I haven’t updated this blog in about a year, and all of a sudden I’m posting something potentially controversial. That’s just how I roll.
No one thing prompted this post. It’s been a combination of many things, mainly discussions of women, feminism, sexism, rape culture, and so forth that I’ve had recently, with different groups of people in separate venues. By that token, the time feels right to dig a little deeper into this and express my thoughts.
Not everyone will agree with what I have to say. I fully expect that. It might make some people angry. Some might feel attacked, although this is not in any way a personal attack on anybody. I’m also not trying to claim I’m perfect or that I never make mistakes–I make as many as everyone else, perhaps more. But there are some things I feel I need to say, and some things that I believe are worth discussing.
For clarity’s sake, when I say “you” in this post, I am referring to the men in the audience, who may or may not be guilty of the behavior I describe. If you haven’t done these things, then don’t feel attacked–you’re not the “target,” so to speak.
With the disclaimers out of the way, I’ll get right down to the meat.
In Western culture, men have privilege. Before you start arguing, just hold that thought and play along for now. It’s the truth. It’s not like we’re given a membership card when we’re born, it’s just something society is built around, because men (straight white Christian men, that is) designed and, until relatively recently, completely dominated this society. It’s not an intentional thing that you use whenever you come up against an obstacle–a “get out of jail free” card for any of life’s problems–but it’s something you are assigned by default, without asking, without (initially) questioning. That is not to lay the blame at your feet (or mine), but to acknowledge that it exists and work from the position that it is absent for others: women, black people, gay people, etc. Although I could speak at length about any of those groups, for this discussion I will focus on women, and issues specific to women. In particular, I will talk about American women, though what I say may be applicable to women (and men) elsewhere.
I’d like to go over a couple specific issues I’ve noticed, particularly online, but they can apply in “real life,” as well.
Women and Self-Image
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most women have self-image problems. The numbers vary, but around 80% is seen as a fairly credible statistic. That means 4 out of 5 women are dissatisfied with their bodies. Eating disorders are still common, affecting as many as 1 out of 4 women. One thing men do that exacerbates these problems is objectifying women. Now, there’s a phrase everybody’s heard but many may not know what it means. What does it mean, exactly, to objectify a woman? Put simply, it means to reduce a woman to nothing but her physical attributes–or, more crassly, just her sexual attributes. Saying, “I’d fuck her”? Yeah, that’s objectification right there. Rating a woman’s attractiveness on a numerical scale? You better believe that’s objectifying, too. You meet a woman and before you even get to know her or have a conversation you have already judged her looks and put her into the “would do” or “wouldn’t do” category? That’s objectification right there. Not considering a woman worth your time or attention unless there’s a chance of her having sex with you? A bit more subtle, but it’s essentially the same thing.
You may not think it’s a big deal if you make racy comments about celebrities, either. After all, you’re not likely to ever meet Katy Perry or Scarlett Johansson or Catherine Zeta-Jones, so it’s not like your comments personally hurt them, right? But what about the women around you? If you’re posting “I’d do her” online, how do you think that affects the women who read it? What they see is you passing judgment on a celebrity–supposedly the most beautiful women in the world, or so popular culture tells us–and whether your comment is something like “I’d hit it” or “too ugly for my tastes,” you’ve just announced to everyone (especially any women witnessing this) that women have no value to you apart from their appearance and/or their ability to satisfy your sexual fantasies. No need to care about women being intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive, creative, articulate, or anything else–if she ain’t got the looks, she ain’t got squat, right?
As a somewhat startling example, go and google “best female musicians of all time.” What’s either at the top or very close to it? An article about the “Top 20 Sexiest Female Musicians of All Time”. Wooo! I also found, in the course of playing with Google, that if you start typing “best female”, the top suggestion is “best female body”. Because what else would someone want to search for about women than their bodies? This is hardly something to blame on Google, either. These suggestions are a result of their popularity with users. Lots of people are searching for “best female body”, apparently.
If you view a woman, not as a person with independent thoughts, feelings, and goals, but as a means to an end, then you have objectified her. Maybe you just want her to be your emotional dumping ground, or maybe you just want her to fulfill your sexual desires. It doesn’t matter which. In both cases, you’ve reduced her to a tool you can use, rather than a person whom you respect.
You may also think it hurts no one when objectifying comments are made solely around other men, so-called “locker room talk.” Except it does reinforce those sexist tendencies that see women as little more than vessels for men’s sexual pleasure, and a woman who can’t offer herself up as that, or is found unworthy of being that, is seen as having no value at all. Indulging in this even when no women are around still reinforces in the men participating that this behavior is okay, and it will tend to bleed out into their interactions with women elsewhere in life.
I don’t believe most men think things through to this level. They’re just trying to have a good time, and sizing up women is a game, like arguing over which football team is the best or which car is the fastest. You might spend only a few seconds forming a sexist thought, but it’s going to stay with any women within earshot a lot longer, piled up with all the other sexist comments they are subjected to on a daily basis. Sure, you just made one little comment–and so did a dozen other guys that day. Have this happen day after day, year after year, and where does it lead? Body image problems, eating disorders, poor self-esteem. It’s not just sexist comments that do this, of course, but they are a major contributor to the problem.
No one can solve this problem all by themselves, of course. But you can do your part, by thinking twice before making a comment that dehumanizes a woman into nothing but a pair of breasts and a vagina for you to fill.
“What rape culture?” Yeah, I didn’t used to think it existed, either. I mean, rape is illegal and society hates rapists, right? How could we have a “rape culture”? It’s not as if you, personally are a rapist, right?
Again, this goes back to male privilege. One of the things men virtually never have to worry about is being sexually assaulted. “But men get raped!” Yeah, yeah, I know: very rarely and at nowhere near the rates women do, so let’s not pretend the situations are at all similar. Men do get raped, and that is worth discussing and addressing, but not when we’re talking about women who are raped. Men do not live in constant fear of being sexually assaulted, while most of my female friends have expressed to me a persistent, sometimes crippling fear of being raped–and it’s not an unjustified fear, given that about a quarter of all women will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, and many will be assaulted more than once. This is not a small problem, not something we can just sweep under the rug and say, “we’ve outlawed it, nothing more to worry about here.” You aren’t a rapist, but you may–without even meaning to or realizing it–help to excuse and minimize the actions of rapists.
Have you ever done anything to lessen the crimes of a rapist? Have you ever made a rape victim feel like she brought it on herself? Have you ever said a woman who appears “too serious” or “uptight” just “needs a good fucking”? Do you make rape jokes in mixed company? Congratulations, you help to promote rape culture.
No, that doesn’t necessarily make you an asshole. If you don’t think there’s anything wrong with this behavior, then you very well might be.
First, think about the language commonly used to talk about rape. “She was raped.” Who is missing from that sentence? The rapist, of course. Do people generally say, “someone raped her”? Not in my experience. I don’t think this is intentional, either, but a way of describing the situation that makes it about the victim. In fact, it makes it so much about the victim, that it becomes something that simply happened to her, not something that was perpetrated against her by another person. When viewed that way, it can appear that the rapist himself has been excused from his crime–his victim goes on suffering, but he’s out of the picture, existing only as a mythic boogeyman if consciously existing at all.
It helps to remember that, when a woman tells you someone raped or assaulted her, you don’t forget that another man did this. That doesn’t mean it’s your fault, but it does mean you should be more sensitive about how you discuss it with her. The last thing you want to do is seem like you are excusing the rapist, or worse: identifying with him more than her.
Questions never to ask someone who is telling you about how they were raped:
1. What were you wearing?
2. What time did you leave the party/theater/friend’s house/whatever?
3. How much did you have to drink?
4. Are you sure you didn’t lead him on?
Questions like this serve no purpose but to a) make it sound like the rapist wasn’t really at fault and b) anger/upset the woman who thought you were a decent enough guy to talk about this with, but now you’ve completely ruined that, so great job.
“But wait! I wasn’t trying to excuse the rapist at all!” I know. You really weren’t thinking of it that way. Instead, you saw her rape as a “problem” to “solve.” Something she could have prevented, and an experience she can learn from. If she just does the right things in the future, this won’t happen again. If she dresses more conservatively, drinks less, doesn’t go out after dark, and avoids making eye contact with strange men, why, she’ll never have to worry about being raped again! It’s so simple, isn’t it? It’s a good thing there’s a smart man around to figure this out, because it’s not as if a simple woman could.
When a woman is talking to you about her rape experience, she is not looking for you to solve a problem, she just wants you to listen. If you can’t offer understanding, at least offer support. But don’t condescend, and don’t patronize. Every woman will have her own reasons for expressing this to you, but never is it because she wants to hear how she could have kept it from happening, or otherwise be told how it was in some way her fault. Don’t turn it into a political discussion, don’t bring up how men are raped, or how women make false accusations of rape–don’t even do this in a more public/online discussion regarding rape culture or male-on-female rape in general. It is hard enough for many women to talk about their experiences without some men making them feel inferior for it, or even implying they somehow deserved it, or just plain hijacking the discussion into being about men’s issues.
This is rape culture. Women are first reduced to objects, and those objects are to either be used or protected, depending on a man’s whims–and in either case, it’s about men. Men get to define women’s roles, men get to determine whether a woman was responsible for being raped, men get to decide whether women’s issues are even worth talking about, men get to determine at what point a woman should simply “get over it,” men make women choose between either being assaulted or infantilized. If you behave this way, even if you don’t mean to, then you have helped promote rape culture. Two words: stop it.
As for what I said about patronizing: don’t go overboard and treat them like porcelain dolls. They may be coping with a traumatic experience, but they’re still women, not children that expect to be coddled and sheltered from the big, bad world. If a woman tells you someone raped her, that doesn’t mean she’s asking you to protect her from now until the end of time–she just wants you to understand that that experience is a part of who she is, and something you need to be aware of if you’re going to be part of her life. It is a privilege (just not the inborn white male kind) to be told about this. Don’t have a huge reaction to it–don’t make a big show, don’t probe for all the gory details, don’t insist on bringing it up constantly (but also don’t dissuade her if she does want to talk about it.) These things will probably make her regret telling you in the first place.
So, what can you do to help thwart the promotion of rape culture? Pay attention to what I said above: don’t objectify women, no matter the context. It is fine to appreciate a woman’s beauty, as long as you are able to appreciate her for more than that. Think about women as people first. When you talk to a woman, engage her on a personal level, don’t just practice your flirts and pick-up lines. When your male friends are engaged in raunchy talk about women–be they celebrities, coworkers, or that woman you passed on the street–speak up and tell them you aren’t comfortable with it. If you aren’t ready to challenge them at that level, just change the subject. Anything to get it away from the sexist portrayal of women. Remember that even if you just make one questionable comment a month, women hear them all the time. Enough men eliminating their once-a-month indiscretion can have a big impact. When a woman is talking to you about how someone sexually assaulted her, just listen and offer your emotional support. Recognize that many of the women you pass on the street may have been the victims of rape, and no one walks around wearing a sign that says, “someone raped me.” So keep the rape jokes to yourself, and don’t make discussions of rape about how tough it is for men.
There is no one thing guys can do to solve these problems, but make no mistake, as a cultural issue, the ways in which men treat women are our problems to solve, because men perpetrate the vast, vast majority of sex crimes and sexist behavior. It’s not something that will change overnight. Just stop and think about what you say before you say it. Think about how a woman might feel about the next words to come out of your mouth–how might she interpret them, as opposed to how you mean them? You aren’t a bad person, I assume, and you don’t want to be a bad person. Go the extra mile and put yourself in other people’s shoes, and consider how they might see your behavior, and if you are comfortable with how it makes you look. It’s about how you treat women, both directly in how you interact with them, and indirectly in how you talk about them. Do you want to look like someone who trivializes the concerns of women, or someone who excuses rapists, or someone who makes women feel worse about themselves… or do you want to be someone known for their understanding, empathy, and trustworthiness?
It’s your choice.
Note: The above post was informed by some other blog posts and articles I’ve read. Feel free to peruse them, as well. They are very insightful, too:
I am certainly going to leave this open for comments. I want to hear your thoughts. Agree? Disagree? Think I’m insane? Let’s talk!
I plan to have several entries regarding Budapest, considering that’s where I spent the bulk of my trip. They may be more impressionistic in nature rather than straight accounts of things that happened. After all, it has been almost a week since I returned and the days sort of run together. Fortunately, I have photos to jog my memory, or something.
I arrived in Budapest about 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. The plane landed, we disembarked onto the tarmac, and then a shuttle bus took us to the baggage claim area. There was no Skyway for whatever reason. While I waited for my suitcase, I pulled out some local money from an ATM. I must say, Hungarian Forints look more like real money than Euros. Euros look like Monopoly money. An observation about both of them is that they feel thinner and flimsier than US bills. I have my doubts that such money could survive a trip through the washing machine.
After claiming my suitcase, I headed for the exit. Almost all the signs in the airport were in both Hungarian and English, so it wasn’t hard to figure out where I needed to go. As I emerged into the arrival area, I saw a man holding up a sign with my name on it. Woohoo! He was, of course, the owner of the apartment I’d rented for the duration. He grabbed my suitcase and escorted me to his car, a small wagon that was nevertheless quite large compared to the other cars I saw. The rumors about cars in Europe being small are certainly true. I will say, though, that it was not uncomfortable.
My host talked to me as we drove off toward the city center. It was dark. Lots of things were lit up. One particular structure that caught my eye was the Dohany Street Synagogue. The golden glow of its two domed towers were very striking in the dark, so naturally I asked what it was, and he was happy to explain. As we drove, he pointed out other attractions I might want to see, and to be honest I forgot most of them almost immediately. I wound up seeing quite a few of them anyway, but he spoke so quickly it was difficult to capture everything he said. He pointed out West End as we drove past it, notable for the strobing lights all over the exterior. I feel bad for anyone who has to live next to that. It must be really annoying to have lights flashing in your window all night, every night. In any case, West End is a large mall with 4 stories and an imperial shit ton of stores and restaurants. There’s also a movie theater and an arcade. Many of the businesses use English signage and almost all the employees I spoke to knew at least enough English to take your order and otherwise help you out.
After about a 20 minute drive we came to Podmaniczky utca (street), where the apartment was located. One thing this area had in common with Brussels was the way buildings were pressed up against each other. No alleyways between them or anything like that, just wall-to-wall buildings everywhere. Totally understandable for cities that are hundreds of years old and densely populated.
We came in the front door of the apartment building and I was led to a small courtyard. It seems the interiors of most apartment buildings in Budapest possess such central courtyards. I’m not sure what the reasoning is. The building did look a little run down, with cracks in the walls and chipped paint. The courtyard wasn’t especially well cared for. But I can’t complain too much: the apartment was quite cheap and in a great location, close to many attractions.
The owner took me into the apartment, showed me the trick to locking the front door (it’s a little temperamental), gave me the layout of the place. It had a small refrigerator–bigger than a mini fridge but not quite full size, and with no freezer. There was a very small kitchen with a toaster oven that had a range top, a little sink, a coffee maker, an electric teapot, and some basics: salt, sugar, rice, olive oil. I had to taste test the salt and sugar to figure out which was which. D’oh. There were also plenty of dishes.
Next was the bathroom, which consisted of a toilet, a sink, and a shower stall. The shower got its water from a sink attachment, and let me tell you it had some crazy water pressure. It reminded me of that “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer and Newman don’t want the new “low flow” showerheads being installed in their building, so they buy black market showerheads from some Eastern European thugs. Apparently, there was some truth to that. This shower was crazy. I had to keep the water turned down to avoid being pelted with speeding bullets of water. Oh, it also leaked a little, so the floor got wet.
The living room/bedroom was easily the biggest room in the whole place. It had a queen-sized bed, a dresser with a little TV on it, a rocking chair, a small cabinet, and a couple nightstands.
I also forgot the dining room, which was separated from the living room/bedroom by a half-height wall and some posts. Said posts actually held up the loft, directly above the dining area, which had two very small beds. Those beds did not get much use. The stairs up to the loft were also quite steep and probably not worth attempting while drunk.
The main bed was pretty comfortable. I’ve had better, I’ve had worse. I think it was originally a sleeper sofa and they put a thin foam mattress on top of it. You could kind of feel the bars if you laid a certain way. Still, I slept pretty soundly on it. Can’t complain.
This is all probably too much detail. Tough cookies, eh? With all this business about the apartment out of the way, the next can cover some actual sights, plus the highlights of using Budapest’s public transportation system. Woohoo!
Also, having been up for 36 hours by that point, I slept like a fucking baby. Holy shit, dude.
I had the better part of a day to spend in Brussels, so rather than waste it just hanging around the airport, I decided to go into the city proper. The first thing I noticed was that everything in Brussels is in at least three languages. Dutch is almost always first, followed by French, and then either German or English. I think I saw Italian in a few places, too. Seeing the same thing written in a few languages certainly gives you clues as to what it’s saying even if you don’t actually know said languages.
Even so, getting to the city center proved more difficult than anticipated. It wasn’t a matter of logistics–I knew I just needed to take a train–but rather that the way the train schedules were displayed was extremely confusing. At the train terminal below the airport there was a posted list of all the trains, when they departed and from what platform. Many trains go to the city center but most of them don’t stop there, and the digital signs indicate only the train’s final destination. On top of that, the track number specified on the schedule often didn’t match where the train actually appeared. So, does the train to Leuven that leaves at 9:58 from track 2 go to Bruxelles-Midi even though the schedule says that train should be on track 1 a few minutes later? There was no consistency at all. Eventually, I bit the bullet and just jumped on one of the trains going to “Bruxelles-Zuid” (South Brussels) and got off at the central station.
The trains were pretty nice, a bit nicer than the commuter trains you can take in New Jersey. Rather than everyone facing the same direction and packed together as if you’re on an airplane, the standard in Europe appears to be for sets of opposing seats facing each other, sometimes with a small table in between. You can fit fewer people on such a train but it’s certainly more conversational and inviting.
Once I got off at the central station, I walked through the station and looked around a bit. Much of the station is actually underground. It doesn’t look very big from the outside, and is in fact mostly dwarfed by the surrounding buildings. Above the row of ticketing windows is a massive digital schedule, which was quite impressive to see. They had trains going everywhere from Antwerp to Bruges. After getting a feel for the interior of the station, I went out to the street and looked around. Maybe other parts of Brussels are laid out more sensibly, but the area around Brussels-Central is an ungodly maze. I avoided wandering too far afield for fear I wouldn’t be able to make it back to the station in time for my flight.
Despite the somewhat insane street layout, I did find Brussels to be an attractive city. It was busy but not insanely so–certainly no comparison with, say, Manhattan in the morning. During the few hours I spent near the station, I found a nice garden (under renovation but still attractive), an art museum, a water display that had something to do with a salt mine (don’t ask me, I don’t know), a bunch of flags, the remains of a castle butted up against a modern apartment building, some cathedrals, and a lot of stairs and cobblestone roads. For my first taste of Europe, it was visually appealing if not viscerally impressive.
The most negative aspect of my time in Brussels involved a set of young women outside the aforementioned garden. At one end of the garden was a set of steps leading up to another area with a fountain, from which you got a pretty nice view. No doubt it was a tourist trap, and at the first landing on said stairs (quite a large area in itself) there were a handful of women with clipboards, asking people if they spoke English. And if you did, why, it’s your lucky day! They talked about the problem of homelessness in Europe and that if you would just be kind enough to put down your name and hand over 20 Euro, you can help stamp out poverty in the EU. The cynic in me said that this was a scam and I should get away as quickly as possible. The cynic in me won out, yes it did. Maybe they were looking for English speakers because they’ve heard of the famed generosity of Americans–or perhaps they’re familiar with the famed gullibility of Americans, and were looking to take advantage of same. Suffice it to say, I moved on quickly.
Little else tarnished my brief stay in Brussels. After a few hours wandering about and looking at pretty things, I went back to the station and took a train up to the airport. This was substantially less frustrating, since the digital signs would all say “AIRPORT”. While waiting for the train, a couple of German women came up to me and asked if I spoke English. While I could have pretended only to speak Esperanto or somesuch, my wits failed me at that moment and I tried instead to be helpful. They said they were trying to get to Bruges and wondered if I knew what train to take. Oh, of course not. I told them I was also confused by the insanity of the Belgian trains. They wandered off and probably wound up in Amsterdam.
Back at the airport, I finally got hungry. There was a place called “Quality Burger Restaurant.” I do love truth in advertising. I had a “beef andalousse” burger, which cost like 2 Euro and was smaller than the smallest burger they sell at McDonald’s. Oh, what the hell, Europe? They had bigger ones, but my God, they were like 8 Euro a pop! No way, dude. So I got one of those andalousse thingies and a side salad, which was actually very good and not at all like the side salads you get in the US. It had feta cheese and other things in it which I am now forgetting. And balsamic vinaigrette dressing. That was good. I paid 10 Euro for an hour’s worth of Internet access. It was laggy and sucked ass. What a ripoff.
Later on, I found out there was an observation level at the airport where you could eat and watch the tarmac. I had to get in on that. Since you had to buy something to get into the restaurant, I wasn’t hungry, and I wasn’t sure about trying Belgian beer, I instead bought a bottle of French merlot which was something like 12.5% alcohol by volume. I drank it, watched the planes, started to feel very warm and amused, then decided to go through security to get to my proper terminal and gate. Alcohol kept me from properly emptying my pockets so I kept setting off the metal detector. The security personnel were visibly annoyed and I earned myself a patdown from an American gentleman who was for some reason working in the Brussels airport. This is what I get for not drinking in a year and a half and being a total lightweight to begin with.
It took me a few hours to sober up, by which time my plane had come and it was time to be off to Budapest. The sun was going down, and I hopped aboard a Malev Hungarian Airline flight. They served us cheese sandwiches and tea. I napped a little bit, but then they rammed my elbow with the meal cart. Fuck.
I departed Newark a little late. The plane didn’t start boarding on time. There was a lot of pre-boarding. People didn’t queue up in any kind of sensible fashion for general boarding. Finally, a bunch of other planes had to take off before we got our chance. We got into the air a good 45 minutes later than scheduled. The pilot hoped we would get a chance to make up some time as we crossed the Atlantic.
This was my first experience with Jet Airways. Knowing that they are an Indian airline but not much else about them, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Most of the crew and passengers were Indian. I found out the plane was stopping in Brussels on its way to Mumbai. For those continuing onward, that meant about 8 hours to Brussels plus another 9 hours to their final destination–way too much time on a plane for one day!
All safety instructions were given in Hindi, then English. They had a rather creepy safety video, done with quasi-anime CGI. I remember when airplane safety videos had actual human beings in them and I wonder why we don’t still do that. CGI is relatively expensive, and it’s not like it would be hard to do the videos in a real environment. Airlines already have access to planes, crew, and passengers, so just bring a camera and a script in there and go! Maybe give some people a first class upgrade for agreeing to demonstrate in the video.
Moving on, this cute Indian girl sat next to me. She wasn’t very talkative, although we were both polite to each other. It wasn’t until we began our final descent that she finally started to get chatty. She explained that she grew up in New Zealand but spent the last 11 years in New York City. She was on her way back to India to visit family. I told her I was on my way to Budapest and her reaction was like that of most people: “Hungary? Why there??” Ha! For anyone who still hasn’t figured that out, it’s pretty simple. Traveling to Europe is nice and all, but Western Europe is, of course, very Western. It’s not dramatically different from being in the US, in my opinion. The time I spent in Brussels (to be described in the next blog) seemed to bear this out. I wanted to go somewhere more unique and different. My friend Nikki had been talking up Budapest for over a year so I decided to bite the bullet and make that my first trip to Europe.
The in-flight food was, I must say, pretty good for food served on an airplane. You could choose between vegetarian and non-vegetarian. I went non-vegetarian as I am a vicious carnivore. Then they asked if I wanted Indian chicken or grilled chicken. Duh! I went for the Indian food. The chicken was chopped up and in some kind of seasoned brown sauce. In the dish was also rice and a single green chili. A small bowl contained chickpeas and baby corn. There was also plain yogurt (yuck) and rice pudding, the latter of which was excellent. Rather than being plain rice pudding, it had small bits of fruit in it–melon and some other things I’m not sure about. The only thing I didn’t eat was the yogurt. Just not a fan of plain yogurt, eh. I offered it to the girl sitting next to me but she didn’t want it either. To drink, there was apple juice and water.
Dinner having been served around 10PM New Jersey time, a few hours later we were served breakfast. It is very strange to lose 6 hours, let me tell you. Breakfast consisted of a raisin muffin and some mixed fruit. I also opted to have coffee with that, which wasn’t bad.
Since it was dark for most of the flight, I didn’t see much of the Atlantic Ocean–as if there is much to see in the first place. But the timing worked out so that I could quite easily see Ireland during the sunrise. I got a sense of how rural most of the country is, most of the landscape carved up into farmland, and the towns I saw were all pretty small. Britain was definitely more urbanized, at least from what I could tell from the air. As we descended, there were numerous ships in the English Channel. I’d never given much thought to how busy that bit of water must be, but it is very heavily trafficked.
At this point you’re probably wondering where the “Terror” in the title comes from. Well, it doesn’t come from anywhere… except my brain. Got you to read this far, though, didn’t it? You can’t argue with success.
There was some mild turbulence and we didn’t get to make up much time due to strong headwinds, none of which bothered me since I had a long layover ahead of me. Hitting the ground an hour late was fine with me, though I’m sure it was inconvenient for some of my fellow passengers.
As for the plane itself, the A330-200 is a pretty sweet aircraft. On the back of each seat is a Linux-based entertainment and communications terminal. There’s a (wired) remote that you can use to control it. On one side of the remote are the standard controls: volume, channel, home, play, stop, etc. Flip it over and it’s both a QWERTY keyboard and a game controller (d-pad and four action buttons.) Most of the games sucked major ass, though there was a 3D pool game which wasn’t bad. There was a selection of movies and music which wasn’t great but it was better than nothing. I got see Tron Legacy which I hadn’t seen yet, so that’s something. Way more luxury than I’m used to having on a plane.
I would also like to mention that it sucks trying to sleep on a plane when babies are breaking out crying every few minutes. Argh! I propose crying children be sent down to the cargo hold, along with their parents. The kid behind me kept kicking my seat, too. What the hell, kids? A couple dirty looks embarrassed her father enough to control her.
And there you have it, somewhat scattered ramblings regarding my flight from Newark to Brussels. Next up: Brussels, city of Dutch things.
In using #1 to designate this entry, you might think I’m boxing myself in and indicating there can’t and won’t be entries that describe events prior to this, such as planning and packing and so forth. Oh, but you would be wrong, because #0 and #-1 and so forth are still available. If it’s good enough for comic books, it’s good enough for me.
That little detour aside, I am sitting in Terminal B at Newark Liberty Airport, waiting for my plane to be called for boarding. That won’t happen for another couple hours, so I have plenty of time to kill. I’m seeing if I can pull one over on my wireless carrier and tether my phone without buying a separate plan. We’ll see how that goes. Not that it will do me any good in Europe. Did I mention that’s where I’m going? Well, that’s where I’m going. I will land in Brussels tomorrow morning, have just about an all day to kill, then I will fly to Budapest.
About that tethering thing: it worked. Sweet! Not that you care. This is a travel blog, not a technology blog. Nobody likes technology blogs anyway, unless they’re Slashdot, and everyone hates Slashdot, too. So I’m told.
I actually had to endure less security for this flight than I did during my last trip to Indiana. Go figure. But then I had to present a passport, and they scan that upon check-in, which no doubt pulls up any naughty things I’ve ever done. As long as I’m not bad enough, I guess they will continue to let me through. The stupid thing actually wouldn’t scan at their computer terminal for some reason. Brand new passport, wouldn’t scan. Figure that one out. On the fourth try it finally went through and they sent me on my way. They assured me my one and only checked suitcase–containing my clothes and other essentials–would be forwarded along to my connecting flight without me having to do anything. I know with some international flights this is not the case when you have a connection, so I at least made sure to ask.
Items of interest: in this terminal, there are no restaurants and I didn’t see any particularly interesting stores. What they do have is a Samuel Adams bar (with just alcohol, no food) and a duty free shop with alcohol, cosmetics, and cigarettes. All things which have just so much appeal for me, you know. I was thinking maybe I could get something to eat here but evidently that is a non-starter. I might wander back up the corridor and see if I missed a place with genuine food. Or I’ll get drunk. Who votes for drunk? That’s the spirit.
Unsurprisingly, most of the people in this terminal are Indian. In case you didn’t know, Jet Airways is an Indian airline. The name isn’t Indian so you might not pick up on it. There is also “India Air,” which I bet actually flies out of Malaysia or something, just to throw people off. But no, I have an Indian airline taking me from New Jersey to Belgium. Try to figure that one out. Not that I am complaining, since I got such a killer deal on the tickets, without which this trip would not have been possible. I stalked the prices for weeks and happened across a fare that was about half the normal rate. Just couldn’t pass that up.
The cab ride to the airport was uneventful, moreso than usual. Traffic was only bad along one a short stretch of a notoriously-lousy highway. The driver was young, possibly younger than me. Not very talkative, either. I like a cab driver who will chat you up a bit. He asked where I was going but beyond that he didn’t seem to care much, so I daydreamed and took in the architectural wonders of downtown Newark. (In case you’ve never been to Newark: that’s a joke. There isn’t much to look at, unless buildings with shattered windows and ubiquitous graffiti are your thing.)
I had no idea the whole check-in and security theater proces would take, but I got through everything in maybe 20 minutes. I think it might have taken less time than a domestic flight, somehow. I didn’t have as many people to wait for in the security line. I also “accidentally” left my belt on, and no one noticed. Whoops!
It occurs to me that this particular entry may not be very interesting since I have not actually seen anything interesting yet. But hey, maybe my prose is enjoyable enough on its own.
For the traveler who has never been to Newark Liberty Airport, it’s actually pretty damn nice once you get to the terminal area. Very clean, and there are pillars with electrical outlets so you can charge up your phone and/or laptop. You also get a sweet view of the flightline, if you are into that kind of thing, which I am.
If you arrive at the correct terminal to begin with, you will probably find EWR very easy to navigate. However, if you must go to another terminal (there are three), you’ll have to use the AirTram system. The AirTram itself is cool, but the connective tissue can be a little absurd. You might have to go upstairs and then downstairs and then upstairs again. Parts of the airport resemble a maze. This is really just a failing of the airport’s central facility. The terminals themselves are much more logically laid out, which is why I strongly recommend just hitting the proper terminal right off the bat. It is a nice airport, but I would say it’s not as nice as Indianapolis International. Indy’s airport is much newer, though, so that’s to be expected, right?
Given that I haven’t flown on anything besides short-hop commuter planes since the late ’90s, I’m interested to see what an Airbus A330 is like. I’ll be on the 200 model. From Brussels, I’ll be on a 737-800, I believe. My first flight is a window seat. I can hardly wait to see all that ocean. Oh yes. My second flight, however, is an aisle seat. I guess I get to enjoy the immense variety of economy-class flying. Bwahaha.
My next update will most likely be from Budapest. I have no idea if I will have Internet access in the Brussels airport. And even if I do, I’d rather be poking around the airport and the city while I have the opportunity than playing around on the computer. Nevertheless, I plan to put up a blog every couple days, minimum. Worst case, I will take down notes and compose the blog entries later. But they will come. And pictures! Yes, pictures. Everyone loves pictures.
So, until next time.
I started a new comic strip. It kinda sucks, but you can read it anyway.
Find it here: http://childproof.gorzek.com
Send hate mail. “Enjoy.”
A task I undertook a while back was typesetting my (still-upcoming) book, Shatternity: Origins. This post is not really about the book but rather the process of editing and typesetting it. For this article I will focus specifically on the use of styles.
Going in, I had no knowledge of typesetting. I’d taken word-processing courses over the years and I know my way around Word and OpenOffice. I can usually figure things out when I need to. However, I’d never taken a stab at typesetting a novel into a format appropriate for publishing. Since I intend to self-publish this volume (a separate article altogether), it was up to me to make sure the finished product was slick and professional. So, I am going to attack the various details that came up in the process of typesetting this book. I hope these tips are of use to you, the amateur typesetter and self-publisher.
To start with, I’ll assume you’re using version 3 of OpenOffice Writer. If you’re using Word, the same features should exist but will be in other places. If this article gets a decent amount of attention I might consider writing a Word version of it, too. In the meantime, though, let’s just go with OpenOffice. Now, on with the details!
Widows and Orphans
First, you need to know what widows and orphans are in a publishing context. A widow is what you call the final sentence of a paragraph when it reaches the following page, leaving part or all of that sentence by itself on the page. An orphan is the same basic idea but regards the opening sentence of a paragraph. Both of these are ugly and should be avoided. Luckily, OpenOffice provides a way to control this.
Before we go any further, you’ll need to know about OpenOffice’s style features. Instead of manually adjusting font sizes and formatting every time you want to do a chapter heading or a subtitle or body text, you should define styles. You should see a bar just above the ruler or a floating toolbox named “Styles and Formatting” with items named things like “Heading 1,” “Text body,” etc. Each of these is a style. If you don’t see the “Styles and Formatting” box, click the button all the way to the left of the style toolbar. This will bring up said box. Then, right-click one of the styles–preferably “Default”–and pick “Modify…” This brings up the “Paragraph Style” menu.
Next, click the tab marked “Text Flow.” You will see many options, but here we want to worry about “Orphan control” and “Widow control,” which are the two options at the bottom. Set both to at least 2 lines. That should be sufficient for avoiding orphans and widows. Note that you’ll still want to visually check your document for them later, in case any were missed, but this option will thwart most offenses.
Now that you’ve done a little bit of modification to a style, you’re probably interested in what else is possible. For the time being, make sure you’ve selected “Paragraph Styles” in the “Styles and Formatting” box. This is the button in the upper left with the traditional paragraph symbol on it. (There are styles for pages and other things, but we’ll only worry about paragraphs for now.) You can think of each style as a paragraph template. You can control numerous settings including the font, text size, kerning, indentation, alignment, hyphenation, drop caps, and many other options. For a no-frills novel, you’ll at least want to define styles for body text and chapter titles. To apply a style, simply select the text you want to style and then double-click the appropriate style in the “Styles and Formatting” box. You can define as many styles as you want, just keep in mind that any styles you’ll use for your body text should have widow and orphan control enabled.
While you should feel free to tweak styles to your liking, don’t get carried away turning on all the special effects and features. You want your book to have a clean, polished look, free of things that distract from what’s important: the actual text of your novel! For body text, use a sensible serif typeface with a point size of 10-14. For chapter titles and subtitles you can certainly be more expressive, just try to be consistent. There may also be times you want to use a special style for effect, such as a script font to represent the text of a written letter. These sorts of decisions are up to you but remember not to get carried away.
Good luck getting by without page numbers! But I’ll make it easy for you. Books in general have special requirements when it comes to page numbering, which include:
- Not numbering every page (such as the inside cover and title pages.)
- Skipping numbers on some pages (again, such as the inside cover and title pages.)
- Multiple numbering schemes (for instance, using Roman numerals for a preface and Arabic numerals for everything else.)
All these things can be taken care of without too much difficulty if you know where to look. It is not very obvious but you can find these things in the Insert menu, under Fields. First, however, you will need to work with styles again. This time, in the “Styles and Formatting” box, click the fourth button from the left, which looks like a page. This changes your view to consist of page styles rather than paragraph styles. You’ll need to create one page style for each page numbering scenario.
First, let’s create one for pages we don’t want to be numbered. In the “Styles and Formatting” box, right-click in an empty area and pick “New…” This will let you create a new style, naturally. The style dialog will come up. Name this style “Not Numbered.” Go to the “Page” tab and make sure “Page layout” is set to “Mirrored.” Click the “OK” button.
Now, let’s assume you have a preface or some other section you wish to number with Roman numerals. Create a new style and call it “Preface.” Go to the “Header” tab and check “Header On.” Go to the “Footer” tab and check both “Footer On” and “Same content left/right.” The latter option ensures that both left and right pages will be numbered. Go to the “Page” tab and make sure “Page layout” is set to “Mirrored.” Click the “OK” button.
Finally, let’s make our “normal” page style that will be used for the bulk of the book. Create one more style and call it “Default” or something easy to remember. Go to the “Header” tab and check “Header On.” Go to the “Footer” tab and check both “Footer On” and “Same content left/right.” Go to the “Page” tab and make sure “Page layout” is set to “Mirrored.” This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, there is a method to our madness. Click the “OK” button.
We are at last ready to style our book! We have three page styles to work with. Go to the very first page, then double-click “Not Numbered” in your “Styles and Formatting” box. This will apply the “Not Numbered” style to both the current page and all subsequent pages. Next, go to the last page before your preface. Go to “Insert” and click “Manual Break…” You want it to be a “Page break.” From the “Style” dropdown menu, pick “Preface.” All pages after this break will use the “Preface” style! Click the “OK” button.
You’ll want to insert page numbers into your preface now, right? Here’s where the fields come in. Click the footer box at the bottom of the first page of your preface. Click “Insert,” then “Fields,” then “Other…” Make sure you are on the “Document” tab and that you’ve selected the “Page” type. You’ll see that the center box has an option for “Page numbers.” Select that and then in the right box will be a list of page number formats. Pick whichever you prefer, then click “Insert.” For the duration of this page style, that type of numbering will be used. As a bonus, since you reset the style, the numbers will start from 1. Click “Close” once you’ve inserted your numbers.
Naturally, you don’t want Roman numerals on all your pages, just those of the preface. So, do what you did before: go to the last page of your preface, click after the end of its text but before the first page of the novel proper, and insert a manual break. Select “Default” or whatever you called your body text style from the “Style” dropdown. Once again, all subsequent pages will be assigned the new style. To insert page numbers, repeat the same drill with “Insert,” “Fields,” and “Other…” Once you’ve done this, you’ll have applied three distinct page styles: one without numbers, one with Roman numerals, and one with Arabic numerals. Good work!
It’s also customary to have your book’s title and your name as a header. Typically, the book’s title goes on the right-hand pages and your name goes on the left-hand pages. To insert these titles, click in the header box at the top of one the pages of your novel proper (not the title pages or preface) and type in your name or the title of the book. Since we’re not showing the same thing on the left and right pages, you’ll need to insert two headers: one with your name, and one with the book’s title. Once you have done that, the alternating name/title headers should appear on all subsequent pages. To get the cool “small capitals” effect normally used for these sorts of headers, create a new paragraph style and go to the “Font Effects” tab, selecting “Small capitals” from the “Effects” dropdown list. Apply this style to both the right and left headers! You need only do this once for each header for it to be applied to the rest of the book.
With the above items out of the way, we’ve taken care of styling the book. If there is a positive response to this article I will cover things like margins and gutters next, though those aren’t nearly as daunting as learning how to style!
It’s been quite some time since I posted anything. Does anyone even read this? Perhaps they would if I posted silly things about stuff. Oh dear. I will consider it.
Exactly a year ago today, I lost my job.
In so many ways, it was a first for me. I started working at this place–a software company–part-time while I was in college. The only other jobs I had in that period involved babysitting computer labs for minimum wage, and doing some consulting work for a CPA. Eventually, I left both of those for the sake of the software company, so I could work more hours there, but I was still considered an intern. The pay was better, and the work was more challenging and interesting.
Eventually, they picked me up full-time and put me on salary. It was a nice pay increase, and I got benefits, too. But, perhaps more important than that, they decided they liked me well enough that they didn’t want me to go anywhere. I enjoyed working there. I made friends. I learned a lot. The company had a strong culture of trust. You could walk to anyone else’s office, no matter where they were in relation to you on the org chart, and talk to them. The company felt like a family. They were understanding when my (then-future) wife was dealing with difficult medical issues that had me taking care of her instead of going to work. In general, they weren’t even that concerned at what times you were in the office, as long as you got your work done. Like I said: trust. They trusted you to do your work and put in the time they required.
One of my favorite stories from working there involves the new employee orientation. Mind you, this was while I was still an intern, and I’d only been there a month or two. Nobody knew who I was at that time. Most of the orientation was your typical “welcome to our company, this is how we do things” sort of presentation. I don’t recall it being very memorable. But for lunch, we went out to a nice hotel restaurant, and I ended up sitting at the table with the man who was the President and CEO of the company, not to mention one of the founders. I’m the sort of person whose instinctive reaction to “suits” is one of suspicion–that they’re putting on an act and would just as happily stab you in the back if it was good for the bottom line. But Wil was different. He spent most of lunch listening rather than talking, learning details about his new employees. We even talked about programming techniques for a while. There was no subject he wouldn’t discuss, and there was a kindness and integrity about him that I’ve seen in very few people over the years, especially those so high up the corporate ladder. Needless to say, he made a strong impression.
After lunch, we headed back to the office. I rode with one of the other Vice Presidents. I realized sometime later that I’d lost my keys somewhere–most likely in that same VP’s back seat. Now, VPs being such busy people, he was booked up in meetings for a while. So, I checked his schedule and went to wait by his office around the time his last meeting was set to end. Meetings being meetings, it apparently went long–he didn’t come to his office, in any case. Along came Wil, who had probably just gotten out of a meeting himself. He remembered my name, asked me if I was looking for someone, and I explained the situation. “Well, let’s go find him!” he said.
And that’s what we did. We went to the meeting where the VP was, who gave us his keys so I could go get my keys. I retrieved them, handed the other keys back to Wil, and thanked him for taking the time out to help me. It certainly wasn’t something I would have asked him to do. But that incident always stuck out in my mind as exemplary of him, someone who would always take the time out to help someone, even if it’s with something trivial.
Time passed, the company grew to over 500 employees, and I got immersed more and more in their development processes and tools. Version control became my specialty, which turns out to be quite a complex and interesting task when you have over a hundred developers to worry about. They all want to code their own way, and they absolutely do not want to be hampered or slowed down. Yet, for an effective version control system, you must require certain steps at certain times, and people have to follow the procedure in order for the process to work. All in all, it was a highly educational experience and I’m confident those skills will serve me well for the rest of my career.
The company, for various reasons, ran into financial trouble. Though every quarterly meeting we were told the company “didn’t make budget,” the blow was softened by the numbers. It looked like cash flow was decent, that the company was turning a profit, even if it wasn’t as big as the owners (a private investment firm) wanted. But things got worse and worse. A fair number of the Vice Presidents and Directors were trimmed, and there were several small layoffs–no more than 20 or so at a time, so none of them seemed dire.
It was determined that what the company lacked was strong leadership. Not that Wil was a poor leader, but that in dividing his time between duties as President and CEO, he more often neglected the CEO part and delegated the day-to-day operations of the company to others. However you’d like to explain it, the point was simple: insufficient executive leadership let the company get pulled into too many directions, and led to declining profits and eventually, losses.
A new CEO was brought in, a man who had a reputation for coming into trouble companies and making them profitable again. I had kind of a weird impression of him, at first. He had a larger-than-life personality, a definite presence that was felt when he walked into a room. He wasn’t the same kind of guy as Wil, that much was certain, but I didn’t know if that was good or bad. You need a different skill set to run a company than you need to hobnob with customers and investors. So, I was willing to give him a chance.
He said he would “transform” the company, and in fact laid out a 90-day timeline for doing just that. Those 90 days would be spent identifying the company’s problems, working out a plan for solving them, and then beginning to enact that plan. Nothing that would take longer than a year would be on the table. The company needed results now, not in 5 years.
Teams were formed to carry out the information gathering. There was some shuffling done at the executive level again. I wasn’t really involved with the transformation, but I kept my ears open to hear what was going on, and it sounded like a lot of issues had been spotted and some new sources of revenue were proposed–many of which were lines of income we had at our disposal, but simply hadn’t exploited yet.
On December 4th, 2008, when the transformation was close to completion, there was a large reduction in force. I was unaware it was even happening, since I was too busy doing my work. Around 11AM, my boss came by and asked if I had a moment. He led me to one of the computer labs near the front of the building–secluded, I realized–and sitting in that room was the VP of the Quality department. I knew this was bad, considering I rarely saw her. I figured out what was happening before she got too far into her explanation. I went numb. I’d been at this company for seven years, and this was how it would end? A little talk, an envelope with a severance agreement in it, and then out the door?
I’d never been let go from a job. The decision to leave had always been mine, and I thought I was valuable enough to this company that they wouldn’t shuffle me out the door. But when it came time to cut costs, how valuable you were to the company didn’t factor into it that much. It was all about how much you cost the company, in terms of salary and benefits. No matter how good your work was, no matter how much time you put in, if they felt you were too heavy on the “expense” side of things, you were gone. They cut people they needed, but they had little other choice. One hundred and twenty-six people lost their jobs that day, out of a company that had around 450 employees at that time.
About a week later, my wife found out she was pregnant. That news didn’t go over so well with me, since I was unemployed and panicked about how we’d survive, much less take care of a new kid. But I buckled down and did what I had to. The company hired an outplacement service, which sounds like they help you find a new job, but it’s more indirect than that. What they actually did was help us build our resumes, polish our interviewing skills, and get lists of potential employers and recruiting agencies. They were a big help, but it was only the first step.
After getting a new resume put together, I signed up with several job sites, hooked up with recruiters, and started applying and interviewing. Several jobs fell through. Some of them, I thought I was perfect for, and even the interviewers seemed impressed, but it was not to be. This was late 2008, early 2009, and employers quite simply could afford to be as picky as they wanted. With so many workers coming back into the market, having lost their jobs, there was a multitude to choose from. There was no sense in picking someone who didn’t have the exact skill set you wanted, and then some!
Nevertheless, I tried to carry on with my job search, knowing that even when I did my absolute best in an interview, factors outside that could cost me the position. I did decide I would be willing to relocate, but that my family would remain in Indiana. I could live very cheaply on my own and still be able to support my family without uprooting them. Hardly an ideal situation, but then those are the choices you’re left with, sometimes.
In late January, I interviewed with a software company in New Jersey. They reminded me in many ways of the company I worked at before, as it might have been ten or fifteen years earlier. Small and agile, with a lot of bright people putting their expertise together. My wife and I flew out so I could interview, and it went very well. Once we got back, though, I didn’t get my hopes up–anything was possible and I didn’t want to get my heart set on any particular job, knowing it could fall through.
The week after we got back, however, I got a phone call from the recruiter that first got me involved with this company. They made an offer, I went over it, and then I accepted. I made arrangements for a place to live, and a couple weeks later I was living in New Jersey. I started work, sunk myself into the company’s atmosphere, and have since made the best of the situation.
I enjoy my new job, though I don’t like being away from my family. I make it back to visit when I can. Given how soft the market remains, I don’t have any plans to return to Indiana in the foreseeable future. This is a good job and I intend to keep it for a while. It does amaze me, though, how different my life is from a year ago. Looking back on it, I’m glad I was let go from my last employer. I’ve had so many new experiences since that happened, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. While my present circumstances are less than ideal, they are a fair sight better than being jobless, or working for a company where the entire culture and philosophy has changed, in my opinion, for the worse.
Having gone through a layoff, RIF, whatever you want to call it, though, I can honestly say I’d never want to experience one again. One per lifetime is enough for me.
I’ve been very remiss about updating this. Mostly, I’ve been working on my book. It has been edited, typeset, has supplemental material, and now only lacks a cover–which I am working on.
I am going on vacation next week, too, so updates will be sporadic for a while. Once I have the book in the can and I’m not on vacation, however, things should pick up once more.
I’ll try to throw in a few more bits from the archive this week, though, if I can manage it.