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June 23, 2003

Reader Request Wrapup

Thanks everybody for sending in the reader request questions. I had a lot of fun catering to your whims, and I think it's something we should do again real soon. In fact, I urge you all to remember there's no need to stand on ceremony -- anytime you want to send me a topic just go right ahead. It saves me the trouble of thinking up something on my own, and you know how much I appreciate other people thinking for me.

As a wrapup for the week, here are short answers to a bunch of reader requests I didn't get to last week.

I'd like to hear what John thinks of the remainder of the upcoming summer movie season, and which flicks he thinks are gonna be actually good.

There's not a lot out there that really trips my trigger, and quite a few -- say, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Bad Boys II, and Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, which I expect to be excruciating. I have a passing interest in the following: Terminator 3, 28 Days Later, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And while I like animation, I have almost no interest in Sinbad. This is partly because of what has developed as Dreamworks' default traditional animation style, which is high on craft but just seems so fussy. This is one of the reasons why computer animation is kicking traditional animation's tail in the movie theaters recently: Traditional animation seems to want to call attention to how gorgeous its process is, while nearly all the computer animated movies have great stories. Stories win.

For reasons I don't fully comprehend, I'm somewhat homesick, so could you talk about your adventures at the University of Chicago?

Heh. Well, here are some tantalizing bits from my University of Chicago history:

1. There was the time I took a class in Joseph Conrad and attended exactly two of the actual class sessions (the first and the last one) and didn't read any of the books until the night before the final, during which time I read roughly 2000 pages of Joesph Conrad in less than 24 hours. And as it happened, the final was completely passage identification -- that is, name the book from which a particular passage was from. I aced it. I rock.

2. Then again, there was the time I actually lived the student nightmare: I was sitting in my pal Darnell's room and said to him that I had a statistics final in an hour, and he said, well, Heather (a friend of ours) went to her stat final an hour ago, and isn't she in your class? At which time I said, Hmmm, maybe I should check that out, and so I went to find my entire class an hour into the statistics final. I rarely attended that class either, but unfortunately, you can't BS in stat like you can in Conrad. Needless to say, I failed the final, and failed the class. I suck.

3. There's the fact that I founded a right-wing publication at the University of Chicago, which, if you remember how much I loathe most right-winginess, is really amusing. What happened was there was this left-wing section of the newspaper which had been given rather too much autonomy from the rest of the paper and used the power basically to be assholes in a parliamentary and procedural sense (it wasn't about their lefty politics, it was about them trying to run the newspaper from the confines of their cadre). So when I became editor, to cut a long story short, I gave them the choice of either giving half their pages to a conservative section or being tossed out the paper entirely. They realized that there was no way a basically marxist newspaper insert would ever get the advertising necessary to survive, so they gave in. Enter a bunch of young conservatives, for whom I was ironically a hero. So in one swoop I both crushed my opposition on the staff and brought in new people intensely loyal to me. Aren't I the Machiavellian one (bear in mind this is just my version of events -- other versions undoubtedly have me in a much worse light. Or would, had I not killed all those who opposed me and sunk them into lake Michigan! Hmmm, maybe I should just stop talking about this now).

4. There was the time I interviewed Sonic Youth for the school newspaper, and Kim Gordon kept staring at me and saying, between bowls of pot, "I know you, man. I know we met somewhere before." Kim Gordon is way super cool, but I have to tell you, she was freaking me out.

That's enough U of C stories for the moment.

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on the subject of tracking where sex offenders live and the publicizing of that fact to neighbors, non-neighbors and employers/potential employers and the general public.

Well, true child molesters -- the ones who are actually fixated on children, and not on well-developed 14-year-old girls who they swear told them she was 18 -- I think are unlikely ever to stop having their particular affliction; it's psychological and therefore different than the guy who opportunistically robs the Circle K. The latter is something you can get over, the former isn't. So I think child molesters are very likely to abuse again; because of the nature of their sickness, from a practical sense as a parent I would want to know when someone with the sort of sickness moved into my neighborhood, and as an employer I would want to know, especially if I was hiring for a position that would put the guy in the path of children.

On the other hand, having the desire is not the same as following through on it; and if the offender has done his time and is not offending again, he should be able to live and work in peace. So I don't know where the line is. I suppose that if I found a convicted sex offender had moved into my neighborhood, I'd go to his house, tell him I was aware of his history and that I would assume he's making the attempt to control himself, so we'll treat him with the same respect we treat any of the neighbors, with the caveat that if he ever comes within a 40-foot radius of my child, I'll beat him to death with the flat of a shovel. I think that strikes the balance of civility and personal responsibility for my kid.

I'd like to know your take on "mainstream media." Too corporate? Too sold out? Too liberal? Too conservative? etc. And along those lines, since you are encouraging independent thought, according to your T-Shirt, what is your take on independent media and its role?

The mainstream media is largely neither conservative nor liberal; it's self-interested, and it always has been. In this era, this self-interest has not been especially good for readers, due to the business of consolidation, but I'm always an optimist. I think things will eventually swing in the other direction -- if not with the large media corporations breaking up then at least them realizing that their bottom lines will be better with more aggressive reporting of events in the world. As for independent media -- it's just tomorrow's mainstream media today. The New Yorker magazine was pretty radical in its day, you know.

Monogamy, Facial Hair, and the Yankees. In no particular order :)

Monogamy has done well by me so far. Your mileage may vary. I'm currently sporting facial hair, so I guess I'm for it, but it's also scratching the hell out of me and I'm planning to shave it off, so I guess I'm also against it. I am reflexively against the Yankees (I'm from LA and a default Dodger fan), but just like anyone I enjoy watching a lot of good athletes work together as a team, and the Yankees do that more often than not.

Clowns: Scary or funny?

Scary. I mean, yeeesh.

The relationship between violence in media and violence in those who experience the media. Do violent video games and movies create violent people?

I'm typically of the opinion that simulated violence creates as many violent people as simulated sex creates babies. Actual sex is required for babies; actual violence is required for violence. Statistically speaking today is far less violent time in which to live than nearly any era you could choose that did not have either video games or films. Or to put it another way, over there in Africa, they're currently butchering the hell out of each other in a mad rush to genocide. How many of them have are going to be able to use Grand Theft Auto as an excuse? Yes, a wildly unstable person can be triggered by violence in games and movies. But then, a wildly unstable person can be triggered by a lot of things. It's inherent in the phrase "wildly unstable."

You could also write about how science is nothing more than a hole-riddled fairy tale of how man aspires to become a god.

I could, but I don't think it's true. I think aside from a few megalomaniacs, most scientists have no interest in being God, they just want to know how things work.

Sometimes I feel like a major evolution in computing must be coming. It seems like people need a faster way of getting info in and out of the personal computer. The extinction of the mouse? The extinction of the keyboard? Expound on technology and timeframes if you find that at all interesting.

I actually think the keyboard is a pretty decent information retrieval metaphor, so I don't think it's going to go away soon; it's gong to be with us, in one form or another, for a while (I also think it's pretty essential to writing, which is a fundamentally different from of communication than speaking, but I won't get into that now). I think the mouse may eventually go extinct as touch sensitive screens become more of the norm, but I also think they're here for some time, either as a primary or secondary input device. To be entirely honest, I think the one part of the computer that's due for the biggest change is the monitor. I personally can't wait for the day that the big-ass monitor on my desk is replaced with a pair of non-dorky-looking glasses which feature a computer screen superimposed on my field of view. I mean, how cool will that be? Drop the monitor, and suddenly full-function computers can get really tiny. I figure within 10 years we'll see people walking around with their computers just like they walk around with their cell phones. I'm all for this. I want to do more computing outside.

Raising children. And how to do it without going utterly insane when your 2 year old is more stubborn than you are.

Well, in the old days, that's when the spanking would come in. But we don't do that so much anymore.

We still had Athena's crib up when she was two, so during those times she was feeling more stubborn than we were, we'd put her in it and let her be more stubborn than us by her lonesome. It was a fairly successful tactic, and overall she's not been deeply psychologically damaged. I don't think it's useful to fly off the handle at toddlers -- they're not mentally or emotionally equipped to handle it -- but I think it's perfectly all right to let them know when they're being exasperating and to let them know there are repercussions for that.

You've used a number of posts to debunk the arguments of creationists. I'd love to see a single post that covers all the major arguments and why you think they're wrong.

Good lord. I don't have time for that. Go here.

A science fiction writer and a tech evangelist? I'd like to hear you expound on NASA and the future of space exploration. Is the shuttle program done? Is a space elevator practical? How long until we start making practical/profitable use of space (mining asteroids, colonizing, exploring Mars, etc)?

I don't know if "practical" is really the right goal. The problem with NASA is that we're basically running it as a business and not as a mission. Getting to the moon in under a decade didn't happen because it was practical; it happened because we thought it would be cool (and to stick it to the Russians). Likewise, if we wait to get to Mars until we develop the technology, we'll simply never get there. What we should do is say: We're going to be on Mars in 2020, and we're going to do what it takes to get there. Make it a big ol' financial sinkhole, develop a lot of really exciting technology, use the technology we already have in new ways, and just do it, for God's sake. I want someone to go to Mars before I die. Really, it's not too much to ask for.

Re: Space elevators -- I use one in my Old Man's War novel, but in real life I don't know how practical they are. It'd be another one of those "let's build and then think up uses for it" sort of things.

I hang out on your site quite a bit and probably post more comments here then I do on most others. What I'd like to here is how you feel about your readers?

I like them, quite obviously. I do like the fact that the site seems to attract a pretty big range of people, and that people want to be engaged in the writing here. I do notice that a number of people here post regularly; when I talk about the site to other people, I note that I seem to have developed my own "usual gang of idiots," to borrow a phrase from Mad magazine. Most everyone who posts here seems both intelligent and civilized and there have been some really interesting back and forth debates. How much of that is due to my calm and insightful leadership is (highly) debatable, but I'm glad that's how it's worked out.

So thanks for reading, thanks for posting, and thanks for being part of what I do here.

Posted by john at June 23, 2003 08:02 AM

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_Jon | June 23, 2003 08:56 AM

You didn't answer MY question - what's your addy so i can come down there and flog you with an organically grown carrot? :)

Tom | June 23, 2003 09:08 AM

my goodness

Bill Peschel | June 23, 2003 12:32 PM

And don't forget to tip the waitress!

*rim shot*

Jim | June 23, 2003 01:57 PM

"The relationship between violence in media and violence in those who experience the media. Do violent video games and movies create violent people?"

Excellent answer; one paragraph that says it better than so many who have bloviated on and on about it. (So who is it that smuggled all those GTA games into Africa?)