The Fitness Test

2 Jan

lowin

(Stock photo: just an example)

[Edited to add: in case it is not clear, new chapters will go up every Friday for the next 30 weeks]

This has been a somewhat stressful but nevertheless very interesting past few weeks. I cannot say anything at this moment about the original book I mentioned, other than to say I still have an agent and the book is out with publishers for consideration. When the entire story has reached its conclusion, I will happily tell you the whole tale. For now, I am moving ahead with a new idea that involves a second book I am in the midst of writing.

 

The following idea was inspired by two things: AOL and Andy Weir’s The Martian. Let’s start with AOL. There is a meaningful reason I  am telling you this, so please bear with me.

aol

 

Way back when the internet was just a baby and AOL dominated the whole damn show, a little start-up called Amazon.com was making some important, and frightening inroads in the world of publishing. In order to really monetize the value of their website, Amazon had to learn how to make valid recommendations to their existing customers – recommendations that branched out from books into the vast world of consumer products. AOL was trying to make the same leap, but had some problems running their back room, so they looked around for someone with experience setting up online shopping and decided to hire Amazon to streamline their purchasing and ordering. Amazon agreed, of course, and started merrily collecting vast reams of data about what items customers tended to buy right after they bought a book. Customer buys a book about Asian cooking, orders an electric wok, a rice cooker and a package of Asian spices.

 

Amazon tracked all these customer orders that involved books and created a massive data set that led directly to the creation of their recommendation algorithms, which accounts for about 1/3 of Amazon’s total sales. Amazon went on to utterly destroy AOL, using AOL’s own data, and AOL PAID AMAZON TO DO THAT.

 

What’s the point? AOL did not understand what business it was in. AOL thought it was an internet portal, when in fact, it was a data synthesizer, and it made a mission critical mistake and not only gave that data away for free, but paid a competitor to access it.

 

Publishing today does not understand what business it is in. Publishers seem to think they are in the business of selling books, which, when you think about it, means they sell really thin slices of trees to customers who enjoy hallucinating vividly.

 

That is not what business they are in. Publishers are in the business of selling two things: information (non-fiction) and entertainment (fiction). If the information can be entertaining at the same time, all the better. Think of books like Freakonomics, anything by Mary Roach or A.J. Jacobs or Malcolm Gladwell. Infotainment at its finest.

 

Their primary competitors are almost all visual. What competes for customer’s entertainment hours? Television, video games, movies, graphic novels, manga, music videos and YouTube.  If you want to reach the customers who prefer visual formats, you need to format your product in a way that is familiar and pleasing to these customers.

buggy

 

Publishers today appear to be in a frantic race to improve the buggy. They are torn between blockbusters and genre fiction that sells well for the category but breaks no banks. They are missing the fucking point by a long shot. If they cannot find a way to put a motor in the buggy, they will go the same way as the buggy.

 

And they are.

 

The writing is on the wall, writ large for all to see.

 

What is the ratio in  a movie theater audience between people who have read the book, and people who thought the movie sounded pretty good?  40:1? That would be my guess. After opening night when the diehard fans have all weighed in on which was better, the movie or the book, you are left with an audience of non-book reading movie goers who outnumber the readers 40:1.

 

If it’s not 40:1, it’s still pretty damn big.

 

Why do people prefer movies?

 

  • Time: It takes two hours – reading books takes a lot longer
  • Interactivity: It’s a social experience – reading books is solitary
  • Presentation: The grammar is visual and welcoming, not formal and alienating
  • Narration: Movies are almost always told with multiple narrators, from multiple perspectives and time is malleable through the use of dissolves, cuts, flashbacks – we can move around a visual world with ease.

 

Rather than appeal to this group who prefer visual packaging, publishers simply ignore them and write endless editorials about how average people today are illiterate, ignorant imbeciles who reject the intellectual difficulty reading poses. Instead, they all chase the same slice of the market, which is shrinking by the day. College educated customers who do not feel alienated by formal grammatical rules and structures.  It may comfort line editors to see all the verb tenses agree, but it comforts CUSTOMERS to see their own ways of speaking and being reflected on the page, and not just in the fucking dialogue.

 

Publishers are essentially sneering grammar Nazis perfecting a new and better buggy, praying those damn automobile things just go away. They are not going away. And if publishers can’t get their shit sorted out, they too will become extinct, at least in the form we see them now.

 

Publishers sell entertainment. They sell stories. It doesn’t matter what damn format the story comes in: thin slices of trees are just one option. The most common way that stories popularized by publishers are consumed is in movie format. Books made into movies have far more movie ticket buyers than thin slices of tree buyers.

 

All hope is not lost, though. There are writers out there who know how to capitalize on audience preference for visual storytelling: graphic novels and manga comics have exploded for precisely this reason. Publishers seems to grasp the importance of this market and are publishing more and more of these visual books every year. But they need to make the next big leap into altering text-based books to match the desires of the people with money who will spend it, if the product meets their conditions.

 

martian

 

This brings me to Andy Weir’s The Martian. Andy originally published his story, chapter by chapter, on his blog, using feedback from his commenters to correct technical errors and move the story forwards. Eventually, a sufficient number of readers requested a Kindle version of the story be made available and Andy put it up at Amazon for the lowest price Amazon would allow: $0.99. The book sold like crazy, landing Andy both a traditional book deal and a film deal within days of one another. The book is a virtuoso performance of scientific information and entertainment that is well worth your read, although I will bet all the money in the world that far more people will buy movie tickets than will ever buy the book.

 

movies

 

Visual story-telling is preferred.

 

Why did Andy succeed with this venture? Let’s go back to my original list:

 

  • Time: Reading one chapter at a time was a small, weekly investment
  • Interactivity: Readers commented and chatted with each other via his blog
  • Presentation: Extremely technical scientific jargon was simplified and distilled so that non-scientifically literate people could understand it with ease
  • Narration: The book includes multiple narrators in multiple locations and uses dramatic irony (when you know something the characters don’t) to great effect.

 

Andy was able to create a product that successfully competed with television and other forms of serial story-telling, and add all the other features that make visual storytelling so compelling into his text based product. Kindle now offers a serial story-telling option for publishing on Amazon, because this tool is so engaging and attractive to modern audiences, who, contrary to traditional publishers assumptions are not illiterate, ignorant or stupid.   I would argue that modern consumers of stories are more sophisticated than book readers, because they demand information in a format that offers more than simply words on a page.

 

Modern consumers of stories want to participate in the story in a way that can be experienced viscerally and immediately.

 

Andy showed one way that authors can meet the demands of this new, sophisticated audience. I am reminded of my International Strategy professor who had two famous maxims he reminded us of every single class:

  1. You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate

  2. Don’t bring dead kittens

     

The first one is self-explanatory, and a huge part of the reason I am taking this action. I’m attempting to negotiate the outcome I want, and if it fails, I will have no one to blame but myself. Fair enough. I am a firm believer in meritocracy and capitalism and I think properly functioning markets do what they are intended to do: allow the cream to rise. Am I cream? I’ll find out soon enough.

 

The second one has to do with solutions. Identifying flaws and analyzing problems is not what MBA students are trained to do: we are trained to bring solutions. A brilliant summary of problems and challenges with no solutions is more commonly known as whining. That is what undergraduate business majors are trained to do. Note the problems and then let the better trained work out the solutions.

 

Andy created his own solution, but here are a few other solutions publishers (and authors) should be considering – back to that list again.

Time

An average movie takes just over two hours to watch. A long movie is three hours. Anything longer than three hours and you need to split that into two movies because chugging a large iced tea and sitting for three hours generally surpasses human bladder capacity.

The average reader reads between 250 – 300 wpm. If you are competing for that two to three hour window of time (and you are), then your book can run from 30 000 words (2 hrs at 250 wpm) to 54 000 (3 hrs at 300 wpm). The industry standard is 250 words per page, so you are looking at a book that runs from 120 pages to 216 pages max.

 

Traditional publishing wants a minimum of 60 000 words to consider a book a novel and the upper limit can be huge. Where do these numbers come from? Who the fuck cares? They don’t work anymore. There are tons of great books out there that are under 216 pgs, but what publishers don’t seem to get is that the short read is likely part of what made them popular!

reading

 

You have two hours on a plane. Which book do you choose? The 120 pg one or the 560 page one?  Which one will successfully compete with the in-flight entertainment?

 

Interactivity

You don’t need a blog to create interaction with readers, although I would guess that it helps a lot, and I would highly recommend it. The Amazon review section allows for some reader feedback and perhaps that is sufficient, but some sort of social media interaction should be standard for meeting the needs of sophisticated readers who want to influence how the story develops. Twitter, tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram – who cares? Just give readers a platform to comment and interact either with you, or with each other.

 

Presentation

Forget about the “rules” for writing novels. Fuck grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, narration – don’t ever read a “how to write” book ever. However you speak, spell, use commas (if you use them at all) or what narrative voice you choose, conforming those mannerisms to what the Eggheads In Charge have decreed as “correct” means you lose the most vital thing you can possibly have in the cacophony of voices all trying to be heard:  you lose your authenticity. If your normal speaking and writing voice doesn’t give a shit about present or past tense (most of us don’t, in actual fact), don’t try to hammer your writing into a voice that isn’t really yours. Fuck the Grammar Police! Your story will attract those who are like you, and when they see their own ways of speaking and talking and being, reflected on the page, you will automatically create a connection with your readers. Copy editors are a very distinct group of people: mostly white, with Masters Degrees in Creative Writing and a low tolerance for Rebels Without a Comma. Fuck them all.  You do you. The grammarians will hate your book but who cares? Grammarians are not representative of most people. We are going after the average person who really doesn’t give a fuck how a semi-colon is used.

 

Narration

Again, fuck the rules here. It doesn’t matter if your story is told in first person, second person, third person or any combination of these voices. Moses did not come down from Mount Sinai with tablets inscribed thou shalt select one narrative voice and use it consistently. This is a rule some uptight editor with a pencil up his ass decided on, and you are free to turn your back on this rule and use whatever goddamn voice you like. You can even insert your own authorial voice from time to time, commenting on what your characters are doing and if you think that sounds like crazy bad advice, consider that Jane fucking Austen used authorial voice and she is generally considered one of the finest novelists to ever have lived. The pencil up the ass guy was apparently born after her, or he would have ripped those lines out of Pride and Prejudice and we would all be the worse off for it.

 

Visual mediums almost always have multiple narrators. Points of view change swiftly. We can read cuts and edits and dissolves and fades and every other trick of cinema and still know where we are in space and time and there is no reason not to embrace this in text-based story-telling. The publishers may not like it because Different! Strange! New! Eeeeek! But an audience accustomed to visual storytelling is totally, absolutely, 100% comfortable with it.

 

So here I am 2300 words into this long scribe and about to get to the point. Are you still with me? Did my words and all the nice pictures successfully compete with whatever else might have be on offer for your time today?

 

Good. I’m on the right track then.

 

I am publishing my second novel, called The Fitness Test in serial format on a Pay Per View blog. Relax, it’s only $0.99 per chapter or you can buy all 30 chapters up front for $14.99. If you think the book sucks, you’re only out $0.99. I will publish a new chapter every Friday, and I will be taking all your comments and observations into account as I start revising the book. I will be publishing under Janet Bloomfield to shield my first book from my many harassers.

 

Let me tell you first about the story. I originally planned it from the perspective of the father, but my 12 year daughter, who is an avid reader of YA fiction, encouraged me to flip it, and tell the story from the perspective of the 16 year old daughter. It worked surprisingly well to make her the main character, and it turns out that blogging for these past two years has made me somewhat of an expert on who she is.

domes

 

16 year old Lowin Sorrow lives in a domed city in post-apocalyptic North America where the citizens literally believe the Darwinian maxim that only the strongest survive. When her father uncovers corruption at the highest levels of government, Lowin’s life is blown apart and she discovers a world outside the domed city where survival has very little to do with fitness and everything to do with who, and what you know.

 

Here is a visual representation of what the book is about:

gattaca

plus

 

blade runner

 

plus

 

manchurian

 

plus

 

gone girl

 

plus

 

hunger games

 

Lowin is an entitled, narcissistic, self-absorbed, vain, cruel and utterly clueless young woman who can take any situation and make it about herself. She can simultaneously see herself as the most privileged person in her world, and at the same time, bemoan how cruel and unfair life is to her. Lowin is always the victim. She is incapable of seeing the world from any vantage point but her own.

 

After two years of blogging, I now realize that Lowin is a feminist. She would never use that word, but she embodies all of the vanity, cruelty, stupidity and obliviousness of modern feminists. She is Amanda Marcotte, Jessica Valenti, Zerlina Maxwell, Anita Sarkeesian and Amanda Hess all rolled into one, given the power of life and death.

 

She is a horrible person.

 

And she is going to do some horrible things.

 

volunteer

 

I am looking now for volunteers to help me to construct a particular physical space. I would like to put out a call to engineers, architects, search and rescue specialists, firefighters, police officers, soldiers, hobbyists and any other interested parties to join me in a Skype chat where we can discuss a physical space I need. Ideally, I would like this to be a graphic chapter, where the environment is represented visually as in graphic novels, but given that this may take considerable time to put together, I am perfectly willing to craft the space using words.

 

I know all the key things that need to happen in this chapter. I have chapters 1 through 7 ready to go, and chapters 9 through 17, and all the others are planned out in detail.

 

If you are interested in the Skype chat, email me at Janet@AVoiceForMen.com with the subject line SKYPE CHAT.

 

kittens

 

Let’s see what we can negotiate. And how many kittens we can keep alive.

 

http://www.thefitnesstest.net

 

Lots of love,

 

JB

83 Responses to “The Fitness Test”

  1. boteotu January 2, 2015 at 19:55 #

    Reblogged this on Blogger at the Edge of the Universe..

    Like

  2. Jason Wexler January 2, 2015 at 20:20 #

    Janet, in something of an irony, what you describe is a return to the publishing scheme of the 19th century that produced many of those absurdly long tomes you described as being huge. The authors like Hugo and Dumas would publish a chapter a week for years in a literary magazine, while taking reader suggestions about things to add or change or improve from comment and response sections. Similarly comic books have an on again, off again relationship with the letter columns, wherein readers give their feedback to the publishers and get responses, or in the somewhat unfortunate case of Geoff Johns a job, rewriting the entire storyline (although Elliott S! Maggin got a job in comics 30 years earlier in a similar way, as did Gail Simone at about the same time as Johns).

    You may want to consider looking into SketchUp as a way of making your graphic sections, I use it as an architectural tool (I’m only mediocre at it and my pc is still down for another week, so I can’t build anything for you right now). However it may make creating a reliable world view plausible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kate Minter January 2, 2015 at 21:09 #

    Sounds like fun! If it worked for Dickens…:)

    Like

  4. Michael January 2, 2015 at 21:27 #

    As always impressed by your energy.

    I’m in for all 30 chapters just on the strength of your blog.

    You listened to the Serial podcast or read about it? If not google the discussions. Though the story was “done” in the producer’s mind before it started, it took on a life of its own through the weeks as listeners contributed questions and new information each week. The ending was written right up to the last week.

    Absolutely riveting listening. Some call it a game changer in the world of podcasts.

    Here’s hoping your book is the same.

    Like

  5. Mark January 2, 2015 at 21:40 #

    I was about to say the same thing. Some of Dostoevsky’s novels were published in series in popular magazines. Only after the fact were the assembled into novels. So pay per chapter isn’t actually all that new.

    Like

  6. Mark January 2, 2015 at 21:45 #

    Btw JB, what precisely do you mean by ‘physical space’? Setting? Or like, what the setting actually looks like? Because if you’re looking for inspiration, you can always go on deviantart.com and look in the galleries of science fiction art groups, or follow artistis’ links to their home pages to look at their concept art (I know of a few concept artists I like who do scifi/futuristic type work). You may even find someone who’s pretty good and does work like what you want and you could ask them if they’d be willing to collaborate. Even if not, though, there is a lot of cool futuristic and fantasy concept art out there that at least stimulates one’s imagination.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. judgybitch January 2, 2015 at 21:47 #

    Thanks, that’s a great idea. I have a series of events that need to take place under certain conditions and I have a general idea of what the space will look like. I just thought it would be fun to crowd source ideas for how to refine it.

    Like

  8. Eldritch Edain January 2, 2015 at 22:04 #

    Ah, the days of AOL, when the internet was so different, sorta like MacCauley Culkin before he grew up and got weird.

    I agree that publishers don’t understand the market. Were it not for Napster in the ’90s upsetting the music industries apple cart, iTunes wouldn’t exist today and they’d still be forcing us to buy CDs. They need to force Baby Boomers into retirement and put Millennials in charge of publishing.

    Like

  9. Jason Wexler January 2, 2015 at 22:16 #

    I knew there had to be more than just French writers doing it… everyone I could come up with was French.

    Like

  10. Mark January 2, 2015 at 22:31 #

    I think even the English did it. Btw, do you read de Balzac?

    Like

  11. Mark January 2, 2015 at 22:43 #

    Sure. In the off-chance you have any biological questions related to the book, feel free to ask me, I can pass myself off as a quasi-expert (grad student, close enough).

    I just say this because when I see a scifi movie or videogame, I’m the one who insists on pooping on the parade and saying ‘that can’t happen, DNA doesn’t work like that!’ Though I doubt there are enough anal retentive biologists out there to cause problems for your sales numbers.

    Like

  12. Jason Wexler January 2, 2015 at 23:32 #

    I’m cut from the same uptight academic cloth that JB was rightly criticizing. At one point I decided it would up my intellectual/nerd cred if I read the complete works of everyone who is considered a classic (The Great Works of Western Literature/The 40 foot Harvard bookshelf), which includes Balzac; as well as anyone who’d ever been nominated for an ALA literary award, the Nebula, the Hugo and the Pulitzer. It all ended up running together and became quite painful because of the recent Pulitzer nominated works, which focus more on style than on substance and are written to imprees literature professors, often leaving out “plot” in favor of nonsense. Which doesn’t really answer your question, I read him in the sense that I looked at pages with words he wrote on them, but being in that elitist mood, I read the original French while being years out of practice, so I didn’t pick up much of what was actually being said.

    As to the English doing it, I knew that but didn’t list Dickens because he managed to avoid the million word monsters that Tolstoy and Dumas wrote by that method.

    Like

  13. Chris January 2, 2015 at 23:47 #

    I love all of your other articles very much, but this one sounds like you’re rationalizing the fact that you haven’t yet obtained a deal for a bound, paper book, and justifying your disinclination to take the time to proofread your grammar.

    There are more reasons to write a book than to “get with the times,” and people who love to read won’t be concerned about the invested time — they wish that their favorite books would last even longer. I know women tend to be socially impressionable and concerned about hipness, but you’ve always been different. With your brains and experience, you know better.

    I hope that you don’t personalize this comment; it’s written in the spirit of your own no-bullshit prose, and for the purpose of adults who enjoy respectfully debating and holding each other accountable, because we can, because we’re not super-sensitive.

    Please don’t encourage bad grammar. It’s not so much about following others’ rules, as it’s about following the established conventions of English (at large) in order to communicate clearly. That’s what grammar is all about: the clear expression of one’s thoughts. Joining the illiterati by casting grammar to the wind will introduce rhetorical speed-bumps that can make any text difficult to understand.

    Thanks for reading. And !Viva JB! This article, this slight emotional hiccup in your normally rational approach, is forgivable — and understandable, given what you’ve been going through lately with the “socially networking” whiners and the frightened publishers.

    Chris

    Like

  14. judgybitch January 2, 2015 at 23:56 #

    Fuck grammar.

    And how do you know i don’t have a book deal? 😛

    Like

  15. ar10308 January 2, 2015 at 23:57 #

    JB,
    Don’t know if you’ve considered it or know about it, but have you talked to Vox Day who runs Castalia House with a number of other “Blue” Sci-Fi/F writers? (“Blue” means they believe in reality, not Social Justice)
    Castalia House has developed quite a following has published some of the best books I’ve read in a decade. It also some of the most brilliant writers I’ve ever read (John C. Wright).
    They have a great business and distribution model. If you haven’t looked into them, I highly suggest you do.

    Like

  16. judgybitch January 3, 2015 at 00:14 #

    I did look at them, but the crowd-sourcing chapter by chapter is something my agent supports me doing. If I can build a good platform, it helps sell the book through more traditional channels. He agrees with my analysis of what is wrong with publishing today.

    Like

  17. ar10308 January 3, 2015 at 00:18 #

    Fair enough. Glad you checked them out. I figured I’d suggest them as publisher that is actually gaining market share and employing authors who are happy to be there and see if you’d heard of them.

    Like

  18. FanBoy January 3, 2015 at 00:20 #

    Longtime reader delurking to say the first chapter was really good

    Waiting for chapter 2

    Like

  19. Chris January 3, 2015 at 00:20 #

    Good point! I’m obviously crossing my fingers that you do. Shit, I’ll commit to ten copies if reader commitment ever becomes an issue. Besides the support, I know a few people in my life who could use a JB book.

    There’s just something anti-illiteracy about the article. “Fuck grammar”? From a writer? Somebody must have really pissed you off about that whole topic. The funny thing about all of this is, you don’t have bad grammar, even with that attitude. Perhaps you haven’t seen the worst of the worst anti-grammar writers. 🙂 It’s just an odd thing to encourage. It sounds like something a modern feminist would say. “But proofreading is so harrrrrd!”

    Looking forward to more JB articles anyway, so that I can continue to hold people down and make ’em read them.

    Like

  20. ar10308 January 3, 2015 at 00:27 #

    Also, let me know of you need any electrical contribution when it comes to building your “space”. I’m an electrical engineer by degree and profession.

    Like

  21. judgybitch January 3, 2015 at 00:27 #

    No one pissed me off about it,but there is something classist that rubs me the wrong way when it comes to “correct” grammar.

    Reading a trilogy by Moira Young called the Dustlands, where the main character is this hardscrabble young cage fighter woman and her grammar reflects that in a really authentic way. I love that she was able to push that past uptight copy editors.

    Here’s an example of that I mean:

    “The day’s hot. So hot an dry that all I can taste in my mouth is dust. The kinda white heat day when you can hear th’earth crack.

    We ain’t had a drop of rain fer near six months now. Even the spring that feeds the lake is stratin to run dry. You gotta walk someways out now to fill a bucket. Pretty soon, there won’t be no point callin it by its name.”

    I don’t mean fuck grammar because you’re too ignorant to learn it. I mean fuck grammar because the story is served so much better by unconventional, but honest usage.

    Make sense?

    Like

  22. Chris January 3, 2015 at 00:48 #

    Certainly; I can understand your standpoint on class elitism. The uppity insistence on “proper writing” excludes people who’d like to express themselves, but don’t happen to have the education or obsessive skills to stick to conventions that might appear arbitrary.

    In your example, the author hasn’t ignored grammar; she’s made the rhetorical decision to use the character’s vernacular — even if the “character” is speaking in the first-person voice — and this can very effectively set the scene and the tone. The whole book would be different otherwise, and probably not nearly as compelling. So, yeah, if someone has a problem with that, he’s missing the point, and fuck him.

    Thanks for explaining. 🙂

    Like

  23. Mark January 3, 2015 at 01:26 #

    In defense of grammar, the reason ‘correct grammar’ exist isn’t just for the edification of snobs, but so a language can be mutually comprehensible across all speakers. Much like slang, a different grammar may work fine within a community with a shared vernacular, but may render that group incomprehensible to others.

    This is why I think it can be troublesome when we downplay the importance of rules of language especially withing discrete communities in order to avoid discrimination against their dialect. It may be ’empowering,’ but it leaves them more insular by reducing their ability to communicate with those outside of the community. The cold hard truth is, even as English is the most useful language in the world, you’ll have a difficult time trying to converse with someone from Hong Kong or Australia while speaking ebonics or Appalachian, or Cockney for that matter.

    Like

  24. Mark January 3, 2015 at 01:49 #

    I am also probably what you might call snobbish, but I am likely less ashamed of my elitism. I like high literature, classical music, and I thumb my nose at people who use Microsoft excel for statistics instead of R. But four years of college taught be to detest the ‘charlatans’ more than the philistines. To me, most ‘postmodern’ lit has less artistic value than a Michael Bay movie, and I mean that sincerely.

    I read Old Goriot, which I think is good in any language. I read fairy tales (brothers Grimm) in German, but not much else. I may try and read something in Spanish or Italian at some point, but I categorically refuse to so much as pronounce French words correctly. I have it out for that language: too many vowels, not enough consonants. Hebrew has the opposite problem incidentally.

    An you articulate precisely why I tend to avoid contemporary literature. I liked some Cormac McCarthy novels, they’re entertaining, but a lot of the others (especially the ones getting the prizes I’m sure) seem to just be trying to be ‘deep.’ Can’t stand that. Charlatanry is my favorite word to describe it. Though I really like the word sciolism too. I discovered it in the dictionary by accident, and ever since it’s been my favorite word.

    Like

  25. boteotu January 3, 2015 at 02:27 #

    Did you mean this for me (boteotu), or JudgyBitch?

    Like

  26. Jason Wexler January 3, 2015 at 03:14 #

    I had to drop an undergraduate math class called “numerical methods” which I think was supposed to be my university’s poor man’s numerical analysis, because they did the programming in Excel and I never learned Excel or any spreadsheet program really. I agree that R is clearly better, if only because I was able to learn it.

    I’m not ashamed of my “elitism” or ” snobishness”, I’m proud of my intelligence and skills, and the hard work I put into (temporarily) mastering French, German, Latin and Greek (unlike riding a bike languages are use them or lose them); I enjoy many of the works or literature I read, and while I’m a fan of Shakespeare including many of the lesser known works, I also am able to view Shakespeare and the mostly 19th century writers which English teachers are fond of as being clearly dated and out of touch with modern audiences. I essentially agree with Tolstoys view of Shakespeare, but believe it also applies to Tolstoy himself now. I’ve long found myself at war with the subjective nature of the humanities. My eleventh grade thesis/disertation (I ended up at a high school that did experimental education stuff), was written on the disutility of English Literature and Composition education, it was rejected officially on the grounds that it failed to use any secondary sources (it was all original research), but I think we can guess why they really rejected my thesis. Anyway I have lots of elitist tendencies, I just hate prescriptive language.

    Like

  27. Vera January 3, 2015 at 06:59 #

    It’s like Mark Twain’s books. His characters speak broken English, but the writer doesn’t. Our language is already imperfect. Until we get back to Latin, I will have to agree that grammar matters.

    Like

  28. Mozite January 3, 2015 at 11:21 #

    That’s where we run into a problem though; whilst we need some form of grammar in order to have a common set up, when the rules become overly technical, and are then enforced even in situations where meaning has been transferred, then what purpose does the grammar have? Whilst I lean more towards respect for grammar than away from it (as moving too far away does eventually lead to incomprehensibility), I personally think the rules can be restricting.

    I tutor at my former high school, and occasionally have some students for English and have found that they respond much better when I can explain not simply that “we say it this way” but show them why it is that how they’ve crafted their sentences results in ambiguity in the meaning received for a reader (unless it’s a tense issue, given that those pretty much are arbitrary (why is it “I do” and “he does” for example)); in other words, why the grammar is there in the first place – to facilitate meaning. Yeah, we’ll fix up the other ones as well, but you can tell that the student, and to be honest, myself, don’t really care when we both know that I’ve turned from a human reader telling the student where it is that there’s some trouble understanding his meaning into essentially Microsoft Grammar Check.

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  29. Grant Dossetto (@GrantDossetto) January 3, 2015 at 12:16 #

    Comic book publishers figured this out a long time ago. They own the rights to their characters though with the writers essentially renting access to them for a finite amount of time. Publishers essentially distribute someone else’s creative property which would seem to make it hard for them to branch out into other storytelling mediums.

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  30. paulvzo January 3, 2015 at 14:55 #

    Generally, all true. And sad. Sad for various reasons, but you never mentioned the biggest underlying problem with all this self-publishing: we are inundated with media. Yes, some great writers and photographers now have an opportunity to be appreciated, but the consumer has to wade through so much shit, said great writers and photographers are just as hard to discovers as when others controlled the publishing thereof. Same end result.

    As I think Jason pointed out, using dialect has never been a criteria of “proper.” In fact, just before getting this post, well into my fifth??? James Lee Burke novel, I thought, one again, what a master of dialect he is. Country, Texas and Cagun.

    The story of Jack Kerouac and his friends exploring the idea of “spontaneous prose,” and making prose that reflected the bop jazz so popular at the time, is well known. The conventional world was aghast at this new style. Truman Capote called On The Road, “Typing, not writing.”

    But here’s the thing: The men (and several women) who wrote this amazing prose and poetry were well educated and extremely brilliant and very much aware of the contributions of all authors up through through Hemingway and Wolfe. They did not start with a blank canvas and throw word paint at it. Like Newton standing on the shoulders of giants, they had points of literary navigation. They used proper spelling except in dialog, their choice of when and where to use periods, commas, semicolons, etc. was intentional and constructive to the style, not placed in ignorance.

    Finally a comment about visuals vs. text. Sure, a two hour movie is a “quickie” version of a book, but like are real life “quickie,” often a lot is not conveyed. Yes, reading a novel is sort of elitist, it’s far more requiring of mental skills than passively being entertained. Which is why I read three, four novels a week. “Never” go to the movies.

    Call me elitist, I guess. Better than the emerging Idiocracy. (I movie I keep telling myself to get on DVD!)

    Like

  31. Jason Wexler January 3, 2015 at 15:10 #

    With my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, I note that grammar nazis hate the phrase “I personally”, admittedly it is a redundant affectation, which is why I’ve been trying to avoid using it, as well as its cousin “myself”, which would have gone well in this sentence where the prior comma is; but it can be difficult to modify long used speech patterns, see my direct response to JB and the misuse of the word ironic in that post, as an example.

    Part of the reason I reject prescrptivist grammar, spelling and literature, is that those things stunt both language development and interest in communication. I’m continually surprised, though I shouldn’t be, at how many everyday people have amazingly well informed and cogent ideas about any number of topics, but usually stay quiet because they believed their English teachers assessment that they were inarticulate and illiterate, in the broadest senses of those words.

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  32. that1susan January 3, 2015 at 15:58 #

    I’m really excited about what you’re doing, JB. I think you’re very smart to pay close attention to the preferences of the majority of people. Also, your analogy about what the literary police define as quality literature, and what the majority of people enjoy reading and viewing, puts me in mind of other groups of ideological “police” who’d like to dictate what people “should” be attracted to when looking for a mate, and also who assume that they know more about what makes a good relationship than the people in the relationships themselves.

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  33. judgybitch January 3, 2015 at 16:01 #

    I really hope so.

    And Susan I just want to let you know that WordPress hates you for some reason. You are an approved commenter and yet every second comment seems to get locked in moderation. I’ll try and keep on top of it, but it’s not me that’s doing it!

    You have angered the WordPress gods in some way 🙂

    Like

  34. that1susan January 3, 2015 at 17:16 #

    🙂 This seems to be my fate — but I get bored in discussions where no one ever gets offended by what I’m saying, so I guess I’ll just embrace the hate. 🙂

    Like

  35. that1susan January 3, 2015 at 17:26 #

    Chris and JB, I think the following point made by Chris is something you both actually agree on. Chris wrote: “That’s what grammar is all about: the clear expression of one’s thoughts.”

    This definition is very different from that of the “grammar police,” and I definitely see JB following this idea in her writing. When something is so poorly written that the clarity is compromised, that’s a serious problem.

    J.B.’s writing is very clear, and I haven’t seen her make any grammar mistakes that would be distracting to your average intelligent person.

    I think she makes a good point about literary publishes living in a different world than the rest of us. As I’ve already shared on this blog, one of my favorite writers, James Redfield, resorted to self-publishing and discovered that he had a better connection to the pulse of society than the publishers who never thought his book would sell.

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  36. Spaniard January 3, 2015 at 17:29 #

    Movies are boring.
    Novels are boring.
    Essays are extremely interesting.
    Blogs with a touch of philosophy and a lot of sociology (like this) are extremely interesting.

    My opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Spaniard January 3, 2015 at 17:42 #

    I would like to crap a little bit on the typical Spanish beta provider male.
    Most of their misfortunes are THEIR fault.
    When they reach 30 they crave for wedding and children way more than cock carouselers in their late 30s.
    Due to their paternal instincts?
    No way.
    Just because by marrying and being dads they feel socially integrated.
    Plus…
    They fear freedom.
    Plus…
    They fell “protected” by children. They do not protect children, they feel protected by them.
    Why?
    They feel fear of women, so they think that playing the “respectable and good dad” rol, and pushing bay stroke in the park they are more attractive to females. They “use” their children to feel they have more value in the sexual market.
    Of course, they are not more attractive to women for that and their market sexual value does not increase but they are convinced of that. And they keep on dreaming.
    I think is to laugh at the carpet about.
    When they find out that they are mistaken it is too late: they are divorced, no flat, no money, no lots of women (as they expected) and ex wife shagging in the former marriage bed with the coke dealer with a tatoo in the cock.

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  38. Spaniard January 3, 2015 at 17:44 #

    “baby strokers”.

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  39. that1susan January 3, 2015 at 19:41 #

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the possible reasons why some people value excitement over security, while others value security over excitement, and I’ve also been thinking about many people’s tendency (including my own) to feel like our personal ideas about relationships are the ones that everyone would be better off following. One key issue is the insistence of many who reside in what I’d call the non-egalitarian sphere of the manosphere, that women in egalitarian relationships become bored with their husbands and don’t see them as hot.

    There may be some truth to this idea, as one of the reasons I didn’t marry till 35 was that I wasted many years crushing on men who had no interest in me, or men with whom I had a lot of conflict. In other words, what attracted me most was a guy who cared so little about what I thought of him that he behaved either aloofly or like a complete jerk towards me. I was wildly attracted to the guys who never asked me out. I spent a lot of time whining to my friends and feeling very sorry for myself over the unfairness of it all.

    But as I matured, I grew out of being so self-absorbed, and accepted that I had life better than a lot of people out there, and started reconciling myself to the strong possibility that there wasn’t a guy for me. I learned to gain more enjoyment from the little things in life, though I was still a little bit hopeful that something might magically work out.

    In my early thirties, I spent a few days with an elderly (and pretty egalitarian, though I don’t think they ever used that word) aunt and uncle who’d been happily married for many years, and were still enjoying one another’s companionship. And I realized that even after the first flush of romance and lust wears off, there are many more things to enjoy in an equal partnership with someone you know really well, who also knows you really well and still wants to be with you. I said a quiet prayer that the next time I met a man who was really attracted to me, I was going to give the relationship a chance, and it was soon after this that I started dating my husband.

    As we’ve grown closer and gotten to know one another through the years, and had two daughters and worked together on raising them, I’ve come to greatly appreciate the merits of conjugal love. Years ago in college, a (male) sociology professor shared his perspective that one problem with marriages today was that our society places so much importance on continually experiencing the strong rush of romantic love and excitement that people feel when they’re first falling in love, that a lot of people spend their lives trying to recapture that rush by divorcing and remarrying again and again, rather than learning to appreciate the next stage — mature, conjugal love.

    These are some of the influences that have shaped my ideas about marriage. Though I certainly don’t believe that sex should be unexciting — in my own experience, it ranges from pleasant to totally mind-blowing, I personally see it as a basic human need that my husband and I have agreed to fulfill for each other, not as something that we have to earn by being hot. I wouldn’t refuse my husband sex any more than I’d refuse to provide a meal for my children just because I wasn’t hungry at the moment. If I see fireworks, that’s great, but if I don’t at that particular time, oh well; to me, sex is only one slice of what is already a very full and satisfying life.

    This is already so long that I think I should write “Part 2” in another post.

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  40. that1susan January 3, 2015 at 20:16 #

    Part 2: Do I think my version of what makes a good marriage is “the” version that is best for everyone? Not necessarily. I’ve been engaged in a discussion with what I’d call a non-egalitarian manosphere blogger who feels like his way of managing his relationship is “the” right way because he and his wife of many years still have hot and frequent sex. When I expressed concern about some of the things he was doing to “manage” his wife, which include behaviors like disappearing for a couple of days to make her think about some behavior of hers that he doesn’t like, he questioned me about whether I chased after my husband and found him hot.

    And he has a point there. From what he’s described, his wife seems to be much more focused on him, due to him (at least in my opinion) liking to shake things up and not allow her to feel too secure in their relationship. It’s an interesting situation — the different scenarios faced by older men and older women who feel don’t feel complete trust in their spouses’ fidelity. I’m not saying that it’s a painless position for a husband to be in — but for your average ageing man who decides he’s had enough and wants to move on, he has a real choice between spending his remaining years single or pursuing a new relationship with one of the many women his age or younger who is attracted to him.

    For an older woman who’s deeply unhappy with how her husband is treating her, it’s often a case of determining whether she’s really so miserable that even being alone would be better.

    Here I’ll say that I have no idea whether this blogger’s wife is really happy with the way she’s being “managed.” Maybe all the orgasms make it bearable for some women, so I really shouldn’t superimpose my own perspective, which is that I could have multiple orgasms every day and still be deeply unhappy with the fact that my husband found such pleasure in continually shaking my sense of security in our marriage — that he saw our marriage as the set of some evolutionary game where we had to continually relive the “mating dance” in such a way that he always retained the upper hand.

    I’m not sure whether I’d ultimately stay and try to make the best of things, or decide that I was lonelier playing his games than I would be living on my own.

    That said, maybe his wife IS really happy for the most part — who knows? But here I’ll add my concern about children growing up in a home with this kind of game-playing. I think I’m right in my belief that children are happier in a home where parents show each other consistent kindness and affection, and can handle disagreements in a low-key and respectful way, than they are in a home where all the energy is centered around whether Mommy can behave well enough to keep Daddy from taking off for hours or days at a time in order to teach her a lesson — even if Daddy’s aloof periods are interspersed with lots of great make up sex, this seems like a really crappy situation for a child.

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  41. that1susan January 3, 2015 at 20:39 #

    P.S. I just remembered something said by a friend who used to feel like sex in marriage was never as exciting as sex before marriage. One day, she realized that what she’d thought was intense sexual excitement was, at least in part, simply a strong rush of fear-based adrenaline. Sex in a totally secure and non-threatening environment could never quite stack up to sex in her parents’ barn while she was constantly terrified that someone might walk in.

    I imagine that even in adulthood when people can usually count on privacy, there’s also a lot of fear-based adrenaline in any relationship where a woman doesn’t feel completely secure, where she’s wondering if the guy will continue to be interested in her. This may explain many women’s attraction for “bad boys,” and it definitely explains a lot of the advice given at ROK that’s designed to keep women in a total state of insecurity.

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  42. Jason Wexler January 3, 2015 at 21:30 #

    Welcome to the club Susan, I think its been three or four months since I’ve gotten any emails from wordpress telling me of new content or responses, and they won’t help me.

    It’s my own fault thaugh since I unsubbed from a discussion that was getting on my nerves.

    Like

  43. Jason January 4, 2015 at 03:04 #

    Long time listener, first time caller here, i’ve enjoyed your blog for months. Anyways, I like Larry Correia’s take on grammar. “Grammar libertarians of the world unite!”

    http://monsterhunternation.com/2014/09/19/grammar-libertarians-unite/

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  44. that1susan January 4, 2015 at 11:49 #

    Oh, I actually thought JB was joking! You mean WordPress monitors the posts here?

    Like

  45. jmoondoggy January 4, 2015 at 12:53 #

    Your business model is interesting. I have also seen some good Patreon projects. I’ll add your novel to my reading list but I prefer the old way- a few hours at a time. I find it difficult to allot 30 minutes per week to something and still keep track of the plot. Drives my wife crazy.

    Like

  46. Jason Wexler January 4, 2015 at 18:27 #

    I don’t know if monitor is the right word, they have messed up automated system which they don’t know how to fix, for handling both blogs and commenting. When I went to their online complaint page last week or thereabouts, it had a message saying they knew there were problems, but if you’re not one of the top revenue producing bloggers they don’t have the resources to deal with you, right now check back after everything is fixed, or send them a message now that they’ll just ignore.

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  47. Jason Wexler January 4, 2015 at 18:46 #

    Off topic post, so feel free to delete.

    My scientific training is in physics, and one of the things we are taught there fairly early on is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, my professors always stressed that one of the “secondary” takeaways from it, is that the act of observing a system necessarily changes it, often even at nonquantum levels. I’ve often wondered when reading research in other fields (notably the social sciences and medical sciences), where the experiments were quite clearly poorly designed, if the researchers are aware of this reading of uncertainty. Last night I went in for routine observation in the hospital (I have a congenital heart condition, and they wanted to test me for sleep apnea), and was again reminded of the problem of experimental design, guaranteeing preferred conclusions. This is somewhat topical to this blog by virtue of the fact that much of the research that bolsters feminism, is very much from the problematic social science experiments with obvious flaws; however I’m interested in knowing if the other STEM trained people here, were ever taught to be conscious of “observation bias” in their experiments, particularly people who aren’t from physics or engineering, who weren’t exposed to Heisenberg.

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  48. that1susan January 4, 2015 at 19:11 #

    Oh, I was thinking there might be feminists working there who wanted to sabotage the more intelligent posts on JB’s blog! 🙂

    Like

  49. Jason Wexler January 4, 2015 at 21:05 #

    There may yet be, but if they are, they are more subtle and creative than the censors on the Twit. As is Twain is misattributed to have said, never attribute to malice what would be better explained by incompetence. I suspect that WordPress isn’t being malicious, but rather something closer to incompetent.

    Like

  50. Danlantic January 4, 2015 at 21:28 #

    I read lots of Robert Heinlein novels as a boy. They ran about 200 pages. That was normal in the 1940s and 1950s. There was an article on creative writing back then, “Murder Your Darlings”. It meant delete a lot of material and hint to it as back story.

    As for the book-movie there is the movie-book, the “novelization.” These are usually bad — promotional items for the movie. I sometimes want to read more back story. In “Edge of Tomorrow” what were the Mimics? How did they get that name? I’d like more about the developing relationship between Keiji (Cage in the movie) and Rita. It sounds like a samurai and squire story. So I may read “All You Need is Kill”.

    In “The Chronicles of Riddick” there was a complete back story of the philosophy of the Necromongers which was a murdered darling of the movie. Alan Dean Foster wrote the novelization. How bad/good was his novelization? Well, he wrote it in close collusion with the movie because he was even an extra in the movie.

    Going back to Heinlein here’s a situation from “Farmer in the Sky”. The narrator is speaking to contemporaries back on Earth about the colonization of the terraformed moon of Jupiter. It has an oxygen atmosphere but no ecology and no soil. The narrator talks of a farmer’s job of reducing rocks to porous soil. Start with a small boulder and then cut it up with “a force cutter which isn’t much different from the one in your home shop.” He leaves it to the reader’s imagination to imagine a home shop with energy tools instead of steel saws and drills. He may have had more back story but if he did, he murdered it.

    There are some dead kittens. Here is an answer: hypertext. If the readers want more explanation they can help build hypertexted back stories.

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  51. Mark January 4, 2015 at 22:30 #

    One might, of course, attempt to argue that there is ‘bad grammar’, and then there is poetic/literary license, which has been used in prose for as long as people have been writing. Everyone from Chaucer to Dickens used ‘incomplete sentences’, ‘inappropriate’ use of commas, and lots of other ‘mistakes’, but for literary purposes.

    It’s fair game to let literary value take precedent over grammar, so long as one avoids just making the rules up as they go along. The key point of grammar I think is consistency, which is needed for clarity.

    The there’s Cormac McCarthy, who doesn’t even use punctuation a lot of the time. No quotation marks. Suffice it to say, it gets hard to tell when the narrator is talking as opposed to the characters. But he makes great stories, so I guess that’s what’s most important.

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  52. Mark January 4, 2015 at 22:42 #

    Once you learn to use R, it is hard to go back to excel. Microsoft be damned (oh no, will my PC explode as punishment for my typing that?)

    I honestly enjoy reading old or even ancient literature, perhaps because they’re ‘dated’ or out of touch with modern times. There’s a quote by CS Lewis on the value of old books, which admittedly values them more perhaps for psychological and historical than literary reasons:

    “Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books…. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”

    Sounds like you had a fascinating (and iconoclastic?) thesis. Did you have to write something else instead since it was rejected? I also am less than pleased with the subjectivism of the humanities, especially today. One of the reasons I think I switched to the hard sciences.

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  53. Mark January 4, 2015 at 22:46 #

    Maybe WAM! has secretly started censoring WordPress! 😮 Jaclyn (Friedman), are you reading this? If so, stomp your foot twice; I’m sure we’ll all feel the vibration…

    Like

  54. Mark January 4, 2015 at 22:58 #

    Interesting that you point this out. A Marxian philosopher/sociologist I used to read (his name is Zizek, and he’s a little insane, but occasionally entertaining at least) argued that sexual fetishism arises from the allure of the ‘dangerous’ or ‘deviant’ in sexuality. He seemed to think that, once a ‘type’ of sexual practice was made completely socially acceptable, ironically, it begins to lose its appeal, and people will just start practicing some new sexual ‘fetish’ or practice that is less socially acceptable (perhaps new ‘positions’ or something?).

    So, he claims, this is the paradox of ‘sex-positivism.’ Precisely the ‘dirtiness’ of sex (or particular sexual practices) that people may seek to normalize (BDSM, for example, comes to mind) is much of what makes it exciting to people. Once it becomes ‘normal’, it loses some of its allure.

    That, at least, is the line of thinking. I am ashamed (or maybe proud?) to say I don’t know enough about the history of sexuality or specific sexual practices to know whether the evidence supports this theory. For example, did Victorian couples ever have to try new things to ‘spice things up’ in bed? Or was ‘regular’ sex itself considered raunchy enough that that was unnecessary?

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  55. The Real Peterman January 4, 2015 at 23:48 #

    I often find that there is a straight-line correlation between lousy grammar and sloppy thinking. Half a dozen websites that I used to read regularly before their ideas went toes up also saw the level of grammar used by their posters and commenters sink like a stone. For that reason it concerns me to see a writer I like decide that conventions of speech are old-fashioned and should be replaced with “internet speak”. If a thought isn’t worth being expressed clearly–or can’t be expressed clearly to begin with–why should I read that thought?

    Then there’s the matter of respect for one’s audience. A writer may know a few people who understand their brave new language, but how many people in the world will? Maybe any given reader can understand, or can work to understand, but again–if the writer doesn’t care if the reader can understand, why would the reader? Who am i or anyone else to just communicate however i want, and leave it up to other people to do the work of understanding me? Common rules of language are understood by everyone, so using them opens a work up to everyone.

    If someone wants to write a book that reads like a viewing of “Guardians of the Galaxy” then great! I saw that movie twice and don’t remember any dialogue like “yo we’s grook thems wikkets because EVIL!”

    Now, writing in a made-up slang can add to a story, especially if it takes place in a different type of world than ours. Think of “A Clockwork Orange” where the characters are shown talking in a vulgar, debased slang to help illustrate the vulgar, debased world they lived in. But even then there were rules, otherwise hardly anyone could have figured out what they were saying.

    I wouldn’t let a doctor treat me if the sign on his practice said “me open offis munday 2friday an’ shit” but it is at least theoretically possible to be competent in medicine but incompetent at language, however unlikely. In a book, though, there is nothing BUT language. It deserves as much effort as anything.

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  56. The Real Peterman January 4, 2015 at 23:50 #

    There is a difference between being elite and being elitist.

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  57. The Real Peterman January 4, 2015 at 23:59 #

    I wish there were more women like you!

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  58. The Real Peterman January 5, 2015 at 00:05 #

    What he’s doing sounds like manipulation rather than any kind of love. Not to mention that there’s a lot to suggest that “gaming” women rarely works.

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  59. The Real Peterman January 5, 2015 at 00:07 #

    I didn’t know there cwas ANY research which bolsters feminism!

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  60. The Real Peterman January 5, 2015 at 00:10 #

    Couldn’t this be because our society teaches people that sex is bad? So naturally, many people will think bad equals sex(y).

    Like

  61. The Real Peterman January 5, 2015 at 00:17 #

    “The uppity insistence on “proper writing” excludes people who’d like to express themselves”

    But making things up as you go along excludes people who don’t know what the hell you’re talking about 😉

    Like

  62. Mark January 5, 2015 at 04:06 #

    I don’t think society can be entirely blamed for people’s apprehensions about sex. I tend to think society is more following the lead of biology, rather than vice versa. Is candy only delicious because our parents taught us it was bad for us? If it weren’t for that ‘taboo’, would asparagus appeal to me just as much as chocolate right now?

    Like

  63. Mark January 5, 2015 at 04:47 #

    “Selection bias” and “confirmation bias” are important concepts (thins to avoid) in my field certainly. To give an example, suppose there are a group of genes that I hypothesize work together and are closely functionally related. To determine this quantitatively, I might take gene expression data of thousands of genes and cluster them according to their coexpression patterns, methylation patterns, or other variables. The thing is, there are a lot of different clustering algorithms that cluster data points based on different criteria; there’s hierarchical clustering, k-means clustering, and whole bunch of other ones. So let’s say I run 50 clustering methods on my data set, and 1 of the methods says most of the genes I’m interested in were grouped together. So I publish a paper saying ‘I ran this clustering algorithm, an found these genes grouped together, indicating they are functionally related.”

    Problem is, 49 of 50 algorithms didn’t group the genes the way I ‘wanted’ them. And, statistically, it is perhaps likely that, if I try enough different algorithms, one of them will, just by chance, give the results I was looking for. A ‘false discovery.’ This belongs to a class of problems they call ‘multiple hypothesis testing’ issues. Of course, there are many possible sources of bias, from where you get your data, to how you normalize it, to how you choose to interpret it. A great deal of statistical thinking in my field goes into how to control for such possible biases.

    In feminist research, I absolutely agree, this type of scrutiny seems virtually non-existent; indeed, biases and logical fallacies almost seem to be employed on purpose. The populations surveyed are not randomized, there are no controls (e.g., if you survey women about domestic violence, you have to survey men to, in order to conclude that there is an ‘epidemic of violence against women,’ because if you only survey women, how would you know how the results compare to the overall population; maybe it’s just an epidemic of violence against people?); they use disparate data sources (i.e. if the CDC says X women were raped last year and X women were raped this year, while the DOJ says 2X were raped last year and 2X this year, clearly, the same number were raped this year as last year; but the feminist ‘researcher’ may cite the CDC’s number from last year and the DOJ’s from this year and conclude that twice as many occurred this year as last!); and many other problems.

    A lot of things done (or not done) in some social sciences research (especially feminist advocacy research) as a matter of course would get you in serious trouble in other fields, if you could get published at all. And it’s not because the same statistical methods don’t work. Epidemiologists apply sound statistical methods to population data all the time. It’s a lack of knowledge or a lack of will. Hence why I think all undergrads (if not, definitely PhDs, this is a given) should have to take some kind of statistics course.

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  64. Magnus January 5, 2015 at 11:36 #

    I had a professor once that said you should never create an item, like a pen or a car. Because items are solutions to a problem, ie writing and transportation.

    If you instead say: I shall make a writing tool, rather than I shall make a pen, you have a plethora of solutions to choose from. (Pencil, typewriter, computer etc)

    I think the Japanese phenomenon of “Light Novels” is also a good idea in a world where people have a lot of down time, but that down time is short and often interrupted.

    Another rally cool “novel” I read some time ago, which was a cool concept, but not my cup of tea plot wise was “Holly’s Inbox” where you basically read a story through the e-mail interactions of two front desk employees (who due to their job couldn’t interact verbally)
    It was a fun concept, since it change how we as the reader both read and got the plot (I think you actually got the e-mails in your inbox if you subscribed to it. Or else you read online in a very “web mail” esuq browser.

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  65. that1susan January 5, 2015 at 12:10 #

    I think the best writers are those who have a good enough understanding of grammar that they’re usually aware of when they’re deciding to break a rule. But by understanding, I don’t mean knowing all the terminology. When I first started giving English lessons a few years ago, I was able to correct learners’ mistakes because I had a sense when something wasn’t right — i.e. I automatically just knew that instead of saying, “I work here for eight years,” you should say, “I have been working here for eight years.”

    I had no idea that the first sentence was in the simple present tense while the second was in the present perfect continuous — that knowledge grew while searching through our resources to find the best explanatory articles and exercises for the learners’ homework. Now, some of my fellow trainers have advanced English degrees, and it’s possible that they catch even more mistakes than I do — but one thing we’re all cautioned to do is focus on “fluency over accuracy” and avoid overwhelming people with a long list of corrections.

    At the same time, some really high-level learners are still taking lessons because they’d like to become so fluent in the language that they sound like native English speakers, and they make so few mistakes that my corrections may be more along the lines of saying, “What you said was grammatically correct, but we would more commonly say it like this: ___________.” Because when you really think about it, it’s kind of like that scene from “My Fair Lady” where the Hungarian prince found Eliza’s speech so perfect that he assumed she couldn’t be English at all, and was actually a Hungarian princes.

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  66. that1susan January 5, 2015 at 12:17 #

    The two meanings I was able to find for WAM (I didn’t find anything with the exclamation point at the end) — wait a minute and walking around money — don’t seem to fit here. Could you clarify? I mean, is there a group called Women Against Men!?

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  67. judgybitch January 5, 2015 at 12:19 #

    Women, Action and Media!

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  68. that1susan January 5, 2015 at 12:27 #

    I don’t think any Victorians have ever even written about that? ) My guess would be that most happy longtime married couples have many different interests and passions in their lives, to which loving sex is a nice accompaniment. That’s not to say that no one ever wants to change it up and try something completely new; I just think that the people who are so obsessed with reliving “the chase” over and over again, and trying to keep emotions just as revved up as they were when they first fell in love, are maybe over-idealizing youth, which is kind of understandable since our whole society is very youth-positive and maturity-negative.

    But if you really think about it, those early stages of falling in love, when the other person’s image fills your every moment, can render you kind of incompetent in other areas of your life. Those feelings serve a very important purpose, of moving out of our comfort zones, bonding with another person, and (often) bringing new life into the world. But why are so many so resistant to move onto the succeeding phrases of life?

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  69. that1susan January 5, 2015 at 15:30 #

    Thanks, you made my day. 🙂

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  70. Jason Wexler January 5, 2015 at 15:53 #

    That certainly sounds like my view as well, normally I try to use the word patrician where others would use elitist, which is why I had it in quotes. I think elite is a good and important thing, with an undeserved bad reputation in our culture.

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  71. that1susan January 5, 2015 at 15:55 #

    Well, obviously there are legitimate health reasons why parents will be very happy if their child likes eating a lot of vegetables, but concerned about their child overeating candy, just as there are legitimate reasons why certain sexual practices are taboo — the key is figuring out which of those reasons are still relevant today and which ones aren’t.

    There are also biological principles behind most people’s preference for sweet rather than bland or bitter flavors. and behind the fact that a drug or activity that produces a strong effect, such as a rush of excitement, at the beginning, tends to become less effective in producing that result as time goes on.

    Here, my advice would be that anyone seeking to keep experiencing the same initial rush that an activity gave them in the past, look at whether this goal is healthy for them personally as well as for the other person involved and for their relationship with each other. I don’t think this is necessarily an either-or thing.

    And I’d never be so extreme as to say, “There’s a time in your life when sex and romance are important, and then that phase of your life is just completely over.” Sex and romance are a part of our psyche for as long as we live; it’s just my personal opinion that, as we mature, they become a somewhat smaller but still very important slice of who we are, as we learn to appreciate lots of more subtle pleasures that we tended not to notice when we were younger — kind of like when I was young and was fretting to one of my older friends about one of my crushes who never noticed me, and she tried to get me to notice the sunset.

    As we age, we become more comfortable with the fact that we’re never going to have all our ducks lined up in a row at the same time. For example, maybe a wife gets to know her husband in a deeper way while he’s grappling with a terminal illness. So she loves and appreciates him in a way that she never did before, but along with that joy comes the bittersweet awareness that their days are numbered.

    As we age, we can be very upset over horrible crises , and still take a moment to enjoy a really good cup of coffee, and take comfort in the realization that even if we lose our job or our home or our loved one dies, there will still be coffee. This is kind of an alien concept to most very young people, who still carry high ideals about getting the perfect life they deserve.

    Of course, how our thinking changes as we mature and evolve is always going to vary from person to person; I’m just saying that we shouldn’t be so frantic to hang on to the old days of our youth that we can’t open ourselves up to the new things ahead for us.

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  72. Jason Wexler January 5, 2015 at 16:08 #

    Thesis were due so late in the year, that writing a new one was impossible, officially I failed the 11th grade and had to repeat it. In practice however, by virtue of the fact that I had overloaded my course schedule early on, I was coenrolled in university halfway through my baccalaureate, I was part of a potential teacher program wherein I ended up teaching as a student teacher under supervision the classes I would have been taking in most departments, and I was a teachers pet which gave my teachers in math, science and social studies the courage to stand up to administrators and refuse to fail me; all coupled with the confusing and contradictory policies for graduation requirements meant that I still was able to graduate on time with no serious repercussion other than an “F” on my transcript.

    Yes it was iconoclastic, to write what I did, which I hate because it ought not have been, I think it was very conservative.

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  73. Jason Wexler January 5, 2015 at 16:51 #

    I’m going to one up you and say statistics and probability, should be mandatory in high school for everyone, even at the expense of elementary algebra or descriptive geometry, although either or need not be the case.

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  74. paulvzo January 5, 2015 at 17:16 #

    Amen, Jason! I’ve have NEVER used algebra in my life, despite dabbling in the sciences. But I’ve had to teach myself very elementary statistics so that I can use the research that is now all over the intertubes.

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  75. that1susan January 5, 2015 at 17:16 #

    I don’t have a scientific background, but I have definitely noticed the tendency of many social scientists to seek out results that confirm their biases while blocking the transmission of any results that either don’t confirm their biases or confirm the biases of their opponents. And I think this tendency was initially born out of their desperation to challenge traditionalist ideals about racial, sexual, and all other inequalities simply being part of the “natural order.”

    As an example, traditionalists have long argued that because the majority of people prefer sexual relationships with the opposite sex, and because penile-vaginal sex is the only kind that can produce babies, this means that anyone with a preference for the same sex has been perverted by his or her early experiences. These traditionalists tend to refute any individual’s experience of growing up in a reasonably happy and loving home, and still developing an attraction for the same sex.

    And then, since none of us can control the kind of home we grew up in, there are also a good number of homosexuals who experienced some dysfunctional situations while growing up, but nevertheless find their same-sex attraction to be a healthy and inextricable part of who they are, and not something that needs to be changed.

    So somehow, gay-rights activists felt like the burden of proof was on them — that they had to present scientific evidence to support the idea that there’s a gay gene, and that environment has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s sexual preference.

    So now the politically-correct view in mainstream circles is that sexual preference is 100% genetic and immutable, while in more traditionalist circles, it’s at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

    To me, the obvious solution to this dilemma is to simply do away with the idea that people who are different have to prove that their differences are normal, healthy, okay, and not perverted, or else these people have to endure a life where they’re unfairly discriminated against. Once you get into this mental space, it doesn’t matter whether your gay child was born that way or developed her preference during her formative years — all that matters is that she’s able to enjoy happy, loving, and respectful relationships with others.

    As another example, if we can just realize that, okay, in the majority of societies throughout history, the men have been the adventurers and the ones who grappled with challenges outside the home, while the woman have kept the home fires burning and tended to the children and the elderly and inform — but also realize that this doesn’t mean that adventuresome girls or homebody boys are a perverted aberration — then adventuresome girls and homebody boys (or those advocating for them) don’t have to feel like their freedoms are threatened by any research showing that males and females are biologically different.

    It’s attaching the label of “good” or “evil” to certain individual uniquenesses that puts groups of unique individuals (or their advocates) on the defensive. And it’s our archaic idea that in every conflict, there has to be a winning side and a losing side, that is driving many liberals to be just as oppressive towards dissenters as the bigots who enjoyed great power in the past.

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  76. that1susan January 5, 2015 at 17:22 #

    Oh, thanks! 🙂

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  77. Jason Wexler January 5, 2015 at 23:08 #

    I don’t know if this is true for you, but my experience has been that most people don’t recognize math in the real world, when they encounter it, because math in the real world often hides in a type of word problem, that doesn’t obviously scream “I’m a math problem”. That said I took the time to record when I did math outside of the lab, and what it was, over a two year period basic algebra was the least common thing I encountered when not part of another type of problem, I think I did algebra three times, one of those times because I failed to recognize a differential equation initially. So absolutely most people won’t miss algebra if it’s no longer in the curriculum, however, let me stipulate that statistics won’t be useful if it isn’t taught in a way that allows people to recognize a problem when they encounter one.

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  78. Jason Wexler January 5, 2015 at 23:24 #

    There is a lot of good stuff in this post, really great observations. However, I think some of the biases were built in prior to commendable, well meaning attempts to combat bigotry. I suspect that ethics is part of the problem as well, some experimental bias occurs because counter examples to refute a hypothesis run afoul of ethics boards. Some of the best breakthroughs in psychology, can’t be tested anymore because the experiments are viewed, often rightly, as harmful to the participants. Sometimes that harm is only percieved because of preconceived biases, for instance there is a counter hypothesis to the obesity epidemic, which postulates yo-yo dieting and not direct obesity are responsible for the negative health outcomes, but ethics boards would never approve an experiment to test the hypothesis because they believe the harms to the non dieting control group would be catastrophic, essentially rejecting the hypothesis before testing it.

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  79. Mark January 7, 2015 at 00:42 #

    Jason, are you familiar with William Henry’s “In Defense of Elitism?” An interesting take on the idea of elitism, as one may deduce from the title.

    Like

  80. Mark January 8, 2015 at 05:09 #

    Thanks JB.

    They’re the activist group that Twitter and Facebook both signed on, ostensibly to curb online harassment of females (harassment of males apparently a non-issue) but has ended up using this pretense to justify censoring people critical of feminism on both twitter and facebook. Example abound of people who did nothing remotely harassing, but expressed views critical of feminism, and got banned. Judgybitch being one of them of course.

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  81. YOHAMI January 9, 2015 at 09:37 #

    brilliant

    Like

  82. eddiejc1 January 11, 2015 at 01:05 #

    I’m pretty sure that if a Gutenberg had invented the printing press a couple thousand years earlier than it did, and there was as vibrant a publishing industry in the days of Augustus Cæsar as there was in the 19th Century, I think that some author would have published a book like Twain’s which conveyed the vernacular Latin of the streets rather than the dry Latin of textbooks and monuments.

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