a case of demonic possession when they see one – and teach them what to do about it.”

An important point made in the article is that skepticism is built into the church’s process. The vast majority of people who believe they are suffering from demonic possession are actually suffering from mental illness, a physical ailment, or severe stress. (An overactive imagination is another possibility, of course.) Even from the Catholic Church’s perspective, demonic possession is a rare phenomenon, and should only be seriously considered after other, more prosaic factors are ruled out.

Nevertheless, there is a predictable number of readers who use the comments section of the article to proclaim their superiority over anyone who believes in "any of that religious stuff".

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Interested in reading a coming of age horror tale set in the early 1980s?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Yes, horror fiction can be “literary”

But you already knew this if you’ve read HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, or many, many others. Even Rudyard Kipling wrote his share of supernatural tales.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Self-publishing is also a business

Or at least it should be:

It is interesting to note that Publishers Weekly, a journal of traditional publishers, now feels compelled to handle independent publishing as a serious segment of the publishing industry.

But that doesn't mean that everyone (or even a majority of indie/self-published writers) are making serious money.

To make money writing (regardless of how your work reaches the marketplace) will require some business sense.

“Prior to self-publishing, Leveritt did a lot of research, consulting online resources, weighing her options, and reading extensively about other authors’ experiences.”

That is the attitude of someone who is a businessperson/artist, not only an artist.

Meanwhile, the “self-publishing boom” is creating new business models for those who aren’t writers, but valuable elements of the writer’s “supply chain”:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Skeptics claim ghosts “caused by mold”

I’m all for Occam’s Razor and all. Let it be said: Most reported incidents of the “supernatural” have perfectly “natural” explanations. There are also plenty of deliberately concocted hoaxes.

Nevertheless, the cult of scientism is fundamentalist in its view that “everything can be explained by science”. The notion that mold can explain away paranormal activity might be an example of science fundamentalists throwing a Hail Mary pass—pun fully intended.

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Horror fiction worth reading:

The haunted road of Eleven Miles of Night
The haunted 1980s: 12 Hours of Halloween

Read the opening chapters of both books on this site.

Jeb Bush and Cinco de Mayo

Possible 2016 GOP nominee Jeb Bush on what some wags call "the holiday where we celebrate our Mexican neighbors through offensive cultural appropriation."

Bush’s message is pretty neutral, though it will no doubt earn him detractors from both extremes of the political continuum. Such is life in the easily offended twenty-first century.

Ok—so get over it, whether you dislike Cinco de Mayo for reasons leftwing or rightwing. Lighten up and enjoy some Mexican food today. (I would if I wasn't still on a rigorous diet.)

Watch the video embedded in the article. Whether you like Jeb Bush or hate him, you have to admit that he speaks better Spanish than his brother.

The controversies of "Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell

You've probably read Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone with the Wind. (Or you've at least seen the movie.)

The plot of the book is largely known, so I don't give a lengthy synopsis in the video that follows. Instead I discuss some of the controversies surrounding the novel: namely issues of race and feminism. 

Margaret Mitchell was definitely an apologist for the old Confederacy, though her take on feminism and womanhood may surprise you.
When you're done watching this, you might check out my novel set in the present-day southern state of Kentucky, Blood Flats:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Novelists, and the perils of blogging about politics

Anyone who reads horror fiction has a favorite Stephen King novel. King's contributions to the realm of popular fiction are beyond dispute.

This doesn't mean that King is a great political thinker.

Nor is he even a particularly original one. Most of King's online political statements (whether in interviews or on Twitter) are simply boilerplate leftwing cliches.

Full disclosure: I'm a conservative, so I would probably disagree with King's views under the best of circumstances. And there are plenty of rightwing cliches to be found on the Internet, too.

Nevertheless, the man who wrote Carrie, The Shining, and The Stand doesn't significantly enhance either his brand or his legacy with Tweets like this:

Read the first seven chapters of the 4.5-star rated horror novel Eleven Miles of Night:

German language comeback

In the English-speaking world, at least, German is a language that few language aficionados are motivated to conquer. 

Perhaps German seems relatively difficult without being sufficiently "exotic". Or perhaps it is the fact that so many German-speakers have a good command of English.

Nevertheless, there are sound reasons for learning German, and counterarguments for the above objections. 

Also, the German language has become increasingly popular abroad:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Hormones and reading

All of the points in the above Washington Post blog post are accurate, more or less.

But I might add one more: Adolescence brings a whole new set of priorities, few of which lend themselves to reading.

I was an avid reader in my very early years (up to age 11). Then I went through puberty and discovered girls. 

For a number of years, I had little interest in reading (though certain magazines with pictorial content certainly captured my adolescent attention). 

Luckily, I immersed myself in reading again during the second half of my high school years. By age 18, I was a more avid reader than I had been at age 11.

But enough about me: Here is the takeaway, for parents and young people alike: Teenagers are primarily and disproportionately interested in other teenagers--especially teenagers of the opposite sex. 

This in itself is perfectly normal; but if taken to excess, it can result in lost intellectual opportunities and much wasted time. This was certainly the result in my case.

And I went through puberty thirty years before the profusion of cell phones and texting....

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Learning Japanese without hostess clubs

I agree with most of Glenn Newman's tips except for the following:

"Frequent hostess clubs  
If you spend enough time in Japan, you may find yourself dragged (kicking and screaming, or not) to a hostess club. A hostess club is like Berlitz but with plusher furniture and alcohol. Like at Berlitz, the staff will never tell you to shut up. Use the opportunity to practice your Japanese. (Forgive me, female readers, if this approach to learning Japanese is not as accessible to you. I can’t speak with any authority about host clubs.)  
Many hostesses are able to speak intelligently on a wide range of subjects. (The same cannot always be said of their clientele, who frequently seem to have one-track minds.) I recall a conversation with one hostess who spent her spare time reading the works of Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler. (Adler developed the theoretical underpinnings of the inferiority complex; hostesses profitably apply those theories in practice.)"
During my days as a corporate samurai I was also dragged ("kicking as screaming", to use Newman's words) to a few hostess clubs.

Based on my experience, this would be the long way around if your primary goal is mastering Japanese. 

Hostess club attendants are chosen for their looks and beauty, seldom for their conversational skills (Newman's account of the amateur psychologist notwithstanding.) Would you suggest that a foreigner in the U.S sharpen his English by going to Hooter's?

You could potentially practice your Japanese this way, but you could probably learn just as much from chatting up a middle-aged passenger sitting next to you on a train. (And did I mention that hostess clubs are rather expensive?)

A crime against the humanities

If your major is electrical engineering, then you have my permission to graduate without taking a Shakespeare course.

But if your major is English literature, then a Shakespeare class should be part of your undergraduate studies, without exception.

"Geoffrey Sanborn, English chair at Amherst, said …it’s important to remember that English is about more than its canon. 
“Rather than conceiving of literature as great works written by a handful of great authors,” he said, “we conceive of literature as a basic form of expression that’s taken a wild variety of forms, in a range of cultures and across time.” Plays, poems, novels, essays and more. “We’re trying to create lifelong, engaged, animated readers,” he said.
What I sense here is an academic trying too hard not to seem overly traditional--as if tradition implied fogyism. 

Yes, literature is a "basic form of expression that's taken a wild variety of forms." 

In order to objectively evaluate that "wild variety of forms", though, the student needs to understand the tradition from which those forms arose. The student needs a baseline, in other words.

And that means: the writings of Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Milton, Dickens, Hemingway, and other great works in the canon of English literature. 

There will be plenty of time after that for the student to explore wild varieties of form.

The Internet amplifies the trivial

Full disclosure: I've publicly criticized John Scalzi myself on several occasions. 

I eventually stopped, though, as the following became clear:

1.) Scalzi is only interested in meaningful debate/discussion with fanboys/girls who slavishly agree with him. 

2.) The standard Scalzi reply to any criticism (however civil or thoughtful) is to immediately resort to a passive-aggressive, ad hominem attack. (In other words, juvenile name-calling.) 

3.) Much of what Scalzi writes on his blog (in regard to so-called "social justice issues") is there for marketing purposes: He deliberately generates controversy to draw like-minded and opposing readers alike, thereby creating "buzz". 

But enough about Scalzi. On a more general note, I'm not sure that fans of science fiction (or any genre) are well served by novelists constantly engaging in political debates. Is anyone really interested a novelist's opinions about every single social issue? 

Nor are readers served by the spectacle of middle-aged authors feuding on the Internet like East Coast-West Coast rappers in the 1990s.

Moreover, there will always be books targeted at niche demographics (conservatives, African-American women, gays, etc.) and there will always be books targeted at a much wider audience. 

That's what "marketing" is all about, and "diversity" in the truest sense of the word. 

The fact that every book doesn't appeal to you, or to your political/social sensibilities, shouldn't provoke feelings of anger or victimization. 

This applies regardless of whether you're a white male, a woman, gay, questioning your gender, or fully "cisgendered" (to use the latest unnecessary neologism) and heterosexual.