Female Man Joanna Russ

The Female Man: A weird, somewhat dated science fiction/feminist manifesto

Female Man Joanna Russ

Two months ago I came across a list of Nebula Award winners and felt an urge to read them all. I’ve largely stayed away from sci-fi since my college days, when I binged on Asimov and The Dark Tower series like a crazed drug addict. The genre grew stale due to sci-fi’s penchant for hollow characters. I had to wonder why none of these characters ever had a sense of humor (which made me love The Dark Tower series even more).

I figured that I would be safe by sticking to Nebula Award winner, some of which I’d already read. The first on my unread list was The Female Man, Joanna Russ’ strange, almost-great 1970s mashup of science fiction and early 70s feminist politics. The premise sounded intriguing and unique, so it seemed natural to start here.

Continue reading “The Female Man: A weird, somewhat dated science fiction/feminist manifesto”

Martin Amis The Information

Martin Amis’ The Information is a bit too much information

Martin Amis The Information
Looks like I disagree with you Michiko

Like Pynchon, I really want to be a Martin Amis fan. He’s certainly got that British wit that I love. Also, he populates his novels with unlikable blowhards, which I’ve always enjoyed for some reason. Nothing annoys me quite like an overly likable main character.

I began with Amis’ Money, which I found quite funny, odd, and full of debauchery. It was just the thing I was looking for at the time; a cynical exploration into what it means to be an “American” told through the eyes of a hapless, greedy, idiot that ultimately fails in his attempt at glory, leaving the reader laughing at his bottom-feeding.

Unlike Pynchon, Amis is much more readable and easy to follow, which is why I chose to read The Information following the psychological torture of Gravity’s Rainbow. I figured it would be a breezy read that I could use to cleanse my pallet. This turned out not to be entirely true.

For whatever reason, this book could not grab me the way Money did. Like the other novel, Amis’ main character in The Information is juvenile in his attitude toward women and friends; a cynical asshole to put it simply. In this case, the main character is Richard Tull, a failing writer who develops an obsession with his friend, Gwyn, who despite his pedestrian writing, becomes a world famous author.

I normally enjoy tales of writers hating other writers and the battle of egos. And I did enjoy this story.

Initially.

The problem is that The Information is waaayy too long. Halfway through, scenes of Richard trying to sabotage his friend with a pitiful gang of local toughs grew repetitive and boring.

There are some laughs along the way, mostly owned by the gang, whose members are a mix of dumb-guy/smart-guy that always works well in comedy. But it just never seems to go anywhere.

Just when I was about to drop out of the book completely, a weird twist shows up that had me at least mildly interested for the next 50 pages or so (I won’t give the twist away unless you ask). But this change in perspective also goes on too long, to where it didn’t seem shocking anymore, but rather boring.

There’s also some extreme over-writing in the The Information (ironic that I mention this since I’m a guilty over-writer myself). The language grows so twisted and erudite in some of its sentences that the jokes often get lost in the labyrinth of words. I know this is a British thing, but it’s been done better by Amis himself, nevermind the works of Oscar Wilde and numerous other British humorists.

I won’t give up on Amis yet. He’s still got a .500 batting average with me so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. There were certainly aspects of the novel I enjoyed. I just wish there weren’t so much damn information.

freelancer funny

How to be a freelancer

freelancer funny

After 10 so-so years of teaching, I decided not to renew my contract and seek a career as a freelancer. I know that’s a general term. After all, you could conceivably be a freelance beggar if you wanted to use that terminology. After all, you would only be accountable for yourself.

It hasn’t gone that bad for me, but it also hasn’t been easy. I’m finding some regular freelance clients while driving for Uber at night, so I’m double freelancing if anything.

I wanted to share my daily schedule for those who are thinking about dipping their toes in the freelance writing field. First, know that dipping your toes won’t get you wet because it’s exxxtremmely time consuming to make any sort of return on freelancing. But once you get there, it’s worth it.

Or so I’m told.

Now here, for your education, is my daily schedule.

8:30 am: Alarm rings. I turn off alarm.

9:30 am: Alarm rings again. I think about getting up but fall back asleep.

10:00 am: Alarm goes off a third time. I finally wake up. Spend next hour cursing self out for sleeping so late. Check email; the most pointless and time-consuming first.

11:00 am: Get out of bed, curse self out for another 10 minutes.

11:10 am: Forgive myself in the mirror and tell myself that I’m going to have a “great and productive day”

11:15 am: Spend far too long thinking about what to make for breakfast when I know damn well that I’m having eggs.

11:30 am: Eat eggs, read news. Check Wikipedia page of band I liked in high school. Debate someone I barely know on Facebook about whatever Donald Trump said the day before.

12:30 pm: Wonder out loud where time went and curse self out for spending so much useless time on internet. Make lunch.

12:45 pm: Turn on Uber app for first ride of the day. Get aggravated that no one requesting a ride. Decide to drive closer to downtown.

1:00 pm: Receive first Uber ping. Passenger travels around corner and I make $1.47.

1:15 pm: Receive 2nd Uber ping. Passenger cancels when I’m 1 minute away. Decide to drive to coffee shop.

1:30 pm: Get to coffee shop and order coffee. Read remaining email and engage in one last debate over latest conservative outrage. Check out Craigslist, Journalismjobs.com, and Upwork for gigs.

2:00 pm: Finally begin work on 7000 word ebook project and forget how easy and enjoyable it is to write and edit.

4:00 pm: Stomach rumbles. Debate eating lunch while reading about what obscure actor is doing now and get disappointed in result.

4:30 pm: Eat lunch. Debate doing another Uber drive, but take walk around block instead.

5:00 pm: Work on blog article assignment. Once again feel the thrill and enjoyment of writing exactly what I wanted to say.

6:00 pm: Take a minute to enjoy being productive while simultaneously being unproductive.

6:10 pm: Back to work on 2nd blog article, then edit with Hemingway App. Realize my 1st draft wasn’t as great as I thought and Hemingway would hate me. Fix mistakes and tighten up writing.

7:30: Send out 5 responses to Craigslist ads. Send 5 pitches on Upwork and another 5 for Journalismjobs. Realize I forgot to change pitch email on at least half my pitches.

8:00 pm: Get email from Listedby.com, asking me to invest in Miami real estate. Realize I was data-mined by Craigslist ad.

8:05 pm: Go to bathroom 6 times in next half hour due to day’s coffee intake.

8:20 pm: Realize I’m out of gas (figuratively). Turn on Uber app and plan to drive back towards home.

8:25 pm: First night Uber ride, which takes me in opposite direction of home.

9:00 pm: Get home. Pace around house for 15 minutes then make dinner.

9:20 pm: Eat dinner. Watch 15 minutes of TV.

9:45 pm: Go for short bike ride and listen to podcast.

10:15 pm: Back to different coffee shop that’s open until midnight.

10:20 pm: Sit outside, read a book and pretend I’m in 1920s Paris.

10:45 pm: Write Medium article or post on my blog.

11:15 pm: Write screenplay, the most important writing to me that gets the least amount of time. Scribble madly.

12:00 am: Realize I ran out of time just when it was flowing.

12:05 am: First late night Uber drive, usually from strip club. Drive passenger silently. Mentally figure out how much money I need to make before I can go home.

12:30 am: Promise myself I’ll be home by 1 am and be in bed by 2.

1:00 am: Surge goes on. Decide I’ll drive for another half hour.

2:30 am: Get home. Eat salty snack and watch 1/2 half or hour of TV, only half paying attention.

3:30 am: Read in bed. Panic at how late it is.

4:00 am: Go to bed.

You too can become a freelancer if you have the stomach to break promises to yourself, beat yourself up, dust yourself off, actually do some work, then have a little fun before driving a bunch of drunks around town and praying that they don’t puke in your car.

I know you’ve got it in you.

Good luck and write on!!!

Trump pledge immigrant values test

Leaked! Donald Trump’s immigrant values test

This story originally appeared on Medium.com under the Mindwafers publication

Trump pledge immigrant values testThrough a bit of old-school investigative journalism mixed with nights of dumpster foraging and some help from Ukrainian hackers, Mindwafers was able to uncover the text of Donald Trump’s much talked about immigrant values test.

Trump unveiled his plan this week to assign a “test” to incoming immigrants in order to determine their loyalty to the US. We as a news organization love the idea because, as we all know, tests are never wrong and are the best way to gauge ability. After all, people never cheat on tests.

Regardless of how you feel about the plan, check out the test questions below. Have a try at and figure out if you should be banned from the US. It’ll be a fun and educational adventure!

Original Text

United States National Test of Human Excellence Measurement (USNTHEM)

Directions: Choose the correct answer to the following 10 questions. If you have a question, please refrain until the test is completed. If you need to use the restroom, please inform security detail. You will be led into a side room and affixed with a small GPS collar.

Good luck!

Question 1: When reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, you should:

a. Sit quietly

b. Lip sync the words

c. Place your hand on your heart

d. Detonate a dirty bomb within 50 feet of a busy town center

Question 2: The greatest president of all-time was:

a. George W. Bush

b. Ronald Reagan

c. Donald Trump

d. Nothing is greater than Allah

Question 3: It is December 20th and you see a friend on the street. You wish him/her a:

a. Merry Christmas

b. Quirky Kwanzaa

c. Happy Holidays

d. Radical Ramadan

Question 4: Where is the best place to get breaking news?

a. Anything but the mainstream media

b. CNN

c. Fox News (except for anything involving that Megyn Kelly broad)

d. Inspire magazine

Question 5: True or false: The US is better than your hell-hole country:

True

False

Question 6: You want to live in the US because:

a. I want to live in the greatest country in the world

b. I want to breathe the same air as Donald Trump

c. I want to be able to see first-run episodes of The Bachelor

d. I want to be the one to take down the Great Satan

Question 7: Why did you leave your native country?

a. Lack of job opportunities due to US “winning” the economy

b. Country is run by Communists and Socialists

c. Ugly men/women compared to US

d. I was sent on a mission

Question 8: What do you think are the 2 most important fundamental principles of the United States?

a. Freedom and winning

b. Freedom and free speech (with exceptions)

c. Freedom and freedom

d. Foreign wars and destruction of Muslims

Question 9: I would describe myself as:

a. A great looking woman

b. A hard working man

c. An obedient child

d. A soldier for Allah

Question 10: Choose one: Would you consider yourself:

White

Other

How did you do? For us, this seems to be a full-proof plan to rid ourselves of the terrorist influence taking over our culture. There is no possible way to trick this test.

We applaud you Future President Trump!

Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit will make you realize that you need to get it together

Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

After the cranial battering ram of reading Gravity’s Rainbow it was nice to settle in with this clearly-written, eye-opening, and (most importantly) short book by Charles Duhigg of the New York Times

Until the book made me realize how my life is basically bad habits personified .

The Power of Habit is a powerful book where the author uses two sections- one focusing on how we develop and change habits, the other focusing on habits of management- to make a pretty good case that it is possible to change our worst habits into something positive. It will either be truly inspiring if you’re a go-getter CEO type, or overwhelming if you’re an “oh my God, I need to get my life together” type.

I am the latter.

Groundhog Day Bill Murray driving

From procrastinating, to sleeping too late, to promising myself I’ll get that thing done, sometimes my days feel like a Groundhog Day loop, minus the comedy, and Bill Murray (but God, what I would give…)

In one chapter, Duhigg uses the story of Alcoa, a huge aluminum conglomerate, to demonstrate how odd decisions by a leader can create unexpected changes. Paul O’Neill* took the reins of Alcoa as CEO in 1987, before serving as Secretary of the Treasury under the Bush II administration (and was fired for disagreeing with the Iraq invasion).

Duhigg describes O’Neill’s first speech as CEO, which confused the hell out of everyone in the room. At the time, Alcoa was floundering, as their stock and worker morale slumped to record lows. Employees expected to hear a bold plan to boost earnings or increase production.

Paul O'Neill Alcoa speech Treasury
Paul O’Neill revealing his bad habit of staring at his hands.

 

Instead O’Neill focused on safety, an issue that hadn’t been acknowledged as a problem. He set a goal of no accidents for a month. Once workers realized that management had their safety in mind, not only did no accidents occur, but their output also increased. This wasn’t the plan initially. But it showed how breaking a minor habit can lead to solving larger problems.

In the first section of the book, Duhigg discusses cues that trigger our habits, good and bad. This could be that stressed-out cigarette break or that midnight snack fest. He concentrates on the importance of feeling something as a cue, such as feeling clean after a shower or brushing your teeth. He says that we’re craving a psychological feeling when engaging in a habit. If we can create habits that make us feel good, then we’ll continue those habits.

bad habits

Mind-blowing stuff and I’m sure I didn’t do the book justice. It’s fascinating to envision yourself caving to these constant cravings that take up a bulk of our day (and even more if you’re addicted to sleeping, like many of us).

Do I still have bad habits? Absolutely, and I always will. But writing consistently is one habit that I’ve changed since completing the book. I’ve made sure to write for at least an hour a day, which has been easier than I thought. Since then, I’ve increased this time period to several hours a day and it even led to a few professional freelance gigs.

I’ve kept the writing regimen up for the same reasons Duhigg talks about in the book: It feels good. Each day when I look at that filled page (I write long-hand) I feel like I’ve accomplished something, even if it’s not very good. I’m more convinced than ever that writer’s block is a myth.

It’s not writer’s block, it’s the fear of writing badly, which happens. A lot. Then again, we’ll screw anything up if we do it enough. We just become more accustomed to screwing up.

*Not to be confused with former Yankees first-baseman Paul O’Neil, who I found out through researching this article, is endorsing Trump. The weirdest part isn’t that Trump asked O’Neil for his endorsement, but that it made the news.

 

Alex Jones Infowars with gun

Can we stop using the term ‘mainstream media’?

This article first appeared on Medium.com

mainstream mediamainstream mediamainstream media

We like to blame. Not ourselves mind you, but we like to blame other people and things for whatever misfortune greets us. The more abstract, the better. It’s much easier to blame your audition failure on a lightning storm or Newt Gingrich than it is to blame it on your own lack of confidence or failure to prepare.

The role of president has become the biggest blame target. He’s basically our nation’s pin cushion. Because of that, you could never pay me enough to take the president’s place (and you probably wouldn’t pay me to do it, so that works out).

But second to the president in the blame game is certainly the… (upper case now) Mainstream Media. I’m not saying Sarah Palin started the assault with the clever-to-her attack on the “lamestream media” but she certainly brought it to the mainstream. Her ascendance and quick descent from the political world gave us one piece of legacy: Blaming the mainstream media for virtually all of our problems.

There’s a problem with the mainstream media blaming and it begins with the question…what the hell is the mainstream media?

So what is the mainstream media anyway?

 Dirty Harry mainstream media

It seems an obvious enough question to answer, but is it? Of course mainstream media implies media that is popular. I guess CNN is the mainstream media. But so is Fox News, Washington Post, New York Times, Bloomberg and so many others. Add in “content generators” like Huffington Post and Business Insider and you have a huge variety of viewpoints. Yet we continue to file them into the same group.

Why the mainstream media grinds everybody’s gears

You may have heard this complaint: The mainstream media doesn’t talk about the real issues, but instead posts stories about Pokemon Go and Kim Kardashian.

Well it goes something like that.

Usually what these arguments refer to are sites like Huffington Post orBuzzfeed or whatever clickbait news curation machine is killing it these days.

But these aren’t actually news organizations. As John Oliver so eloquently stated last week, these publications simply repackage news from daily newspapers. They seldom do their own reporting.

If we take a look at the real news creators, such as the Times or the numerous local papers, they do cover the important stuff. Do they screw up occasionally? Sure. The Times coverage of the Iraq War was atrocious in the early 2000s, with little challenge to the mistakes we would later acknowledge. But they’ve since provided in-depth coverage of the spiraling Middle East and the legacy that the war left behind.

The real problem with media

 Alex Jones Infowars with gun
Alex Jones Infowars with gun

It isn’t the mainstream media that’s at fault for our public being uninformed; it’s the unmainstream that seems to do more damage.

Since the backlash against mainstream media, more people flock to niche sites like Alex Jones’ and his conspiracy-fest Infowars, as well as the endless supply of blogs by “investigative reporters” that basically just comment on stories first reported by the mainstream media that they hate so much.

This is where the influx of conspiratorial thinking is coming from and, by extension, the support for Donald Trump, who often sounds like an Infowarsarticle come to life.

As newspaper hemorrhage money, lay off their staffs and reduce long-term coverage of issues, such as the Spotlight team celebrated in last year’s Oscar winning film, we’re kicking them while they’re down.

Without these media outlets, we have no news. We have nothing to comment on, nothing to complain about.

I understand that the democratization of news can be a good thing. It invites alternate points of view that are shut out by media gatekeepers. However, we have to accept that while anyone can comment on political issues, it doesn’t mean that they should.

This is where critical thinking comes in; the ability to decide whether what we read is bullshit or not. And that seems to be a disappearing trait in our media-saturated society, where we accept clickbait articles at face value, as if the publication’s goals were to inform us rather than to increase revenue.

We are all to blame

blaming othersblaming others

The mainstream media casts a wide net in terms of ideology. Yet we cling to the belief that they’re all in cahoots with each other in order to satisfy some Manchurian Candidate fantasy conspiracy.

As if it’s not all about money.

There’s a reason why “mainstream media” outlets like the Huffington Postand Buzzfeed are popular and profitable. It’s because…wait for it…

They get lots of views.

Yes, they get lots of views from people. From people like you and I. These outlets that you hate so much exist because we keep going to them. “But I don’t look at that trash,” says everyone. Yet someone is looking at it. It’s the same argument against pornography. No one admits to liking it, yet it continues to rake in billions of dollars each year.

If we’re not supporting this crap, then who is?

As with most issues, the problem begins with us. Why do we keep electing a do-nothing Congress? Because we vote for them. Why do they keep putting out the same crap remakes and sequels? Because we’re paying money to watch them.

If we learn how to think, how to question, then perhaps we’ll find that the mainstream media is the best we’ve got.

Now let’s stop using that term.

Why voting 3rd party doesn’t mean throwing your vote away

View story at Medium.com

2016 3rd party

The sad reality this election season is a competition between two dishonest people. Many, on social media and elsewhere, complain that they are forced to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. Some have said that they plan to skip out on election day or at least leave the presidential circle unmarked.

To this, there’s always someone who brings up a third party vote, usually with a comment like #Johnson2016 or #JillStein2016. The response almost always presents these options as a waste of a vote. And while they may be correct in claiming that neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein has any chance at a presidential win, the suggestion shouldn’t simply be thrown away.

Who else is there?

Gary Johnson Jill Stein

It’s true that there are other options besides Hillary and Trump. Gary Johnson, running under the libertarian banner, offers a somewhat liberal social policy mixed with conservative economic ideas. This blend is actually more in line with mainstream voters than either one of the primary candidates.

Yet the true left, Bernie-types aren’t likely to jump on board with someone like Johnson, who advocates for a flat tax and the elimination of the income tax. For these folks we’ve got Jill Stein, the Green Party’s representative. She covers most of the left’s demands, including universal healthcare, a minimum wage increase to $15 and an end to foreign wars.

Plus there are plenty more candidates to choose from when you really delve into it, including Evan McMullen, a former CIA employee who’s launching a challenge in the state of Utah.

But these are wastes, detractors will say.

But is it?

Why your vote is probably wasted already

wasted vote

The biggest waste of your voice is to choose a candidate that you don’t support. If you genuinely support Trump or Hillary’s policies, then go for it. But if not, are you simply voting because of strategy? This only goes to reinforce the ingrained party system and the perpetual choice of least-worst that we seem to face every 4 years.

As the libertarians like to say: Voting for the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Positive effects of voting 3rd party

Voting for a 3rd candidate does actually have an effect. It helps other parties with funding and sets the course for the future direction of our nation’s policies.

For example, Gary Johnson’s popularity has spiked in the past month or so, with his numbers rising in states like Utah to almost 10%.

At the 10% mark, Johnson will be included in the network debates. When we’re finally able to see that we have other options, perhaps he will get a further bump in the polls. He is still unlikely to win, but Johnson will also see a spike in contributions, which serves to strengthen 3rd parties in this awful era where money dominates politics.

It’s a money thing

dark money elections

Perhaps more importantly, 3rd parties qualify for federal election funds next time around if they get 5% or more of the popular vote in the current presidential election. While 5% seems measly, this could be huge for the next election.

Federal funding may lead to the eventual mainstream acceptance of 3rd parties. After all, 3rd parties are a pretty normal phenomenon around the world, with the UK, Germany and most other modern democracies offering 3 or more parties to choose from.

The Bernie effect

Bernie Sanders bird

Money isn’t the only reason to vote 3rd party. A strong 3rd party can also impact the direction of our country’s policies over the next few years.

If you need evidence of this, look no further than the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016. Bernie came into the race a long-shot. He was rejected as a no-hope candidate even though many mainstream voters essentially agreed with his policies. Partly because of the hopeless feeling that Hillary would get in anyway, voters stayed in line and voted for the favored candidate.

While Bernie didn’t win the nomination, he won the battle of ideas. We’ve seen Hillary take up many of Bernie’s policies, including free or reduced college tuition, universal healthcare, and an increased tax on the wealthy.

Would Hillary have come around on these issues anyway? Maybe. It’s really hard to say what she would have done. But if there’s anything us voters know, it’s that politicians will only take action if they’re pressured. Coincidence seems an unlikely reason why Hillary all of the sudden came around to Bernie’s most popular ideas.

Whether she’s genuine about these changes is beside the point. Due to Bernie’s popularity, she was forced to adopt parts of his platform. The same can be said of a 3rd party candidate if they were to grab the nation’s attention like the Sanders campaign was able to do.

Mob mentality

Goodfellas scene Joe Pesci Ray Liotta

I remember being in a park a few years ago during the Boston Marathon and staring at a trash barrel. I don’t usually stare at trash barrels, but this situation was unique. Trash overflowed the can, spilling onto the park’s grass. Yet people kept piling trash on top and contributing to the mess on the ground. At one point, someone decided to throw their trash in another nearby trash barrel, which was relatively empty. Others followed. It was an incredible display of our human tendency to mimic others, even when the activity is harmful.

We see a similar effect in how we look at voting for 3rd parties. Our friend says it’s a waste and decides to just vote the establishment candidate. You see him do this, decide a 3rd party vote is a waste, and proceed to do the same. On and on this goes.

This is how the establishment remains in power.

The wasted vote argument gets circulated so often that we begin to believe. We’re told our vote won’t matter so we err on the side of caution and vote for who we’re expected to rather than who we really support.

Yet once we can break out of this cycle, then another pattern emerges. Once it’s safe to vote 3rd party because others are doing it, then a chain reaction is set in motion. Now, the playing field becomes a bit more fair.

Don’t be the one to follow the madness of crowds. If you support a particular candidate, then vote for them.

The changing nature of political parties

Whig Party Millard Fillmore

When it comes to history, sometimes we think in a bubble. We assume that the way things are is the way things have always been. But if you look at the changes in our economic system, you see that our system is really a constantly changing, growing organism. Our country now resembles modern China more than 1800s America. I don’t mean to denigrate our country, but rather to point out the mass differences between our modern economy and the economy of past America.

We also assume that democrats and republicans have always dominated politics. But surely you remember the Bull Moose, Federalist and Whig parties from high school history. In fact, the democrat-republican system didn’t establish itself until the 1850s, almost 100 years after the nation’s founding.

In terms of human history, 160 years isn’t that long of a time. With that in mind, it seems entirely reasonable to accept that new political parties will emerge. I welcome that day when we’ll no longer have to vote for a giant douche or a turd sandwich.