September 02, 2005
Locals' Lament

As part of my high-tech whirlwind database life, I occasionally travel to locales far and wide to teach accountants and IT professionals at law firms how to use a database language called SQL (structured query language). Sounds exciting, doesn't it? This is excitement personified.

When a law firm hosts one of these classes -- which is to say, when they provide the training facilities and allow others to attend -- they are accorded a couple of "free" seats in the class. Typically, the employees of the host law firm who attend the class run the risk of getting less out of the class than their counterparts who travel from nearby towns to attend.

Why? Because when a person attends training within their own firm's offices, he or she is often called away for a quick-emergency-meeting or to put out this-one-little-fire or something along those lines. Their training time is not respected by their colleagues because -- Hey! -- they are there at the office anyway, so what harm could it be to pull them out of the class for one teensie-weensie-moment.

Attendees who pay full fare and come in from another firm are not at their office mate's (or boss's) beck and call, and therefore can't be pulled aside to attend to a quick little problem.

For lack of a better term, I'll call this the "locals' lament". It's convenient geographically and economically, at least, for you to be the host but the distractions of being on your home turf keep pulling you away.

So it is for me and this year's North American Science Fiction Convention. My wife and I attempt every year to attend the annual World Science Fiction Convention (typically held during the days leading into the Labor Day weekend) because it features a strong track for professional writers in the field. When "WorldCon" is held outside of North America (this year's was held in Scotland), there is a smaller version held on our home continent, the aforementioned "NASFiC". This year's NASFiC is being held in our home town.

Should be convenient, no? Should make our lives easier, because we don't have so much to arrange in terms of travel and taking care of the kids and all that stuff, right?

Nope. Just as we missed the World Horror Convention when it was held here a couple of years ago, we find our attendance at this year's NASFiC very, very challenging. Difficulties and distractions at the office and at home have led me to miss all of the ceremonies, panels, and parties thus far. Yesterday, I left work in time to make dinner with some friends in town for the Con, but that's the most I've managed so far. Instead of our annual week-long participation, it looks like Paulette and I will be able to get two days this weekend at the most.

Next year's WorldCon will be held in LA. We look forward to having it away from home again (as usual), so that we can once more take full advantage of it.

Posted by at 05:09 PM in the following Department(s): Teaching , Tidbits , Tidbits II , Writing | Comments (1)
 September 07, 2005
Choose Your Own Conspiracy

People! Aren't you paying attention?!

Hurricane Katrina is part of the conspiracy! After all that hullabaloo about Karl Rove, and then that mother who was protesting outside of the President's ranch, he needed a diversion. So they created Katrina! If the hurricane bumped off a few poor people along the Gulf Coast, it's just a political win-win, no? (Never mind that it was those very people in the so-called red states that got him elected in the first place.)

C'mon, people! My friend E--- says that if you want to know who's behind events, you just have to look at who benefited the most. Well? Who benefited from Katrina? Rich white people who could afford to leave, that's who. And what is President Bush? A rich white guy. You know who else benefited? Construction workers who want some job security for the foreseeable future.

Those wily construction workers.

But the most obvious beneficiary was the President himself. Because, hey, it looked like that mother of that soldier who died in that war who was protesting outside the President's ranch had him on the ropes, didn't it? But who's talking about her now, huh? NOBODY. And why is that? Katrina, that's why.

He'd have gotten away with it, too, if he hadn't had such a flaming IDIOT for a director of FEMA.

So, yeah, it's pretty clear that if GWB didn't start the hurricane, he at least allowed Karl Rove to make sure it happened.

Oh, "But wait!" I hear you protest. "The President is getting bad press for the hurricane!" Well, duh. THAT'S WHY HE HAD JUSTICE REHNQUIST KILLED! Deflects all the attention away from New Orleans and puts the attention right back smack dab in the middle of Roe v. Wade, which is where it belongs. It's so obvious! Look at who benefits!

"There's nothing to see here," says Karl Rove, trying to block your view of Katrina. "Maybe you should be looking over at Roe v. Wade over there." Bang! Rehnquist dies. Oh, sure. He died of "natural" causes. Like there's anything "natural" about death. It's all about pro-life, baby!

It's a win-win-win-win. No more angry mother protesting, no more poor people, no more binge drinking (Mardi Gras anyone?) to tempt the straight-and-narrow el Presidente, and no more abortion. It's effing BRILLIANT!

Whoever it is that pulls the strings for this administration, I salute you.

PS: No, not really.

Posted by at 01:20 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (5)
 September 18, 2005
Name calling, Context, and Disagreement

So, my wife and I bought the TV show "24 - Season Two" on DVD and spent a couple of weeks watching an episode or three each evening after the kids were put to bed. Having now seen the first two seasons this way, I must heartily recommend "24". Wonderful fun, with an emphasis on plot reversals:

In a "reversal", the plot or action suddenly veers off in another direction from what was expected. The reversal can be good *or* bad. It doesn't always have to be bad. A really good reversal changes the goals/questions for the characters involved.

If you are a writer or an aspiring writer, you could do worse than to take in how 24 approaches plot reversals (regardless of how you evaluate the plot holes).

As a friend of mine commented recently, watching a couple of seasons of 24 back-to-back can give one an acute attack of paranoia. These episodes are all about conspiracies within conspiracies, and they can make you a bit jumpy.

Inspired by the gleeful paranoia-euphoria of being fresh off of season two of "24", and thinking of a couple of very dear friends of mine who live their lives in such a state, I pounded out my little tidbit, "Choose Your Own Conspiracy". It was a lark, intending to mock how quickly and irrationally we can sometimes resort to blaming conspiracies when simpler, more credible forces are more likely at work.

One such friend (ie, one of my friends who sees conspiracies within conspiracies as being rather pervasive) posted a response chiding me for being naive. I'm going to repeat her comment here because it deserves some elucidation:

Much like a child who is completely unaware that he is, in fact, the reason why his parents got divorced, you are happily clueless.

You are blissfully unaware of what is going on around you and your own culpability therein.

You won't even acknowledge a conspiracy that was so clearly pointed at you!

It is arguably amusing, but very, very costly.

Now, this sounded to a couple of other faithful readers like an "insane" slam from "the angry left". At first blush, it certainly seems nasty.

It was none of these.

Like many shouting matches that pretend to be reasoned debate on the talking head news shows, the conversation here is falling apart due to lack of context. Let's back up a little bit and provide that context.

Jehan and I used to work together for a well known national brand that she occasionally refers to as "thatplace.com". She and I have spoken often and at great length about the different kinds of conspiracies that may or may not be plausible in the realms of politics, racial profiling, and the day-to-day grind on the job.

I've never been public about my reasons for leaving thatplace.com except in the vaguest of terms -- and I intend to keep it that way -- but it is not perhaps much of a secret that before I left, my successful team was reorganized out of existence, much to the dismay of my team and myself.

Jehan was a member of that team, and remains one of the most talented devs I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Like most of my former team (and myself), she eventually left thatplace for much the same reasons that the rest of us did. She and other members of my former team showed an amazing amount of loyalty to me and to each other, for which I will always be profoundly grateful.

Jehan's and my on-going conversation has included reflections upon things that happened to me during my last few months at thatplace. It has always seemed to me that those things were obviously part of the larger reorg (and aftermath) that engulfed our entire division of the company. There were, it seemed to me, sound business decisions behind the reorg, however much I may not have agreed with them.

My friend and former co-worker believes otherwise. She believes that the events that unfolded were designed not for business reasons, but for personal and political reasons. To be blunt, she believes that I and my team were not collateral damage, but deliberate targets.

Our (hers and mine) long-running conversation on the subject gets further complicated by two things: my position is reasonable and requires no evidence, whereas her position is less reasonable, requires evidence, and yet she nonetheless has enough evidence to make a compelling case.

Now, re-read her comment above. See how context changes everything? She's not raving about vast right-wing conspiracies (which is what I believe some readers have come to think). She is mocking me for mocking conspiracy theorists. Here, I was mocking those who would be so paranoid that they would see a conspiracy in the destruction following a hurricane. She counters that I would be so blind as to deny an obvious conspiracy that targeted me directly and personally... insofar as she believes this is exactly the case.

Did this clear anything up? I hope so. Now, let's get down to business.

One of my faithful readers is another friend whom I met in a completely different context, named Allen. Since very, very few readers of my blog could know the circumstances to which Jehan is alluding, it is only reasonable that her remarks should be misinterpreted by many of my readers. But Allen went so far as to label her response as being from "the angry left".

Allen, you're a good man and I love you like a brother. (You know, the brother who moved away to Canada like some commie-symp blue-stater, so we don't talk about him so much at the dinner table; that kind of brother.) But just as the "angry left" was being ridiculous to keep crying about some phantom "vast right-wing conspiracy", so too is it ridiculous to cry about some phantom "angry left".

Not all who oppose us are necessarily part of a unified enemy. Sometimes, we are opposed by our dearest allies. Not all who disagree with us oppose us. Intelligent people will disagree about the best way to accomplish common goals.

It's true that Jehan's remarks did read a little harsh, and I appreciate your standing up to defend me. But, well, your remarks were a little harsh, too.

Can't we all just get along?

Posted by at 02:35 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits , Tidbits III | Comments (4)

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