31 July 2014

Another Hobbit Movie Coming-

..hooray or boo?  I have seen the new trailer, and I can't say for certain .I liked the first movie, although I thought it had flaws.  I think the second movie fell apart completely, although there were one or two good moments.  So will this movie redeem the series?  I would like it to end on a good note, but I do not hold out much hope.  At least Bilbo appears in this trailer.  he was mostly absent from the last movie. So either he plays a larger role this time, or they put every single time he appears on screen into the trailer.

I said it about the Lord of The Rings movies, and I will say it again now: Peter Jackson was not the man to bring them to the screen.  Jackson is a post modernist through and through, whereas Tolkien rejected modernism itself.  Jackson cannot bring heroism, and faithfulness, and honour, and honesty to the screen.  Such things are foreign to the post modern mind- the post modernist cannot bring such things to the screen without introducing doubt, and irony, and mockery- yet they are the heart and the backbone of Tolkien's work.

28 July 2014

One Hundred Years Ago Today...

...It began.

The War To End All Wars failed to live up to its name. A better name would be The War That Changed Everything. Though in popular memory it is consigned to the shadows of the the Second World War, which got more press and better movies, in fact we live to this day under the long shadow of four years of cold industrial slaughter. The world of today, for good and for ill, comes from the events that began on this day a century ago.

27 July 2014

On writing, sucking at writing, and the inexplicable popularity of Michael Coren

I suck at writing. That should be clear to any visitors. It has become clearer to me as time passes. The average post here gets about twenty hits. Less than one post in ten gets a comment. My level of sucktitude was driven home to me when I visited Larry Correia's blog and saw his "Official Alphabetical List of Author Success". I rank somewhere between being on the T-list, "Troglodyte" whose defining characteristics include: "When nobody likes their work proclaims “They just don’t understand my brilliance!”" and "Likes to post angry reviews on the internet bashing Authors A-S"; and being on the U-list, "Aspiring" Those who are "Thinking about writing something", "Wonders where they'll find the time" and "Don't feel bad. We all started somewhere."

To sum up the trajectory of this blog: after seven(!) years of writing here, I have developed no following (most of my twenty nine followers are no longer active, or have moved on to other fields such as facebook and twitter, or are dead) no brand, and no increase from the beginning. When I look at some other writers, the depth of my insignificance is driven home even farther. Fr.Z., for instance, regularly posts pictures of his dinner and gets more hits and comments than any post of mine. Pictures of birds by his window get more hits than anything I post. It seems that any average reader who has the misfortune to stumble onto my poor site would have to team up with some other poor average reader to form a search party to find a rat's a$$, so they could give it. In any objective, measurable sense, this blog is a failure and a waste of time. I would call it a monumental failure, but there is nothing monumental about this blog. I have failed even to fail big.

So when I, abject failure in the field of writing that I am, slag another, more successful writer than myself (and let's face it, a five year old whose mother taped their crayola scribblings to the fridge has more readers and feedback than I do) some who may have noticed what I wrote may wish to put it down to sour grapes and jealousy. And they may very well be right.

I have witnessed lately another kerfuffle come out between a few other writers, one for a national newspaper, and another running a small time blog like myself, only a little bit better read than mine, because, let's face it, he can't be less so. They are Michael Coren and blogger Vox Cantoris. Vox became offended (something which he does frequently- sorry, Vox) at something Coren has done, and said so on his blog, and Coren answered him in a large newspaper. I am at a loss why Coren would take the trouble to answer something on a large scale that was said on a very small scale, it would only attract more attention to the small post. But I am at a loss to explain much of Coren, beginning with his popularity.

Here's some more disclosure: I know Vox Cantoris and consider him to be a friend. I have never met Coren personally. The closest I came to meeting him was a few months ago at a church bazaar where I was hawking my stuff. Coren was supposed to be there, the church had advertised that he would be there as a minor celebrity, but he never showed. I have no idea why.

I said I never understood Coren popularity. That is true, but only by half. Let me say what I admire about Coren before I get into what I don't. Coren always spoke his mind, and never let anyone tell him otherwise. He waded into controversial issues and pronounced his own opinion, all else be damned. He paid a fair price for it. From time to time his speaking engagements would be cancelled, and by his own admission he received a lot of hate mail, up to and including death threats. Still he charged on, speaking his mind and calling it as he saw it. Out of this he bean to have a following, sold books, and appeared on television, and it was apparent that even as he said what he thought, he was also saying what others thought, so many tuned into to hear what they thought coming through the mouth of Coren.

But I was never one of them. I never saw Coren as a good writer. Coren's style was that of a bull in a china shop. His style had little polish and no subtlety. I believe words are to be used as a surgeon uses a scalpel: precise and exact. Coren, to my eyes, uses words as blunt objects. His thinking, such as it was, never struck me as deep and penetrating, and occasionally it was ridiculous. I remember one of Coren's anti gay articles where he wrote of a gay pride parade or perhaps on the opening of the Sydney Olympics (he tended to be repetitive, so it is hard to say) where some drag queens would be paying homage to the old movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Coren wrote that the drag queens were an insult to women, and a mockery of them , and how women should be offended. It struck me at the time as a singularly dumb thing to say. Many of a drag queens biggest fans are women. Plus, knowing as I do some members of the gay community, the drag queens are not an attempted insult, but an attempt at fun. Even though I personally am not a great fan of the drag shows (despite that time back in high school where I dressed as Madonna and sang Like A Virgin to a packed auditorium) what he wrote was, in my opinion, abysmally stupid and terribly wide of the mark. Yet some agreed with him.

On another occasion I was surprised to see Coren appearing on an A&E show about H.G. Wells. (Remember when A&E actually had good shows that had something to do with Arts and Entertainment? Can anyone explain to me what Dog The Bounty Hunter has to do with Arts and Entertainment?) Coren quoted a passage from Wells' writings to illustrate that Wells was a racist. The narrator and another expert then pointed out that Coren had actually misquoted Wells, or stopped the quotation short, and that the whole quotation actually said the exact opposite of what Coren said it did. Coren is not merely a poor writer, he is also a poor reader. This is not surprising, as the two rather go hand in hand. Yet people still read him.

What has caused this little disturbance between Coren and Vox, and between Coren and much of his fan base, is that Coren has now changed him mind on gays. Coren still speaks his mind- good for him- but he no longer speaks their minds- bad for him. Coren never spoke my mind, so I don't much care, one way or the other. But Coren has now, shades of Augustinus from Cafeteria is Closed, is now writing and encouraging others to join his new found position. And he has, as I said, a large readership.

My fisk-o-meter is lying idle these days, so I'll just pull out a few lines from his recent article over at the Catholic Register (the diocesan newspaper for Toronto). The second line of the post reads thus: "One would have thought that writing, as I did in my last column here and in my weekly column for the Sun newspaper chain, that a Catholic should employ love, empathy and kindness instead of hatred, literalism and cruelty was self-evident." Yes, it should have been self evident. I agree. Vox points out that Coren himself has failed on this very point in this very article, but, sorry to say Vox, that is a formal error in logic known as Tu Quoque?- or, in English, "what about you?" I would say Coren has failed on that point in a many other articles, including the ones where he preached hate against gays, but that would also be tu quoque, so I won't go there except for rhetorical effect. What I will say is that he is right: we should act in charity. He says we should act in charity, Vox says that should include Coren, and I say they're both right.

Incidentally, Coren also indulges in a "I would never bring that point up even as I bring that point up" style of rhetoric in his final sentence of the article where he brings up the spectre of Fr Rosica's loving and lovely phrase "Taliban Catholics": "Not so long ago a priest with whom I have had many differences referred to “Taliban Catholics.” I disagreed with him then, and I still believe the term is unfair and not helpful. But my goodness I now understand what he meant and why he said it." Very good. He gets to call his critics Taliban Catholics while, at the same time, claiming that he is doing no such thing.

Back to the middle of his article. What kind of people are his not quite taliban-esque critics?

I know some of the attackers, and a more broken and dysfunctional group one could not meet. Some in particular I have felt sorry for and tried to befriend over the years, and their response is thus. I do have some pity because several have come from difficult backgrounds, but that does not justify such venom. Strangely enough the son of one of my new critics wrote to me shortly after my column was published, telling of his difficult childhood. I suppose I should not be surprised

Let's see, which formal error is this one? Poisoned well? Ad Hominem? "My critics are dysfunctional, and therefore they may be dismissed." Great logic, that. Except there is no logic, it is a rhetorical manoeuvre which serves a purpose akin to innoculation: you make people immune to someone else argument's not by defeating the arguments, but by making the other person look wrong from the start. They are not proven wrong: they are assumed to be wrong before they even speak. One sweep of the brush, and all is clear. And what, exactly, is he dismissing in their criticisms?

There was also an obsession with one particular sexual act, one that is actually fairly rare among gay men and impossible among gay women. But these people wrote at length about it with a scatological and morbid relish. Who, I had to wonder, were the extremists?

He is dismissing their objection to sodomy. Here I may get myself into some hot water, or would if anyone actually read this article, but here goes: I actually agree with Coren to a certain extent here. I find many Catholics who are far, far too obsessed, in my opinion, with gay sex. They may say "Hate the sin, but love the sinner", but the obsession with gay sex blots out all else. All that can be seen on the outside is the hate. All that is felt by the gay community from us is the hate. Seeing as it is our job to spread the word, and bring others into our fold, I will say this: we will never succeed with ranting, raging, and hate.

Having said that, the extent to which I agree with Coren ends when he minimises the sin. He says it is "fairly rare among gay men" and therefore...what? This is the inverse of the 'Everyone does it all the time, therefore it's okay" argument, and it is equally wrong. If it is wrong it is wrong whether it happens once or a thousand times. Here I believe we must perform a balancing act. Love and charity, but also firmness. In the past I thought Coren went too far over on one side, and now I believe he has toppled onto the other.

Coren has a few other lines about people too tied up in legalism as he seeks to unbind himself from legalism, it seems. Again, that is going from one mistake hard into another. In between, he calls some people names while claiming not to call them names and makes some formal logical errors. In style and substance this article is no different from pretty much every other article of his I have ever read. And for this, he has a large following.

So Michael Coren has lost some of his readers, only not really, because- alas, or perhaps hooray!-I imagine a lot of them will continue to read his work so they may continue to be outraged and angry over his next words, and also that he no longer speaks their mind. But -hooray! or perhaps alas,- he will now speak the minds of others. He will land on his feet and has a new book coming out entitled "The Future of Catholicism". I expect it to be as unsophisticated, illogical and badly written as everything else of his that I have seen, yet still well read.

Meanwhile, this blog will continue to be unread, I will slide down the list of author success. I will continue to complain that no one appreciates my brilliance, speak the mind of no one but myself, and gnaw at the heels of those far more successful than I. To quote famed Australian Ned Kelly: Such is life.

And to anyone who got this far: go get a friend, get out there and find that rat's hindquarters.

24 July 2014

On the new Thor

Continuing my series of thinking about trivial matters so as not to go mad.

I heard the other day that Marvel is doing a revamp of Thor.  Thor will now be a female who holds the mighty Mjolnir.  I saw a post over at John C Wright's, who, being a science fiction author and someone who, inter alia, covers news about the realms of the fantastic.  It did not surprise me to see it there.  Indeed, I would have been surprised if he had not posted on it.  He was against the change, which he views as more PC interventions onto all that is good.  It wasn't a surprise, and I tended to agree with him.  So, at first, I did not think much of it.

Then I saw a post over at Fr Z.'s, of all places, wherein he viewed this as an attempting at queering a character, and therefore another sign of further PC interventions into all that is good.  I was surprised, a little, that he would discuss it, but then I remember that he had reviewed- even positively- a few superhero movies on his blog, so perhaps father has an affection for the lowly comic book. 

Then I saw a picture on Frank Cho's site, an artist who draws for marvel at times, wherein he spoofed the idea, and then, this morning, The Toronto Star had a teaser on the top of its front page for an article on the matter inside the paper!  Obviously, this was very big news.

Okay, my question is not "why is it news?", but: "why is it news now?"  Well, among other things, the San Diego Comic Con, the big con, is set to begin.  It is time to get some hype rolling.  A change in gender of a major character- especially with the Avengers and Thor movies- -and announced on The View, no less- is just the ticket.  The comic creators and supporters of this change are touting it as making the comics more diverse and reflective of their audience, just as when Ultimate Spiderman replaced Peter Parker with a hispanic boy, or when Marvel made Nick Fury a black man (and played to perfection by the awesome Samuel L Jackson in the movies, by the way), or Captain America a black man..  Is this true?  Perhaps. Or is Marvel they engaging in social engineering, as some allege?  harder to say, although conservative critics have already weighed in with a resounding yes.

I will make a few points here, but I will begin with saying what the new character is most likely not: she is not a transvestite or transgender Thor.  Long time fans will remember the inscription on the Hammer:  He who holds this hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.  Years ago, when Walt Simonson took over the helm of Thor- and created my favourite series for the character, he began by exploring that idea.  That anyone who was worthy of the hammer would have the power had always been part of Thor's code, but no one had ever done so up until that point.  Simonson thought of how a character could be worthy of that terrible power.  Superman (who was from DC, not Marvel) would never be able to pick it up because the hammer is a killing weapon, and Superman does not kill (at least until last year's disappointing movie).  Hulk is incredibly strong, but he is a rage monster, so he would not be worthy.  Captain America is an American patriot, and his patriotism would interfere with or control his use of the weapon, so he couldn't hold it either.  So Simonson created an alien and gave him a noble backstory of terror and stoic heroism, and made him worthy of the hammer and its power.

What has happened now is that the original Thor has somehow become unworthy, and someone new- a woman- has become worthy.  This isn't Thor getting a sex change, per se.  I actually find this idea intersting.  What could Thor do to demean himself and lose the power of Thunder?  And how would the worthiness to wield the hammer manifest itself in a woman?  This is an idea that could have potential, if only for a little while.  (These are comics.  Sooner or later, everyone comes back) When it comes to writing, any idea, in the right hands, is a good idea.  Similarly, any idea, in the wrong hands, can also be a terrible idea.

So, what about these hands?  What do they have to say for themselves?

This October, Marvel Comics evolves once again in one of the most shocking and exciting changes ever to shake one of Marvel’s “big three” – Captain America, Iron Man and Thor – Marvel Comics will be introducing an all-new THOR, GOD OF THUNDER.

No longer is the classic male hero able to hold the mighty hammer, Mjölnir, a brand new female hero will emerge who will be worthy of the name THOR. Who is she? Where did she come from and what is her connection to Asgard and the Marvel Universe?

“The inscription on Thor’s hammer reads ‘Whosoever holds this hammer, if HE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.’ Well it’s time to update that inscription,” says Marvel editor Wil Moss.

“The new Thor continues Marvel’s proud tradition of strong female characters like Captain Marvel, Storm, Black Widow and more. And this new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute – she’s now the one and only Thor, and she is worthy!”

Series writer Jason Aaron emphasizes, “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”

THOR is the latest in the ever-growing and long list of female-centric titles that continues to invite new readers into the Marvel Universe. This female THOR is the 8th title to feature a lead female protagonist and aims to speak directly to an audience that long was not the target for Super Hero comic books in America: women and girls.
From where I stand, without going into a detailed fisk,this announcement can be read as new story idea, cheap hype, or new attempt to send a message.  Or it could be what they say it is: an attempt to draw in new and varied readers.

I am curious at this point as to how big a percentage of the readership of the comic books are young women?  The books girls and young women tend to read are romances- Twilight, or Shades of Grey- whereas it is the boys who tend to read about people in spandex smashing things with their way-cool powers.  Will the girls come to this new Thor? Maybe.  Will the boys leave?  Maybe.  Probably, but they may stay if the new Thor's boobs are prominent enough.  So marvel is taking a big risk here:  They may be alienating a large part of their readership with no guarantee they are attracting a new one.  And, from what I have read elsewhere, Marvel, despite its success at the movies, is losing readers of its comic books.

I see this radical shift as an attempt to stir up some hype and temporarily gain a few new readers, but other see more sinister (as in Left) (that's what sinister means-left) motives.  John C Wright quotes Sarah Hoyt on this point:

I have, some years ago, identified the process by which left-leaning institutions die. Someone had asked me why an sf editor I will not name, having killed three magazines, got given yet another to kill, and why each magazine was successively more leftist. This was compared to the process by which news magazines and media when in trouble because too leftist for the general public, go hard left just before they die. (Also known as the left-leaning-death-roll.)

Because I was in a field where this (then)worked, I had to explain to the people I was talking to that this happens because in fields that are 90% or more left, this works. See, if your magazine/newspaper/tv station goes under because you’re incompetent, no one is going to give you another job.

But if your magazine/newspaper/tv station goes under because you’re “too far left” then the left – aka the rest of your field. Aka those who give awards and jobs – perceive you as a hero, suffering for your convictions, and promptly give you another job.

So, if you’re an incompetent idiot, and your business is failing, your best way to cover it up and assure your survival in the field, is to run as far left as fast as you can. This has been trained in at the back of the brain of most people in the media and entertainment by DECADES of this strategy working just fine.
What did you expect of Marxists? Contact with reality? If they had that, they wouldn’t be Marxists, a theory that requires you to be a blind fool who believes in wishcasting.
There are many who wonder why Marvel doesn't create a new character if they want more strong female characters,  or hispanic or black characters, or doesn't play up another strong female character from the Thor stories, like Brunnhilde, or Sif if they want more varied heroes for their more varied audience.  The answer is that they are secondary characters, and this is Thor.  It's  sort of the reason why authors write about whether or not Shakespeare wrote his own plays, rather than arguing whether it was Tourneur or Middleton (two of his contemporaries) who wrote the Revenger's Tragedy.  They're not big enough for anyone other than a few scholars to care.  But any news on Shakespeare is Big News Indeed.  And so it is here.  Thor continues being a blonde guy with a hammer? No hype. They create a new, strong female character and give her a new line? No hype.  Thor replaced by a woman?  Now that's news.  And, what the heck, if the idea tanks, someone else will give you a job, because ti was no fault of yours and wasn't because your story sucked that you failed, it was the neoposteurocarnivorophallologocentirc hegemony that stopped you, and it must continue to be fought at all costs, even if every title in the Marvel canon must go belly up for the cause.

Are they trying to do social engineering?   It's possible. I find it hard to say without some of the actual comic books in front of me. All I know of the writers right no is that they aren't inclined to leave well enough alone and have decided to change Thor's code in the language on the hammer.  I am not a mind reader who can say why they undertook this risk.  Whether it is because they thought it would be a cool story vehicle, or cheap hype, or  to send out a message, only time will tell.  If they put story first, they may be successful.  If they put message first, they will almost certainly fail.  No one, neither male nor female, likes to be preached at, even if that is what passes for much fiction these days. And, as I said, this is comics.  If the idea flops (which I suspect it will, but I have been wrong before) a resurrection of the old Thor is but a pen stroke away.

23 July 2014

I always knew there was a reason I liked this guy

In dark times, it is sometimes pleasant to think of lighter things.  Here's Weird Al explaining grammar to the people who use Twitter, pinterest, etc.

15 July 2014

A question about the Knights of Columbus

I am considering joining the Knights. I meet their requirements. viz., I am male, over 18, with a pulse. I would like to hear from anyone out there who may read this and have some knowledge o experience with the Knights what their thoughts are on the organization. Did you find the experience worthwhile? Did it help you with your faith and your life? Were there unexpected benefits or drawbacks?

I am debating this decision. I don't know if the Knights would be good for me, or if I would be good for the Knights. I am not a team player, nor much of a follower, nor much of a leader.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

14 July 2014

Anyone else find their job search site to be garbage?

So I'm trying to find work for when this place finally goes belly up. Several friends recommended I join a certain well known website that will aid me in my hunt for new work. I put in my education and work experience, with a few other things, and it finds me matches.

Except it doesn't.

For the purposes of background, education and job experience goes like this: Graduated High school. BA major in English and minor in history (although I could probably upgrade it today to a double major without taking any new courses). Masters in English, ABD on my PhD. I have been quality control lab technician, a teaching assistant at a university. I've built fences and decks and spent a time as a freelance cabinet maker. I even occasionally got hired by a friend who ran a painting company, so I suppose I have been a painter, although you would be foolish to call on me to do your house. And I have worked in this store (for far too long, really) wherein I have worked the information desk, cash, shipping and receiving, and, for a year or two, accounting.

So, what kind of positions do they send me, telling me that I would be just a spiffy fit? From today: Art teacher at a Montessori School.(no idea how they got that) Manager at college pro paint, (That's my university experience plus being a painter); Early Childhood Educator (???);Executive Director, Canadian Association of Research Libraries (no idea how that came up. For some of the other positions I sort of resemble their candidate in the way that a fun house mirror resembles a person- but this one is ocmpletely out to lunch.);Senior Bioinformatics Research Programmer (that makes the previous one look like a spot on match. What is a Bioinforwhatever the heck that is? And nowhere in my CV do I mention "computers" or "programming") Another time I was told I would be great to head up the Sociology department of a nearby university, and at another time, the chemistry department. Seriously.

I would shut down my account, except I find these colossal mismatches to be amusing. I have no idea what algorithm they are using to find these matches, but I think it is probably the wrong one. I would have more luck with a coin toss or a spinning wheel. The weathermen are more accurate in their forecasts than this state of the art program. Anyone out there have similar experiences with their job search engines? Anyone have a good one?