Thursday, February 28, 2019


I'm out sick today, with what is probably just a cold.

It might be the mumps. Mumps are rampant in our area, thanks to anti-vaxxers, and though I had mumps as a child, previous to the MMR vaccine, I understand sometimes your immunity doesn't hold. And I've got the symptoms of the mumps.

But it's probably just a cold. There's as a bad cold loose in our area.

The thing is, though, after I was so sick last year with whatever that* was, on the edge of death with whatever that was, now every time I get a sniffle or a bout of queasiness, I'm afraid it's the start of a precipitous decline.

Sick Day

*It might have been a parasite, my PCP says. Though I stopped eating gluten, and it went away. So it might have been a gluten allergy. Who knows. It was terrible, though.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

My Patreon

Over on my Patreon, my reviews of SF movies, books, and TV shows are free to the public.

So are the first three chapters of Triple Junction, the sequel to Broken Slate.

For as little as three dollars a month, you can have access to the first nine chapters now, and a new chapter every Friday.

Support your hungry artist now!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Monday Links

How long is it until Spring Break? (Too long.)

Though I have a wonderful schedule this semester, thanks to my wonderful Chair, all I really want to do is hunker down and write. I really hope I get that sabbatical.

Meanwhile, have some links!

The economy is broken

SO broken

Very broken

But hey, so long as "people like us" benefit, amirite?

Trans people

More on trans people

Middlemarch is one of my favorite books, as you know, but I would read this.

I'm just saying

This is very cool

Just once

I love Pop Culture Detective:

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Trigger Warning: Ch32 to End

Why does everyone hate Jake?

This is a question Jake asks himself after one of the terrorists, a back guy, speaks harshly to him.

“Don’t give me any trouble,” the gunman said as his lips drew back from his teeth in a grimace. “I’d just as soon shoot you, you son of a bitch.”  
That sounded personal, Jake thought. He wondered if the guy had a real reason to hate him, or if his skin color and political views were enough to justify that hatred.

Black people are the real bigots!

Also, the more I think about the big plot twist of Burke being part of the Bad Guys, the less it makes sense.

Did Matthias recruit her / get her hired at this university just in case he had some trouble-making guy he wanted her to woo? Or was that improvised, once they realized Jake, the Good Man with a Gun, was on campus?

If it's the latter, then why did he recruit Burke? Worse, why did she join his bizarre crime team? She doesn't seem to care about politics, and I refuse to believe anyone who is on the tenure track of an excellent university is silly enough to think his crime scheme had even the tiniest chance of success. Why blow up her life for something stupid like this?

I mean, obviously one point J.A. keeps harping on is that progressives, especially those who go to college, are stupid. And I know that's what lots of conservatives believe -- that we're just too stupid to understand Jesus, or what a gun does.

But Burke isn't written like she's stupid.

Also, if her job was to neutralize Jake, because Jake is such a threat to the Plan, then why doesn't she neutralize Jake?

She's been dating him for several days. She's been alone with him any number of times. He trusts her, apparently. I can think off the top of my head of six or seven things she could have done -- planted drugs on him, for instance, and called the police. Or planted child porn on him. Or not planted child on him and called the police to say he had child porn anyway -- that would have been enough to get him off campus, which is all they really need. Or told the campus police he has guns in his room. That would have gotten him expelled, which is -- again -- all they need.

Also! On the day of the big job, she literally invites him to the library. She makes sure he's in the library, where Matthias will be, when the Big Job kicks off. Why would she do that? Take him away for the weekend instead. Invite him away for a hot weekend in El Paso. I'm sure he would have gone.

This plot literally makes no sense.

Okay, let's wrap this up. We've got about 30% of the book left, but having skimmed through it, I have to warn you it gets really tedious.

Jake "McClane's" his way around the library, shooting people. Dr. Mtumbo joins forces with him, as does Pierce (or, as Jake calls them, 'a black Progressive and a Snowflake Professor.' I mean, good thing Jake doesn't filter everything through an ideological lens.) Neither has ever fired a gun before today, which amazes Jake. What world do these people come from, he wonders.

Um, the normal world?

Burke repents and tries to find Jake so she can apologize for being such a bad girl. She gets shot, but don't worry, she doesn't die.

But let's back up. About 75% of the way through the book, this new guy shows up. He's lean and tanned (Did I mention all the Good Guys with Guns in this book have deep tans? They do. Because cowboys, I guess.) though he's probably about 70, he moves "like a 22 year old athlete."

No fewer than three people comments on how Dog -- that's his code name -- moves like a 22 year old athlete. "He looks about 70," they will all say, "but he moves like a 22 year old athlete!"

'Dog' -- and he is constantly telling everyone to "Just call [him] Dog" -- moves through campus, shooting terrorists with preternatural skill. (One terrorist holds a woman in front of him, like a human shield, and Dog shoots him anyway, right through the mouth.)

How does he know who is a terrorist and who is not?

Because he's a Good Guy with a Gun, that's how.

Oh, and also the President has sent him here. That Trump. What a guy!

Also -- and this is the big surprise -- he's actually Jake's Uncle! (Plot twist!)

No wonder Jake is such a hero. He's genetically related to Dog.

Yes, Dog actually says this. Good genes create Good Guys with a Gun apparently.

This is also something I've noticed Conservatives believe -- that Certain People are Superior because they have Superior Genes. This is part of their White Nationalist bent, obviously. It's not their fault white people are the superior race -- it's just their genes. I mean, it's just science.

God, isn't this book over yet?

I'm leaving a lot out, such as for instance the redemption of that whiny Campus Cop who was evil because he was a progressive. He mans up and along with Jake shoots a bunch of people. Together, they free several hostages from the snack room in the library.

But of course the hostages are liberal snowflakes, and thus aren't grateful for being released.

“But . . . but is it safe?” asked a male undergrad with multiple piercings on ears, nose, and lips.  
A girl with pink hair said, “We should stay where we are until someone from the government tells us to leave.”

“The administration needs to issue a statement and address this,” added a middle-aged man who Jake pegged as a professor. “This campus is supposed to be a safe space and a gun-free zone.” He looked pointedly at the pistols Jake and Granderson held. “Neither of you should have those. You should turn them in!”

As a matter of fact, in our Mass Shooter training, the police told us very firmly that if we were holding a gun when they arrived, we would be shot. This is because, contrary to what this book claims, you can't actually tell a Good Guy with a Gun from a Bad Guy with a Gun.

Image result for Good Guy with a Gun cartoon

And that's something this book ignores -- how Dog knows the Bad Guys from the hostages; how Jake manages to shoot down any number of people without accidentally shooting a hostage; how, if Matthias had several people undercover in the library, as we're told he did, one of those 'hostages' Jake saved didn't turn out to be one of them, so that Jake got shot in the back.

How in real life shoot-outs don't work even remotely the way they do in this book.

In the final chapters, for instance, Jake and Matthias shoot each other. Matthias dies. Jake, who had taken three slugs to the chest, spends a few weeks in the hospital and then is just fine.

Yeah, no. That's not what happens when you get shot multiple times in the chest.

Okay, I'm leaving a lot out -- for instance, the FBI show up about 70% of the way through the book, but they don't do anything except get in the way of Dog and the Chief of Campus police. Because the government is useless, obviously. Only Good Men can do anything.

And yes, it has to be men. We have two women in this book. One, Burke, is an inept traitor, and the other is a Homeland Security official, and a total bitch who hates men.

Most of these last chapters are taken up in describing the fights Jake has with people. Pages and pages of detailed descriptions of these fights, all really boring.

But in the end, Jake and Dog take down the evil progressive terrorists, and the hostages (well, most of them) are saved.

Of course, the university students all need counseling, because "that was the trouble with being a snowflake. You melted if it got the least bit warm."

See, only snowflakes would have PTSD after something like this, or need counseling. Jake, the Real Man, just shrugs it off.

Then his uncle offers him a job, being his partner.

"Work for the government?" Jake frowns.

Because governments are evil, remember.

But don't worry. Dog is a freelance Good Guy with a Gun. So Jake doesn't have to stick his snout in the government trough.

Whew! Close one.

The End

We never find out what happened to Pierce, in case you were wondering, or why Burke is a part of Matthias's crew. We do find out Burke gets arrested, after Jake saves the day, but not what happens to her after that -- does she get the death penalty?

I mean, this is Texas, and Matthias is responsible for more than 30 deaths. Given she's his accomplice, she's on the hook for all those deaths.

Also, what about the big crush Jake had on her? How he was willing to risk his life for her? And then she's a Bad Guy with a Gun? (Also, if Jake is so good at telling Good Guys from Bad Guys, why doesn't he figure out Burke is a bad guy before she has a literal gun shoved in his ribs?)

But this doesn't disturb Jake at all. He just shrugs it off. Bitches, what can you do?

Over on Amazon, the MAGA Americans writing reviews of this book are begging for a sequel. I imagine J.A. will give them one.  Anything for money, after all.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Trigger Warning Ch 21-31

This is a massively stupid book.

I mean, I get that the point isn't the plot. The point is for J.A. to include heaps of Far-Right rants, so that MAGA saps will buy her book.

But oh my God, the plotting.

Chapters 21-31

Chapter 21 is yet another encounter with the President of the University, who has summoned Jake to his office to yell at him for being a conservative. As Presidents of Universities do.

“Why? Because I’m a conservative? In an institution of higher learning, especially, shouldn’t there be room for all different kinds of viewpoints?” 
“Not the ones devoted to hate,” Pelletier said as his lip curled in a sneer.  
“I don’t hate anybody. Look around at the rest of the country, sir. The stock market’s up, unemployment is down, the economy is growing at a nice rate. Around the world, other countries respect us again.” 

The sad thing is, this is exactly what MAGA Americans believe. I've had them say this exact same thing on my FB page or on blogs. And parts of it aren't wrong -- the stock market is up (and down, and up), and employment is down. But these are mostly minimum wage and part time jobs. Wages are down, in other words, except among the very richest among us.

And no, "other countries" don't respect us. Why would they, when we've allowed ourselves to be led by a conman?

Meanwhile, Pelletier threatens to commit grade fraud to get Jake expelled.

“My grades are fine. You won’t be able to cook up something and claim that I flunked out. Not without falsifying a lot of records and getting a bunch of people to go along with you.” 
“Don’t be so sure I couldn’t do that,” Pelletier warned.  
He probably could, Jake thought. After all, the left specialized in banding together and spinning false narratives. The mainstream media had been doing it for decades. They took pride in being able to tell the public what to think, whether the so-called news they peddled bore any real resemblance to the truth or not.

Oh my God.

Blah, blah, blah. Jake leaves, heading for the library for his 'date' with Burke, and we switch to the Chief of Campus Police, McRainey, on his way to drink coffee with his buddy, Head of Groundskeeping -- who is dead! (The Bad Guys killed him for his coveralls, remember.)

While McRainey is trying to decide what to do about this, one of the Bad Guys jumps him from behind. They fight. For pages and pages and pages. Then McRainey kills the Bad Guy. I forget how, and who cares.

McRainey stumbles upon the dead guy, by the way, because the Bad Guys left him lying in the middle of the room for some reason, instead of hiding him with the other bodies. Because of course they did.

Bleeding and battered, like a true Man, McRainey calls for help.

Cut to Jake in the library, flirting with Dr. Burke. He sees Fareed with his study group and is instantly on his guard. After all, Middle Eastern guys are all terrorists.

More ranting from Jake:

Jake started to pull her chair out for her, then stopped and said, “Wait a minute. I’m not supposed to do anything polite like that, am I?” 
“Holding a woman’s chair for her is a patriarchal microaggression . . . but I’ll let it slide. This time.” Natalie’s smile and the twinkle in her eyes took any sting out of the words. 

See, this is funny, because feminists spend all their time attacking guys for
opening doors and pulling out chairs for them, and it's offensive because it attacks masculinity -- how can men be men if they can't pull out chairs for women?

(A) I have never in my life seen any woman, feminist or not, get upset about having chairs pulled out for them or doors held open.

(B) But here's a point. Conservative/Anti-Feminist men love to wave around the fact that they hold doors open, or open jars, and those feminists don't appreciate it! As if that were something women needed -- someone to hold doors for them, someone to pull out their chairs. We don't need that. We need equal pay. We need universal daycare. We need the right to control our own bodies. We need men who will do their fair share of childcare and housework. Chairs? Bitch, we can handle chairs.

Conservative/Anti-Feminist men focus on holding open doors and pulling out chairs because that is literally the least they can do. And that's the part they do.

Anyway, more political rants from Jake, more rants about feminist, more rants about how unreasonable progressives are. Then he says this, to Burke:

"The last thing I want to do is turn into one of those people who filter everything though an ideological lens."

I mean, oh, my God. I'd challenge anyone to go through this entire book and find anything Jake has said or thought that wasn't filtered through an ideological lens.

Here's an actual picture of Jake in his dorm room:

Actual Picture of Jake

Nah, not really. Jake doesn't have a phone, remember?

The Bad Guys emerge in the library. They have changed out of their groundskeeper coveralls and into regular clothes. Why?

You got me. I'm still not sure why they needed the coveralls to begin with. But once they were in them, why go through all this trouble to smuggle their regular clothes into the library (an operation we hear about in some detail) so they can change in the bathroom?

Also they've hidden weapons in the bathroom. How? Why? You've got me, but it's necessary for Matthias, our chief Bad Guy, to kill a student while he's retrieving the weapons. I'm kidding, it's totally not necessary, the student was leaving the bathroom and Matthias could have just waited for him to leave, but he kills him instead. And then knocks out another student who surprises him while he's hiding the body. He doesn't kill this guy.

Later he shoots a student who starts running as if to jump him. Which is surprising, since conservatives have assured us that in the event of a mass shooting, we should just 'swarm' the gun man and we can bring him down.

My point, though, is that Matthias is holding these students for ransom -- so why would he start shooting them? Dead hostages aren't very useful.

Oh, and we get Matthias's back story. See, he was a student at this university. He was -- and is -- a progressive. But to his shock, when he came to the university, everyone hated him as much as they hated good Patriotic American Conservatives. Why? Well, because he was working class.

Their commitment to diversity and equality didn’t extend to boys from squalid little oil-field towns like the one Foster came from, no matter how smart they were. 

You know how the progressives hate the working class.

That's why Matthias is doing all this, we discover -- he knows that the only thing progressives really respect is wealth. So he's going to get really rich, and this is the best way to do that.

Did I mention that we're supposed to believe Matthias is brilliant?

He pulls his gun and starts firing rounds into the ceiling. Everyone screams and panics, except Pierce (and Jake, but we'll get to that). Pierce just calmly assesses the situation, and makes this odd remark:

The gunman was white, fairly young, and average- looking. Nothing about him shouted “mass shooter.” 
See, Fareed. Fareed is what a terrorist looks like. A young white guy? That's a 'normal' American. White guys aren't terrorists!

Meanwhile, Fareed tries to join forces with Matthias, in order to bring down the American Infidels (yes, he literally says this) but Matthias will have none of it.

Cut t o Jake, whose catlike reflexes cause him to leap across the table -- literally across the table, knocking books and papers everywhere -- and knock Burke to the floor.

Jake twisted as they went down so that he hit the floor first and she landed on top of him, in- stead of the other way around. His weight falling on her might have seriously injured her. 
Oh my God.

Matthias shoots the guy who rushed him, shoots another round into the ceiling, and then goes off on his political rant. He wants a hundred million dollars from the families of the students, who are all part of the 1%, or he will blow up the entire university.

"That’s a one with eight zeroes after it, for those of you who believe math is racist.” 

Ha, ha, ha, see, that's funny because progressives think math is racist. He says this standing in the middle of a university. Where we teach math, and do research with math, and on math. Where there is an entire department devoted to math. But okay.

Matthias then assures them he thinks math is racist, too -- because J.A. doesn't want us to forget that he's evil because he's a progressive -- and rants some more. He only wants ransom from the 1%, because despite what J.A. told us earlier, his aim isn't actually to get rich, it's to hurt the wealthy.

That's what progressives live for, as you know, to hurt the wealthy. (We find out Pierce's father owns two Fortune 500 companies. And also McRainey, despite lying in a pool of his own blood, finds time to ruminate on how the real wealth gap in the USA isn't because rich people write the laws that allow them to loot the country. Oh no. It's because progressive write laws that allow the government to loot the working class. That's why most of the wealth in this country and the world is owned by about 30 people. Democrats.

Also regulations, somehow.

Blah, blah, blah, more political rants from everyone, despite how they're in this mass shooter situation. Jake's adviser, the one who was so evil and such a progressive, is brought to his senses by the situation. Guns aren't evil! Violence isn't evil! He steals a gun and kills one of the terrorists, and then -- Die Hard style -- climbs into the ceiling.

Jake rushes Matthias. He overpowers him, and puts a gun to his head.

But what is this! Burke has sneaked up behind Jake. She puts a gun to his ribs.

OH NO. Burke is one of the BAD GUYS.

This is the big plot twist J.A. has for us, and while it does explain why Burke would be willing to risk her career by dating and making out with Jake, it's just...bizarre.

Burke is a professor of Criminal Justice at one of the best universities in the nation. She's on the tenure track. This is what we're told. And yet we're supposed to believe she's going to join forces with someone like Matthias and his crackpot scheme to hold an entire university for ransom?

I mean, obviously J.A. has never spoken to an actual professor, but yeah, no.

I'm assuming we're going to learn that Burke was overwhelmed by her passion for Matthias, or something of that order. But also: yeah, no.

Or is she supposed to have been planted here at the university by Matthias, the way all the Bad Guy groundskeepers were, and the guy working the desk at the university, and so on? Because if that's the case, oh, hell, no.

I suspect J.A. has no idea how faculty get hired. Most people who don't work in the academy have no idea how faculty get hired, so that makes sense. But you don't just walk into HR at a major university and apply for a tenure-track job and get hired.

First there has to be an opening, and in a tenure-track job, that means someone left or someone died. Maybe Matthias killed one of the criminal justice professors? Okay, let's go with that.

Now we have to get approval to hire in that line, the tenure-track line, for that job in that department. This is a process that usually takes about a year. But maybe they put a rush job on it, because I don't know why they would, but let's pretend.

Now we have to put together a search committee, and they have to decide what they want -- what particular flavor of criminal justice professor they want, I mean -- and write a job ad. It gets placed in two or three specific journals around the world.( I assume Matthias recruited Burke before he killed the other professor, because otherwise that's just wasteful, so how did he know what sort of criminal justice professor the committee would decide they wanted? Burke has to be qualified for this job in order to get it.)

Now we wait for applications to pour in, and they do pour in. When we advertised for our last position in my department we got nearly 200 applications. And this is not a tenure-track job, and it's not at 'one of the best' universities in the country (though I like our university).

Then the committee reads all the applications, all the CVs, all the teaching philosophies and writing samples and so on. (All of these are required when you apply for most academic positions.) We choose maybe 20 that make the first cut.

Then we contact their references, and ask for letters of recommendation, or call them up and talk to them. This takes six to eight months, from start to finish.

We settle on three candidates, usually, to interview in person. We bring them to campus for a two or three day visit, so everyone can talk to them, so they can give a presentation of their research, so they can teach a class or two and we can see how they get along with our students, so we can just make sure they aren't hinky in some way, like planning to pull a heist on our campus.

Kidding. But I could tell you stories. These interviews happen for a reason.

Anyway: We choose one person to hire. We write up the justification for not hiring the other 199, as well as the justification for hiring this one, and send everything to HR. HR contacts our choice and asks for more information -- copies of transcripts, SS#, a whole pile of stuff. The justification also goes up the line to the dean and provost and the Board.

Then we wait. It's usually another few months before we get approval to hire.

By which time the person has usually taken a job at another university and we have to start over.

MY POINT IS -- yeah, if we're going to be told that Burke is on the campus as one of Matthias's plants, that just didn't happen. Maybe Matthias could get one of his men planted in the grounds crew. He couldn't get someone hired at the library. He absolutely could not get someone hired on the tenure track.

Also, if Burke were at all qualified to be hired on the tenure track, there is no way she would throw that over to help her boyfriend run this ridiculous job. Becoming qualified for a position like that -- and getting a position like that -- is the culmination of about 15 years work, and a shit ton of ambition. She's not going to give all that up.

I wouldn't write a book about what it's like to be in the military if I'd never been in the military and I didn't know anyone who had and I'd clearly never even talked to a soldier. Why does J.A. think she can write about what it's like on a university campus without ever even visiting one?

This is all I can take for now.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

More Trigger Warning

Y'all, I'm pretty sure J.A. is a Sad Puppy. Either that, or she's Sad-Puppy-Adjacent. Not only is she pushing most of their alt.facts, in today's section, she uses a term I've never seen anyone else use: CTRL-Left.

Also, it would certainly explain why this book is so laughably bad. Most Sad Puppies can't write for toffee.

Chapters 15-20

If you cut out the political rants and repetition, you could get everything that happens in these chapters into about two paragraphs.

Our Bad Guy, Matthias, holds a Bad Guy meeting at his house. We find out why the Bad Guys have started about six fights with Jake so far -- because he's so dangerous that they want him off campus (or dead) before they pull their job.

How did they know he was so dangerous? I mean, before he started beating all of them up? I guess because he's a conservative patriotic American. That's essentially what Matthias says when one of Team Bad Guy suggests Jake might not be the only one on campus able and willing to thwart their Evil Plan.

"[The Left are] not violent. They abhor violence. Just ask them, they’ll tell you. Oh, they can form a mob quickly enough, if anybody offends them and violates their safe spaces, but….they won’t do anything." 

This is like Schrodinger's Immigrant (lazy and on welfare, and also he takes your job), only it's Schrodinger's Progressive. Giant spoiled babies who ALSO are total Nazis, planning to put good God-fearing Patriotic Americans in death camps.

Jake goes to a shooting range and shoots more guns. He has a fight with a 12 year old over whether his gun is big enough. (Oh my God.)

Jake thinks of quitting school, but how would he ever see Dr. Burke again if he did that?

I know J.A. told us Jake had a phone, but apparently he doesn't. I mean, he obviously doesn't realize that in the 21st century you can call people up and ask them out. Or, you know, text them.

Anyway, he goes on another date with Dr. Burke. They eat steak and make out. We find out Jake has a superpower -- he never gets lost, even when he's driving to some place where he's never been. It's just a inborn talent, that's how he is. But he's such a good guy that he lets Dr. Burke give him directions anyway.

He has yet another fight with a progressive snowflake, and makes this one cry too. That's his specialty. He beats up progressives and makes them cry. It's hilarious.

His fight with the snowflake (who calls him a Nazi) gets put on YouTube, and everyone believes he's a Nazi bigot now except one black guy, Pierce. He's in the book so we can see that J.A. isn't a racist and neither is Jake, despite some racist things he says to Pierce right away.

But Pierce isn't a sensitive snowflake, so he just laughs. Ha ha. Racism is a hilarious. Also later we find out that Pierce's father is the Real Racist. (Black people are the real bigots!)

This is an attitude toward non-white-people I have seen over and over again from conservatives who insist they aren't racist. It's not that they hate or dislike black people. Why, they have black friends! They hire black people! How can they be racist?

But when you talk to them, they will invariably let you know that these black people are different -- not like those other black people. These black people are Good Ones.

I think I've told this story here before, but once when I was in graduate school in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a white woman sat down next to me in a bar -- a total stranger, someone I had never seen -- and informed me drunkenly that she wasn't racist. "I'm not racist," she said, "but there are black people, and then there are n****rs. Know what I mean? You know what I mean!"

After he beats up the snowflake and realizes Pierce is one of the Good Ones, Jake remembers the small-l-liberals he had known in the army, 'Classical Liberals,' who unlike these snowflakes weren't evil, just wrong. Then he remembers something funny.

The Cntrl-Left, Jake thought with a smile, remembering a term someone on the Internet had come up with to mock the lockstep progressives and their obsession with the so-called Alt-Right. Because if there was any group in modern American society that truly wanted to control everyone and everything, it was the Left . . . 

The so-called Alt-Right.

Let's just skip ahead some.

In Chapter 18, the novel finally begins. Matthias and Team Bad Guy kill six or seven groundskeepers, apparently so they can steal their coveralls. This makes no sense, given that -- as we find out -- Matthias has been working on the grounds crew for months. Is there a reason he didn't just steal some coveralls? Or, I don't know, buy some? They're not that expensive.

ALSO: The grounds crew, at least on my university, does not wear a uniform. I'd be surprised if they wore a uniform anywhere. Why would they?

But we've already established that J.A. has never been on a college campus. She's also pretty bad at plotting criminal activity. I think this scene is in the book so she can point out that Banning Guns on Campus Doesn't Work, since the Bad Guys don't follow the rules. One of the grounds crew, who is also a progressive snowflake student (wait, I thought progressives were all spoiled rich kids?) protests when Matthias pulls his handgun:

“[You] need to put that gun away. You shouldn’t even have a gun here on campus. You know they’re prohibited. Hell, we put up the signs that say they’re prohibited!” 

Don't worry, this snowflake gets his. That'll teach him to go around without an AK-47.

I'm not sure why conservatives keep replaying this fantasy and ones like it, as if they're the only ones who can figure out that criminals don't obey the law.

(1) It's not the criminals we're worried about. It's regular people, who will keep their guns in the dorm rooms or carry them in their backpacks or whatever. Jake is of course a perfect gun owner, so he would never leave his weapon unsecured (except we see him doing just that) or carry it about loose in a jacket pocket (he does this too), so there's no chance in this little Fantasy World of some drunk 18 year old picking up a gun and shooting some other drunk 18 year old. And there's no chance of some hot-headed freshman getting in a fight over politics and yanking out his gun. That doesn't happen, in this Fantasy Conservatives land. In the real world, yeah, it happens all the time. And the more guns lying about loose, the more it happens.

(2) The NO GUNS ALLOWED sign functions like all rules and laws function. Laws don't stop criminals from committing crimes. They give us something we can do once the criminals have. Right now, guns are allowed on our campus. So if our Campus Police see a student with a gun, there is literally nothing they can do. A couple years ago, they could investigate, arrest the guy, get him and his gun off campus. Now? Now they just have to wait and see whether this is a Good Guy with a Gun, or maybe a guy who plans to murder 20 or 30 people.

I don't believe conservatives don't know this. They just ignore it, because -- like Jake -- they need their guns to feel safe. I mean, progressives are terribly scary, giant snowflakes that we are. Who knows what we might do if Jake didn't have his gun? Maybe we would call him a name and cry at him.

Blah, blah, blah. Pierce goes to the library. Oh, and Jake and Dr. Burke are headed there too -- for a study date. For some reason, they can't study in Dr. Burke's office. It's not because she's afraid of being alone with him, either. He does warn her that being his girlfriend might be bad for her career, but he doesn't mean it's because she's sleeping with a student.


It's because she's sleeping with a conservative.

(Me: "OH MY GOD.")

Anyway, Pierce goes to meet his study group, ruminating as he does, and we learn that Pierce Did Research and found out the Real Voter Fraud comes from the Left and the Real Voter Suppression comes from Black Lives Matter and OH MY GOD. (None of this is true, obviously. The BLM thing is probably from a popular FB post shared on the right, showing what was allegedly Black Panthers outside a polling place. Upon  investigation, these turned out to be men escorting people to the polls. But they were black men, so ipso facto this is Voter Intimidation, since -- obviously -- any black man is scary to your white conservative.)

Pierce's study group is made up of Straw Liberals, including a girl with pink hair and a Islamic man, Fareed, who is plotting violent treason against the USA. Pierce isn't fooled by Fareed:

When the day came, if Fareed had his way, a soft little blob like Clark would be slaughtered with the rest of the infidels. Jenny, for sure, and maybe even Margery, would be raped to death for the glory of Allah.

Margery probably won't be raped to death, see, because she's fat, and as we all know, men only rape hot women. ("OH MY GOD.")


In Chapter 20, there is an extended scene in which one of the Campus police officers nearly assaults a working-class (white) man on campus to make a delivery. We see the officer do everything we've become accustomed to seeing real police offers do to black men and children on video, but afterwards, J.A. makes it clear that this fascist police officer is actually a Progressive, which is why he acts this way. (Oh my god.)

Bonus mention of Saul Alinsky. Of course.

For those keeping score at home: We're over 40% of the way through the book, according to my Kindle, and the plot is barely started.

Here, by the way, is a photo that was shared on my FB by a MAGA American (one that I am sad to admit is my cousin).

"The Only LGBT I Support"
All lives matter indeed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Speaking of Dennis Prager...

More Trigger Warning

Help me, I'm still reading this terrible book.

Also, I still can't decide if it's a parody. I would say yes, except I've read some of the bizarre scenarios J.A. Johnstone gives us in the book on MAGA blogs. Also, the 5-Star the reviews of the book, over on Amazon, certainly seem to believe this is all real -- that this is what life is like on university campuses.

Here's a thought: J.A. knows none of what she's writing is even close to reality. But she also knows there are enough saps and dupes on the Far-Right that writing this silly book will get earn her a tidy sum.

This assumes J.A. is not a dupe, of course. Since she's fairly literate, I want to believe she can't also be an idiot. But I guess that's not necessarily so. Dennis Prager is literate, after all.

Oh, here's something I just noticed: there's no cussing in this book. Jake never says bullshit, he just says bull. He doesn't say asshole; he says jackwagon. And so on.

See, because beating people up, killing people, lying about people, that's fine. But cussing is wrong.

Chapters 11-14

I'mma speed up a little, because wow is this book overwritten. J.A. isn't getting paid by the word, so I'm going to assume she just didn't revise at all.

In Chapter 11, Jake's granddaddy comes to his dorm room to stand at the door and explain how he made the lawsuits go away (by threatening people or buying them off). Then he leaves.

Why didn't he just call Jake? I don't think Jake has a phone. Because he's not a pajama boy, remember? Only liberals and snowflakes own phones.

In Chapter 12, Jake goes out on a date with Dr. Burke. They bond over Jake's dark past and their contempt for everyone around them, especially LGBTQ people. If he violates the Code of Conduct, Jake says, he'll be branded with the scarlet letters -- no, not A for Adultery! He means R, B, S, and H.

Dr. Burke is confused for a moment, but she catches on.

“Ah. Racist, bigot, sexist, homophobe. You left out C for cishet. You are cishet, aren’t you?”
“That’s what they used to call straight?” 
“That’s right.” 
“Then yeah, you can add the C in there.” 

Yeah, no. That's not what cishet means. Not that J.A. or her dupes audience actually care. Also, cishet isn't an insult. (I'm cishet, for instance, and you can feel free to call me that all you like.) But you know the saying -- when you've had privilege all your life, losing it feels like a punishment.

Oh, wait. I forgot the best part. Before Jake leaves to go on this date with Dr. Burke, he has to decide on which of the many weapons he keeps in his dorm room he will take along. He decides against one of his guns, and instead chooses a combat knife -- he keeps several of those in his room. As one does.

I know a veteran who keeps several guns and other weapons in his apartment, by the way. So this part is real. But it's not as charming as J.A. seems to think it is. When someone needs this much firepower to feel safe, it's not cute. It's a symptom of PTSD.

Also, bonus climate change denial in this chapter.

Jake and Dr. Burke spend another entire chapter whining about how terrible everyone around them is: "professionally outraged" "LGBT Activists" "snowflakes" "Safe spaces" "rainbows" "black people are the real bigots" -- okay, that last one isn't a direct quotation, but it's what the little story Burke tells about the Union of African-American Students won't let an actual African into their club means.

After they get done hating on everyone who doesn't think like they do (wait, I thought that was what those progressive snowflakes did?), they walk back to campus, stopping to make out on the way.

While they are deep in the clenches, the Bad Guys show up once again to attack Jake. Why? Well, that's just what Bad Guys do: beat up Patriotic American Heroes.

Or try to. Jake has no trouble beating up all six of them. Which we have to hear about. In detail.

Pages and pages of detail.

Meanwhile, Burke has run away (her shoes 'rataplanning' on the sidewalk) and called the campus police. They show up just as the Bad Guys are running away, and the Chief of Campus Police stops his underling from Tasing Jake.

After the Chief sends his underlings away, he warns Jake that if he's caught with a weapon on campus, or "messing around with a professor" he could get in big trouble.

Oh my God.

No. No, if Burke is caught "messing around" with a student, then Burke gets in trouble. The professor. Not the student.

HOLD ON. Jake is walking back to his dorm room, worrying about Burke, when the phone in his pocket buzzes. Burke is texting him. He does have a phone!

He's just never used it or looked at it or mentioned it before this moment. Yeah, J.A. didn't revise this even a little. I bet she didn't even re-read it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

More on Johnstone's Trigger Warning

Over the past few days, I've found out that almost everyone except me knows about this book -- it's famous among 20-30 year olds on social media, apparently. Nearly everyone is mocking it, which makes me wonder again whether this bizarre novel is meant to be parody.

At the moment, I don't think so. J.A. isn't throwing the shade I'd expect someone writing parody to throw. It's a painfully earnest book, in fact, in which all the Good Guys are Straight-arrow Republicans, and all the Bad Guys are shrieking progressives.

But maybe the parody gets revealed later? We'll see.

Chapter 5 through 10:

These chapters are heavily padded. The only plot-related events that occur are that Jake gets hit on by a Criminal Justice professor, Dr. Natalie Burke, who apparently has no problem dating a student, and one -- furthermore -- that she is trying to recruit for her department.

(A) Professors don't date students, not if they want to keep their jobs, for obvious reasons -- there's a power differential, and if this student ends up in your class, as Burke is apparently hoping Jake will, how fair will your grading practices be?

(B) Any professor who isn't a creep doesn't want to date a student. They're students! We're in a specific kind of relationship with them, and that relationship is damaged if we start thinking about them as potential sex partners.

But of course J.A. isn't seeing Burke as an actual person, with a profession, and ethics, and a job. She's just there to be the Endangered Sexy Bit that Jake can protect when danger arrives.

There is also yet another extensive, heavily detailed fight scene. For reasons that are never explained, the bad guys who are planning to pull off a big heist keep coming around and starting fights with Jake. This makes no plot-related sense, but it does allow J.A. to include such incisive bits of social commentary as these:

The hooded men hadn’t been lurking here in the shadows, waiting for him, just so they could beat him up. They meant to kill him. Just because he hadn’t eagerly swallowed and regurgitated their line of political bull. “Wrongthink” was a capital offense in their minds.  
“Are you really that stupid?" [Jake demands of one of the Bad Guys he has just beaten up] "You think a real fascist, a real Nazi, would let you live right now? I’ve been listening to you idiots for years now, yammering about how any politician you don’t like is literally Hitler. 
When all along it’s been your side that’s been acting like the brownshirts and going after anybody who doesn’t agree with you!
"....Punching Nazis feels great," [Jake continues -- seriously, this rant goes on for like six pages -- I'm cutting 99% of it] "only you’re the Nazis....
"...if the other side was as bad as you believe it is, if we wanted death camps, then by God, we’d have death camps by now!" 

At that point, Jake concludes and strides away, leaving the Bad Guy sobbing on the ground behind him.

That's one problem (one of many) in this book. The Bad Guys are sometimes a Scary Evil (actual NAZIS!!) and sometimes ineffectual losers, "Pajama Boys," who are just lucky the Conservatives don't round them up and put them in death camps. (Remind me again -- which side is the Nazi side in this story?)

Oh, and at the end of Chapter 7, after Jake admires his bruises in the mirror (what a man!) we find out about the book he was reading in Chapter One -- that socialist drivel he wanted to throw across the room in disgust. It's his economic textbook.

Now I'm not saying economists can't be liberals. But despite what MAGA Americans seem to think, there are a lot of conservatives on campuses in America, and a sizable chunk of them are economics professors. Also, no matter what department you're in, 'drivel' is not your usual choice for textbooks.

But we've already noticed that J.A. ain't ever been to college, so.

Chapter 8 is more of Burke hitting on Jake -- some of the most painful flirting I've ever read, by the way, though I'm sure J.A. thinks this is very sexy.

Also, we're told that Burke is wearing a dress today, because she's on her way to a departmental faculty meeting. Oh my God.

(I can't even tell you how many times I said, out loud, while I was reading this, "OH MY GOD." But the notion that faculty meetings are something professors dress up for? OH MY GOD.)

Anyway, Jake is on his way to a meeting with the university president, to discuss how he keeps beating people up. Kidding. Just the one time he beat people up. The president doesn't know about the other times.

I'm dubious about this as well. It would be the Dean of Students he met with, probably. But okay, let's assume Jake takes special handling, because of his rich granddaddy. (Except we're told EVERYONE here is rich, so why is Jake a special case? Everyone keeps saying he is, and then right after that we get told how rich and spoiled all the other students are, like that makes them different from Jake, somehow.)

ANYWAY. The college professor has photographs of Democratic politicians all over his wall, but no white men. Just people of color and women. (Me: "OH MY GOD.")

College President says this:

“I find your attitude and actions repellent and reprehensible, young man. Kelton College is sup- posed to be a haven of learning for all students, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, gender, lifestyle, or philosophy. We value diversity and a welcoming inclusivity. This entire campus is a safe space, if you will. And then you . . .” Pelletier looked like he wanted to spit. “You come in here with your far-right, nationalist, patriarchal, sexist, bigoted, supremacist leanings and make our entire student body and faculty extremely uncomfortable.” 

("OH MY GOD.")

I could say a lot of things here, but I'll just keep it simple: College presidents don't talk like that. Not to students, not to anyone, and certainly not to the grandsons of men who have donated literal millions to their college.

Oh, also there are something like 30 lawsuits being filed against the college and against Jake. Why? Yeah, that's not clear. I guess because rich people and their lawyers are eeevil?

Don't worry about these lawsuits. Jake's grandfather bribes and threatens (physically threatens, if I'm understanding J.A.) everyone into dropping the lawsuits. So, you know, some rich men and their lawyers aren't evil. Because bribes and threats are cool if you're using them against liberals.

Pelletier also castigates Jake for speaking up in praise of Ronald Reagan in his history class, disparaging Keynesian economics in his economics class, and saying that "all lives matter" in a conversation with another student. All of these, according to Pelletier, are violations of the Code of Conduct, so he could expel Jake for them. ("OH MY GOD.")

Pelletier wants Jake to drop out. Jake says no. More gratuitous bullshit, and we're on to Chapter Ten, where the Main Villain finally shows up.

He's shooting guns, which is interesting. I thought only manly conservatives liked guns. I thought these progressive snowflakes were too soft and whiny to own guns. I guess we need an exception, so Jake can be justified in all the guns HE has.

The Bad Guy is named Matthais Foster. In this chapter he uncovers an FBI spy in his conspiracy, and executes him, in front of like six witnesses. I mean, they're also all in the conspiracy, but even so, that seems kind of weak-headed for a Big Bad Villain.

So we're like a quarter of the way into this book and nothing much has happened except J.A. spouting MAGA propaganda.

It's getting a bit tedious, to be truthful.

Maybe something will happen in the next few chapters.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Reading William Johnstone's Trigger Warnings

So over at Camestros Felapton's blog, a comment was made on the post discussing the Dragon Awards, suggesting that the Sad Puppies would be likely to nominate books like the 'YA' novel Trigger Warnings, by William Johnstone.

The novel is available for free on my Amazon Kindle, so I thought I'd give all y'all a treat and do a read of it.

I'm not sure how far into it I'm going to last though. This book isn't actually by William Johnstone, who apparently wrote some nice Westerns before he died. (Westerns are one of the few genres I don't read much, though I can recommend a couple of them if anyone is interested.) It's by his niece, J. A. Johnstone. And holy hell is it terrible.

Chapters One through Four

Our hero, Jake Rivers, is hanging out in his dorm room -- a single, apparently -- with the windows open, sighing with annoyance over some terrible book he's reading. I assume he's being forced to read it for class. Maybe we'll find out more about this book later, because right now Jake hears a woman "cry out." Not cry out for help, mind you. The snowflake women at this liberal arts college would never think of asking for help, even when someone is beating them up.

Jake goes down to see if he can help, because that's the kind of guy he is. As he passes through the lobby of his dorm, he hears a group of students talking about such topics as privilege and microaggressions. Jake, while unimpressed, notes that he has no friends on this campus.

Outside, he stops a man (in a man bun) from slapping his girlfriend around, by slapping manbun guy around, basically. The battered girlfriend, instead of being grateful, shrieks at him for perpetuating Toxic Masculinity (yes, this is how J. A. Johnstone thinks this scene would go) and then all the kids from the lobby come out and also start shrieking at poor Jake. The battered girlfriend attacks Jake, "hissing and spitting."

You know how bitches be.

THEN Jake gets attacked by a bunch of students in black hoods who stream out of the bushes, wielding pipes and bicycle chains, screaming at him for being a fascist. When Jake beats up all ten or fifteen of them, the students from the lobby also start yelling that he's a fascist. Also a Nazi.

Oh, also one of the students in a black hood is a woman, and when Jake knocks her down, she starts screaming rape.

Women, amirite?

Jake has several solemn thoughts about other people in black hoods he has known, like the ones he fought in Iraq, who he watched (why did he just watch? Given he's such a bad-ass) "spouting Arabic" while they "sawed the head off" a Western journalist with a big knife. Also newsreels he remembers (because he was born in 1933) of men in black uniforms goosestepping off to

on their way to wipe out anyone who didn’t think exactly the same way they did. They had disarmed the citizenry, taken over all the newspapers and radio and colleges and univ- ersities and made it a crime punishable by death to say or even think anything they disagreed with . . . 

You know. Like those Leftists in America today. Get it? Get it?

Jake ends up in the office of the Campus Chief of Police, who is on his side, but what can he do, he says, what with today's media? He shows Jake a story, no doubt from Rachel Maddow, with the headline FAR RIGHT EXTREMIST ATTACKS COLLEGE STUDENTS.

Jake says he's not far-right. Okay, bub.

Then we get a flashback: Jake's first months on campus. We find out he is a decorated war hero. We find out he finished his undergraduate degree almost entirely before he was even a high school senior. Then he got in trouble, for doing boys-will-be-boys stuff, and ended up having to join the army, where he finished his undergraduate degree.

Now his grandfather wants him to get his masters degree. Apparently his grandfather is a billionaire, and owns most of this liberal arts college outside of Austin, "the finest academic institution in the country," as Granddad says, while shooting guns with Jake. (Jake is of course a better shot than even Granddad, because of course he is.) So Jake should go there.

Jake's daddy is a rich lawyer, and Jake hates him, for reasons I guess will be made clearer later.

But let's jump back a bit. Jake is here on campus to get his master's degree. But he's living in a dorm with undergraduates. And even though his masters is in Biology, he is compelled to take classes in English and political science and gender studies. These are all ridiculous classes, like "Feminist Critique of Christianity" and "LGBTQIAPKTales: A Seminar" and "The Toxic American Political Axis: Republicans, Nazis, and Fascists."

Okay. So first off, no masters student will be living in a dorm. And if one is living in a dorm, they'll be the RA, not just another student. And no masters student in biology is going to have classes like these on their curriculum.

That is not how the academy works.

Also, these course titles. Sweet Jesus. Someone has apparently never sat her ass down in a college classroom ever, never mind "the finest" college in the nation.

Which explains why this book is so silly -- someone spent her childhood being homeschooled, I suspect, or sent to one of those ACE 'schools,' and has mistaken MAGA American propaganda for reality.

Jake visits his adviser, a white guy who identifies as a black guy, and is lectured to about speech codes and told that this college doesn't usually take veterans, because a 'military background' doesn't prepare a student for the rigorous curriculum and stringent personal behavior standards required here.

Yeah, see, as someone who is an actual adviser, though not a strawman adviser, this ain't how it works, bucko. Universities love veterans. One, because for the most part they have been prepared for the rigors of the academic system. (As one of my best students, a Marine, said, university life is a snap after the Core.)

And second, veterans benefits. Not only do these benefits pay their tuition, they pay for all sorts of other things as well. No defaults, either -- also, fewer of them fail to graduate. Universities love students like this.

But this doesn't fit with J.A. Johnstone's propaganda. Of course Leftists hate veterans -- after all, didn't we spit on all those returning Vietnam soldiers? -- and so of course universities, which contain nothing but lunatic leftists, hate veterans too.

Besides giving Jake an eight page speech code which (among other things) forbids any mention of the First or Second Amendment (since mentioning these are microagressions), his adviser also gives him a thick booklet containing the university's rules for sexual conduct.

“This sets out the proper steps that are required to be taken before any sort of sexual contact to ensure that all such contacts are consensual,” [The adviser explains.] 
“No means no, eh?”  
“So yes means yes.” 
“No, yes also means no because of our heteropatriarchal, phallocentric culture.” 

There's more very hilarious comments about LGBTA students, and then Jake explains why he's living on campus -- because he wants the "full college experience." This is odd, given he has previously he'd made it clear he was here to get his degree, not to "experience" things. Also, he doesn't really seem the sort to want to "experience" new things. Also, why is his adviser advising him about housing issues? That's not what we do.

But obviously he needs to be in a dorm for plot reasons, and someone must have pointed out to J.A. that graduate students don't live in dorms, so she wedged this mini-scene in here.

And that takes us to the end of chapter four. More later, if I can stand it.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Review of Snowpiercer

I just finished teaching Snowpiercer in my World Science Fiction class.

Read my review of it over here on my Patreon, for free!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

What I've Been Reading

I found this book at our local library -- A Thousand Books to Read before You Die. Some of them I had read already, and some I had tried and don't want to read; but a lot of them I either hadn't read or passed over. This book gives brief explanations of the content of each book and why you might want to read it, along with notes about similar books, and so on.

As y'all know, I am a reading junkie. So far this book had provided me with ten or twelve new books to read, and I am only up to the D's. (It's alphabetical by author.) Here's a few of the books I've read, on the advice of James Mustich:

Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

This was one of the books I'd picked up or thought about picking up maybe fifty times, but never actually looked inside. The title put me off. It made me thinking this would be one of those preachy religious stories.

And indeed there is some religion! But it is mainly the story of the Pontifex family, from the great-grandfather John down to the narrator's main interest, the great-grandson, Ernest. The narrator is Overton (if we learn his first name, I missed it) who knew Ernest's father, aunts, and uncles as a child, and becomes Ernest's godfather.

Overton watches Theobald, Ernest's father, grow up and grow into a small-minded, narcissistic, sadistic man, who both emotionally and physically abuses his oldest son. Most of the book concerns the effect of this abuse on Ernest, and how he recovers -- somewhat -- from that abuse.

The part of the book which is about religion mainly concerns the ways in which abusive people use religion to justify their abuse, and the difference between healthy and unhealthy attitudes toward religion. Butler also wants us to notice that making religion into an industry leads inevitably to abuse.

This is a very readable and thoughtful book. If you like 18th Century fiction (though technically it was published in 1903), give it a try.

E.M. Delafield, Diary of a Provincial Lady

I have no idea why I never read this one -- I actually remember checking it out of the library once. But it's a lot of fun.

It's just what it says on the tin -- a (slightly fictionalized) diary of a woman who lives in a small village in England in the 1930s, and her minor adventures and troubles. She's always overrunning her allowance (of course she has a trust fund), her children are ingenuous and troublesome, her husband is a sit-com husband.

Don't look for great depth, but if you want pure entertainment, this one is delightful.

Sigrid Nunez, The Friend

This one reminds me a bit of Helen DeWitt's The Last Samuri, in that it's a discursive book without a really strong plot line that is nonetheless compulsively readable.

That said, there are things that annoyed me about it, and I probably won't read it again.

The premise is that a woman has been "mentored" by one of her old professors all of her life, since she was in his creative writing class as an undergraduate. Now he has died, and she inherits his dog, a Great Dane named Apollo.

Like Helen McDonald's H is for Hawk, which I liked a lot, as you'll recall, lots of this book is not even about the plot, such as it is. Lots of it is about dogs, dogs in literature, dogs owned by famous people, dogs the narrator has known, dogs in the abstract and the specific. More of it is about her relationship with Apollo, who soon comes to replace the dead professor in her heart.

But some of it is about the professor, who slept with everyone, especially -- or perhaps exclusively -- with his students. In fact, he commits suicide, the narrator believes, because he grew too old to be pretty anymore, and his students stopped finding him sexy and started finding him offensive.

Though that is not quite how the narrator puts it, which is the part I don't like about this book. The narrator, who herself slept with the professor, clearly thinks professors should be allowed to sexually exploit their students, at least the young pretty women students, and that it is only this snowflake generation that takes offense at such things.

This is why their writing is so bad, she explains. They're too quick to take offense at everything, and that leads to them writing bland stories about nothing -- oh, except for one very brave young man in her writing class. True, he turns in bland stories entirely about men slaughtering each other. But later he confides in her that he does include women in the stories -- rape victims, and incest victims -- he just cuts them out before he shows the stories to the class, because, after all, his fellow students would just get offended and probably report him for sexual harassment if he included such scenes.

This little rant is at the very end of the book, and quite frankly such a cliched rant, straight from the propaganda machine of Turning Point USA, spoiled what had been an engaging and charming little book. I winced my way past it and finished the book, but I can't say I recommend it. Read H is for Hawk or The Last Samuri instead.

J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country.

This one I do recommend. It's also not very plot-driven -- it doesn't have much of a plot at all -- but the writing is beautiful, and Carr's ability to create characters is wonderful.

The plot, such as it is, is that a veteran of WWI, suffering from PTSD (or shell-shock, as they called it then), comes out to a village in England in 1920 to work on restoring a mural in a local church. He spends a summer (not a month) at this work, and gets entangled in the village culture and its people. He develops a crush on the vicar's wife, who reciprocates, but neither of them do more than flirt with one another. He builds a friendship with another WWI veteran, who is excavating a piece of land near the church. At the end of the summer, he returns to London.

That's it, so far as the plot is concerned. It's the wonderful writing and the narrators ruminations on art and war and existence that make this book stellar. It's very short, and I read it all in one gulp, staying up until 1:00 AM to do so, even though I had to get up at six for school.

Well worth it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

My Kid Makes a Video

This is actually the anniversary video for his sweetie.

My kid is the lizard; the sweetie is the wolf creature.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Science Fiction Reviews

Today over on my Patreon I wrote a review of Russian Doll, the new Netflix series which (as I only later found out) was written entirely by women.

You can read the review for free!

You can also read the first three chapters of my novel, Triple Junction, for free over there.

And if you want to support the Patreon, for as little as $3/month you can read a new chapter every Friday.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Attendance and Retention

At our university, as at many I suspect, we're having a big push to increase retention.

Image result for university attendance cartoonFor all y'all who don't work at a university, what 'retention' means is that when someone starts full-time out our university, we want them to graduate from our university, within four years, or six at the outside.

Your retention score is a big part of how much funding you get. So say 70% of the people who start full-time at your university in 2013 graduated 'on time,' which is to say within four years. Then you get more funding, and you keep your access to Pell grants, and all sort of lovely things happen.

70% is a really high score, by the way. Most universities have retention rates well below 50%.

Some of this is because students transfer. These students count against your retention rate even if they do finish in four years, because it's at some other school.

Some of it is because students can't handle the workload of attending college full-time and working full-time (as many students do today). Some of these students will flunk out; some will 'stop out,' as it's called, meaning they take a semester off, or two, and either never come back, or come back but don't finish in the four year period.

Some of it is because students can't handle the workload, period. They just don't have the reading and writing and math skills to do college-level work.

Some of it is because students never show up -- as in literally. They sign up for classes, and then never come.

But some of it is because college is so different from high school. No one is driving them to the door and forcing them to attend classes all day every day. They have freedom to come to class or to not come to class, to do the work or not do the work; and for some of them, this means they don't come to class and they don't do the work.

These last two groups are the groups we're aiming at with our new attendance policies. What we're doing at our university is tracking attendance via a program (sold to our school for a pile of money, I suspect). When students miss class, they get an email, reminding them that they missed class. Every time they miss a class, they get this email.

Also, the program allows professors -- me, for instance -- to issue an alert. This tells our administration that X student has missed a troubling number of classes. Then someone whose job that is contacts the student and tried to find out what the problem is. If they've got financial problems, for instance -- maybe their car broke down and they don't have a way to get to school -- our person in administration arranges help (we have a locally funded grant program for just such problems). Sometimes the student just hasn't realized that missing classes is a big deal. Sometimes there are other problems.

So far, this program seems to be working -- that is, when I send in an alert, the missing student almost always shows up, back in class.

I've gone through several approaches to attendance in my years as a professor. Back when I was a baby professor, I didn't take attendance at all. If the student wanted to be in class, I figured, they'd be in class. They were adults, that was their business. My business was to grade their competence, in the form of the work they turned in to me. If they could pass without being in class, then I would give them passing grades.

Big surprise, almost no one could do that. Eventually, I started tracking attendance and issuing threats. If you miss more than X number of classes, I would say in the syllabus, then you lose X number of points. I almost never actually followed through on this threat. That is, I still based the final grade on whether the student could do, or had done, the work.

After a time, I started offering rewards: if you came to every single class, you earned a five point bonus. This was only slightly more effective. That is, many students earned that bonus, but they were the very students who didn't need a bonus. They were already coming to class and doing stellar work. They would have gotten A's without the bonus.

This semester, I'm basing none of the grade on whether students come to class, and I told them that up front. I told them I wanted them in class, but I wouldn't add or subtract points based on attendance.

So far students are mostly coming to class. And when they aren't, our attendance admin chases them down.

This two-pronged method (so far) is keeping more students in the classroom.

Does it mean those students will do the work, stay enrolled, and graduate in four years?

I'll let you know.

I do know that this is not a tactic I like -- chasing after grown-ass adults about their attendance. I'm not their mommy and I'm not their nanny. If they don't have the time or the interest to be in college, they shouldn't be in college. That's their business.

The lack of funding, the one that is causing so many of them to work full-time while also trying to attend college full-time, that's another problem. But I don't think that's one we're going to solve by harrying them about their attendance. That can only be solved by changing the way we finance university educations.

Without that change, our working students will continue to -- mostly -- do subpar work in their classes, because most people can't do excellent work when they've only got a few hours a week to devote to reading and thinking about their classwork.

So I guess we have to decide, as a culture, whether we want our citizens educated, and by that I mean actually educated, or do we want to make our richest citizens even richer, at the expense of our working class citizens.

Given that the GOP thinks higher education is an evil scam, we know which way they will vote. So if you care about educating Americans, maybe vote the GOP out of power.

Until that happens, all the nibbly little patches around the edges, like this attendance policy, are only stopgap measures, and probably ineffective ones at that.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Our Visit to Planned Parenthood

As many of you know, my kid is trans masculine.

Image result for planned parenthoodOver the past several years, we have done mountains of therapy, culminating this year with a new therapist who specializes in working with LGBTQ people (the genderman, as the kid calls him). The genderman agreed that the kid should start HRT (hormone replacement therapy) sooner rather than later.

He also advised us that Planned Parenthood in the kid's college town was the best place to go. (We live in Arkansas, so it can be hard to find physicians that will work with trans people, or prescribe HRT. Fun fact! It can also be hard to find a pharmacy that has T in stock. Ours had to order some.)

So Friday the kid had his first appointment with Planned Parenthood. And may I say, as happy as I have been to support Planned Parenthood in the past, this experience has increased my approval rating 1000%.

First, scheduling the appointment was super easy. They have an online portal, and you just find the time you want to come in and book it. They ask for other things, like if you have insurance and what you're coming in for, but it's all very easy to use.

And we had to reschedule, from Friday before last to this Friday, and that was also very easy!

The facility was small and a bit run-down, but very clean and cheerfully decorated. One wall had a trans-positive poster on it; another had a statement in both English and Spanish explaining that no one could make you get an abortion or any other treatment against your will, and that you had the right to call the police or social services if anyone was abusing you or trying to compel you to seek treatment against your will.

While the kid and I were there, two girls came in who looked like they were seventeen or eighteen, and a little later, two women in their 30s with a toddler in a bright pink parka. The toddler was there for a wellness check. The girls were there because one of them wanted birth control.

As far as I could tell (I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but it was a small waiting room) no one who was there was seeking an abortion -- although if they had been, that would have been their business and their choice. This fits with the statistics PP releases, which show that most people show up for health and medical reasons not related to abortions.

The toddler, by the way, was adorable. Her mothers clearly loved her deeply, and she was happy and bold, toddling about the waiting room demanding that people  pick her up or look at her toys. Everyone there was enjoying her immensely.

The nurse took my kid back alone, to make sure I wasn't coercing him into treatment. This seemed to be standard procedure -- everyone had to go back and talk to the nurse first on their own first. (Except the toddler, obviously.) After my kid had been back there about an hour, they let me come in too.

First the nurse and then a doctor (all of them women, interestingly, and all of them very calm and friendly) discussed the kid's history as a trans man, how long he'd been out as a man, how long he'd been in therapy, and so on. Then they talked to him about what HRT would do and what it wouldn't do. They did a complete physical. They drew blood to run tests. Only after all of this did they prescribe T.

They also made sure the kid knew if he wanted to stop transitioning at any point, that was something he could do.

Over the next year, they'll be monitoring the kid's health and his blood work to make sure everything's working.

A second nurse came in and taught the kid how to inject himself with testosterone. And the nurse up front, who gave us the actual prescription, told us if the pharmacy or the insurance company gave us any trouble, we should call them and they would handle it.

Though the kid is a little nervous, mainly he is buzzing with excitement. The T is supposed to arrive on Tuesday, and he will probably start taking it then.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because all over the internet, people who know nothing about trans people or about being trans are making, frankly, ridiculous claims about what it's like to be a trans parent or how doctors force "confused" "children" into going on HRT, or how being trans is a "fad" or a symptom of misogyny or 9000 other things.

This is what it's actually like to be trans. Years of misery,  years of therapy, years of careful, even obsessive, thought and research. Only then does the trans person -- who is an adult, not a child -- start HRT.

And everyone, every step of the way, is being as careful as they know how not to make a mistake.

So when people make these really ridiculous claims, writers of transphobic blogs and Fox News fans, Jordan Peterson and Rod Dreher, about trans people, all they're doing is showing how incredibly ignorant they are.

Not to mention how incredibly hateful.

My Wonderful Kid
As we were leaving Planned Parenthood, a tiny little mob of protesters with their ridiculous gory posters lit up with delight -- fresh victims!-- and began shouting at us about how abortion was murder, how we were murderers, how every life was precious.

I mean, except trans people's lives, of course. Fuck trans people.

The mob has to stay a 100 yards away, by law. So they couldn't get in our faces. But as we were leaving the parking lot, one of them came over to smash his silly poster against our car window. I made an obscene gesture at him, which appeared to shock him very much. Apparently scarlet women are supposed to be too mortified to fight back.

tl;dr Donate to Planned Parenthood. They're the best.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Become a Patron!

Over on my Patreon, the first three chapters of Triple Junction, the sequel to Broken Slate, are now available to the public. You can read them free of charge!

And for as little as $3.00 a month, you can have access to a new chapter, posted every Friday, as well as my reviews of SF novels, movies, and TV shows.

Come on aboard!

(If you haven't yet read Broken Slate, it's available from Crossed Genres Press or over there on Amazon.)