And today’s Puppy target is…amateur authors!

Bless Dave Freer of the Mad Genius Club, he’s taken off from a comment here and woven a delicate confection of post spun from the purest hot air. https://madgeniusclub.com/2019/03/11/financial-exclusion/

“Just the profession of writing.That’s what the purpose of the site always has been. That’s what we’ve paid forward thousands of hours of our time to. It’s something which is personally very important to me. It’s a site I wish I could have found when I was starting into this profession. I love reading, particularly sf and fantasy, but reading in general. I want others to be able to enjoy it, and my unborn descendants to still enjoy it. Without professional writers… that will go the way of the music of the Lur. Once common, now Word says it is a spelling mistake.  There are of course still hobbyists who play a Lur. But that’s about it.”

[archive link]

Of course, by that standard the various diversions at Mad Genius into quixotic campaigns against awards, attempts to have people sacked from their jobs for not saying nice things about said quixotic campaigns, homophobic attacks on families and the general conspiracy theory mongering would all be distinctly off purpose. Perhaps Freer would rather have people believe each of those was about making money as a writer…

However, it’s the later part of Freer’s post that interests me more:

“If you can’t generate income from your writing, you’re a hobbyist. I wish you all the joy of your hobby, but unless you plan at least to try and try and generate an income, if you’re putting you novels on the market, I wish you in purgatory. We have enough dilettantes using writing for all sorts of other purposes which they care about, frankly damaging reading (because there is no selective pressure in needing to please readers to generate an income. It puts people off.) and certainly making life a lot harder for authors trying to make this a profession they can earn a living at.
Honestly, macramé is great for all those other things you care about. And if you could play the Lur as a hobby, it would bring a great deal more awareness to whatever issue you cared about without screwing up our profession.”

[archive link]

Well, lots of working people can’t generate income from their writing because of the time constraints involved. They might want to and they might hope that they will in the future but they can’t. Further, writing for its own sake brings people joy. If you are one of those people, well I guess you can enjoy having the trad-pub author Dave Freer sneer at you as he wishes you to purgatory.

Those two paragraphs are one of the neatest encapsulation of a core aspect of what I call the conservative crisis. Couple a firm belief in capitalism (although not a well informed one) with a belief that all you need to do to make money in a capitalist society is work hard with the harsh reality that you are struggling to make ends meet and what do you get? If your ideology tells you that the poor are poor because they are lazy and that the homeless are homeless because they choose to be and that millionaires are self-made and the rich deserve their wealth because of hard work, then NOT being an amazing success (particularly in middle-age) is an existential challenge to your self-worth. The only answer that can hold these contradictions together is that somebody, somewhere has cheated you of the success that your ideology and your self-perception say you deserve. The ‘them’ who you believe have cheated you will be legion. For Dave its those terrible New York elites and liberals and SJWs and now, amateur authors flooding the market with books!

In reality, hard work helps but it is no guarantee of success, talent helps and is also no guarantee. There will be lazy, talentless people who succeed because of their background or in some cases just luck. Understanding that is actually important for your own mental well-being.

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A portrait of a media story: a satire

During the Republican Party nomination process, Donald Trump infamously boasted that he could shoot somebody on New York’s Fifth Avenue and he wouldn’t lose any voters.

I was struck by shifting narratives over the past couple of days how that would play out. Imagine if Donald Trump did shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue?

The first thing you heard about it would be indistinct: “a shooting”, something about the President. Then footage from people’s phones would appear on Facebook and Twitter. There would be a kind of sick relief that the US President hadn’t been killed (with all the implications of civil conflict that carries) and a shocked realisation that he had actually shot somebody.

What happens next would be the comprehensible part. The exact events would be unclear and Trump’s motives would be unclear and the whole thing would feel unbelievable (naturally because it isn’t something likely to happen) but there wouldn’t be any moral doubt here. Clearly you can’t go around shooting people no matter who you are — least of all the President of the United States.

There would be a moment of bipartisan certainty and clarity. Trump would need to answer for what he had done. The circumstance would be surreal but the reaction would feel “normal” despite the unprecedented events.

There would be questions obviously. Some people would not unreasonably ask why the New York Police Department hadn’t immediately arrested Trump. Other would not unreasonably counter that obviously the Secret Service would have whisked him away — that’s their job regardless. It’s around this point you’d begin to see the start of strangeness that follows. “It’s unfair to attack the police.” Somebody notable will say and briefly there will be an argument about that. Nobody will yet know the exact sequence of events yet but there will be competing scenarios appearing.

“We musn’t rush to judgement” somebody will say. They mean “we musn’t rush to judge whether the police should have immediately arrested Trump” or “we musn’t rush to judge whether the Secret Service should have stopped Trump shooting somebody”. It’s not an unreasonable point but its the start of a narrative roller coaster which will cast people as falling into two groups: those who “rush to judgement” and those who don’t. That casting into two groups will itself have little basis in fact and will ironically be its own kind of rush to judgement.

It’s around about now that we first begin to learn about the victim. This part will be heartbreaking. They’ll be a person who had a life. Briefly that moral clarity will re-assert itself as people see that it is terrrible that a real person (made more real that they had a name) was shot. There will be more bipartisan calls that Trump answers for what he did. Somebody will point out again that the police didn’t arrest him, somebody will point out all the young black men shot by the police in the past year for far less cause. It’s a reasonable point — it is rhetorical, the implication isn’t that police should summarily execute people more consistently but that they shouldn’t do so at all. It will soon get twisted into something else. It will be called “mob justice”, even though Trump is safely in the Whitehouse under guard and there’s no actual danger of somebody from Twitter dragging him off to a kangaroo court. Supposedly wise heads will nod about “due process” even though there appears to zero danger of Trump being prosecuted too quickly. Indeed the clock is ticking for the NYPD to get forensic evidence from Trump.

A new story about the victim will suddenly appear and with it a strange set of questions. It might be a story about a crime they committed once or a leak that allegedly the police attending the scene found marijuana on them. People on Facebook will be asking why this person was even in such a dangerous neighbourhood, don’t people realise how easy it is to get shot in New York? If the victim is a child the extent to which they were nearly an adult will be exaggerated and/or people will ask why their parents let them wander about New York. If the victim is a woman, a photo from her Facebook page in which she is holding up a bottle of beer will circulate, or perhaps one where she is wearing something other than somber clothes. If the victim is a Muslim this will be underscored. If they are black, a photo intended to make them look menacing will circulate.

A section of the internet will claim that the victim is an actor. A picture of somebody who looks a bit like them will form part of a rambling account of places this ‘actor’ has appeared. Photos of somebody on an anti-Trump demonstration will be pointed at, circled in red. Is that them? “Funded by Soros” will appear on a page about the victim and by this point, you’ll be unsure if the alt-right conspiracy theorists are claiming that the victim was a Muslim, a Jew or an atheist.

You’ll point to the horror of this demonisation of the victim and wise heads in the centre and moderate right will say “Like we said. Don’t rush to judgement. Look at all this social media nonsense.” When they say it they’ll point to both the rabid conspiracy theory about paid actors and that one tweet where somebody raised the issue of police shootings as if to say the two are equivalent.

“We don’t know what REALLY happened.” Says a wise head on the 24 Hour rolling coverage. That’s sort of true. Obviously you don’t. “Who knows what was going through his head?” The wise head says. “Nothing good” you think but you are distracted because the cable news channel you are watching needs to fill this rolling news coverage with something. All they have is past coverage about previous presidential shootings I.e. footage of past assassination attempts. Footage of Dealey Plaza and the Washington Hilton is on rotation because that’s all they have. There isn’t footage of past Presidents trying to shoot people. It’s not even an intentional attempt by the media to cast the president as a victim, it’s just one of those consequences of news coverage when people are hungry to know what has happened but there is nothing actually to report. Journalists and news anchors stand forlornly in “Live” feeds from outside the Whitehouse or from Fifth Avenue as if magically the events might repeat themselves.

“He felt threatened,” a spokesperson will say. Probably Giuliani. “His children are being very strong at this terrible time.” Says Sarah Sanders. “I can’t imagine what they are going through,” says a man with impeccable hair on the couch of Fox and Friends. Sympathetic coverage of Melania Trump will be rolling out on sympathetic media. “What about the victim’s family!” You’ll shout at the TV but the victims family have asked for privacy. They have no PR firm, no media contacts and the police have told them to say nothing. A cousin of the victim will be broadcast screaming in anger about what Trump did. He will look angry and unreasonable because he is upset and frustrated — who wouldn’t be? But a wise head will once again remind people “not to rush to judgement”.

“A man has a right to defend himself.” You will be told. There is more footage now. Leaked video from security cameras. It is circulated on social media before you see shorter versions of it on the news. In truth, it tells you nothing you didn’t already know. CNN shows 3 minutes of the leaked video. “Why,” asks a viral Facebook post “did CNN edit out 1 minute of this crucial footage? What are the lying media hiding?” You’ve seen all four minutes and you know the answer is “nothing” but later on the News, a Whitehouse spokesperson says the same thing.

Republicans who were vocal in that brief moment of bipartisan moral clarity are suddenly walking back their earlier comments. Everything they say now is more equivocal. “New facts have come to light,” they say but they can’t say what those new facts are. On right-wing media, the victim of the shooting is now routinely caricatured as a demonic terrorist. Some overtly claim the victim was attempting to assassinate the President, others just imply that. More ‘moderate’ voices do not claim that the victim was definitely an assassin, just that it is important to keep your mind open and not “rush to judgement”. A mainstream news channel has two people debate the issue. “There’s NO evidence that anybody but Trump was an assassin!” Shouts one of the guests, clearly angry at the slanders against the victim. The moderator of the debate tells them to call down and that nobody should rush to judgement.

The New York Times publishes a story that the victim and their family is being investigated by the FBI. In two years time, you’ll read about how the story was literally true but also that the investigation was a formality and arose only because Republican lawmakers had swamped the FBI with absurd claims about the victim that they had read on the internet.

You feel like you are in nightmare world now. The country is in three camps. On one side are people like yourself who think it is a simple issue: Trump shot somebody and he should be arrested. Meanwhile, Facebook and the right-wing news media feels swamped with people CERTAIN that Trump bravely defended himself from a would be assassin who was a member of anti-fa and funded by George Soros. There a wise heads in the middle saying both sides need to calm down and listen to each other’s points so they can understand them better.

The victim’s family have gone into hiding and are under police protection.

The world keeps going of course. Eventually there are other events that push the story from the front pages: a hurricane, an earthquake, North Korea acting sketchy. Trump’s lawyers promise that the NYPD will get to interview him soon but they are keen to point out that due process applies to EVERYBODY.

A month later and Trump still hasn’t been interviewed. His lawyers and the DOJ are raising legal questions about the jurisdiction of the States and the separation of powers. They are making demands that the NY Attorney General can’t agree to. At the same time, Trump’s lawyers are complaining about the delays their own actions have caused, saying that the delays are preventing Trump for exonerating himself.

A month after that the shooting can only be understood on partisan lines. Trump has a fundraising letter portraying the demands he should be interviewed by the NYPD as a witch-hunt and an attempt by the Deep State to undermine the democratic will of the American People.

The victim’s family are still in hiding. They are in constant fear from death threats.

You don’t know what to believe anymore. One day on a bus you see somebody in a MAGA hat and you just lose it and scream and shout at them. The video goes viral and you become the face of left-wing intolerance. The New York Times posts a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger editorial about how ugly the left has become. No wise heads say that people shouldn’t rush to judgement about you.

A year later, the shooting isn’t even the first thing people mention when they complain about Trump.

Undergraduate Career Advice!

Yeah, but seriously if you are planning your post-school studies, seek proper professional advice and not this blog post.

Via numerous Twittery things, the question of what degree a young person intent on Higher Education should study has been doing the rounds in various ways. One source was a snarky comment about English degrees from a successful writer, a second one I ended up Tweeting about was somebody claiming that STEM students can cope with Arts/Humanities degrees better than vice-versa. I’ll get to the specific question of writing & the humanities v STEM in a bit but I want to look at things more generally first.

More after the fold – as this goes on for awhile.

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