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Thankless Jobs For Fans: Programming

I read with some interest and not a little schadenfreude about the kerfluffle over programming at Worldcon this year. I'm not going into the details, but suffice it to say quite a number of people are being hoist on their own politically correct petards, and now the poor bastards doing programming have to jump through their asses to redo panels with less than a month before the convention. Welp.
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That having been said, I don't envy them their task. Next to running consuite, programming is probably one of the most thankless jobs on con staff, mainly because as George Brett once said when asked who should be voting for the players in the All-Star Game said "I don't know, because I don't know who the game is for." And so it is with programming. I have worked on programming for two very large conventions, and who programming is for is a question that doesn't seem to get asked very often. There is an assumption that panels and other events are there to entertain the membership, but there are also panels that are purely informational (Balticon and Convergence both have science tracks, for example) and panels where the filthy pros talk about their latest work, general trends in the field, or whatever. I don't know about Balticon, never having been on staff or been a volunteer there, but both Anime Detour and Convergence depend heavily on input from the membership to suggest (and staff) panels*. Apparently this wasn't done at Worldcon, because quite a few of the obscure Hugo nominees -which is to say, virtually all of them - felt snubbed by not having enough panels, and there was much anger that people who had suggested panels found that they'd been passed over for those panels in favor of people the head of programming thought would be a better fit for said panels. It was at that point the fewmets hit the fan, much screeching ensued, and the aforementioned overhauling of panels commenced.

That process is just part of the headache, sports fans. You have to figure out -sometimes based on previous years' numbers, sometimes not - which of the limited number of rooms a panel is going into (this is sometimes made easier by reserving certain rooms for particular programming tracks) and when during the weekend the panel is happening, which will affect attendance - needless to say, panels that don't/aren't expected to draw well are going to wind up on Friday and Sunday afternoons before most people show up. I myself have had panels drop in attendance by an order of magnitude when they were moved from Saturday during cosplay to Sunday just before closing ceremonies. You have to coordinate with Guest Relations and the guests themselves to keep from burning out those guests by asking them to do too much in not enough time, and this can be its own can of worms if attending professionals are not designated guests of the convention and just happen to be attending.

So it's a lot of work, and if you do everything right, nobody notices because the panels & other programming go off without a hitch and without any complaints. When stuff goes sideways, as it almost always does, suddenly everything is your fauilt. Like I said, it's a thankless job.


*Usually if you suggest a panel, you're expected to find people to be on it with you. Obviously this is going to work differently at Anime Detour, where the vast majority of panels are for and by fans, than it will at Convergence or Diversicon, where a lot of local authors show up and usually want to sit in on a couple of panels.

The penultimate move

This originally was going to be a post on e2, but the site ate my draft and I didn't feel like fighting with it...

...anyhow, after a lot of thrashing around on the VA's eBenefits site, I managed to download & print copies of my home loan certificate of eligibility last night, and the loan rep from the credit union who called me just before the close of business got me started on the online application. According to the VA, I could borrow almost half a million bucks, but realistically, I can't make the payments on anything much over $150k, so that's what I'm having my realtor look for. There's a lot of crappy stuff out there in that price range, according to Zillow, but there's some decent places too, so we'll see what she comes up with. Also, today brought a notice from management that I might be eligible for help with relocation, which would be nice.

I'm increasingly depressed about the summer session at UNLV. I can't seem to find the time to do the 4-6 hours of homework I need to do every night just to stay on top of things, at least not if I want to make money to pay bills through Uber and get 6-8 hours of sleep, which I need to keep minimally healthy. I am seriously thinking of dropping a class from the fall term and just going half-time, and ditto for the spring, because this fall I need to get my continuing education done for the 2019 tax season - which will be here in a few months - and of course in the spring it will be tax season. Yay. Giving serious thought to just chucking this whole pursuit of a bachelor's degree and just signing up for CDL training so I can drive trucks for big money, maybe see some more of the country that I haven't seen yet.

I'm fighting the depression with Avi Shmailov's uplifting trance mixes. Maybe I should get some more of them.

Some stuff about Russian

So I got a letter from CyberCoders, which as far as I know is not associated with the FSB, asking if I'd be interested in an Office Manager job, and the funny thing to me was that the recruiter's family name was Frayer. In Russian thieves' slang, frayer is the collective name for non-thieves, "suckers", or marks. Well, I thought it was funny.

Nobody else got the joke, and I wound up talking about Russian in the comments. What I wasn't willing to go into at any length was that after you master the Cyrillic alphabet, the next big hurdle is what they called at DLI "prepositional verbs of motion", which is not what this Wikipedia article calls them, but since this is my LJ post, we'll do it the way I learned it. See, in English, you can say "Priyanka [went to the strip club] with her friends" and everybody will assume she went in with her droogies and got an eyeful of boobs and butts. In Russian, this is horribly imprecise. There is a distinction between going to the club and not going in (ona podoshola k Crazy Horse) and going to the club and going in (ona voshla na Crazy Horse) and a few other variations on the theme. This looks a lot like the graphic we used in the Basic Russian course to help us get our heads around the notion:

Anyway, thought people might be interested. Comment on Facebook if you want to.



I don't know which smug, entitled jerk spouted this crap at a recent nebula Awards panel*, but unfortunately he's not unique. There is a whole generation of uneducated idiots out there who think Robert Heinlein is a misogynist fascist, Tolkien is a racist, and more recently, Larry Correia is pro-rape. They can't actually provide any kind of citations to back up those assertions, but enough of them are running around saying these things that it's a useful object lesson in Goebbels' assertion about the Big Lie. The lie makes it hard to have a civil discussion with these people about the state of the genre, because they seem hellbent on erasing the past, unpersoning the great writers of the past (not all of whom were Dead White European Males, by the way**) and erecting their own pathetic totems to worship.
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Case in point: one commenter in the responses to the above tweet asserted that Tolkien must be a racist because China Mieville and Michael Moorcock said so. Well, so what? What makes those two writers, neither of which begin to compare to Tolkien in terms of accomplishments, authorities on the subject of racism? Where is the evidence Mieville and Moorcock cite as proof of this alleged racism? What relevance does our current obsession with skin color have to a heroic epic involving actual separate humanoid races set thousand of years ago, anyway? Further, why would any sensible person act like this toward the man who arguably made the fantasy genre what it is today?

Also relevant is the way Howard Phillips Lovecraft has been treated. His views on race were hardly unique in his time, and were shared by such progressive luminaries as Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Sanger, and FDR. More to the point, HPL (like Tolkien) was a formative author in his genre, opening the way to a very different and uniquely American form of horror, as Stephen King acknowledges in his excellent primer Danse Macabre. King, I think we can all agree, knows what the hell he's talking about when it comes to horror. So what have our current crop of bright young things done? Well, the World Fantasy Convention used to hand out little statues of HPL as their awards, but they don't do that any more because Lovecraft is problematic and somebody might be offended by having to look at the old racist's visage. Personally, I think if someone is that easily triggered, they ought to stay the hell away from fantasy and horror to begin with, but I'm not in charge here.***

No, judging works and people by "modern standards" is not okay, and SFWA should be publicly shamed for asserting this. The classic works of SF, horror, and fantasy are what they are because they're still entertaining almost a century or more after they were originally written, and if you have to stop and consider the historical context of the author and his work, you're trying too hard, or you're an English major - but I repeat myself. Not everything has to be a timeless literary masterpiece, and not everything has to be analyzed to death by humorless scolds who can't accept that sometimes a rocket ship is just a rocket ship and not a phallic symbol.

I seem to recall that SF writer and English professor James Gunn once told a story about coming into a classroom at UMKC and finding that someone had written on the blackboard "GET SF OUT OF THE CLASSROOM AND BACK IN THE GUTTER WHERE IT BELONGS". Well, the problem isn't so much that it's in the classroom, but that the classrooms of academia -which have now extended to the major publishing houses- seem intent on making sure that nothing gets published but SF and fantasy that fits comfortably in the English faculties of America. This is the sort of thing the Sad Puppies were and are opposed to, and you can see reflections of the same attitude in Gamergate and Comicsgate as well. It's a good thing. People want to be entertained, preferably without a bunch of lecturing and scolding, and given their druthers, they'll take entertainment that has a lot less lecturing in it.


*and I can't be bothered to look them up, because they're just a useless cog in a broken machine anyway.
** I was particularly unamused by some feminist critic passing over Anne McCaffrey, C.L.Moore, Leigh Brackett -and in the unkindest cut of all, Judith Merril- when compiling a list of great female SF&F writers. According to this numpty, the history of women in SF apparently began with Ursula LeGuin.
***And just as well, because the operations & maintenance budget for the military helicopter budget would go through the roof.

We've lost that quality now

Something Cobb said in his Facebook Live thing this afternoon got me thinking about a subject I hadn't thought about for a long time, but which used to irritate the shit out of me when I was playing D&D and related fantasy RPGs. There was a definite aversion on the part of most DMs to having a monotheistic religion in charge despite the fact that historically, the Middle Ages on which most fantasy RPGs were based were extremely monotheistic, and failing to conform to whatever flavor of Christianity was in effect in your part of Europe (or Islam, for that matter) could drastically shorten your life expectancy at worst or make you a second-class citizen at best.

So referees would set up one or another of the traditional pantheons, or maybe make one of their own up, and inevitably the players would pick a god to worship, and the DM would say nothing. Now, I don't claim to be an expert in religions, not even my own, but one thing that I do know about the pagan religions was that's not how it worked. You might have a special devotion to Athena, but you sure as hell were going to make offerings to Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the other gods as well. It was a package deal, because ignoring the other gods was...unwise. I think it says depressing things about education in our country that more people didn't see that as a problem. Maybe now that there are several flavors of paganism loose in the land, this has changed, but the cynic in me rather doubts it.

Goodbye To All That

I am a bit hesitant to use this post title, evoking as it does Robert Graves' memoir of disillusionment and horror during the First World War, but it seems appropriate to the circumstances. One does not lightly sever connections established over fifteen years, but when you are turning your back on an organization you once helped build because it has gone horribly astray, well, there's more than enough disillusionment and despair to go around.

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I'm planning on coming up for Anime Fusion in 2019 - the timing is better, since it's not during tax season, and I'd like to see how dejana runs things, maybe help out a little. Going to miss my friends on staff at Detour, but all things considered, I think it's best if I just walk away, if only for a year or two.

Comment on Facebook, not here.

So why did I join the N3F, anyway?

Surprise and curiosity, initially. Granted that I'm not as prone to doing conventions as I used to be, but back in the day (the 1970s, to be more or less precise) the N3F was kind of a big thing in fandom, and some time after I arrived in Las Vegas and had nothing much to do, I decided to search for it and see if it was still around. Much to my surprise, it actually was, though in a much smaller and weaker form, and mostly on the Internet. One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was appointed head of the Recruiting and Membership bureau, which had been vacant and inactive for quite some time. I did a few things which seemed obvious to me (tweeting and making Facebook posts) and those things brought some people in, and I got the traditional (if virtual) Hearty Handshake and Pat On The Back.

I think the more important question is why I've stuck around for the following two years and am about to send in my six bucks for another year's voting membership. There's a few reasons. First of all, I like the idea behind the N3F - bringing together all types of fantasy & SF fans, whether they're mainly interested in anime, comics, games, media or dead-tree media. Secondly, (and this was very important to me while the Sad Puppies thing was going on) the N3F was and is relentlessly apolitical, which is a pleasant contrast to most of traditional fandom in these decadent and depraved times. Thirdly, I am a sucker for responsibility, and the N3F gives me an opportunity to help rebuild an ancient and honorable fannish organization, which has had some Big Name Fans associated with it in the past and is working on doing great things to help fans in the future.

Hope this answered your question, and if not, I'm certainly willing to talk more about it.

Tags:

So, a couple of months ago, I posted about my need to focus on stuff I can personally affect. I've been working on that with mixed results, and right now I'm dithering about whether I should disengage from Facebook as the next step, because I feel that the sheer amount of crap showing up in my feed is an ongoing distraction, a time sink that actually keeps me from having actual, solid friendships with people. I've thought about just logging off of Facebook and returning to the days when I printed up the Baja Manitoba Free Press and mailed it out to friends, but like so many other things that I'm contemplating, that's probably going to have to wait until next year unless I want to go really old-school and just do an e-mail blast to people. Other social media are as bad as Facebook - G+ was a platform of very dubious utility even before the current Social Justice Wankery, Twitter is where I go for political interactions, most of the people I know have abandoned LiveJournal because OMG RUSSIANS RUSSIANS RUSSIANS, and Gab has its limits as well.

Speaking of next year, after trying unsuccessfully to find work through the local temp agencies, I've decided to bite the bullet, re-apply for disability, and go back to school with the intent of finishing my accounting degree. It's an open question as to how long this will take: I already have a bachelor's degree (ironically, in Liberal Arts) and the core of an AAS degree. I don't know how much of the coursework from those UNLV will accept as transfer credits, or if I'll qualify for any kind of financial aid. I would think that, considering my taxable income has been right around the filing limit for the last couple of years, I would at least qualify for more loans, but that's what we do the paperwork to find out. Once I have the accounting degree, the odds are better that I can get a real accounting job around here. Maybe even fulfill my long-held dream of working for the secret policeIRS.

I do have to do something fairly soon to get out of the current rut. It's becoming increasingly painful and difficult to do the Uber thing, and I strongly suspect that the wound care nurse is right about it doing bad things to my legs. At the same time, I need to pay the bills, so until Uncle Sam comes through (if he does) I'm going to have to scrape the face and hit the streets six days a week. Sometimes seven. That month I was off work after the accident really put me behind the curve.

Another thing to save up money for

Took the Kia over to Findlay Kia this morning bright and early at 0700, where they told me the headlight wasn't covered under warranty (!) and they'd call me when they knew what was up. A couple of hours later, I was woken by the phone; the service guy informed me that replacing the headlight assembly was going to cost me $500 but having his electrician rewire the defective socket would only be $250. Didn't matter since I couldn't afford either one, which I told him before hanging up and going back to sleep.

Woke up a little before 1600 and shut off the alarm before it could go off. Had coffee and called an Uber to get me over to Findlay and get the Forte out of hock; had a nice conversation with the driver about working days v. nights and part-time versus full-time. The dealer charged me $113 to run a diagnostic to confirm what I told them, upgraded the stereo's software, and that was it. Didn't even run the car through the wash. I stopped at Arco on the way home for fluids and cash, but didn't go to Palace Station since I wanted to get home and do the daily blogging, which I did.

Uber upgraded the app so people can now tip us, and they're celebrating by matching tips tomorrow. I'll probably start out the night up by Santa Fe Station, since that's where the Central Committee meeting is. I've gotten a couple of e-mails inveighing against "the Crew" and am not sure what to make of them. Probably going to ask the Political Hat tomorrow night.

Focus

There is a scene in The Sword, one of the Raj Whitehall novels by David Drake and Stephen Stirling, where Lady Whitehall is fussing over some detail of Raj's dress uniform*, and he reflects that it's very much like someone in a situation that's so out of control that they focus on the very small thing that they can actually affect. I have felt for quite some time that the media, and social media especially, want to distract us from our own collections of very small things - the things in our lives that we should be concentrating on because they have an immediate impact on our lives, our neighbors, the small communities we actually live in as opposed to the huge nation that is also our home, but that we have very little actual control over. The media want us to get excited over what happens in Washington, New York, LA, Riyadh, Kabul - yes, even Manchester - when in fact there is little or nothing we ourselves can do. We go to the polls every couple of years and vote for politicians who we hope will do a good job representing most of the things we believe need doing, but that's about all we can do. The opportunities to be involved in the Great Game of global politics just don't come along very often for most of us, and even at the national level, it can take decades to come into a position of even minor influence.

Now, if you have the leisure time, influence, and/or money to get involved in these things, by all means, do so. The fact remains that a lot of us don't, and trying to be involved in them is going to turn us into unpleasant cranks who are dogmatically committed to certain points of view and won't shut up about them. I've been one of those people, and it wasn't very fun.

Fixating on this big-picture stuff will drive you crazy if you pay too much attention to it, and despite having been tangled up in it for most of my life, I need to take a step back and concentrate my efforts on the parts of this world that are going to do the most good. I have to connect with friends, work on the small things in my life and my several communities that I can affect, and disconnect from the things I can't. Depending on my discipline and my health** I probably have a little over a couple decades left to me in which I can do things for friends, family, and other folks I care about. "And maybe they'll be happy for a while." One can hope.


*Minutes before an audience where everyone expects the paranoid Governor Barholm Clerett to order Raj executed.
**Yeah, I'm fucked.

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