Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Thoughts Regarding Political Debates on the Internet

I’ve recently been involved in some online political debates—with individuals both well known and unknown. I decided that this would be an opportune juncture to share my thoughts on the nature of debating political issues online. 

The items below move from rules that are general and widely applicable, to principles that are personal and mainly applicable to me--though you may be like-minded. 

1.) Anything posted on the public Internet (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) is open to criticism. The corollary: If you don't want your political views to be criticized or challenged, don't post them on the public Internet.

2.) The more famous you are, the bigger your platform and more numerous your audience, the more you are fair game for criticism. (This amplifies the effect of #1 above.)

3.) The above two rules notwithstanding, there is a fine line between a legitimate and fair expression of disagreement, and carrying an argument too far. Don’t try to force a debate with the same party everyday, in other words. Once you have established that you and another person have differing worldviews, it is bad form to repeatedly show up in their Twitter feed, YouTube comments thread, etc. 

State your argument, have your say…and move on.

4.) An online disagreement about politics should not escalate into a take-no-prisoners, scorched earth, all-out war to the death—in either physical or professional terms. 

I disagree with plenty of people online, including other writers. You will never see me calling for the boycott of another writer’s work because they don’t share my political views. 

5.) When you publicly oppose a high-profile individual, be prepared for the wrath of their minions. Every popular blogger or Internet personality has a wide circle of toadies who are far more attached to the blogger/Internet personality than is really healthy or normal. When you criticize your main target, his/her followers will immediately go after you en masse, usually in a far more vicious manner than your target will. 

It is your choice whether to answer the followers, or to simply ignore them. (There will usually be twenty of them and one of you, so it will almost always be necessary to ignore at least some of them.) 

Remember, though, that they are less interested in debating you in any serious way than they are in currying favor with their idol. 

6.) When debating someone online, a little bit of snark and sarcasm are permissible. Name-calling, F-bombs, and extraneous ad hominem attacks (such as ridiculing a person’s physical appearance) are not. 

7.) For me, online political debates (and culture war blogging) quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. I try to keep this activity at or below 20% of my online presence. It is not my goal to keep my political views a secret, but nor do I wish to be completely defined by them. 

8.) In the context of today’s culture war between the social justice warrior faction and the ‘alt right’, my views and temperament land me in the ‘center-right’ category. The question of whether I’m a ‘fascist right-winger’ or a ‘cuckservative progressive’ usually depends on the venue I’m in, and who I’m arguing with. (The most popular political blogs nowadays cater to the extremes, not to the center.)

9.) As I note in #4 above, I’m against ideologically driven boycotts, whether they originate on the right or the left. 

That said, I have been adversely affected (as a consumer) by the Twitter feeds of some novelists/actors/entertainers who constantly bloviate about politics. I don't care if a novelist (for example) is a Democrat or a Republican, whether they’re a fan of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or even Bernie Sanders. But if a novelist is too dogmatic, shrill, and mouthy about political issues on social media, I may have difficulty separating the artist from the art. 

10.) Joseph Epstein once wrote (I’m paraphrasing a bit) that the writer’s goal should be to explain the world, not to change the world. 

It is not my objective to become a partisan political blogger. 

With that in mind, I make it a rule to comment on current events only if I honestly believe that I can bring a unique or nuanced perspective to an issue, beyond what is currently “out there”. 

Yes, I break my own rule sometimes; but that’s my goal.

Wells Fargo, and the End of the White-Collar Code

It was announced today that a group of ex-Wells Fargo employees, who were fired, in scapegoat fashion, following the bank's fake accounts scandal, have initiated a class-action lawsuit against their former employer. This has a significance beyond the Wells Fargo debacle.

Blue-collar employees have long felt free to organize, to take collective actions against their bosses. In certain unionized blue-collar cultures, the us-against-them sentiment is assumed and pervasive.

White-collar workers are different. Outside of a few special situations (such as teachers), there are no white-collar unions to speak of. Whereas blue-collar workers view their immediate coworkers as comrades, white-collar workers view their colleagues as competitors for management's favor--all the breezy talk of "teamwork" notwithstanding.

And herein lies the white-collar code, which mandates that no matter what, one must never push back, blue-collar style, against one's bosses. The white-collar professional must always be "positive". One of the first rules of interviewing, in fact, is that you must never, ever say anything negative about a previous employer .
As a result, office environments at large companies are characterized by a forced facade of cheeriness that no one fully believes, but which everyone tacitly accepts. To do otherwise would be to reveal oneself as something other than a "team player". Or, even worse, an employee with a "bad attitude". The kiss of career death.

Part of this ethos mandates that you must never take legal action against a current or past employer. There are two exceptions to this rule: the government whistleblower and the victim of sexual harassment. But if you take this route, you had better be prepared to switch careers or live off your settlement--for you will never again work in your present industry.

Even this option is not open to a white-collar employee who was simply fired unfairly, or made the fall-guy (or fall-gal) of managerial ineptitude or grey-area, low-grade corruption. If this is your lot, conventional wisdom holds that you should simply dust yourself off, update your resume, and look for another job. (And be careful not to say anything negative about the people who fired you!)

But the Wells Fargo scandal, in which there were 5,300 fall-guys and gals, demonstrates a new reality: The attitude that prevails in today's corporate boardrooms has radically changed from what it was twenty or thirty years ago. 

Thanks to the cult of Jack Welch in the early 2000s, and the overriding focus on share prices, today's corporate leaders no longer feel any obligation to behave ethically, let alone compassionately, toward their employees. The old social contract has been broken.

And without unions, unfairly terminated white-collar employees who don't wish to walk quietly away have one recourse: the lawsuit. 

No one who cares about the future of American economic competitiveness wants to see white-collar lawsuits of this kind become routine. But this may be an inevitable outcome in a post-Jack Welch, shareholder-focused world, in which anything goes, and the concept of the corporate 'community of interest' is a fading abstraction from a bygone era.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Joyce Carol Oates, Limousine Leftism, and Twitter

Joyce Carol Oates is a writer whom many of you respect. So do I—as an artist. I enjoyed Little Bird of Heaven, and “The Ruins of Contracoeur.”

In her freelance gig as a Twitter political pundit, however, she is a dedicated leftwing ideologue—and not a very thoughtful one at that. One of her favorite themes is white guilt, specifically white male guilt. (White guilt also figures heavily in her short stories; but that’s a different issue.)

I’ve worked in the corporate world. I know from experience that corporate diversity policies—contrary to what Ms. Oates seems to believe—strongly encourage the proactive—and sometimes preferential—consideration of non-male, non-white candidates when hiring and promotional decisions are made. 

(Note: We can leave the larger debate about the efficacy and justice of these policies for another time. For now, let us merely acknowledge that they exist at every major corporate, governmental, and educational institution.)

I therefore found Ms. Oates’s above assertion rather half-baked, unsupported, and contrary to my experience. Typical limousine leftism, in other words. I told her so.

JCO resented my assertion that she wasn't experienced in the “real world”, reminding me that she’s been involved in teaching and publishing since 1962. Fair enough; but she hasn't been an ordinary schmuck since around the time Richard Nixon was president. And she certainly hasn't been a staff-level employee in cubicle-land since diversity hiring and promotion policies became the law of the land. 

Let me be clear: Joyce Carol Oates certainly works, but she does so in an elitist bubble, and has for quite some time.

I’ll be honest with the reader: I hesitate to take on the elderly or the very young in public, out of a sense of chivalry. When I do publicly argue with someone (which isn't all that often), I try to keep my targets between the ages of 25 and 65. The last thing I want to do is traumatize a 78-year-old woman.

On the other hand, though, Ms. Oates is a public figure with a large microphone, and she uses it to dish out a mishmash of dogmatic leftwing pronouncements on Twitter, a very public venue. So I thought it would be okay to express (reasonably) polite disagreement. 

Bottom line: Joyce Carol Oates is a fine writer whose work I’ve enjoyed and admired. But her politics, and her understanding of the world, are stuck in the past…approximately 1964, I would say.

'Eleven Miles of Night': YouTube reading progress: Through #38 now posted!

"This place felt ancient, and yes—more than a little eerie. But was it going to be filmworthy? That was the question.
He whirled to his left as a branch snapped somewhere. He stared back into the inscrutable maze of trees. It was seriously dark now. He could see nothing unless he resorted to the night vision camcorder or his flashlight, both of which were now stowed in his backpack. He stopped and listened. 
If someone were walking toward me through those woods, they would be practically on top of me before I would even be able to see them, Jason thought.

He paused on the roadway, straining his ears for any telltale sound—a discernable footstep or another indication of sentient activity. To his relief, there were no more sounds—no footsteps or low growls. And thankfully no breathing. It had probably been nothing more than a raccoon or a possum. These woods would be full of such creatures. There would also be shrews, field mice, and probably bats as well. None of these animals would present any threat. When had a person ever been killed by a rampaging possum or a field mouse, after all? ....."

*        *          *
See my YouTube channel for all the available readings. Or view Eleven Miles of Night at Amazon.com.

SJWs Don’t Grasp Marketing

From CNN:

"A car for women? Cosmopolitan and SEAT under fire for new vehicle 
It's small, purple -- and some find it offensive.
Car manufacturer SEAT and lifestyle publication Cosmopolitan are facing backlash over a brand new car for "women" that was jointly unveiled at Cosmopolitan's FashFest event in London on Friday." -CNN

Who would have thought that  a car could be offensive? Welcome to the Age of Political Correctness and the Social Justice Warrior. The furor over the ‘sexist car’ has even resulted in a Twitter hashtag: #carforwomen. (And the creation of a Twitter hashtag is usually the first sign that a tidal wave of mass stupidity is about to ensue.)

Here is what the social justice warriors of the Internet don’t grasp: Products are almost never designed for “everyone.” Every company larger than a corner ice cream shop thinks in terms of “target market”. 

Good Housekeeping and Vogue magazines aren't targeted at 16- to 25-year old males, because few young males are looking for makeup tips or recipes for making a really mean Bundt cake. Similarly, I would guess that the readership for Men’s Health doesn't include many 70-year-old women.

And yes, sometimes race and ethnicity can define a target market, too. Univision and Telemundo don't market their programming to rural whites who, statistically speaking, don't speak Spanish very well. Univision and Telemundo define their target market as hispanics—recent immigrants, permanent residents, and citizens—who speak EspaƱol

During my corporate career, I once had the opportunity to listen to a talk by Magic Johnson. After retiring from the NBA, Johnson branched out into various business ventures and investments that had nothing to do with basketball.

One of these was a chain of convenience stores in inner-city Los Angeles. Johnson revealed that the selection of beverages at his stores was uniquely tailored to the demonstrated preferences of the predominantly African American clientele in the area. According to Johnson, inner-city African American customers prefer fruit-flavored drinks and punches over the teas and colas that are popular among white consumers in the suburbs.

I remember being impressed by Magic Johnson's grasp of his target market: I would never have thought of that. I would have tried to sell inner-city consumers the teas and colas that I like, and I would have failed miserably.

But then, sweet tea is more popular in the Southeast than it is in Ohio, where I live. Companies who sell beverages in different regions, therefore, are wise to adjust their mix of offerings accordingly.

But what about the issue of discrimination? Surely Magic Johnson committed a social justice infraction by giving his customers the drinks that they wanted. Surely the companies that sell Southern consumers— both white and black—the sweet tea they crave are engaging in regional bias. 

Or maybe they're simply engaging in solid marketing practices.

Back to the little purple car, which has been explicitly targeted at the female car buyer and provoked such outrage. We could reasonably ask if this is a sound business strategy. After all, once you label a vehicle a “car for women,” no heterosexual man under the age of 80 will want to be caught dead in one. 

But the fact of the matter is that, in an overcrowded vehicle market, this is by no means unprecedented: Automobile manufacturers have long marketed vehicles at specific demographic groups. I was an employee at Toyota Motor Company in 2003 when the Japanese automaker launched the Scion line. The Scion was specifically targeted at the Millennial car buyer. 

The reason? Toyota had discovered—through analysis of sales data—that its vehicles disproportionately appealed to older buyers. Most Camry buyers were in their forties, the data said.

I’m forty-eight, and guess what I drive? A Camry. A single man half my age would probably regard a Camry as boring and a little bit fuddy-duddy. When I was twenty-four I drove a Ford Probe, a sport compact that Ford made in the 1990s. But I’m at a point in life where I no longer care so much about a car’s visual appeal, or the image that it might convey. I just want something that’s reliable and cost-effective. That is the difference between a 24-year-old man and a 48-year-old man. 

All consumers are not the same. This is not my opinion; this is a fact that has been borne out by marketing data, ever since marketing data has been collected. For many products, broad generalizations of preferences can be made according to race, region, age, religion, education and income level, and yes—sex. 

The social justice warriors on the Internet are offended by this. But not to worry—the social justice warriors live for the chance to be offended. 

Microaggression Madness at Gonzaga University

Students in a gender studies class in Gonzaga University (in Spokane, Washington) were given a handout this fall that warned that “asking an Asian person to help with a math or science problem” is a “microaggression.” 

Why? Because this “sends the message” that “all Asians are intelligent and good at math/science.”

I’m of Irish ancestry and my people more recently hail from the foothills of Appalachia. So people who know my family background usually assume that I drive a pickup truck and drink copious amounts of beer. They’re wrong on both counts. But oh, to be assumed intelligent on sight!

But the premise of the math homework microaggression is itself ridiculous, likely cooked up out of thin air: What college student, stumped with a math problem, wanders around campus asking random Asians for help? Above all else, this would be an inefficient strategy for getting your calculus homework done. 

People often assume that I’m interested in professional sports because I’m a straight, white, middle aged male. They are sometimes surprised to discover that I couldn't name five current NFL players to save my life. Have I, too, been the victim of a microaggression? Why don't more people assume that I’m interested in needlepoint or ballet?

According to the Gonzaga University handout, it is also a microaggression to say, “I believe that the most qualified person should get the job.” This supposedly sends the message that “people of color are lazy and incompetent.” 

Of course! Now we understand. So what should we say? That we believe all jobs should be allocated by race? This would be, of course, the exact opposite of what the Gonzaga gender studies folks tell us we shouldn't say.

The microaggressions racket (and that is exactly what it is—a racket) creates a set of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t traps whereby almost anything you say can be judged discriminatory, if only subjected to the whimsical logic of the gender studies professor or the campus diversity officer. It’s a wonder kids at college even talk to each other nowadays.

If Gonzaga University were some bizarre parallel universe, it would be easy to overlook this insanity. Unfortunately, this is the sort of nonsense that now passes for deep thought in American institutions of higher learning. 

And if it were merely ridiculous, we could overlook it. College campuses have long been home to innocuous absurdity. 

The problem is that our universities are teaching an entire generation to wear their feelings on their sleeves, to walk around with chips on their shoulders, to actively seek offense where no reasonable offense exists. 

This hardly prepares them to live competently in the real world. And if we can agree that preparation for the real world should be a core objective of a university education, then today’s universities are miserably failing students, parents, and society as a whole. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

YouTube channel update: 'Eleven Miles of Night' Videos #29 through #33 online!

“Okay,” Jason said. “You’ve got my attention.” Jason had experienced the occasional feeling of being watched by an unseen presence. That was part of living alone, he had learned. Sometimes when you were by yourself, the heebie-jeebies were bound to get the best of you. But he had never heard voices. That would be something new for him—and most unwelcome. 
“It got my attention, too,” Anne continued. “But believe it or not, it also got to be a little annoying. I mean, every night I would fall asleep, and then I would be awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of somebody whispering my name—someone who seemed to be just beneath my bed.”.....

Watch/listen to them all at my YouTube channel.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Wells Fargo, and My Unlikely Agreement with Elizabeth Warren

As a conservative, it is with considerable reluctance that I express agreement with, let alone admiration for, the likes of Elizabeth Warren.

Nevertheless, Senator Warren’s evisceration of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf last week was remarkably succinct and on-target. 

After millions of fake accounts were created within the bank, Wells Fargo fired 5,300 rank-and-file employees. Not a single member of the bank’s senior management was cashiered.

Warren posed three crucial questions to Stumpf: Did the CEO himself resign? Did he return any of his compensation? Did he fire any of his management team? Stumpf belatedly and evasively answered each question in the negative. 

As the Bernie Sanders surge earlier this year demonstrated, there is presently a faction in this country that would be more than happy to let the government run everything. Marxism, after being discredited on the ground as a bloody, misery-inducing failure in the last century, has become a resurrected vampire in this one.

Marxists of the twenty-first century have found an ally in John Stumpf. The culture of managerial corruption at Wells Fargo is the stuff of Marxist agitprop. Unfortunately, the behavior of Stumpf and his management team plays directly to the Marxist narrative about the evils of big business. 

Senator Warren is right: John Stumpf should resign.

The New York Times Unnecessarily Endorses Clinton

The New York Times is free to endorse whomever it wants, of course. But we may be forgiven for asking: a.) was a formal endorsement really necessary, and b.) will anyone bother to read the long-winded Clinton apologetics appearing on the Times’s editorial page?

Here’s a taste:

“…Mrs. Clinton’s occasional missteps, combined with attacks on her trustworthiness, have distorted perceptions of her character.” 

The overall gist of the piece is that we shouldn't think too hard or probe too deeply into the Clintons’ long history of corruption and influence peddling. Why? Because Mrs. Clinton’s opponent is a Really Bad Person. Plus, Vast Rightwing Conspiracy.

The New York Times has long been a bastion of East Coast limousine leftism. Depending on your viewpoint, this may be a feature, or this may be a bug. 

Readers who trust the judgment of the editorial board of The New York Times were already going to vote for Mrs. Clinton, anyway. For them, this is mere preaching to the choir. 

Everyone else will realize that the question of the New York Times’s endorsement was never really up for grabs. 

So I repeat: Was the Times’s endorsement even necessary, and will anyone bother to read it?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Free Book Friday: 'Lilith: a novel' FREE on Amazon Kindle September 23rd

View 'Lilith: a novel' on Amazon.com!

Get it FREE Friday, September 23rd only!

With Lilith, the search for love can be deadly.

Someone is murdering Ohio men who use dating websites. The men are found in their homes, killed by a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.

Such is the work of the serial killer codenamed 'Lilith'. But who is Lilith? Is Lilith a 'she'? A 'he'? Or more than one person? 

These are the questions that Alan Grooms must answer. Grooms is a detective in the Ohio Department of Criminal Investigation (ODCI).

Together with his partners, Dave Hennessy and Maribel Flynn, Grooms will enter the anonymous world of Internet dating to set a trap of his own. 

This will eventually pit him against a homicidal young couple who kill men for profit, a couple who will kill anyone who stands in their way.