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June 30, 2004

Pamie's Book Drive 2004 -- Give, Damn You!

I mentioned this over at By The Way, but I realize that some of you who read the Whatever don't go to By The Way for some unfathomable reason, so:

Pamie had fine success last year convincing her readers to participate in her book drive for the Oakland public libraries -- they ended up contributing more then 650 books -- and so this year she's doing it again, with several San Diego-area libraries as the lucky book recipients.

Pamie wants you to pitch in and donate a book, and, well, so do I. Pamie writes about it here; the entry includes links to Amazon wish lists set up by the libraries, so you can have the book donation go directly from Amazon to the library. Make sure you let Pamie know about it so she can note the donation on her shiny new Book Drive Blog.

So donate a book (or two! They're small), and put your own link to Pamie's drive on your blog and/or Journal. The gods of literacy will smile upon you. Also, you'll be working to reduce the number of clueless near-illiterate bottom-draggers in our world, and that's always a good thing.

Posted by john at 09:54 AM | TrackBack

June 29, 2004

She's the Rocket Man

Athena serves notice that should Elton John ever collapse on stage, she is ready to leap up and take his place. And a grateful world sleeps easier tonight.

Also, before you ask: No, we don't dress her this way. She's her own costume designer, baby.

Posted by john at 11:11 AM | TrackBack

June 28, 2004

Stating What Should Have Been the Obvious

"A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."

Thank you, Supreme Court of the United States of America.

Some excellent commentary at SCOTUSblog.

Posted by john at 05:43 PM | TrackBack

Dust Jacket

The dust jacket to Old Man's War, which the fine folks at Tor sent along to me over the weekend. I wrote in detail about it over at By The Way, so I won't replicate efforts here, but I will say it's got some nice blurbs on it by Cory Doctorow, Ken MacLeod and Robert Charles Wilson, all writers whose work I dig. So the next time I see them (which in the case of Mr. MacLeod and Mr. Wilson would also be the first time I see them), they're gettin' a couple rounds on me.

Update: Requests for a high-res version of the picture so people can read the flap copy. Here it is -- which, by the way, I did not write but like very much, so whoever did also gets beer:

John Perry did two things on his seventy-fifth birthday. First he visited his wife's grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets that are fit to live on are scarce -- and aliens willing to fight for them are common. The universe, it turns out, is a hostile place.

So: We fight. To defend Earth (a target for our new enemies, should we let them get close enough), and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has gone on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity's resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Forces, which shield the home planet from too much knowledge of the situation. What's known to everybody is that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don't want young people, they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living.

You'll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You'll serve your time at the front. And if you survive, you'll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine -- and what he will become is far stranger.

Not bad, eh?

Posted by john at 08:39 AM | TrackBack

June 25, 2004

Goin' Photo Through the Fifth

I've got a heap of writing to do on the Book of the Dumb 2 and some preliminary research to get underway for the Science Fiction Film books, so through July 5th, I'll be switching formats here: Instead of my usual meandering blatherations (which take time to write), each week day I'll post a picture that I've snapped, and maybe (very small) accompanying text (also possibly on the weekends). So while I will not be droning on in by usual way, those of you who sort of click over in the next week by sheer force of habit will still have something to look at. Because, you know, I care.

Also, of course, regular blatheration will continue at By The Way, on account they pay me over there.

See you back in full force on the 5th: Remember not to blow off any of your fingers with fireworks on the 4th. Have a great week.

Oh, and your first photo, from sunset a couple of days ago:

Posted by john at 01:10 PM | TrackBack

June 24, 2004

A Little Libel

Todd Pierce, the Clemson professor I wrote about last month (here and here) who provided spectacularly bad advice to writers, has stuck his foot in it again, and in an interesting fashion. As a preface, know that Tor editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden savaged Pierce's "advice" here, particularly his advice to new writers to lie about their professional credits on cover letters (he's since amended it, but you can see an unredacted version here), and then in a separate entry wondered if Mr. Pierce had not taken his own advice with his professional credentials. TNH's crowd of enthusiastic admirers ran with the ball, making fun of Mr. Pierce all down the comment thread.

The thread lay dormant for a month or so until yesterday, when Mr. Pierce showed up, read the accumulated posts, was appalled that everyone was so mean to him and then promptly threatened TNH with a libel suit. What follows from there isn't pretty, mostly people (including myself) trying to explain to Mr. Pierce that people saying mean things about you does not actually equate to libel in the United States -- it is famously tough to prove libel in the US, for reasons relating to that pesky First Amendment of ours -- and suggesting to Mr. Pierce that if one does not wish to have one's publishing credentials openly questioned, perhaps one ought not be on record advising others to lie about their credentials. After all, when I give people writing advice, I tend to base it upon what has worked for me in the past, and I suspect most other writers do the same.

I believe we may have talked Mr. Pierce down from filing a libel suit, but given his comments in the thread, I still suspect Mr. Pierce isn't entirely clear why other people in the thread don't seem to support his position that he's the victim here. This is of course his own karma, and while in some respects I sympathize with the man -- one suspects this is his first exposure to a comment thread pile-on, in which enthusiasts of a person's blog form a line behind the blogger to get their kicks in, and TNH's enthusiasts are both smarter and meaner than the average blogger's -- in other respects I really don't sympathize at all. Fundamentally, he doesn't seem to get why working writers and editors are offended and appalled at the suggestion that one ought to lie about one's credentials to get work. And while I admit that it's probably more satisfying to posit the existence of a sinister cabal bent on destroying one's career than to actually examine the root cause of these folks' agitation (i.e., one's own really bad "advice" to writers), in the end Mr. Pierce would be better off doing the latter.

Also, from a purely rhetorical point of view, Mr. Pierce argues poorly: He makes easily refutable statements of some facts, does not seem in command of other facts (for example, he confuses slander with libel, which is not an encouraging thing when one is threatening a suit based on one or the other), and tries to use emotional appeals to support what he feels are facts (i.e., he feels that what TNH has done to him is wrong, therefore it should be clear that she has committed libel). He gets thrashed, and none to kindly. Again, it's easy to feel sorry for the guy. But then again, it's not like he's some 15-year-old comment board geek over his head in his first flame war; he is a professor of English at a major university. He ought to be able to argue clearly and for God's sake know the difference between slander and libel.

In any event, for people interested in how not to defend oneself in a comment thread full of smart people with little patience for rank silliness, this is good reading. Start here and just scroll on down.

Now, aside from Mr. Pierce's beatdown, he does bring up an interesting question: When can someone say he's been libeled? After all, Mr. Pierce does believe he's been libeled (or slandered, which apparently to his mind is the same thing). He hasn't been, but when could one say one is?

Bear in mind with what follows that I am not a lawyer. However, I have been a writer for newspapers and magazines for years, and as an editor I had to keep an eye out for potentially libelous material. In short, I have a reasonably good grip on what constitutes libel.

Now then: Let's say that one day I'm wondering around the Web, like you do, and I come across the following tidbit on someone's blog:

John Scalzi is crack-smoking cat sodomizer. It's true. I've seen the pictures.

Naturally, I am outraged. How dare someone suggest I sodomize my cat while smoking crack! It's time to lawyer up! Or is it? There are questions to ask:

1. Is it true? I mean, if I actually do sodomize my cat and smoke crack, then I have no grounds to claim libel. I probably wouldn't want people to know about my feline-violating, drug-huffing predilections, because it will make for a lot of awkward conversational pauses at parties and would probably keep me from being confirmed by the Senate for any really interesting government posts. But if in fact I do those things, I have no recourse. But let's say that indeed, my urine runs clean and my cat runs without sexually-originated hip dysplasia. Next question:

2. Is my accuser aware that he's spreading untruths? If in fact I don't sodomize my cat or smoke crack, clearly there are no actual pictures of me doing either. If my accuser hasn't actually seen the pictures but says he has, we've cleared another hurdle for libel. On the other hand, if for some reason someone has gotten creative with Photoshop and ginned up fake pictures of me, my cat and a crack pipe, and then my accuser sees them and believes them to be real, then although he's wrong he probably hasn't committed libel (if he created the pictures and purports them to be real, then we're back into libel country).

3. Is my accuser's intent malicious? If my accuser is a member of PETA and has been shocked by the faked Photoshop pictures of me cornholing my cat, then one might reasonably argue that he's accused me out of genuine concern for the poor feline who is the object of my unwanted attentions. That's not libel. On the other hand, if the accuser hates my friggin' guts and wants nothing more than for me to die bastard die, then libel is back in business. Clearly, it would be good for me if the URL this accusation resides at is something like www.scalzisucks.com.

4. Have I been materially affected by the accusation? If someone says I'm an enthusiastic ravisher of animals, and yet my wife stays with me, my family and friends shrug it off and my employers chalk it up to the Web being the Web, then I don't have much of a case. But, if I was about to sign a contract on a book on cats, and the publisher rescinded the offer on the basis of the rumor I love cats too much, and a concern that the cats I don't penetrate I'll sell for drugs, then yes, I have a case. I also probably have a case if my wife leaves, my kid is picked up by Child Protective Services and all my friends stop returning my phone calls.

Note that for a really good libel case, all of these have to be in effect. And that's for private individuals -- which is to say, normal people with normal lives. If for some reason I'm judged to be a public figure (say, due to my extremely low-bore celebrity via the Web and my published work), then I have fewer libel protections. Note also that if the information is expressed as opinion (i.e., "I believe John Scalzi sodomizes cats and smokes crack. I've heard rumors of photos that show this"), I'm out of luck. I'm also out of luck if the language used is "heated" ("Goddamn motherfucking John Scalzi likes to poke his fucking cat with his tiny little meat and then shove a crack rock the size of a fuckin' rat into his crappy tinfoil pipe and suck on it like a Hoover on the overload setting") or if the work is satire ("Scalzi the Crack Smoking Cat Violator: A Musical Play in Three Acts").

And what do I get for it being so hard to prove I was wronged? Well, here in the US we have really excellent freedom to say what we want without worrying that opening our mouths to express an opinion will get us hauled into court -- or into jail. Let's also note, by the way, that stricter libel laws don't actually mean that less libel happens; the United Kingdom has far stricter libel laws than the US but the UK press is just vile when it comes to rumors. Given a choice, I'll personally take a little less protection against libel for a little more protection of free speech.

For the record: I don't smoke crack and I don't violate my cat, and no pictures exist of me doing either. Although if someone whomps up something in Photoshop, be sure to send me a copy. I could use a laugh.

Update, 3:47pm: Well, that didn't take long. Note this link is so not safe for work. And yes, I laughed. A lot. Blame this guy.

Posted by john at 11:25 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 23, 2004

Double Whammy

As I left on vacation in May I hinted that when I got back I'd have some exciting news, and then I left you all hanging for two and a half weeks. Well, I had my reasons for that, but as it turns out a happy coincidence will give that wait an even bigger payoff. Ready? Here we go.

I'm going to be writing a new book for Rough Guides, one that, as it happens, is rather well-suited for me: The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film. Basically the book will be a quick, informative and critical overview of the genre, from Le Voyage Dans La Lune in 1902 through to this year's summer SF blockbusters, with long looks at science fiction in world cinema and SF's technological and thematic influences in other film genres. At the heart of the book will be a canonical list of the 50 most significant science fiction films. In addition to dishing out a lot of historical perspective, I'll also be putting on my critic's hat to talk about the "canonical" films as well as others, and I can tell you now that I plan to be, well, critical. In short, in additional to being genuinely useful and interesting to read, I think it's going to be a lot of fun to read, too.

This is a book for which I feel I'm uniquely well-suited, since I am both a professional film critic and a professional science fiction writer -- I can come to the topic from both directions. And of course, I'm also opinionated about science fiction and about films. So in all I expect to have a big fat ball of fun writing up this book. I've held off announcing it since there were some contractual issues to hammer through, but the contracts are finally off to my non-fiction agent, so basically it's a done deal.

But wait, there's more. As I got word from Rough Guides that the contract is on its way, the fine folks at Tor let me know they thought a sequel to Old Man's War was in order. So, you know, I'll be doing that too. It's tentatively titled The Ghost Brigades. My fiction agent is on the case with that right now; its status is somewhat less determined than the SF Film book, but I feel comfortable enough with my working relationship with Tor to make mention of it now.

As you may imagine, I'm very excited about this, too, and not just because I get paid to write another novel. The fact Tor wants a sequel implies that they plan to make a big enough push with OMW to justify having a sequel ready to go; in other words, I figure it bodes well. I'm in the process of sketching out plot details to Ghost Brigades as we speak -- I have no details for you other than to say that I pretty much intend to make this a book that's a companion to OMW rather than a direct sequel. This is to say: Same universe, (mostly) different characters, and you'll be able to read it and enjoy it fully without having read OMW first. I see enough "third book in a series" tomes sitting alone on my local bookstore shelf to know that you want to make it easy for your potential reader to enter the universe you've created with any book in the series, not just the first one.

So, there you have it: Two more books in the pipeline, which makes a total of five (!), two and a half of which are complete (Book of the Dumb 2! Comes out in October! Preorder now!), and two and a half to come. Which means I get to call myself an author at least through 2006. Can't beat that with a stick.

Posted by john at 01:22 PM | TrackBack

Demon Seed GMail Winners

Here are the winners I've selected for gmail accounts. For context, once again, the picture of poor, possessed Athena:

Winner #1: Lee Newberry

Ever wake up with that not-so-fresh feeling? Hundreds(1) of decent, hardworking Americans are afflicted with the minions of Beelzebub each year. The only source of professional strength exorcisms is from poorly-credentialed traveling evangelists or costly and demanding Catholic priests.

Until now.

Introducing Demon-eze, a powerful new form of relief in one tiny pill. No more disruptive exorcisms from flaky ministers or self-righteous priests. One pill and you`ll be Satan`s plaything no more. And with virtually no(2) side-effects, there`s no reason not to talk to your spiritual counsellor today.

Demon-eze. It gets the red out.

(1)Information provided by Oral Bill`s Hour of Power.
(2)Minor side effects include fever, headache, head spinning, spider walking, destructive telekenesis, vomiting, public urination, self-flagellation, glossolalia, getting the uglies, and spontaneous flight.


Winner #2: Jess

Medusa visits sweet revenge upon the Goddess Athena by stealing her conditioner.


Winner #3: Scott Lynch

Nostril-sized infrared flashlight: $12.99

Visit to the emergency room: $112.50

The look on your wife's face when you explain what her daughter accidentally shoved into her sinus cavity today: Priceless.

Thanks to everyone for playing (again). I'm sure I'll have more gmail accounts to pass around soon.

Posted by john at 11:19 AM | TrackBack

June 22, 2004

Lollapalooza Is Dead and I Don't Feel Too Good Myself

Seems like this year's Lollapalooza done got itself canceled, thanks to low ticket sales, or, as the site's self-pitying comment on the matter states it:

Even with what has been touted as the best line-up since its inception in 1991, with such eclectic and respected artists as Morrissey, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, and The Flaming Lips, among others, and the most competitive ticket prices in the marketplace for a tour this size, it was not enough to counter the weak economic state of this year's summer touring season.

Oh, come on. I love me the Lollapalooza -- I went to the first one and, uh, the fifth one, I think -- but this year's version was doomed from the start. Here's a hint for all you future rock tour managers: If you get the bright idea to do a music package tour, don't make it a two-day event filled with bands whose fans are in their 30s; you know, the people who now have families and lives and full-time jobs with benefits that they can't blow off for two days running to stand in the middle of a friggin' stadium with a cup of warm beer without getting fired.

I mean for God's sake, look at this lineup: Morrissey. Wilco. PJ Harvey. The Flaming Lips. This isn't a Lollapalooza, it's Morning Becomes Eclectic on a Bus. The only people under 25 who would go this concert are indie record store clerks, and those few of that species who have survived iTunes can barely fill a bar for a weekend concert by Death Cab for Cutie.

I don't want to run down my own generation here, but despite the Gen-X belief that as long as we remain ironic and detached we will never grow old, the fact is, we're all grown-ups now. Kids. Mortgages. Jobs what got 401(k)s. We're not a festival crowd anymore, and especially not when the festival takes up two days in the middle of the work week. I mean, just about the only person I know who could do it is me, and I have better things to do with my time than to hang around an amphitheater a couple days running.

I don't want to stop listening to good music, mind you. I just don't want to have to bake in grass (a phrase with more than one meaning) to do it. And I suspect I'm not alone on this one. Which does make me wonder what sort of drugs the Lollapalooza folks were taking when they decided to make this line-up a two day festival; whatever they were, it's probably good to get blitzed on, but not so good to make coherent business plans with. These folks need to get with reality, or at least some with Gen-X people with kids and real jobs.

Posted by john at 03:14 PM | TrackBack

JournalCon 2004

I've been asked to sit on a panel at JournalCon 2004 -- naturally enough, on writing journals and also writing professionally -- and I said yes, so all y'all who are going to JournalCon this year will see me there, and all y'all who don't have anything to do on August 20-22, well, now you know where I'll be, at least. Then about two weeks later I'll be at Noreascon 4, so I guess you can call this my Geekout Tour. This will be my third JournalCon (I tend to skip years), and all I can say is: There damn well better be karaoke.

Posted by john at 09:38 AM | TrackBack

June 21, 2004

More Than You Ever Wanted to See

In lieu of doing the work I'm supposed to be doing, I've been fiddling with my camera and QuickTime Pro. Here's the result: A tour of my office. It's a 1.78 MB file, trimmed down from 29.1 MB because, honestly, who in their right mind would download 30 megs of me blathering on about the possessions in my work space? Even I wouldn't do that. But less than two megs? Hell, that's doable even on dial-up. But for all you people who wonder what I sound like and just how extensive the mess in my office is, the answers await.

Posted by john at 05:36 PM | TrackBack

They're Everywhere!

An interesting article, care of the Boston Globe: A list of the different occupations listed on marriage certificates of gays and lesbians in Massachusetts the first week same-sex marriages were legal, from acceptance tester (an oddly appropriate job title, that) through youth worker (no zoologists, apparently). It may possibly be instructive to anyone who still believes gay marriage isn't about people in the mainstream of American life. As the Sesame Street taught us, these are the people that you meet in your neighborhood; the people that you meet, when you're walking down the street, they're the people that you meet each day.

Posted by john at 12:50 AM | TrackBack

Cutest. Demon Seed. Ever -- A GMail Contest

Three invitations to GMail await those who provide a suitably amusing caption to go with this picture of Athena:

Contest runs until noon Tuesday. Of course, feel free to contribute even if you already have/don't want a GMail account.

Posted by john at 12:35 AM | TrackBack

June 20, 2004

Fashionably Liberal or Not

In the comments for Conservative = Moral Relativist? Ed writes:

You run a great site, your columns make me laugh, and I plan on buying Old Man's War as soon as it is available in stores.

However, I have an observation to make in regard to your political writings. I have been following your columns for more than a year now, and I notice a distinctive trend.

Your positions always seem to fall into the fashionably liberal camp: gay marriage is great; Reagan was a senile warmonger; Bush is an idiot, etc., etc...

I'm not saying that you are right or wrong in all of your positions, but rather that you have become predictable concerning political matters.

I posted a response in the comment thread, but I thought I'd comment about it more visibly. First, and most trivially, I don't know if Ed's assessment is entirely factually correct. I am of course famously for gay marriage. However, Reagan's senility was a matter of medical fact rather than opinion (I believe it probably hit rather earlier than it was diagnosed), but I don't recall saying he was a warmonger. Indeed, were he really a warmonger, he'd've invaded more than poor, pitiful Grenada. Likewise, I don't think Bush is an idiot. Specifically, this is what I think about him, culled from an entry in March 2001, and which I feel is still pretty accurate:

Americans have yet to elect a truly stupid President; even Harding and Buchanan had their moments, few though they may have been. We did elect one with Alzheimer's (Reagan, who was showing clear signs of deterioration in his first term), but that's not the same thing. Reagan was smart (or at least not dumb as a bag of rocks) at one point. Neither is Dubya dumb; he's got an MBA from Harvard, which takes at least some mental effort. He's run several businesses with varying degrees of success. He didn't run Texas into the ground, though given the fact that the governor in that state is given less real power than your average school bus driver, this is not nearly the accomplishment it might seem to be. Dubya is famously inarticulate, but lots of undumb people are inarticulate, just as anyone's whose ever spent time with a radio DJ knows that having a smooth delivery is no indication of actual brain wattage. So, stipulated: Dubya is no moron.

However, one doesn't get the idea that Bush spends any sort of time actually thinking. Long-time observers tell us that his management style tends to be to think in general terms and leave it to wonky underlings to fill in the details. We need a tax cut of some sort, Dubya says as he wanders through the Oval Office, on the way to somewhere else. You got it, boss! Says one of his bright white underlings, and off he goes to slash estate taxes or capital gains or some other annoyance of the rich folk. The problem with being a "big idea" guy is that the devil really is in the details. We need world peace could easily be accomplished through nuclear annihilation, you know. It's awfully peaceful after you turn every living thing on the planet into glowing, irradiated ash.

However, leaving aside quibbles regarding specific data points, Ed's larger point about my positions mirroring the "fashionably liberal" stands. The fashionably liberal like gay marriage, as do I. They are not fond of either Reagan or Bush, and neither am I. If you go down the checklist, you'll find lots of other places where the fashionably liberal and I could link arms and sing "Kumbya" together. But then after a nice sing-along, they'd be horrified to discover my positions on gun control (mostly a waste of time), education (I'm big on the Dead White Guys), military (we should be able to kick everyone's ass six times over) and drug legalization (aside from medical marijuana, let's mostly not), and would then long to get as far away from my reactionary ass as possible and head to the showers to get all my cooties off of them.

And you know, I'm fine with that. Fundamentally, I'm not a fashionable person, which is why I'm still walking around wearing 1981-era checkered Vans and a green Hanes pocket tee I bought at Wal-Mart(!) for $4. As I've said before and will no doubt say again, my political opinions aren't based on anyone's ideology but my own. Admittedly, I'm plotzing about the wacky conservatives a lot these days, but you know, it's not liberals who are currently gut-punching the Constitution from the White House. Get Kerry in there and doing things as stupidly as Bush is doing them and I imagine you'll hear me kvetching about that as well. My opinions are sometimes liberal, sometimes conservative, but mostly they're simply anti-stupid.

I occasionally think of writing a big, long entry which outlines all my thoughts on all the major policy issues of our day, but then I see the mass of Whatever readers opening up their veins rather than forcing themselves to read that lump of indigestible prose. So I'll avoid that if it's all the same. Of course, if you want to know what I think about a particular issue, feel free to ask. You know I'm not shy about spouting off my opinions, fashionably liberal or not.

Posted by john at 02:07 PM | TrackBack

Just to Clear This One Up

Turns out when the 9/11 Commission said there was no credible connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, they meant it in the larger "look, people, it didn't happen, ever" sense:

Bush aides have sought to blunt the Democratic offensive not by challenging the commission's findings but by arguing that Kerry and the media have mischaracterized the findings. The White House issued a 1,000-word document titled "TALKING POINTS: 9-11 Commission Staff Report Confirms Administration's Views of al-Qaeda/Iraq Ties."

"The 9/11 commission came to the same conclusion as the administration regarding ties between Iraq and al Qaeda," campaign communications director Nicolle Devenish said. She said this is Kerry's "desperate attempt to put a negative spin on what was broad consensus between the administration and the commission."

Similarly, Cheney, on CNBC, said the media had been irresponsible in reporting the commission's findings. "What they [the commission] were addressing was whether or not they [Iraq] were involved in 9/11," he said. "They did not address the broader question of a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda in other areas, in other ways."

In fact, commission spokesman Al Felzenberg on Friday confirmed that the commission was addressing the broader relationship. "We found no evidence of joint operations or joint work or common operations between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government, and that's beyond 9/11," he said. [Emphasis Mine]

What also chaps my ass about the Republican response to the 9/11 Commission is how so many of them complain about its partisanship. Note the comment here from Rep. Eric I. Cantor: "With the latest commission finding coming out that there were allegedly no ties between Hussein and al Qaeda, I think they are totally off their mission, and I think that's indicative of the political partisanship." But the Commission was designed as a bipartisan enterprise, so this seems to suggest that what these guys are saying is that the GOPers on the Commission have somehow been transformed into pinko liberals.

Alternate suggestion -- and it's a wacky one, here: The bipartisan panel isn't populated by liberal zombies and the unfortunate Republican victims they've infected with their lie-spreading viruses, but is instead genuinely working to get at the truth of the 9/11 events, which as it happens doesn't conform to the Bush administration world view. Cheney has also rather snarkily commented on TV that maybe he knows a little more about the Iraq ties to terrorism than the panel; but of course he can't tell anyone about that. Apparently we need to trust him on that. God forbid he should actually say something about it. Because if something useful were actually to spill from Cheney's lips, then the terrorists will have won.

Crap on that. Really, it's been way past "put up or shut up" time for this administration for a long time now; it's all I can do not to roll my eyes every time Cheney or Ashcroft pop up to talk about their super-secret knowledge that no one else knows about. I grudgingly entertain the notion that this administration does know something it's not sharing, rather than simply flat-out lying because that's just easier to do. But I don't find its unwillingness to share this vital information with a commission charged with discovering the truth about the events surrounding 9/11 at all encouraging. However, given how wrong this administration has been on so many other things relating to Iraq, I think it's rather more to the point that regarding the 9/11 Commission, they're using the same line of argument that the cheating husband uses on his wife when she catches him in bed with another woman: "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

Here's the part in an entry like this where I trot out my support for going into Iraq as evidence that I'm not merely reflexively anti-Bush or anti-war or whatever. I still think that if the Bushies had actually thought about what it was doing and how to make it actually work, the administration of Iraq could have been handled as well as the actual invasion, and then, of course, no one would give a crap whether the WMDs were found or if al Qaeda was shacking up with Saddam or not, and Bush could spend his summer in Crawford as his re-election campaign cruised along. But this has always been the problem with this Bush administration: Too many people with big ideas (and the willingness to fudge in order to get those ideas going), not enough people focusing on the details, or thinking about how extract themselves from whatever tarbaby they've slugged into. It's going to cost them.

Posted by john at 12:27 PM | TrackBack

June 19, 2004

Sunset 6/19/04

Juneteenth Moon.

Posted by john at 10:13 PM | TrackBack

June 18, 2004

Conservative = Moral Relativist?

Shorter Jonah Goldberg: Yes, yes, it's not nice for Americans to torture people, but it's not like Osama bin Laden and all those other nasty people are signatories to the Geneva Conventions, and they don't play by its rules, so screw 'em.

This is yet even more proof that if you really want to see moral relativism in action, you need a conservative somewhere in the room (look for the guy standing next to his new wife, who used to be his mistress). Indeed, is there a single government document in the last 30 years more full of moral relativism than the infamous torture memo prepared by the Justice Department? Its deconstruction regarding what's really torture and how certain techniques can be used with presidential authorization and how our torturers could get off the hook even if they did break the law is pretty much the height of saying "that depends on what your definition of 'is' is." This isn't about a blowjob, people. It's about what's supposed to make the US different from those pissant dictatorships where police break off glass rods in someone's urethra just for the hell of it.

Let me make it simple as possible for Jonah Goldberg and all the other slow people in the room: The United States shouldn't be torturing anyone. Not because we have an inappropriate allegiance to the Geneva Conventions, but because we're the United States, and we're better than that. The old saw says that morality is what you do when no one else is looking; on a national scale, morality is what you do even when there's no treaty.

(Of course this leaves aside the pragmatic issues concerning the highly questionable usefulness of torture as an interrogation tactic; i.e., the information you get out of hurting people is often not very useful because their primary concern is not telling you the truth but telling you what you want to hear in order to get you to stop hurting them. In the end, the only practical reason to torture people is that you want to hurt them. And then we're back to morals.)

Goldberg writes: Well, if the barbarians get all of the benefits of the Geneva Convention without obeying any of its rules, then it becomes not merely quaint, not merely worthless, but instead a useful tool for those who wish to overthrow all it stands for.

Wrong. Goldberg's formulation of American morality implicitly suggests that in the absence of a contravening treaty our behavior should be no better than the behavior of Osama bin Laden or like people, because that's what they deserve. However, I suggest our behavior should be better, not because that's what they deserve, but that's what we deserve.

Of course, that's not an argument a moral relativist would understand.

Posted by john at 11:42 AM | TrackBack

June 17, 2004

Nine

We're married nine years today. Whee!

No, it doesn't feel like it's been that long. On the other hand, I don't want to give the impression that I would have wanted to be married less than every one of those days. You know. Being married is a good thing.

Posted by john at 11:54 AM | TrackBack

June 16, 2004

I Refuse to Believe 9 Out of 10 Republicans Are Complete Tools

"Polls show that nine in 10 Republicans approve of [Bush's] job performance a level of partisan loyalty unmatched by any president."

-- Howard Fineman, "Best advice for Kerry: Be invisible," 6/16/04

There's no polite way to ask this: Are 90% of all Republicans really dumber than a dog drinking antifreeze? How can anyone with an IQ higher than room temperature actually believe Bush's job performance is anything more than frog-puking sick? Just today the 9/11 Commission stated there was no credible evidence linking al Qaeda and Saddam, yanking down yet another pillar of Dubya's justification for marching into Baghdad, to put into the pile along with those non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Bush's response was instructive: He pointed to the possible presence of al Qaeda in Iraq today as proof.

Well, Mr. President, not to get nit-picky or anything, but we've been in control of Iraq for well over a year now. Maybe you'll want to have Condi brief you on that fact. The presence of al Qaeda in Iraq today says more about the US's inability to keep them out than it says about their supposed -- and now evidently mythical -- relationship with Saddam. The fact that Bush is clueless enough to believe it doesn't, or simply rather cynically believes if he says it, then people will believe it, should give everyone with the ability to think for themselves the cold shakes. Presumably most Republicans do have the capacity for self-directed thinking, even if they've been trained like button-pressing rats by Karl Rove against it.

I know Republicans as individuals; I like Republicans as individuals. I've even voted for Republicans -- more than once, even. And this is why I say, with all sincerity, that I find it absolutely impossible to believe that 90% of Republicans honestly believe that Bush is somehow doing a good job. Earlier in the year, I asked this, and I think it bears repeating:

We all know why Democrats won't vote for Bush. But let me ask the Republicans: Why on earth would you vote for a guy who wants to expand the size of the federal government, increase deficit government spending, curtail personal liberties, bring the government into your homes and churches and then stick your children with the bill? With the exception of Bush's mania for lower taxes, is there anything about the man that is in the least bit Republican? Or to put it in another way: If anyone but Bush were planning to expand the size of the federal government, increase deficit government spending, curtail personal liberties, bring the government into your homes and churches and then stick your children with the bill, would you vote for him?

All we have add to this litany is "and seems to think torture is just peachy keen" and I think we're reasonably current.

In my earlier entry talking about John Kerry's "problem" with an unarticulated platform not actually being a problem, I got some blowback from folks who pointed out that merely not being the sitting President shouldn't be enough to propel someone into the White House. And of course, normally I would heartily agree, but on the other hand the current Bush administration isn't normal. It is, in fact, spectacularly bad, the sort of bad that's the presidential equivalent of a 100-year flood. If nothing else, this administration is an object lesson in why presidents actually should be elected rather than appointed by the Supreme Court as a matter of political expediency. John Kerry does not arouse a swelling passion in my chest, but there's really nothing in his political and personal history that suggests he would be a president of such monumental incompetence as the current office holder. Yes, I would agree that "probably not monumentally incompetent" is hardly a recommendation, but really, it's come to that. If all a President Kerry does is not be as blindingly bad as Bush, his four-to-eight will be looked upon kindly.

(For the record, I do imagine that Kerry would be better than "probably not monumentally incompetent," but that's for another time. For the purposes of this entry, "probably not monumentally incompetent" is good enough.)

For me, it's not a matter of Bush being a Republican or a Democrat. It's a matter of his administration being the worst administration I've ever had to live through. It's unfathomable to me that 9 out of 10 Republicans are willing to set aside their ability to think in order to unquestioningly approve of Bush when he's clearly a terrible president, and worse, a terrible Republican. Look, I don't want to suggest I think Republicans should vote for Kerry; I think that would be an unreasonable request. But I think Republicans should seriously consider not voting for Bush: Just go into the voting booth, go through the ballots for every other position, and then just leave the presidential portion blank. Honestly, the House and Senate are likely to stay safely in the hands of the GOP. Kerry's not likely to get away with much pinko stuff. It's a safe protest.

I mean, if you really do believe Bush is doing a good job -- a genuinely good job -- then vote for him. But if it's just that you can't stand the idea of someone who's not a Republican being in the White House, well, you know. Take one for the team today and get someone new for 2008. Someone who is not incompetent and actually supports Republican ideals -- and American ones, too.

Posted by john at 06:53 PM | TrackBack

Your GMail Haiku Winners

Of course I should say, in the grand tradition of spelling bees everywhere, that everyone who played is a winner. But it's a contemptible lie when they say it at the spelling bee, and it'd be no less a contemptible lie now. You all didn't win; just four of you did. But you can be assured that if I had five GMail addresses to hand out that yours undoubtedly would have been the other one I picked. Seriously, man. I'm telling everyone else that to placate them, but in your case, I mean it. God, I love you.

Anyway, your four winners:

Taco Bell cheeses
Processed, shredded, oiled, and fried
There go my bowels

-- from Caliscrub (two words are of indeterminate syllabic value: "oiled" and "bowels" -- either can be said as one or two syllables, for the purposes of this haiku, assume one syllable for the former, and two for the latter).


My heart aches for cheese,
And according to the doc:
My heart aches from cheese.

-- from Rhorsman


Some say the world will
end in fire; some say in cheese.
But most likely, fire.

-- from Steve Eley


Had to give up cheese
Screaming baby with colic
Will be weaned early.

-- from Naomi


Winners, check your e-mail boxes for GMail love; everyone else, thanks for playing. If I eventually have more GMail accounts to give out, I'll do another suitably ridiculous contest.

Posted by john at 01:08 PM | TrackBack

June 15, 2004

Flood Journal

See this little lake? Well, actually, it's supposed to be the road, two fields, and my and my neighbors' lawns. We had a really massive thunderstorm today and as a result all the water has flooded into the road and is attempting to push its way into the tiny little creek just south of my house (in fact, it's supposed to be behind that line of trees you see). The water rose very quickly -- in the space of about a half hour -- and this is what I expect (which is to say, I hope) is the high water mark. It's high enough that they've closed the road I live on; Krissy and Athena can't get home at the moment. Not that I want them to try.

Naturally, I had to go out into this crap and take a few pictures.

This is what it looks like from the road itself. I should note that where I'm standing on the road here, water is actually running over my toes. On either side east or west of where I'm standing, the water is actually deeper. It's not so deep that I'm in danger of being swept away, but it's still no good when the road you live on is well and truly submerged for a half mile in either direction. Note that this picture and the others that follow were taken before the picture above, so the water on this photo isn't yet as high as it would get.

My driveway. In the center of that mass of water, the water is high enough that it goes halfway up my calf; I know this because I stood in it to see just how deep it was (not one of the smartest things I could have done, I'm sure). Say about ten inches deep. Now, that makes my driveway fairly inaccessible, but at least my driveway doesn't look like this:

This is the driveway of the neighbor directly south of me. The water here is zooming along at the rate of a brisk jog -- at least 5 mph, possibly more (it's hard to be sure without standing in the middle of it, which I am not about to do). The water you see is falling the foot or so from the driveway into a field, which is usually filled with hay or other such stuff but is currently filled with lots of water and plant detritus. I don't think these folks should expect to go anywhere anytime soon. I took a small movie of this driveway/river, but my satellite connection is down, and I don't want to consider posting it while I'm on dial-up. I'll put it up later.

Here one of my neighbors (in the van) considers trying to drive across the road. From this position, he would inch forward about 20 more feet, stop and then about a minute later reverse out (causing the truck you see here to back up as well). "I stopped the van, but I could still feel it moving sideways," he said.Yes, that is a good indication that you should indeed rethink your strategy. That dry spot you see there, incidentally, is currently under a bunch of muddy water.

Now, this I found interesting. The spider here has a flotation device, which I suspect is an egg sac (I remember my Charlotte's Web). I found this spider (and another just like it outside the frame to the right) having a swim in the pond that is my driveway. Hopefully they will both make it out all right; if there's one thing this wet weather does, it's to breed swarms of insects, and so I'm all for the spiders taking out as many of them as they can before I have to reach for my swatter.

This is how I know how deep the water in my driveway was. And I'll thank the lot of you to keep your comments about Hobbit toes to a bare minimum.

Posted by john at 06:07 PM | TrackBack

Cheese Haiku = Gmail Accounts

Want a Gmanil account and don't have one? Between now and noon tomorrow write me a haiku describing your rapturous love of cheese and leave it in the comment thread. The authors of the four that amuse me the most shall be awarded Gmail accounts. Although I should note that at the rate Google is handing out accounts at the moment, I do wonder if I'll get takers. Well, cheese haikus are their own reward.

Mmmmm, Velveeta cheese
Saffron-colored block of goo
Microwave friendly!

See?

Posted by john at 01:03 PM | TrackBack

Expectations

"Democrats say the enthusiasm for defeating Bush runs much stronger and deeper than the passion for electing Kerry. The chief reason: The senator from Massachusetts, they say, has not crisply articulated what a Kerry presidency would stand for beyond undoing much of the Bush agenda."

-- Doubts linger as Kerry advances, Washington Post, 6/14/04

Jumpin' Jesus in a lobster bib, isn't that enough? Honestly now. Wanting more out of Kerry than rolling back the odometer on Dubya is like being upset that the fireman who's come to keep your house from burning down to the ground isn't also trimming the lawn. God knows Kerry could spend four years just applying patches to where Bush's crew have knocked gaping holes in the constitutional drywall. Heck, he'll need a second term just to get to his own stuff. So, you know, priorities, people.

Posted by john at 12:30 AM | TrackBack

June 14, 2004

Adware Rant

There aren't too many people in the world who I would be truly happy to see sodomized by an oil drill, but among that group are the people at Alset, whose supremely annoying spyware/adware I spent a reasonable portion of my Sunday afternoon expunging from my computer. The program did something I found to be incredibly obnoxious, even by "unwanted programs that hijack your computer without your permission" standards -- it attached ads to dialog boxes opened in other programs.

Thus, when I tried to save an image I had fiddled with in Photoshop, I was presented with ads, including one, irony of ironies, for anti-virus software. I run AdAware frequently so I was especially incensed by this; I did the required obeisance to the spyware gods, and yet these assholes still got past the door. My suspicion was that it was attached to Weatherbug, which itself was attached to a chat program I downloaded (whether AIM or Yahoo Chat I can't recall at the moment); I thought I had checked off the "don't download" box, but either I missed or it was ignored. So there it was.

Expunging the software was no easy task. One does not of course use the program's own "uninstall" utility, since, as reported in various places (including Alset's own Website), it doesn't actually uninstall the program. So I ended up extracting and killing the various programs one by one, which required going in and changing the permissions on Alset's folder on my PC, because of course they don't want you to be able to remove it. This was irritating for me, but I pity my poor mother-in-law, should this noxious bit of software ever get on her computer; she'd never get rid of it.

It's crap like this that makes me want to yank out my Internet connection and go back to the days when GEnie was the height of online fancypantsness. There are so many ways that spyware and adware are egregious that it's hard to know where to begin. But (to begin), it doesn't even make sense -- honestly now, if I'm in the middle of a task, say, saving something I'm working on, what sort of friggin' moron actually believes I'm going to stop what I'm doing to answer an ad? That UI is so bad it's hard to believe a primate actually came up with the idea. Whatever "executive" at Alset who came up with that one should be slugged across the temple with an aluminum bat. It couldn't make him or her any less stupid.

But of course, the thumbless wonders who make spyware and adware aren't actually making it to be "useful" to consumer. It's designed for one purpose only, which is to convince some similarly thumbless wonder at another software company (for example, Weatherbug), that it would be in some way good for them to foist this application on some poor unsuspecting end user, with the permissions and indemnifications buried at some overgrown point in the EULA. That short-foreheaded fellow is also not thinking about the end user; he's thinking about how good he'll look to yet another smooth-brained "executive" when he presents this exciting new "revenue stream" possibility that will, incidentally, muck up the computer of the person who is thinking of trying the company's product. Good lord, if spyware and adware is not a reasonable justification for a proletariat revolution, I don't know what is. I'm seriously considering throwing in with Engles and Marx if it means getting these BMW-leasers up against a wall and absorbing lead in bullet-shaped packets.

I'll tell you what it is. The pathetic programmers and execs at Alsat and other companies like it are the last vestige of the 1999 Internet mentality, in which the object was not to make useful product -- hell, scratch useful; product that wasn't actively malicious -- but simply to claw your way up the Ponzi scheme fast enough to get out before it all collapsed. They're the small rodents and cockroaches left on the fringes of the crater after the Internet's economy impacted with reality; but unlike our far-distant ancestors after Chixculub, these little people are unlikely to evolve a whole lot past their current point.

Here's a small hint for the folks at Alset: If the only way you can get your work onto my computer is to sneak it in, your work sucks. In your heart you know it. No end user in his or her right mind would want a program that hijacks other programs to post advertisements of products they don't want, in places where it is utterly ridiculous to post them. If this is actually the best you can do with your life's work, you're going to slide down the mortal coil and be swallowed up by the blank nothingness with nary an existential belch. For God's sake, people. It's too late to get out with your dignity. Try getting out with what's left of your soul.

But if you can't even do that, then just stay the hell off my computer. That's not too much to ask.

Posted by john at 02:43 PM | TrackBack

June 10, 2004

GMail Stylin'

Thanks to the intercession of a Whatever reader who shall remain nameless so y'all don't bug her to get you one too, I am now in possession of a GMail account. I didn't even have to pay whatever the current going price is for a GMail swap (I understand it's going down fast, since Google has been sort of free with them and, also, it's just a stinkin' e-mail account), so this unnamed Whatever patron has my gratitude for being a kind and helpful person. May your karmic wheel get an extra gold inlay.

So far I think GMail is fine although there are a few things I would add to it, like the ability to format things like italics and bold. Its main attraction for me at this point is that it's an account I can keep spam free. I do imagine that "john@scalzi.com" will remain my primary account forever and ever -- after all, it's the e-mail address that most resembles my name. But it'll be nice to have an account I can give to close friends so their e-mail messages to me do not have to compete with the 200+ pieces of spam that I get on the "john@scalzi.com" account on a daily basis.

To that end I'm not actually going to list my Gmail account address anywhere on the Web, to make it that much more difficult for the spamsters to infiltrate it. I don't imagine it will be successful in the long run -- spammers, like all ambitious forms of creeping crud, will find a way -- but the longer I can stave off the inevitable, the happier I'll be. You'll know what my Gmail account is when you get an e-mail from me when I use it.

On an entirely unrelated note, thisis the 500th entry on the Whatever since I switched over to Movable Type in March of 2003. I'm sure you're all as excited about this as I am.

Posted by john at 10:41 PM | TrackBack

A Little Advice to Indie Artists About Their Websites

Once again, no one's asking me for this advice, but like I care. Fact is, I go out of my way on a regular basis to go out there and find music I've never heard before and bring it to the attention of other people, so I feel I've got some experience and cred here. So here goes:

Dear Indie Musician:

You are a musician who wants people to hear your music. I am a music listener who wants to hear new music. We go together like eggs and bacon, toast and jam, peanuts and Cracker Jack. But like many of your potential fans I almost certainly live far, far away from you, in a place where I can't see your gigs at the local bar, or tune you in on the nearby college radio station and/or weekly "local band" show your mega-corporation-owned "alt rock" station sets aside at 10pm on Sunday night as a cynical sop to show it's keepin' it real with the local scene. So if you want me to hear your music (and maybe even buy your CD), you need to help me. And here's how you can do it.

1. Get Yourself a Friggin' Website, Already. Essential first step. Simply put: If you don't get yourself a Web site, no one outside the outskirts of your town has a chance of knowing who you are. Creating a Web site for yourself of course does not guarantee anyone will find you, but not having one guarantees they won't. So grab a domain name, get some cheap hosting and pay your bassist's geeky younger brother $20 and a case of Mountain Dew to create a few pages for you. Related to this:

2. Don't Get Too Fancy. I see all these indie artist sites that are swimming in Flash or other multimedia crap, and you know what? I hate those sites. They're slow to load (and I'm on broadband), and while they're loading they hijack my browser so I can't do anything else. All those cool features often equate to horrible navigation through the site. Finally, if I don't have the version of flash (or whatever) your site was created with, I have to download it from somewhere else. Question: To you really want a potential fan's first point of contact with your site to be one that effectively says "Unless you have x version of shockwave/flash/whatever, you're too much of a loser to visit my site?"

Unless you are yourself a tech geek (possible but not entirely likely), there's a good chance that someone conned you out of money you can't afford to create a site that is too cool to be accessible to potential fans. Save your money: Stick with HTML that works for everyone and a site that's easy to walk through. Sites with basic HTML can still look cool enough. And people are there to listen to your music, not ooooh and aaaah over your Web design.

3. Show Me The Music. I'll make this simple: I'm at your site to hear your music. Give it to me, and give it to me like this: Downloadable MP3s of 128kps quality or better (but not too much better, that's a big download). I don't want your whole discography, but three of your very best tracks will do nicely.

But-- but-- that's giving away my music for free! You say. Well, yeah, it is. But here's the deal: Show me you can make good music, and I'm likely to buy the rest from you, in the form of a CD. Because I like supporting indie artists, that's why. You'll find a surprising number of people do: People who aren't broke and/or aren't total dicks will pay for things they enjoy. I know of what I speak: I put up an entire science fiction novel on my site as "shareware" and encouraged people to read it and then send me a buck if they liked it. I've collected thousands of dollars. It'll work. But the point is, I have to hear your music first. This is not the same as saying your music is worth nothing -- it is saying that music being what it is, I want to hear it so I can judge what it's worth to me.

4. Don't give me "clips" or "samples." In the entire history of the world, there is not a single person who enjoyed listening to a clip of a song. You can't tell if a song is good unless you hear the whole song. Besides, clips are stingy. Clips say "30 seconds of my music is all you get for free, you cheap, lousy bastard." Offering up music isn't like offering up a wedge of oven-baked pizza in your grocer's freezer aisle.

5. Don't hide your music behind a proprietary format, like a flash player or real media or Windows media. MP3s are universal; all the rest require a lame-ass download. If you're absolutely hung up on not letting people have a free taste, fine, go ahead and stream. But you better hope whoever is trying to listen has a broadband connection and there's not a lot of traffic on the Net that day. Trying to listen to a song that's constantly rebuffering sucks.

5. Don't store your MP3s on a site that makes me register to download. Do you really think I want to invite more spam into my e-mail box? Sites like Garageband.com have their uses and all (though I'm not exactly sure what they offer that you can't do yourself), but I don't want to go through the 3rd degree just to listen to your tune. I mean, I've got 20,000 tunes on my iTunes already, and I don't have to jump through any hoops to get to that.

Fundamentally, all this advice boils down to just this:

Make It Easy For Me to Listen to Your Music.

Because, honestly. No one else will. Radio is not making it easy to listen to your music because it won't play it. Music companies aren't making it easy to listen to your music because they're not going to sign most of you and put your music in the stores and bankroll a video. Print and other media aren't going to make it easy because mostly they don't want to know about you until you hit it big, and even then they can't actually play your music, they can just use pretentious words to tell me what it's supposed to sound like (Conversation topic: correlation between adjectives used to describe music and adjectives used to describe wine. Discuss).

I repeat: No one else is going to make it easy to let me listen to you. So if you don't make it easy for me to listen to you, I have to assume that you don't actually want me to listen to you at all. Which is an odd position for an indie musician to take.

Well, you say, give me an example of an indie artist who makes it easy to listen to him/her/them. Okay, here's one: Reid Jamieson. As his site proudly notes:

Welcome to
ReidJamieson.com
This site requires NO
fancy plug-ins to view it.

The font sizes used
are suitable for the
NAKED EYE.

PLEASE ENTER HERE
or just click on the record
and come on in...

See, now, isn't that inviting? So you click through, and on that very next page are two links to recent tracks, including this one, "The Last Day of the Year," which is mellow and sweet and reminds me of Brian Kennedy (big points for you if you can place that reference). Jamieson makes it easy to find his stuff, and by extension makes it easy for me to share it with you (here's a link to the full album, by the way. See how it works?).

If every indie artist had a site like Mr. Jamieson's I'd be as giddy as a schoolboy. I'd also probably buy even more indie music than I already do. And I'd definitely share my discoveries. That's a hint.

Posted by john at 03:43 PM | TrackBack

June 09, 2004

Boston in September

I just slapped down the $180 registration fee, so it's official: I'll be at Noreascon 4 from the 2nd through the 6th of September. For those Whatever readers who are not hardcore science fiction geeks, Noreascon 4 is this year's official WorldCon, which is the Mother of all Science Fiction Conventions. I went to last year's in Toronto and had a grand old time and made new friends (as well as met old friends I'd only ever known online), so I thought it would be fun to show up again. Alas, as with last year I am once again going without actually having a science fiction novel out in the stores, but perhaps if I'm lucky Tor might have a bound advance reader copy I can show around to prove to people I'm not just a groupie.

Speaking of evidence of encroaching bookiness, look at what Fed Ex hauled up to my door just before I started vacation:

It's the original artwork for the cover of Old Man's War (also, my foot, which was not delivered by Fed Ex: I already had that). A while back I had seen it at the Tor offices and had let the artist (Donato Giancola) know I'd be interested in picking it up from him; he quoted me a price that seemed reasonable and so I snapped it up. I figure you only get one first novel in your life, and therefore it's worth having for that reason. There is a small irony in that between the fee that Tor paid him for the artwork and the amount I paid him to own it, Donato has made rather more off Old Man's War to date than I have. What I'm saying is: Remember to buy a copy. Heck, buy six.

Getting back to Noreascon, I'm not exactly sure where I'll be staying yet or if I'm going to be on any panels. After I paid my registration, I jotted off a note to the programming people letting them know I'm available, so we'll see if they see fit to wedge me in somewhere. I expect to hammer down the hotel situation relatively soon, but other than knowing that it's in Boston, I'm sort of in the dark about Noreascon to date. If anyone has suggestions as to which of the (I'm sure) various hotels it's best to stay in for the thing, I'm all ears.

Update: My hotel problem are solved for me by the fact that the Sheraton Boston ("The Party Hotel") is all sold out. Therefore, I will be at the Marriot, otherwise known as "The Hotel for People Who Actually Plan on Sleeping From Time to Time." I am not actually upset by this. Sleep is good.

Posted by john at 02:50 PM | TrackBack

The Punch and Kick Game

Anyone who thinks video game playing leads to sedentary children has never seen Athena play video games. She gets even more jiggy with it when you haul out the EyeToy.

The game she's playing here is Virtua Fighter 4, and of course one may reasonably question the wisdom of letting a five year old play a game in which the object is to punch and kick one's opponent into dazed submission. But our experience with Athena has been that she can handle it. She understands the difference between a video game and real life, and that playing a game with punching and kicking does not mean one can punch and kick in the real life. We confirm this with her on a regular basis: "You know, honey, that you can't actually punch and kick people in real life," I'll say. "Yes, daddy, I know," she'll say, and then roll her eyes at the thought that I consider her too stupid to have remembered this little fact for the fourteen thousandth time. Also, the game isn't actually bloody, or anything: No ripping out of people's spines. In all, she's handled the game/reality dichotomy just fine, so we're okay with her playing it.

Ironically, I suspect her game playing may have actually helped her when she did her kindergarten assessment tests, which the Bradford schools have each incoming kid do so they can figure out how to tailor their programs for the next year. If I recall correctly, one category related to visual-motor skills, i.e., what we called hand-eye coordination back in the day. Athena did pretty well across the board, but she aced this particular category. Some of this this is due to the fact she and I play catch on a frequent basis, but I suspect that some of it due to her ability to mash buttons in combination to kick some pixellated opponent out of the ring. There are worse things.

Not that I'm expecting video games to be an integrated part of her education (well, the ones that are explicitly educational, perhaps. Just not the ones where she beats the heck out of someone). One thing I do know -- and call me old-fashioned here -- is that if I didn't feel she's made sufficient progress in other areas, I probably wouldn't be as relaxed as I am on the video game front. Hand-eye coordination is all very nice, but being able to read is a little more important. Without the latter, I doubt I'd let her spend a whole of time on the video games.

And I think that's fair: Learn to read, and in addition to experiencing the joys of literacy, you also get to experience the joys of virtual punching and kicking. And, tangentially, of hopping up and down as you do it.

Athena doesn't do much hopping while reading. That's probably just as well.

Posted by john at 10:22 AM | TrackBack

June 08, 2004

Your Music Selection 6/8/04

I'm kind of in a punkish mood, so "Sobriety" by Snapout (whose album is called Of It -- you can figure it out, I'm sure) hits the spot for me: A bit juvenile, sure (it's a paean to getting wasted), but as long as it's not my kid getting blasted, I'm fine with that. The mp3 is a little lo-res, but this is punk, so I guess that just adds to the classic DIY feel. Enjoy.

Posted by john at 02:49 PM | TrackBack

The Most Unpopular Burger King Menu Item Ever

From my pal Mykal Burns, who spotted the sign in Pasadena:

As Mykal said, "It wouldn't eat it. It probably tastes like crap."

Posted by john at 01:30 PM | TrackBack

June 07, 2004

Rejection! Again!

My poor, poor YA project. It's been rejected again. The letter has the by now usually complementary note about my writing skills, followed by the sad conclusion that even so, it's not for this particular editor. I have no idea when it will be that we will have exhausted all the viable avenues for publication, after which the project will be consigned to The Back Drawer, the place to which commercially unviable products go to live their half-completed, literary zombie lives. But I suspect if I were this project, I'd start being slightly nervous. Although, of course, who knows. It's only been rejected three times. In the world of publishing, you don't really start worrying about rejection until you get into the double digits. We'll see.

I'm asked from time to time how I feel about rejection, and I have to say at this point it doesn't seem to bother me in the slightest. Rejections happen and they happen for reasons that aren't always transparent to the author. In her now-famous Slushkiller entry, Teresa Nielsen Hayden lists 13 basic reasons why works get rejected, almost none of which will be immediately obvious to the author, because the author is personally delusional about the quality of the work and/or not privy to the workings of the publishing house in question. So I tend not to worry about the "why" of the rejection so long as it doesn't actively involve the writing stinking up the joint. Bad writing is my problem, to be fixed if I can; otherwise, I have little control over the rejection. So why waste time thinking about it.

Also, from the practical point of view, I don't have to think about it -- I have an agent, who earns his 15% dealing with my rejections so I don't have to. This leaves me free to worry about thinking about other projects to toss out there, to be accepted or rejected as they may. It's a nice division of labor, and I'm happy to slice off the above-quoted percentage so I don't have to worry about crap like that. It does also help that I have a reasonably full writing agenda; if I weren't otherwise gainfully engaged and able to pay my mortgage, I might obsess about rejection more. But I am and I can, so I don't.

In any event, the YA is off again, to be rejected once more -- or accepted; you never know until you try. Maybe that's the best way to look at literary rejection: Simply another opportunity to get accepted elsewhere.

Posted by john at 03:53 PM | TrackBack

Reagan

I'm back and catching up on the news, which is mostly about Ronald Reagan having died. I am, perhaps not unexpectedly, curiously unmoved by his passing. It is partly due to a lack of enthusiasm concerning his presidential accomplishments, a rather cynical opinion of the concept of him being the model conservative president (i.e., a genial but dim front man, content to leave the details to more ideological and substantially meaner underlings, the nadir of this concept being the current office holder), and the general feeling -- and yes, I understand this is mean -- that's he's been dead since the second half of his second term, and it's merely taken his body this amount of time to catch up.

I do of course feel for his family, and I have more respect for Nancy over the last few years as she's taken up the cause of treating Alzheimer's, even when it puts her at odds with her party (such as with stem cell research). But honestly. Doesn't it feel like he's been dead for years already? Weren't you sort of surprised when the media announced he was dead? Even if you knew he was still alive, didn't the announcement seem superfluous? I'm not trying to be cruel here (not in this paragraph, at least) -- it's just that he's been out of the public eye with an inevitably terminal disease, and Nancy has been effectively speaking about him in the past tense for a while now, just a few weeks ago saying that "he's in a place I cannot reach" or words to that effect. He's felt dead to me for a while, and I don't suppose there's any nice way to put that.

One thing I'm not looking forward to is the orgy of conservative mythmaking about the Gipper that had already begun but was retarded by the inconvenient fact Reagan was actually still alive. Now that that's taken care of, it'll be full speed ahead, and these twits won't be happy until the man is on every single possible thing it is possible for him to be plastered on. Someone's going to have to beat these dudes back, with heavy rebar if necessary. For this reason alone, I wish Reagan were still alive. But he's not, and now we'll have to deal with his blubbering, calculating acolytes. Poor us.

Posted by john at 03:07 PM | TrackBack

June 05, 2004

Photos From Book Expo

Inasmuch as I'm paying $10 a day for my Internet feed here at the hotel (yes, I'm too lazy to look for a wireless feed to suck off of), I figure I might as well get my money's worth out of it and post you some pictures from Book Expo 2004. Are you ready? Here we go:

The pass, which I use to get past the guards at the McCormick Center, who assiduously attempt to keep out the riff-raff. Stupid riff-raff.

The big pile o' Book of the Dumb, which I would sign over the course of the hour. Interestingly, it was supposed to be a two-hour session, so for the second half we had people leave their cards and we would send them an autographed book in the near future. A surprising number of people did so, which is encouraging, I think.

Me signing for a girl who was prodded into the picture by the Uncle John's people (and myself; hey, I'm not proud). I was of course only one of hundreds of authors present to sign like crazy fools, and I do believe there is an inverse relationship between fame and length of time signing books; I did two hours, for example, but Jon Stewart of The Daily Show was only scheduled for a half hour. It makes you wonder if it's really worth his time just to sign for a half hour.

My celebrity signing of the show: Henry Rollins. Henry, in a flagrant violation of the fame/time spent rule, was stationed on the floor for hours. The mitigating factor here is that he has his own publishing house, so he has a vested interest in being on the floor for long stretches of time. The man was the total pro, from what I could see -- people would come up, all fanboy and such, and he would just take it and make it look like he was enjoying himself. And who knows. Maybe he was. But he definitely gets points for camping out for hours.

For my money, the single most frightening book advertised at the Expo.

In the children's book area, there were several of these mascot-like creatures roaming around. I got a picture of myself with Dora the Explorer, because I figured it would amuse Athena, and there were other notable kid's characters out as well. And then there was this fellow, whose name if I remember correctly was Dream Dog (he has a multicolored tail, which you can just barely see). The poor bastard in the suit was made to dance with little children while insipid Dream Dog music blared in the background; I feel nothing but pity for the poor college student sweating buckets in that suit. Incidentally, you can't see it very well in the picture, but the look on this little girl's face was one of abject terror at being made to perform with this thing.

Bear with book about to consume unsuspecting Expo attendee. I could show you what happened next, but no. It's too horrible.

I'm flying back tomorrow; I'll post something, I'm sure, on Monday.

Posted by john at 08:25 PM | TrackBack