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October 31, 2004

Pre-Hiatus Thoughts

As promised and threatened, I am officially starting my hiatus at the end of this entry; between now and December 1 the only thing you'll see here are links to cool music I've found online. The one exception to this will be if/when I get my hardback copies of Old Man's War and the notice it's been spotted in the stores; I will then of course let you all know so you may commence your purchasing frenzy. But otherwise: All music, all the time.

Please don't take my absence personally. It's not you. It's that I have a book to write in a month. The good news for me is that it's about science fiction movies, a subject that I certainly should be able to write a book about in a month, given the fact I write science fiction and have been reviewing movies for most of a dozen years. But it's still just a month to write a lot of words. Best if I protect you all from the insanity (although, of course, I'll still be writing over at By The Way. See if you can detect the strain and insanity in my entries over there).

In case you're wondering if I have any final thoughts on the election: No, I don't. I've made my endorsement, and you all know how I'm planning to vote. I'm not going to make a prediction as to who's going to win because honestly I don't have a clue; I just know I'm going to do my part to make sure it's not George W. Bush. I do know I am deeply tired of this election season and I just want it to be over. Just even thinking about it anymore is difficult; my brain is rebelling at the idea of trying to picture the newspaper headlines on Nov. 3.

I will say this: Vote, damn it. All right, I'm officially done with the subject of the 2004 election.

Have a good November, and remember I'll be putting up music links through the month, so it won't be entirely devoid of content around here. Come around when you're in the mood to listen to something. As for writing from me, come back in December. I'll be here.

Posted by john at 12:23 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

October 29, 2004

Odd and Ends 10/29/04

Random thoughts on a Friday:

* Question for the other online egomaniacs out there: I may be coming late to this particular party, but have you noticed spam domains in your referrer logs? I've never had this before, but suddenly my site is being "visited" by "people" coming from domains like "your-illegal-viagra-pharmacy.com" and such. Really, how pathetic is that.

* Ohio's Republican Party got smacked around yesterday when all of its peremptory challenges to voters got dismissed in Summit County (which is where the city of Akron is), on the basis that those bringing the challenges (four really old folks more or less dragooned as stooges by the local party) did not in fact have any personal reason to believe that those they challenged had, in fact, incorrectly registered to vote. It should be noted, incidentally, that the move to strike the challenges came from the Republican members of the Board of Elections, which I think is a very positive sign.

I am, like most non-corrupt people, against voter fraud, and I don't think that either party historically has much to be proud about in the annals of vote suppression. But I do think the Ohio GOP's attempt to carve into the ranks of newly-registered voters signifies something. Not that the Ohio GOP is corrupt -- it's not any more than Ohio's Democratic party is, I imagine -- but that the Ohio GOP realizes that Bush probably can't win on the number of people who will actually vote for him in the state, compared to the people who will vote for Kerry. Therefore, best to make sure as few people as possible can vote for Kerry. People whose registrations are challenged still get to vote, but they're given provisional ballots, and which, as I understand it, are counted only after election day. If you think either party is going to let a state get taken away from them on provisional ballots after election day, you're sweetly naive.

The GOP remembers that Florida was won on 500-some-odd votes, which is why you're seeing this unsightly scrum for 100 voter challenges in one county, and 70 voter challenges in another county. Every challenged vote counts. I strongly suspect that the large majority of newly-registered voters in Ohio actually exist, but that's not the point -- the point is that every vote shunted to a provisional ballot is a vote that's not on the election night tally. These are not the tactics of a party confident of victory, or in their candidate.

* Happiness is getting an unexpected mix CD of very good music from a very good friend. Everyone should have such excellent pals (with such excellent musical taste).

* Speaking of music, for the month of November, during which I will be on a writing hiatus here at the Whatever in order to focus on my book, I've decided to go the musical route, in which I'll be posting links to cool (mostly)independent music I find online, on a (week)daily or semi-daily basis, because don't you deserve some cool music? Sure you do. As a positive statement of intent, here's something to get you mood: "Moon Boots" by the band Motel Creeps, off their EP Pleasantries in the Parlor. Imagine what Echo and the Bunnymen would sound like if Ian McCullough was actually happy now and then, and you'll be right on base. It's excellent. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

* On the subject of the hiatus, people have suggested that I won't be able to resist commenting one way or another, come November 3rd. Ha! Just you wait.

Posted by john at 11:02 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

October 28, 2004

The Scalzi Endorsement: John Kerry For President

Yes, I know, this isn't a huge surprise to anyone. But let's just make it official, shall we. I'm John Scalzi, and I approve this message: I will vote for John Kerry on November 2, and I think you should, too.

Allow me to grant, first off, that this is most importantly a vote against George W. Bush, who I believe is the most incompetent president since Harding, and who in any event (and in order to short-circuit the aside-the-pointers who will try to drag the comments down into pointless comparisons of GWB versus Carter and/or Clinton) has done disastrous things with his own present time in power, independent of his place in the grand pantheon of terrible US presidents. I could go into the litany of the various things the Bush administration has gotten horribly, terribly, awfully wrong, both at home and abroad, but I've already done that so often here and so many others have done so elsewhere, so for now, I'll simply assume you know that of which I speak.

However, I do want to address the one "strength" that Bush has, the one that has made otherwise intelligent human beings single-issue Bush voters, and that is the following shibboleth: "George Bush is the only one who understands that we are in a war against the forces of Islamic extremism." There are two points to make here. The first is that prior to 9/11, the Bush Administration certainly didn't understand that we were in a war against Islamic extremism; it took 3,000 dead to get them to come around. If the Bush people, who are the very model of orthodox inflexibility when it comes to thought, can be persuaded we are in a battle against terror, I suggest that we can reasonably hold out the possibility that a Kerry administration may likewise be induced to hold that such extremism is still a clear and present danger to our land (as Senator Kerry has himself agreed, in no uncertain terms).

The second is that recognizing that something is so does not mean one is competent to deal with it. The Bush administration has disastrously bungled our international relationships, the response to terror, and the ancillary (and as we've learned, entirely unnecessary for the reasons we were provided) War in Iraq. I remind everyone yet again that I was not opposed to going into Iraq, for my own reasons, not those offered by the Bush administration. But the aftermath of that invasion has been so horribly managed -- for no reason greater than the incompetence and recalcitrance of the Bush people -- that I profoundly regret my personal decision to assent. I never assumed that winning and occupying Iraq would be easy, but I never imagined that the Bush people would so stubbornly work to make it harder.

9/11 and Iraq have also shown the Bush administration's profound lack of interest in the constitutional security of United States citizens against the predations of their own government; time and again, this administration has shown it does not want to govern, it wants to rule. How else to explain the unnecessary secrets, countless lies, bland assurances of undisclosed evidence to justify the terrible bruising this administration has administered to its constituents' constitutional rights? But more than that, this is an administration who by its actions has shown time and again that it believes truth is fungible -- and not only that, but an enemy to its power (which is, ironically, true enough).

I don't want an administration that believes that reality is negotiable -- and even less than that, that reality is predicated on the consistently incorrect "gut" of the President of the United States, and anyone who opposes the presidential intestine subject to ground-scorching attack. This administration is the closest the United States has ever come to installing a cult of personality in the White House, in which the president is right because he's the president. George W. Bush is the end sum of the reductive argument that began when Ronald Reagan declared that "facts are stupid things."

This is why I am fundamentally agog whenever anyone delivers the "George Bush keeps us safe" bit. He did not even attempt to keep us safe prior to 9/11 from the people who eventually attacked us. He's assaulted the Constitution of the United States to keep us "safe" since then. He's poured vast amounts of money into a Homeland Security bureaucracy whose most obvious contribution to our security is a color-coding system which seemingly goes into alert whenever Bush gets bad political news, and he's expended billions of dollars and the lives of over 1000 American troops in a war that has nothing to do with the terrorists who attacked us and only increased the worldwide hostility Americans face, politically and personally. Yes, I believe George Bush knows Americans need to be safe. But George Bush is just about the very last person I trust to do that job. He's done a far better job attacking the Americans who criticize him than he's done attacking the people who killed so many of us.

An utter failure in domestic policy, an antagonizer of nations abroad, and a man whose presidential actions show very little but contempt for the wide majority of Americans whom he was selected to lead. George W. Bush should never have been president at all. So not only is he not worth voting for, he is very much actively worth voting against.

Which brings us, at last, to John Kerry. John Kerry was not my first choice for President (Wesley Clarke was), but reading after his positions and reading interviews of the man and learning more about him, I think he's a good choice, both for me personally, and for the nation. His political opponents have been attempting to tar him with the "liberal" brush, but it seems like that brush is down to its very last camel hair. And even if he were a liberal, so what? Given Bush's track record as a "compassionate conservative," being "liberal" is hardly the worst thing one can be.

Indeed, if the 2004 election does anything beneficial to the national political discourse, it will be election which reminds lower-income white people (and particularly the men) that just because people like George Bush say they're Christian and like country music and prattle on about "traditional values," it doesn't actually mean they're on your side. In any event, speaking as someone who lives in a town that has almost as many flags with car numbers on them as American flags, and also a surprisingly large number of Kerry/Edwards signs in front lawns, there's only so long you can bark-strip a NASCAR fan before he simply doesn't care that you love Jesus and don't want the queers to jointly file their taxes, and actually votes in his economic self-interest. And there will be much rejoicing on that day, hallelujah, amen.

The other reason Kerry's supposed "liberal" taint won't matter is that the Congress will remain in Republican hands. The Senate is on the bubble for a razor-thin Democratic majority, but it will likely remain with a razor-thin Republican majority, and all the huffing and puffing in the world won't make the House go Democratic. We'll have a divided government, and for the average American, that's the best sort of government there is, since it means that very few laws will pass that don't have bipartisan support (i.e., they're not nutbag tax cuts or tax increases). It also means that the next judge seated on the Supreme Court likely won't be either a right-wing or left-wing whack-job, but rather someone whose views are acceptable most of the way around. I like divided governments; it's that whole "checks and balances" thing. You know, that which the Founding Fathers raved so much about.

I'm happy with a divided government because fact of the matter is, by and large, I am a moderate, which is to say, I'm politically all over the board. I'm generally socially liberal, since I think people should generally be left alone to do what they want to do as long as they're not actively hurting and/or bothering me or anyone else, and I'm generally militarily and fiscally conservative, because I believe in paying now instead of paying later, and that the parent who foists his debts on his children is simply a bad parent, and I believe that speaking softly and carrying a big stick is actually an excellent military position.

I am not going to get what I want politically out of George Bush: He's too far into the pocket of business and the sort of people who believe, contrary to evidence in the Bible, that Jesus wants his followers to hate people who are not like them. Also, a Republican-led Congress isn't going to stop Bush from doing what he wants, because why would it want to do that? They're all on the same team. But I am likely to get what I want out of Kerry. His policies are thoughtful and generally in line with my own, and those that aren't are likely to be tempered by the Republicans in Congress.

With the exception of the subject of same-sex marriage (about which I am admittedly playing wide left), I tend to think most people are like me: Socially mellow, fiscally concerned and militarily inclined to be able to righteously kick ass, but only if absolutely necessary. These people are best represented by a Kerry presidency. Strictly as a matter of realpolitik, voting for Kerry is a smart and sane vote. And as a bonus, all those international folk who our administration swaggeringly disdains at the moment will be more inclined to help us dig ourselves out of the charnel pit we've excavated in Iraq, and I'm all for that. I want our boys and girls back home and/or working on the terrorists, not asking themselves what the hell they're doing in Iraq and why the people there increasingly want them dead.

Here's the other thing about Kerry that appeals to me: He seems reasonable -- which is to say grounded in reality. I think Kerry is capable of listening to his gut, but I also suspect he knows that it's the brain that is the actual seat of judgment. I think he will understand that whatever slim majority that carries him into office means that he will have to work with people who do not share his views, not contemptuously ignore them and pursue an agenda that walls off the benefits America provides to a select few who already have so much. I don't expect he intends to rule. I expect he intends to lead. The difference is not subtle; to rule you need to keep down those who oppose you. To lead, you have to convince them to follow where you go. We've lived four years under would-be rulers. Four years is enough.

I don't expect Kerry to be perfect. I don't expect to agree with his policies or proposals all the time. I don't imagine the Clausewitz-like, "nuke the opposition 'til they glow" tenor of American politics will suddenly change overnight. On the other hand, I do expect I will agree with Kerry some of the time, I would be happy if the American politics actually became more pragmatic and focused on the needs of the constituents, and I expect Kerry knows neither he nor his gut are infallible. All of these would be vastly preferable to what we'll get over the next four years if Bush stays in office.

That's how I'm voting, November 2.

Posted by john at 08:58 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

October 27, 2004

Book of the Dumb 2 Arrives

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Here's Athena again, modeling this year's model of Book of the Dumb: Book of the Dumb 2, or as I like to call it: Book of the Dumb 2: The Quickening. It's 330 pages of quality stupidity, and as a bonus it actually looks quite a bit nicer than the original, thanks to a slightly revised cover design and and substantially overhauled inside design which makes it a lot easier to read and enjoy. I'm very pleased about both; I wasn't a huge fan of the first BotD cover, although I allowed that the Uncle John people knew their business better than I did. Since the book sold very well, that was the correct assumption on my part. However, the new cover refers back to the old cover while at the same time opening up the design, so everyone's happy.

As a extra bonus, the content's good, too. Although I did find one very amusing typo, in the acknowledgments: I thanked Fark.com and mentioned Fark proprietor Drew Curtis by name, and the typo has him as Draw Curtis. I think there's some deep, rich, creamy irony there, and indeed I can see the Fark headline now: "Book of the Dumb Author Thanks Drew in Book, Spells Name 'D-r-a-w.' Asshat spelled 'A-S-S-H-A-T'." I'd be more upset if it actually weren't kind of funny, and from what little I know for Mr. Curtis, he doesn't seem the kind to get that upset about it. Anyway, I'm sure they'll fix it in the second printing. And since that's the only typo I've come across so far, we've gotten off pretty lightly.

I've gotten my personal copies slightly ahead of the book appearing in the stores but it's available for pre-order on Amazon and other online book sites. And it'll be in bookstores probably in the next couple of weeks. I will of course let you know when it's officially on the market.

I'm really excited about this book getting out there -- I talk about Old Man's War more, because it'll be my first novel, but like most authors I feel about my books pretty much like parents feel about their kids; it's hard to pick favorites (at least in public). But I have a lot of fun writing the Books of the Dumb, and it's the sort of book I can see writing for a while. If they ask me to do Book of the Dumb 3 (or, as I like to call it: Book of the Dumb 3: The Final Outrage), I'll be there. Book of the Dumb 4? Sure. BotD 5? Why not. Athena needs college, and I like being published, and apparently, the world needs books about dumb people doing dumb things. As I said before: Everybody wins.

Posted by john at 03:39 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

October 26, 2004

Inflicting My Child Upon You, Volume #25,338

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Because, by God, it's my Web site. If you click here, you'll see Athena sing the informative and emphatic "Planet Song," with music and lyrics by Athena Scalzi. And if that hasn't caused you to scurry away screaming, indulge in the gripping narrative tone poem "I Broke My Knee," another original work, which recounts Athena breaking said knee. Actually, she just scraped it, but what good is art, if not to exaggerate to great effect? I mean, Grendel was probably a wounded bear or something. You know what I'm talking about.

Bear in mind that both of these songs are meant primarily for grandmotherly consumption (as well as the consumption of other family), so you can be entirely excused if you're less than overwhelmed by Athena's musical and lyrical gifts. On the other hand, let's roll you back to five years old and see how you do. Yeah, that's what I thought.

Posted by john at 08:20 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

James and Ted's Excellent Literary Adventures

Hey, look at that: James Lileks has got a new book out: Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s. It's a follow-up to his Gallery of Regrettable Food, except this time, instead of mocking 50s food, he's mocking 70s interior decorating. And rightly so, I'd say.

James and I go back a ways, to the time when I was a humor editor at AOL and I called him to beg him to write a weekly column for me, and he did (thus marking the first and probably last time that he and Ted Rall worked for the same editor). He helped make me look good; therefore I'm inclined to recommend him to others. I haven't seen the book yet, but I've seen the dry runs off of Lileks.com, and they're the patented Lileks midwestern-hipster snark, so I can't imagine this one not being damn funny. I'll be picking it up the next trip to the bookstore.

As long as I'm making a tangential reference to Ted Rall, I should also note that he has a new book out as well: Generalissimo El Busho: Essays and Cartoons on the Bush Years. Sadly for me, this book meant that Ted was on a book tour while I was in New York, so our paths did not cross in Gotham. But I allow that shilling his book may have been moderately more important than seeing me at the moment. This is actually Ted's second book of the year; his previous one, Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back from the Right makes the argument that most conservatives are actually closer to liberals than they suspect, in terms of values, but that they've been more or less brainwashed to see an "us vs. them" worldview versus the libs. I imagine hearing this from Ted Rall would be enough to make conservatives explode in rage, which is of course only proving his point. Anyway, it's a fascinating book, and not just because of my cameo appearance on page 53 (in which Ted references my theory of the "original sin" of both the Republicans and the Democrats, which you can see via Amazon here).

There, I think I've done enough ecumenical book pimping for the day.

Posted by john at 10:48 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 25, 2004

Where We've Been, What's Going On Now, What's Happening Next

I'm back. Over the last few days Krissy and I were in New York City, convincing skeptical friends that Krissy was not actually mythical and does indeed exist (the rumor of the mythical Krissy having sprung up through the fact that I've gone to two Worldcons solo and yet spoke of this mysterious offstage wife). Suffice to say that they are all suitably convinced. During our stay in NYC, we stayed at the palatial apartment of Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier, and very much enjoyed their hospitality; we of course extended an invitation to this marvelous couple to visit us in the rustic splendor of rural Ohio and then we all had a nice long giggle at the idea of the two of them tromping through the neighboring cornfields. Nevertheless, the offer still stands.

Aside from enjoying the pleasure of Scott and Justine's company, we also visited other friends, saw the Blue Man Group (which was very touristy, but on the other hand was also a lot of fun, and hell, we were tourists), and swung by Tor for lunch with the Nielsen Haydens, and to pick up an Advance Readers' Copy of Old Man's War. I was very pleased the NHs made the time, as they were busy jamming through work prior to rocketing off to Arizona, and having lunch conversation with the two of them is always lots of fun.

Incidentally, PNH tells me that in fact Old Man's War will be printed and on pallets by mid-November, which means it will almost certainly be in bookstores in time for the holidays. So please feel free to place it back on your lists of things to buy for Christmas/Hanukkah/Winter Solstice. Also, I see that OMW is ranked in the 34,000s on the Amazon rankings at the moment, so to the six of you who have already pre-ordered the book: Bless you, my friends.

Having a weekend in New York City to relax and enjoy the company of friends was a good thing, as I mentioned over at By The Way, because November is going to be hellacious. Here's the deal: Because of various editorial reasons which need not be discussed here, I'll be writing pretty much the entire Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film in November. That's about 80,000 words. So all you people who are thinking of doing the National Novel Writing Month thingie in November: I've so got you beat. I'll be using the rest of October to clear the decks of other projects and to watch lots and lots of science fiction movies; come November 1, I submerge into the inky depths and you won't see much of me until December 1, when either the book will be off to the editors, or I will be off to intensive care for my ulcers.

What this means is that it is now official: I will be taking a hiatus from the Whatever through the entire month of November. I haven't yet decided whether I will simply put up a "Come Back December 1" entry or if I will post "re-runs" of popular previous whatevers. Alternately, I may post a daily (or semi-daily) link to some music I've found online, ala the late, lamented IndieCrit, and leave the comment thread open for your thoughts on the music. If you have a preference please let me know.

Whatever I do, I guarantee it will not involve more than five minutes of my time on a daily basis, because I've got a couple thousand words to write daily in a book. My AOL Journal By The Way will of course be running more or less as usual, since I get paid for that. Yes, I know many of you would prefer I do the Whatever over By the Way. But one pays bills and the other doesn't. You can't give the bank an excuse to take your home.

The good news is that December looks rather a bit more relaxed. If I can get through the next five weeks, It'll be smooth sailing until 2005. And I wouldn't mind a month off.

Posted by john at 09:45 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

October 21, 2004

AFK 10/21

First off, I'm appalled that it's the 21st of October already. That thing they say about time moving faster as you get older is hellaciously true. This is very bad news when you have a book deadline.

Second off, I'm going to be AFK, at least as regards the Whatever, through Monday. Places to go, things to do, other writing to catch up on. Also, the prediction earlier this week that I would be taking a Whatever hiatus in November is looking more and more like a go. Like, a 75% chance of hiatus. Plan your reading substitutes now.

That's all I got. Please, consider this an invitation to make this an open thread, to talk amongst yourselves. See you on Monday.

Posted by john at 10:40 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

October 20, 2004

The Five Year Old Vote

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Athena and I just got home from me picking her up from school when the phone rang; Athena picked it up and then handed to me with a puzzled look on her face. It was a recorded political message. I didn't bother to hear who it was from; I just hung it up. Athena wanted to know what it was about.

"There's an election this year, and people want to tell me how to vote," I said.

"Oh," Athena said. "You know, I want Kerry to win."

"Oh, really?" I said. "And why is that?"

"Because he has a 'c' in his name, and so do I," Athena said. (she's referring to the "c" in her last name, incidentally).

"Well, okay," I said. "But you know, Kerry spells his name with a 'k,' not a 'c.'"

Athena looked stunned for a minute and then thought furiously. "Well, there's no 'b' in my name, so I don't care," she said. "I still want Kerry to win." Clearly the pledges of allegiance go to the closest phonemic candidate.

This is a cute exchange no matter what, but here's the thing: Neither Krissy or I talk politics to Athena or around Athena, and I know she doesn't know how I'm going to vote because I haven't told her (I just checked to make sure she didn't know). So I asked her how she knew who was running for president.

"I read it in the newspaper," she said.

Athena Scalzi in '36, ladies and gentlemen. Get on the bandwagon now, while there's still time.

Posted by john at 03:21 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Wimmie-wipos

Clearly, I'm not a George Bush fan, and I'll be voting against him come November 2. But I've been asked -- and not unreasonably so -- just how bad would another four years of Bush be for me? The answer: Honestly? Not bad at all.

Why? Well, simply put: On paper, at least, I (and my family) are exactly the sort of people the Bushies assume everyone is (or should be): White, married, educated, well-off property owners with adequate health insurance and no reason to rely on the government for any direct need. Almost none of their policies impact this demographic in a negative way -- or if they do, it's so negligible as not to matter in a practical sense.

White, married, educated, well-off, insured property owners (henceforth abbreviated to WMEWIPOs -- pronounceed "wimmie-wipos") don't need to worry about the tax cuts; they skew to us anyway, and when the bill comes due, as they will in my daughter's generation if not sooner, we'll be insulated by our investments. WMEWIPOs don't need to worry about underfunding of schools because we can afford to educate our kids on our own dime if we need to. WMEWIPOs don't worry about Roe v. Wade being overturned, because if it comes to that, we can easily make a trip to Massachusetts, California or Canada. WMEWIPOs don't worry about military shortages because none of our kids are in the military, and even if there's a draft we can usually manage to keep our kids out of harm's way. WMEWIPOs don't have to worry about same-sex marriages or civil unions, because we've already got the rights others are hoping to get.

Why do I suspect another 4 years of Dubya will leave me mostly unscathed? Well, among other things, the first four years of Dubya left me mostly unscathed. The most I've been personally inconvenienced by the policies of George W. Bush was the time an officious TSA schmuck wouldn't let us carry a collapsed beach umbrella onto a plane as a carry-on because it was sealed in plastic. So I took it back to the car at the airport and we bought another umbrella at the beach. That's it.

Now, this is not to say that I can't tell you of people, even within my own extended family, who have been negatively affected by Dubya's policies; I certainly can, and it's certain they will be additionally negatively affected. But they're not me, or members of my immediate family (i.e., Krissy, Athena and the pets). We're fine. And barring a sudden, random change in fortunes, we will continue to be fine through 2008.

So, no, having another four years of Dubya in office won't be the end of my world; indeed, given Dubya's executive inclinations, it's likely another four years would benefit me. Why deny it? However, and this is an important thing, one of the things about being a grownup is looking beyond one's personal and immediate benefits (or lack of negatives). I tend to look at the overall health of the nation when I vote for president, and I think in both the long and short term, we'd be better without another four years of Bush. Yes, Bush isn't bad for me. But I think a president should do more than look out for me, or people who, on paper at least, are just like me and mine. Not every American is a Wimmie-wipo. All Americans, however, deserve to be served by their president.

Posted by john at 11:29 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

October 19, 2004

Random Crap 10/19

Bits and pieces going through my head today:

* It took two weeks for the comment spammers to figure out that I'd yanked all the previous Whatever entries, and now they're back to annoy me again. Fortunately, this newer version of Movable Type makes it very simple to yank the comment spam out by the roots. I got rid of 25 comment spams this morning in about three minutes, and it would have taken me about three times longer on my earlier install. So good going, Movable Type!

Since I'm finding it not terribly onerous to yank out comment spam, I've decided not to institute any comment policies that require people to register. I want people to be able to comment at the drop of a hat, and I accept dealing with some comment spam as part of the "cost" of doing that.

* The Barnes & Noble Web site has an actual "street date" for Old Man's War: January 28, 2005. I've sent an e-mail to Tor to ask about this, but since I've been told that generally a book is in the stores a few weeks before the official date, it seems unlikely to me that the book will be around for most of December and the holiday season, so all of y'all who were thinking the book would make a perfect Christmas/Hanukkah/Winter Solstice gift may find yourselves disappointed. As I said, I'll wait until I hear from Tor to confirm this, but that's my assumption. Of course, I hope you'll buy it anyway. It'll be just right for Valentine's Day.

Silver lining, however: Book of the Dumb 2 will ready for the holidays -- it's supposed to be out this month, in fact. So it doesn't have to be an entirely Scalzi-free holiday season. I also note that frequent Whatever visitor Elizabeth Bear's Hammered has an official release date of 12/28, which again suggests it should be available for seasonal enjoyment. Why not check that out -- here's a chapter excerpt.

* Back to the Book of the Dumb series, I note that the first Book of the Dumb has been doing surprisingly resilient business, at least on Amazon: It's current Amazon ranking is 6,436, which is not too far off the peak I saw, shortly after it was released, of the mid-2000s. From what the publishers tell me, the book has sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 copies, which is good for me for two reasons -- first, I get a sales bonus for that, and second, I think by some quasi-official metric the book publishers use, Book of the Dumb now qualifies as a "bestseller." So you may now refer to me as "bestselling author John Scalzi." Or, alternately "pathetically deluded author John Scalzi." Either works.

Mind you, it's not as if BotD showed up on any bestseller lists, and I doubt BotD2 will, either -- a ton of the sales of these books go through places like Sam's Club, which I don't expect spends a lot of time reporting data to the New York Times bestseller list editors. On the other hand, why would I care? The book has sold tens of thousands of copies, there's another book on the way which (one hopes) will sell as well, and if everything goes swimmingly, I can write more of these fun and silly books. Who can complain?

I am pleased to see that it's selling so well after a year out, however. It bodes well for the longevity of the series. Also, if the book sells another 60,000 copies by October 2007, I get another sales bonus. Go, Book of the Dumb! Go!

* As a procedural note, it's becoming more and more likely that I may take a hiatus from the Whatever in November. The reason for this is tied up in the writing of The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film, which may require some rather intensive attention next month for various reasons which rather thankfully have little to do with me as a proximate cause, but which nevertheless will require my mostly-undivided attention. So, if you don't hear from me much in November, that'll be why.

* I'm also behind on getting up the non-Whatever portions of Scalzi.com. Sorry. I wish I had a good excuse. Actually, I wish I had an unpaid intern to slap it all up. Either would work.

Posted by john at 10:15 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

October 18, 2004

Doing the Friend Pimp

My pal Joe Rybicki, aka the mastermind behind quality geek-core band Johnny High Ground, has finally gotten his Johnny High Ground Web site in order, and as may be expected, it's a rockin' good time, with music downloads and links to the release of the JHG compilation Early Output: 1999-2002, which piles up the music Joe put together in those years in that easy-to-carry recording technology the guys in the tech department call a "Compact Disc." Isn't technology groovy.

Wanna hear it first? You can stream the tracks on the collection on Joe's music page, which also features the timely political song "Trigger-Happy Texan" (also on the CD) for download. Joe says of "Texan": "Please — download a copy, share it with your friends, and pray with me that it will be rendered utterly obsolete in three weeks."

I would note that aside from this one track, even potential Bush voters should fully enjoy JHG's musical output, and the CD Joe's selling, so even if you're gettin' all "red state" come Nov. 2, check out Joe's music anyway. And if you are feeling "blue state," you'll definitely want to rip, burn and share, since not only is it a protest song, it's a protest song that is the very opposite of "suck." Check it for yourself and see what I mean.

Posted by john at 01:42 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Makin' Chili

I got into one of those moods to make something in the kitchen yesterday -- a rare mood, for which Krissy is thankful, since when I get in the mood to make something in the kitchen, usually the kitchen explodes toward entropy in fairly short order. But what can I say, I had a hankering for chili. I told Krissy I was going to make dinner, and after the near imperceptible emotional war on her face -- the "how nice, he's making dinner so I don't have to" expression and the "please God let my kitchen survive this" expression going mano a mano for about 15 milliseconds -- she said that would be fine. Off I went to the grocery store.

Here's what you need to make John Scalzi's Entirely Random Chili:

1. One really big white onion, somewhat coarsely chopped, because, well, I don't handle kitchen knives all that well.

2. Four large ripe tomatoes, only slightly less coarsely chopped.

3. One small package of Orzo or other small pasta (you want no more than a cup)

4. One pound italian sausage -- not ground beef. The sausage should be ground but not in sausage casings.

5. One pound thick-sliced peppered bacon.

6. One regular-sized can of chili beans.

7. One regular-sized can of starter chili sauce (I used the Tabasco brand one)

8. 3-4 cans of basic canned chili, two with beans, two without. You ask, why bother with these cans of chili? Well, if you want to just build out your chili starting from beans and tomato paste, go right ahead. But the reason I do it this way is that even when I'm ambitious, I'm lazy. If there's a canned chili you find marginally acceptable, why not use it as a base?

All right. First you dump the canned chili, the starter chili sauce and the beans into a bag-ass pot and you let it simmer. You chop up the onions and tomatoes. The tomatoes go directly into the chili. The onion you sauté first in olive oil (this keeps you from having onion breath so insanely powerful that you melt your pets' hair), adding a very small dash of garlic powder. Once they are lightly cooked, in they go into the chili.

Then you fry up the italian sausage, and make sure that you don't get any clumps that are too large. Once it's fully cooked, put it into the chili. Chop up the bacon into smallish chunks and fry up in two batches. I like my bacon fully cooked but not crumbly crisp, but, you know, do what you want. Drain the fat but don't be obsessive about draining every last drop; dump into the chili.

Lastly, add in the orzo and mix throughly. Let the chili continue to simmer for the suggested cooking time of the Orzo. Now, eat. It serves, God, at least eight. Garnish each bowl with cheese, sour cream and pepper/peppers to taste.

This chili is not particularly hot, since I'm not a huge fan of chili that tries to assassinate your tongue on it's way toward the stomach, but if you are then I suppose adding in the chilies of your choice would not be a bad thing at all. For me, this chili has two things going for it: One, it's got a lot of savory meat (the Italian sausage and peppered bacon plus the base "meat" from the canned chili), and two, it's a really thick chili -- the orzo really helps with that. Chili can have either the consistency of a soup or a stew, but I have a hard time with soup-like chilis. I think a good chili needs to have a substantial portion of the chili stick on a spoon when you turn the spoon upside down. Otherwise, you're just doing it wrong.

I don't know if this recipe qualifies as "true" chili, or just a weird-random chili-like stew. But one, ask me if I care, and two, whatever it is, it's good eatin'.

Best of all, I did not destroy the kitchen making it. Score one point for me.

Posted by john at 09:42 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

October 16, 2004

From the "We Knew This, Now We Know It For a Fact" File

Your Sunday reading assignment, ladies and gentlemen:

Planning for after the war in Iraq non-existent

By WARREN P. STROBEL and JOHN WALCOTT

Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - In March 2003, days before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, American war planners and intelligence officials met at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to review the Bush administration's plans to oust Saddam Hussein and implant democracy in Iraq.

Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material - and for good reason.

The slide said: "To Be Provided."

A Knight Ridder review of the administration's Iraq policy and decisions has found that it invaded Iraq without a comprehensive plan in place to secure and rebuild the country. The administration also failed to provide some 100,000 additional U.S. troops that American military commanders originally wanted to help restore order and reconstruct a country shattered by war, a brutal dictatorship and economic sanctions.

In fact, some senior Pentagon officials had thought they could bring most American soldiers home from Iraq by September 2003. Instead, more than a year later, 138,000 U.S. troops are still fighting terrorists who slip easily across Iraq's long borders, diehards from the old regime and Iraqis angered by their country's widespread crime and unemployment and America's sometimes heavy boots.

"We didn't go in with a plan. We went in with a theory," said a veteran State Department officer who was directly involved in Iraq policy.

The whole report is, in a word, heartbreaking. And it shows how this administration betrayed the military which performed so brilliantly during the invasion of Iraq by not having its back with a plan for the peace. Please do pass it along to any Bush supporter you know who clings to the idea that this adminstration has the slightest clue what it's doing in Iraq. It really doesn't. And as this report shows, it never really did. It hardly even bothered.

Our military people deserve better. The people in Iraq deserve better. We deserve better.

Posted by john at 11:39 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

October 15, 2004

Voting Christian

Got an e-mail today, one of those "forward to all your friends!" ones, that asked "How Would Jesus Vote?" and suggested that Jesus would vote for John Kerry. This will no doubt come as a vast surprise to many Bush supporters, who will likely be shocked, offended and personally aggrieved at the idea that Jesus might vote for a pro-choice pinko senator from Taxachusetts; that doesn't seem like Him at all. Although why they would think he would He would vote for Bush, who is currently and relentlessly screwing the poor for the benefit of the rich, is a question that remains unasked and unanswered. No one believes Jesus would vote for Nader; that's just sick.

I wonder why people are asking How Would Jesus Vote? at all. I am no more privy to the Mind of God than the next guy -- and well aware of the fact, which is why I'm officially an agnostic -- but based on what I know of the guy, I don't suspect he'd vote for anyone. Jesus is not the voting type, boys and girls. Jesus, you'll recall, was concerned with another Kingdom entirely, and I suspect that One who passed over the worldly temptations of the Devil while in the desert wouldn't spend a whole lot of time worrying about how to cast His worldly vote. Also, when you die for everyone's sins, picking sides in a political scrap seems sort of aside the point. I think it seems rather unlikely that Jesus would say "I died for the sins of the world, but I especially died for the sins of those who vote Bush/Cheney on November 2." We are all equally sinners, and in the eyes of the Lord, none of us more equal than the others.

Here's Jesus's entire political philosophy, best expressed in Romans 13, verses 8-10:

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Asking How Jesus Would Vote is a foolish question; however, asking how one should vote as a Christian is not. Christians are human beings; they are citizens of a country (for the purposes of this entry, I'm assuming of the United States), and they are manifestly enjoined to be concerned about their neighbors, which one can easily mean to suggest in a wider sense that one should be actively politically involved. Romans 13 earlier suggests that one should submit to governing authorities: Here in the US, that means us, the voters. The Constitution of the United States apportions power in various ways, but ultimately and by design power in the US devolves to individual voters, who decide who is to represent us in our government. One could very easily say it is a Christian duty to vote.

And for whom should a Christian vote? Well, if one is voting exclusively as a Christian, it would seem that one would vote for the candidate who best exemplifies the Christian ideal of loving one's neighbor as one's self. Which candidate might that be? Well, I have my own personal opinion on that, but I'm not a Christian, nor do I vote based directly on Christian philosophy.

But even I were and I did, there's no assurance that my interpretation of the political ramifications of "Love your neighbor as yourself" is going to jibe with anyone else's. I strongly suspect that many good and conscientious Christians will vote for Kerry; I suspect many good and conscientious Christians will vote for Bush. If they genuinely believe that the candidate for whom they have voted best exemplifies the loving standard of neighborly care set forth by Jesus, then I submit to the extent they vote based on their faith, they have voted well.

I would submit, however, that this sort of belief can only come through genuine individual decision-making. I've got several theological bones to pick with most born-again folks in the US, but one thing I think they get right is that one must affirm one's faith -- one must go through the trial of crisis and decision and make the conscious decision to be born again into the grace of the Lord. This requires an individual and personal choice, which implies a great deal of thought (Catholics, who are baptised early, usually go through a confirmation process later. Some idea, different theological franchise).

In the best of all worlds, every Christian will expend the same effort (in kind, if not degree) in examining his or her vote for the leader of the United States as he or she hopefully expended in accepting Jesus as a savior. I submit the Christian who votes for one candidate or another because that's who they've been told to vote for by their family, friends or religious leaders is not only doing themselves a disservice, they are not voting in a truly Christian manner. Jesus wouldn't vote, but I'm pretty sure He'd want you to really think about yours. You walk into the Kingdom of Heaven with your eyes open; you should be walking into the polling booth the same way.

Posted by john at 11:24 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

October 13, 2004

Takin' the Quiz

Apparently two bloggers over at the Detroit News Political Blog, John Needham (who is liberal), and Susanna Cornett (who is not), are having a catfight about the Bush Voters v. Voight-Kampff entry here, which has precipitated the Cornett to answer the quiz at length, along with some various snarky commentary about me and that particular entry, including the methodology of the quiz.

Well, I'm not going to try to defend the quiz on methodology; it clearly has a bias (mine) and I'm clearly trying to provoke. If I wanted to write a legitimate survey, I certainly wouldn't toss it off in an hour on my Web site. I think the questions are not without merit, but the point for me -- aside from the general ventilation of my brain it affords -- is to ask whether people are voting for Bush by reflex or voting for because they've actually thought through their reasons for voting for him. There's no real point being nice when you ask someone that; you might as well make them defensive about it and thereby in a mood to justify themselves (it worked on Cornett, in any event). One could just as easily create a similar quiz for Kerry voters, although that one would not be me, because I have no interest in doing so. Point is -- Voting by reflex, bad. Voting from thought, good.

Cornett writes:

Please note that I understand Needham will not accept my answers as honest or true, nor will Scalzi, because they don't want answers - they want a stupid stick to beat me with.

I don't speak for John Needham, but personally I'm thrilled she tried to answer them honestly as possible; why wouldn't I be? Just because I think nearly all people voting for Bush are stupid, ignorant or hypocritical doesn't mean I can't be wrong. Really, I'm getting sick of having to remind people constantly that I don't think my opinion is a direct analogue to reality. People clearly need a refresher course on what the word "opinion" means.

Now, as it happens, I think some of Corbett's rationales are a tad slapdash; it's easy to pronounce things like "the Clinton economy was a false bubble of prosperity" and hope people don't pay attention to the fact Bush's tax policies went far beyond economic stimulus and became tantamount to a fire sale on my kid's fiscal future for the benefit of the really really rich. And I think she's living in some strange parallel universe when she says "The primary initiative was accomplished in Afghanistan before the Iraq war." Nor am I any less convinced Bush and his administration is not in fact, monstrously incompetent, and a vote for Bush is a thumbs-up on letting the dim rule the roost.

But on the other hand, why don't you go over and check her answers to see if she's convinced you she's not ignorant, stupid or hypocritical for supporting Bush. Who knows? She may, and bully for her if she does. I'd rather have you hear from someone who thinks she has good reasons for voting for Bush than just listening to me confirm yet again what you already know I think about the man. Yes, I think Bush is incompetent, and those who vote for him crazy enablers. But I don't want you to take my word for it. I'd rather have you think for yourself.

Posted by john at 05:45 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Learning Curve = 0

Steve Schwenk, late of wishing violent death upon the child of a New York Times reporter and then being shocked, shocked when that wish was publicized in the New York Times with his name attached to it, has posted an open letter to Daniel Okrent, the NYT's public editor, who is the one who outed Schwenk in his column.

I don't think much of it, and reading it I think less of Schwenk than I did before. Schwenk gripes about how horrible this whole ordeal has been for him and his family and about how awfully he's been abused by the Times when it published his name and the comment. But other than agreeing that what he wrote ("I hope your kid gets his head blown off in a Republican war") was "shocking and uncivil," I don't see Schwenk actually being sorry for what he wrote.

Oh, true enough, he regrets it, for various reasons: He's gotten a number of harassing phone calls, he's been exposed to national ridicule, and now anytime anyone Googles him, they're going to see his brief spike into national prominence, and for a not very nice reason. But as Schwenk formulates it, it's all about what's being done to him, and nothing about the outrageous comment which provoked the response.

For example, look how Schwenk formulates the Google complaint:

What won't go away for years, if ever, are the results of the Google search of my name every prospective employer, professional colleague, new friend or potential spouse is likely to conduct in the future. When you search my name now, you learn right away that the Public Editor of the New York Times called me a coward and a despicable person incapable of consideration of others. As Mr. Nagourney well knows, Google is brutal and unforgiving. It forgets nothing. And everybody uses it. And when people see in their search results that it is the esteemed New York Times that has branded me an inconsiderate coward, they are, ironically, likely to believe it to be true without any second thought.

What Schwenk conveniently glosses over here is that the Google-accessible chunk of text in which he is called a coward will also include Mr. Schwenk's actual quote. I suggest that future Googlers of Mr. Schwenk will be rather more convinced that he is a coward because he wished for the death of someone's child from the safe remove of 2,200 miles and e-mail delivery than the fact that Daniel Okrent, for better or worse, called him on the fact.

Yes, yes, I know, Schwenk says that it's out of context. But let me ask, and not for the first time: In what context can hoping someone's child gets his head blown off in a war be seen as anything other than cruel and monstrous? I'm racking by brain for that sort of redeeming context, and you know, I'm coming up with squat.

I'd also like to draw attention to this bit from Mr. Schwenk's letter:

In sending my angry e-mail to Mr. Nagourney, I never intended to cause him harm, and did not cause him harm.

Simply and baldly put: Steve Schwenk is a liar. Mr. Schwenk is apparently a parent, since he details how his children have been frightened by the aftermath of his outing in the Times. I find it utterly inconceivable that a parent -- particularly one who is now trotting out his own children to bolster his claims of persecution -- can wish another parent's child dead without recognizing the extreme power of that statement. This isn't your usual, garden variety "you're an asshole" sort of invective. It's the sort of language you use when you want to hit someone hard in their soft spots. You don't say something like that about someone's kid as part of a general suite of heated conversation. No, placing an image of a child's death in the mind of a parent takes malice aforethought.

Within the scope of Schwenk's ability to hurt Mr. Nagourney, the reporter whose child for whom he hoped for death, he went out of his way to do so. Some of the people jumping to Schwenk's defense (none here, thank God), have suggested that this kind of comment is "a mildly heated email to a Times reporter." Well, I call "bullshit" on that, and on Mr. Schwenk. You don't wish someone's kid gets their head blown off and then try to say that you weren't trying to hurt them. If Schwenk is not a liar, and he genuinely didn't know hoping for Nagourney's kid to die might not come back to haunt him, then he is so unfathomably stupid as to beggar description. But as I said, since he's canny enough to trot out his own kids to make his case, I don't think Schwenk can claim stupidity.

Here's the clincher for me that Schwenk doesn't really think he's done anything wrong:

Let me close by pledging that, henceforth, I shall write all of my e-mails as though they will be published in the New York Times. I shall write them with the care, consideration and respect for civil discourse that one would expect from the public editor of the nation's leading newspaper. I will write them as though I am writing a respected column that will be read by people around the world, and that will be captured in Google forever. My parting request to you, Mr. Okrent, should your choose not to do the honorable thing and resign, is that you pledge to never again write a column for the New York Times as though you are writing a private, angry and hostile e-mail to an audience of one.

In other words, "I'll never write another e-mail wishing another parent's kid dead because I don't want to be embarrassed again." Not "I'll never write another e-mail wishing another parent's kid dead because it's a horrible thing to do, and I was wrong for doing it."

What a schmuck.

Look, if I were Adam Nagourney, I would have dropped Schwenk's e-mail into the trash like it deserved to be trashed. If I were Daniel Okrent, I wouldn't have published Schwenk's name. If I were Okrent's editor, I would have strongly suggested he not put Schwenk's name in the article. Outing Schwenk is far from the New York Times' greatest moment. Schwenk should have been ignored, not held up for ridicule.

Having said that, in light of Schwenk's self-pitying refusal to acknowledge his sentiment was wrong, I again discover I have not a thimbleful of sympathy for him for the predicament in which he finds himself. It's nice he regrets sending that e-mailed sentiment to Mr. Nagourney. Would that he regretted it not for what airing the sentiment is doing to him, but for what sending the sentiment says about his soul.

Here's what I hope for Mr. Schwenk's children: That they grow up bright and beautiful and happy, and so very far away from the sort of death their father wished upon the child of another parent.

Posted by john at 01:36 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Like a Newbie, Fragged For the Very First Time

My new DSL modem has provided me the first true low-ping environment I've had since I left the warm confines of the AOL LAN, lo those many years ago. So I cranked up my Unreal Tournament 2004, went looking for some local servers, and jumped into a deathmatch to see if I still had my 1337 deathmatch 5ki11z5, yo.

I don't. I got my ass handed to me over and over and over again; it's a reminder that people are smarter than bots and are not easily tricked by a crafty double jump or two.

Clearly, I need to spend more time re-establishing my 5ki11z5. If I can do without having Krissy murder me, so much the better.

Also: The DSL is, like, sooooo much better than the satellite modem. There's just no comparison. And it's cheaper, too. We're truly living in an age of miracles.

Posted by john at 01:03 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 12, 2004

Courting Disaster

DSL modem has arrived. Will now attempt to install. Keep your fingers crossed. This will undoubtedly be a bumpy ride. Don't worry, it won't keep you from accessing the Whatever; it'll just keep me from accessing the Whatever.

Update: 6:15 pm -- Oh. My. GOD. So much speed.

Posted by john at 03:49 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Ignorance is No Excuse

Sweet Jesus on Pogo Stick, but I do get sick of ignorant people around here. One just popped up in the comment threads for The Election and Kerry's Shoes and dropped a wide load of ignorance on the proceedings; the item that's currently exercising my irritation is this little gem:

We are the infedels. The Koran instructs Muslims to bring the world to Islam or kill them. Since we will not convert...they will kill us anyway they can.

Yes, this is exactly what the Koran says in 60:8: "God forbids you not, with regards to those who fight you not for [your] faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for God loveth those who are just."

And let's get a load of this bloodthirsty passage from the Koran, 29:46: "And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, 'We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)."

Hide the children! Clearly Islam wants us all stone dead.

"The People of the Book," incidentally, would be Jews and Christians, whom Islam recognizes as part of the same religious tradition and worshiping the same God. Rather than being forced to convert at the point of a sword, Jew and Christians within Dar-al-Islam are doctrinally protected from being forced to convert, and are supposed to be allowed to practice their faiths. Sadly this is often not the case, but I suppose it's not terribly surprising that people often don't live up to the ideals of their own faith. God knows it happens enough outside Dar-al-Islam as well.

So basically, that's that for the idea that the Koran encourages conversion at the point of the sword. If we want to talk about the history of forced conversion, it'd probably be better to talk about Christianity, whose record on that score is somewhat more colorful. But we don't need to get into that right at the moment.

Here's what offends me about this little bit of ignorance festering on my comment thread. First, that this fellow is ignorant at all; that he apparently uncritically swallowed this load of crap without inquiring whether it might actually be true. After all, it's not difficult to check for one's self: Go to Google, type in "Koran," and you'll find quite a few versions of the book online; here's just one. And here's a fine wikipedia article on Islam, you know, for extra useful context.

If one's feeling ambitious to get out of the house, one may even try one's local library; the tiny library in my little rural town has two English translations of the Koran. The library also has a few books on the history of Islam; heck, it's even got Islam for Dummies. The information is not difficult to find. But clearly this fellow doesn't feel he needs to actually discover things out for himself; someone said it, he believes it and that's that.

I can't remember at what age it was that I discovered that people are indeed willfully ignorant -- that they choose not to know things despite the ease with which knowledge can be acquired -- but I know that even at that young age I was agog at the idea. It still astounds me, even more so because there has never been another era in which so much information was so readily available. This ignoramus sits in front of an Internet-connected computer, the single greatest tool for the acquisition of knowledge in the history of the world, and uses it to show off his lack of knowledge rather than to use it to increase his knowledge. He might as well use his computer to squish bugs for all the good it's doing his brain.

The second offensive thing about this exhibition of ignorance is that this fellow is not content to remain ignorant and silent, which, if one must choose to be ignorant, is the ideal position to maintain. No, clearly he feels it's his duty to spread his ignorance, thus his appearance on my comment thread. It's possible he doesn't know he's ignorant, but I find that hard to believe: Most people know whether or not they've read a book. I'm pretty sure he knew that when he said the Koran said something, he knew he hadn't actually read it himself. So we're left with the conclusion that he knew he didn't know what he was writing about, but that he wasn't going to let a small detail like that get in his way (there's the third possibility that he has read the Koran, and his simply bald-faced lying about it, but in my opinion this is the most unlikely scenario). However you slice it, ignorance loves company, and this fellow was clearly trying to increase the ranks of the ignorant.

Well, you know. I don't want that for my site. I like it when people who have viewpoints that are different than mine come to the site, make their points from an informed position and participate in the give and take that comes out of that with other people in the comment threads. I don't like it when people with no more knowledge on a subject than any random chicken stroll by, vomit up a gout of nonsense, and try to pass it off as a useful contribution to the discussion. My readership deserves better than to be presented by this kind of crap.

Let me note that if this fellow had said something along the lines of "I've heard the Koran tells Muslims to convert or kill Jews and Christians," I would not be whacking on him like I am. We all have our list of received knowledge which may or may not be true; I like to think I'd be welcoming to anyone who knows he or she might not know something. If I can give them an answer, I'd like to think I'd try; if I couldn't, I'd like to think I'd point them in the direction of finding more knowledge on the subject. But this guy is purporting to know something he clearly does not, and trying to pass it off as fact. I bring out the mallets for people like that.

Which bring me to the third reason I find this stuff offensive: this fellow is trying to pass his ignorance to me. The implication here is that in his estimation I'm either ignorant or stupid enough to swallow this crap, and I resent that. Is there anything about this site which suggests I am credulous or dim? Do I appear especially open to the vacuous utterances of the woefully ignorant? Is there a blinking neon sign over the top of my head that says "Shovel Crap Here?" I'd like to think the answer in all three cases is no. But please, someone tell me otherwise if I am incorrect.

As I've said before and undoubtedly will again, I don't believe I'm always right, or that I know everything. I'm always excited to meet people who challenge my opinions and positions and make me think of the world in ways I may not have before. I like diversity of thought; I like to think I encourage it here in the comment threads. And I like to think the people who comment here also enjoy the challenge that comes from a diversity of thought.

But the key word here is thought. Coming to my site to spread ignorance insults me. It offends me. It demeans me. It means you think I'm as ignorant as you are. I'm not.

Posted by john at 01:13 PM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

October 10, 2004

Reminder: There is No Such Thing as Private E-Mail

Atrios gets tightly wound over the fact that The New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent named someone who had sent a nasty e-mail to a New York Times reporter. This is what Okrent said:

But before I turn over the podium, I do want you to know just how debased the level of discourse has become. When a reporter receives an e-mail message that says, "I hope your kid gets his head blown off in a Republican war," a limit has been passed.

That's what a coward named Steve Schwenk, from San Francisco, wrote to national political correspondent Adam Nagourney several days ago because Nagourney wrote something Schwenk considered (if such a person is capable of consideration) pro-Bush. Some women reporters regularly receive sexual insults and threats. As nasty as critics on the right can get (plenty nasty), the left seems to be winning the vileness derby this year. Maybe the bloggers who encourage their readers to send this sort of thing to The Times might want to ask them instead to say it in public. I don't think they'd dare.

Atrios says:

The fact that the NYT's public editor, the person who is supposed to represent the *readers*, has chosen to publish the name and a clipped quote from a reader who never intended his name or comments to be published, and made that desire clear multiple times, is disgusting. It doesn't matter what the person wrote to the reporter. As I've said, I've been aware of the identities of people who have not only sent me obscene and insulting emails, but who have made an effort to disrupt the comments of this site, for a long time. I never went as far as publishing their *personal* name/address/phone number/email. Why? Because it's an unfair fight.

In terms of personal handling of e-mail, I'm with Atrios: My personal policy has always been not to air the e-mail I get, unless it's anonymous or unless I get permission. Most of the time my truly nasty e-mail isn't worth responding to, anyway; anyone who's gotten as much hate mail as I have over the years has high standards as to what deserves to be shared with others.

However, I have not even a thimbleful of sympathy for Mr. Schwenk. For one thing, as Mr. Okrent points out, anyone who e-mails a reporter expressing a wish that a specific reporter's kid gets his or her head blown off has set up a sphincter kiosk on Asshole Avenue and is doing gangbuster business. Perhaps a little public shaming will do him some good, or least keep him from sending anymore e-mails wishing people's children would die. No doubt Mr. Schwenk is embarrassed and is finding out what it's like to be on the receiving end of asshole behavior at the moment, and maybe this possibility will give people pause before they send off an e-mail like Schwenk's. It's one of those "live by the sphincter, die by the sphincter" teachable moments.

For another thing -- and I don't believe we still have to make this point at this late date in the world -- there is no such thing as private e-mail. Certainly not in the case of an e-mail to a reporter; assuming the e-mail was sent to Mr. Nagourney's New York Times e-mail address, that e-mail is legally the property of the Times, not Mr. Nagourney, and it may do anything it wishes with that e-mail, including giving it over to the Public Editor to write about. Now, I think we can safely assume that as a general rule, the editors of the Times don't spend a lot of time combing through their reporter's e-mails looking for juicy bits to air. But legally speaking, they could, and that's worth drilling into one's head.

But we don't need to involve the Times as an institution in all of this, since there's simply the matter that once one hits the "send" button on the e-mail client, one loses all control of the e-mail one has sent. It's the recipient who has the privilege of deciding what happens to the e-mail, whether the e-mail is kept private, aired for the public edification or amusement, or simply plonked unread. In this particular case, I suspect that Mr. Nagourney shared the e-mail with Mr. Okrent, Mr. Okrent asked if he could use it, and Mr. Nagourney gave his assent. And why shouldn't have he? By writing to share his hope of the decapitating death of Mr. Nagourney's progeny, Mr. Schwenk made it pretty clear he has absolutely no respect for Mr. Nagourney, nor has he made any effort toward common courtesy. By the Golden Rule (a fine metric for human behavior), Mr. Schwenk should expect no less.

As Atrios noted, it's probably a fine guess that Mr. Schwenk didn't expect that everyone would learn he thinks it's just fine to wish death upon the children of people who write newspaper articles that are not to his liking. But I ask: So what? Once he sent that e-mail, it was no longer his choice to make, just as when I send someone e-mail, what happens to it from there is no longer under my control, either. When you send e-mail, you give up control of what happens to your words. If you don't want to give up that control, don't send the e-mail. Mr. Schwenk may have been ignorant of this little detail regarding e-mail -- or blithely assumed (if Atrios is correct that he said the e-mail was not intended for public consumption) that his own desire to have his vile little e-mail be private obliged Mr. Nagourney to consent to the request. But I don't see how that should restrict either Mr. Nagourney or Mr. Okrent. In any event, he's not ignorant of this little detail now.

Live it, learn it, love it: You have no expectation of privacy in e-mail. None. Ever. Presume that you do have an expectation of privacy, and you are going to be sorely disappointed (and, as Mr. Schwenk has discovered, possibly humiliated).

(Would I want some of the e-mail I sent in the past aired for public consumption? Well, no; Hell, there are some I've written in the last month I'd prefer not to have seen in the open. However, I recognize that I have no control over those e-mails; as a result, I don't think I've written an e-mail recently that I wouldn't own up to if it were aired.)

Atrios trots out the public/private individual thing, i.e., that evidence of Mr. Schwenk's jerkitude should have remained private because he's not, say, a New York Times reporter. But this isn't a libel thing, and unless there's a section of Times v. Sullivan I'm not aware of, there's no private v. public litmus test in revealing whether one has voluntarily been an ass to another person. After all, it's not as if Mr. Nagourney had to investigate to discover if Mr. Schwenk hoped his child dead; Mr. Schwenk affirmatively offered up the hope himself, in writing, no less, with name appended. Atrios likewise suggests that it doesn't matter what Mr. Schwenk wrote, but I find it difficult to imagine a scenario in which Mr. Schwenk had written something complimentary to Mr. Nagourney, and Mr. Okrent had published it and Schwenk's name, and then Atrios (or anyone else) had worked himself into a rage about how mightily Mr. Schwenk's personal privacy had been violated.

I'm a little strict on these things, but I believe that one of the trade offs of free speech is the responsibility for your words. Should Mr. Schwenk be held publicly accountable for his words, even if he didn't expect he would be? Well, why shouldn't he be? One assumes Mr. Schwenk is a grownup and understands he's accountable for his actions. He wrote the e-mail, and he signed his name to it. Let him stand by his words or retract them. After all, what's the point in saying anything to anyone anywhere if we're not willing to either stand by those words, or admit we were wrong for saying them?

Because he's been outed as a jerk in the New York Times, does Schwenk deserve to be harassed and abused by other jerks? No, I think being called a coward in the New York Times is enough for most people. As I said, I don't doubt that Schwenk will be harassed and abused by jerks, and I do feel a measure of pity for him for that, since it's no fun to be abused and harassed by jerks. On the bright side, now he and Mr. Nagourney will have something in common.

As an aside, I'd just like to note that Democrats (or other political affiliations) saying something is a "Republican War" is no less odious than when Republicans were saying of Clinton that he was not their president. As Americans, we all own the current war; our government called for it, our military fought it, our people are dying in it. The question is what we do about it.

Posted by john at 03:23 PM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

October 09, 2004

Random Blatherings, 10/09/04

Some thoughts that in themselves don't merit a full entry:

* So, here's the basic line coming out of the debate, so far as I can tell: George Bush neither drooled on himself nor shook like a palsied chimpanzee, and was actually reasonably composed, so he wins (and by "wins" we mean to say it's a draw, since Kerry apparently did just fine, too). Talk about the soft bigotry of lowered expectations. Also, and feel free to call me a snob here, but I want more from a president than that he didn't soil himself live on television. If a victory can be derived simply from not embarrassing one's self, it's time to explore new metrics of victory.

In response to yesterday's venting about Kerry, a couple of people noted in the comment thread that it's in the media's self-interest to make it appear the contests are close right down to the wire; therefore unless Dubya really did absolutely lose it, last night's pundit spin would be charitable no matter what. On reflection this has probably got truth to it, although I'm not entirely sure just how much the punditry out there realized it's trained itself to do this sort of thing; they do it as automatically as a short order cook flips a burger.

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* I went out and bought The System of the World Thursday, thus completing my purchase of Neal Stephenson's entire Baroque Cycle, but I have to admit that I haven't the slightest idea when I'm going to get around to reading the whole damn thing. I started Quicksilver not long after it came out, and was about 200 pages in when I realized that I'd basically read an entire novel's worth of nothing but set-up; I put it down and haven't picked it up since. Someone informed me that it does pick up somewhere around page 400, and I know I like Stephenson's writing in a general sense, so I planned to get back to it, and bought The Confusion and The System of the World on the basic faith that I would eventually settle down with them. But, jeez. 3,000 pages, and 400 pages to get things going. I just don't know. Especially since I've picked up Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is not small book in itself (730-odd pages), but at least is its own thing. We'll have to see if I get to the Baroque Cycle sometime before I hit 40.

In the meantime, here's what I've been using the Baroque Cycle books for: Doorstops. Yes, really. Look, if you're going to write a book big enough to stop a door, don't be surprised if that's what someone uses them for.

* On the tech geek front -- where the hell is my DSL? All my modem fixin's were supposed to be here on Thursday, and now here it is, not Thursday, and I am still DSLess. This crap is beginning to piss me off.

Also on the tech geek tip: I ordered Half-Life 2 today through gamemaker Valve's "Steam" online download function, not only to get that game but because one of the packages also offers the games in Valve's archive, including the original Half-Life. I have half life on disc, of course, but it's so old now that my current computer just laughs at me when I ask it to run the game; it's like it won't lower itself to play a game designed to be played on Windows 98. The only problem I can see with the Steam delivery is that it appears to download the game a map at a time, and that's not necessarily a good thing when you have a balky satellite connection. All the more reason for me to have my DSL now, damn it.

Posted by john at 10:55 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

October 08, 2004

The Election and Kerry's Shoes

I want to be clear on this, so that there's no confusion. If John Kerry cannot beat George W. Bush in this election, he should be taken out and beaten to death with his own shoes. How can any major party candidate not beat a sitting president who is the first since Hoover to have the economy lose jobs on his watch? How can any candidate not beat a sitting president whose economic policies took the federal budget from massive surpluses to massive deficits in such an alarmingly short time? How can any candidate not beat a sitting president whose rationales for a war of choice have been shown over and over again to be false and reckless -- and because of that 1000 members of the US armed forces have no better reason for their mortal sacrifice than "presidential misadventure"? How can any candidate lose to the most incompetent man in living memory to hold the office of president?

Don't talk to me about the Republican smear machine, or stupid voters, or a complicit media. This is a candidate's job, to make his case to the American voters. John Kerry has been blessed with an opponent who makes Warren Harding look like a sharp tack, whose major policies have uniformly been one fat disgusting disaster after another, and who by most polls has lead the country in what most Americans view to be in the wrong direction. And here it is, 25 days before election day, and Bush and Kerry are still more or less statistically tied; Kerry's up today, but not enough that he won't be behind tomorrow if he doesn't ace tonight's debate.

This is appalling. It is unfathomable to me that at this late date in the campaign that Kerry is not more than a percentage point or two -- at best -- beyond the statistical error of the polls. I am reasonably confident that Kerry will be a perfectly acceptable president, certainly by comparison to his predecessor if nothing else. But as a candidate, he gives me the smacky shakes. I understand that this is his modus operandi in campaigns: to come up fast in the final quarter, just like he did in his senate campaign against William Weld in 1996. But look, Dubya ain't no William Weld. Bush doesn't have the 70% approval ratings Weld had. Dubya doesn't have the successful executive track record Weld had. That race deserved to be close. This one doesn't.

And let's also be clear on this: Kerry needs to win outside the margin of error. Bush got into the White House in 2000 because Gore, that stupid, stupid man, let the race get close; he lost his own home state, for God's sake, and then it all came down to Florida, where Dubya's brother was governor, and then got kicked upstairs to the Supreme Court. If it all comes down to Florida again, there will be riots and Disney World will burn, baby, burn, but it'll go to Bush again. Or what if it comes down to Ohio, home of Diebold and a Republican Secretary of State who attempted to disallow voter registration cards because of the weight of the paper until he was shamed into backing up? Come on, people. Do you really think if it's close that the Republicans will let it get away? When it comes to elections, you don't let the GOP get close. Letting them get close just means you can't see where they're planning to jam in the knife.

And you know what -- I totally respect that. In 2000, I enraged a rabidly liberal friend of mine by saying, basically, that the reason Bush was in the White House was quite simply that the GOP wanted it more. The Florida recount was a dirty business all the way around, and the GOP, rabid little powermongers that they were, were like the poor schmucks at a radio contest who were willing to dive headfirst into a vat of pig shit to get the sparkly prize, while the Democrats were only willing to get in to their knees and half-heartedly pick around, and complain that they shouldn't have to wallow in pork crap in the first place. Well, you know. That was the game at that point. If it comes to that again, you know the GOP has got the snorkels at ready.

This is why Kerry needs two have a two or three state margin (at least!) at the end of the day. This election needs to be incontestable; on election night, Dubya and the GOP have to look at the tally board and know that short of a military coup they've only got a few more weeks to enjoy the use of the Air Force One snack bar. Otherwise it will never end. I have entirely too much respect for the GOP's ability to pull an electoral rabbit out of the hat to be anything less than totally paranoid if Kerry continues to let Bush and his buddies keep it close.

And what if -- as is entirely possible -- Bush actually wins? Not by leaning on Jeb or his pals at Diebold, but definitively, by two or three states worth of electoral votes? Ach, the reckoning there will be then, my friends. Because then the only thing that Bush and the GOP will have learned from all of this is that competence simply doesn't matter, and if it doesn't matter, then why bother. As for the Democrats, the best they can hope for is that they manage to get 50 seats in the Senate and hold on for dear life until 2008, and I wouldn't count on either. And while the rest of us don't necessarily have to start stocking dry goods in the cellar, we should at the very least know where we can get our hands on a 55-gallon drum of beans when the time comes.

As for Kerry, I imagine he'll become one of the most reviled men in the country. He's already reviled by the folks on the right, simply as a reflex, so that much is taken care of. But the ones in the left and in the center will revile him too, because he couldn't close the deal against the manifestly worst sitting president in decades. And as I've said before, yes, George Bush is an utter incompetent. But think how much more incompetent you have to be to lose to him. Death by his own shoes would not be too fine a punishment for such an act.

Posted by john at 12:39 PM | Comments (87)

October 07, 2004

I Got Dem Cozmic Swing State Blues Again, Mama

Friends from California tell me that to judge from the campaign activities there, you'd hardly know there was a presidential election going on. You can't say the same in Ohio, 2004's appointed Really Important Swing State, where it seems the candidates are visiting just about every day, and where I'm getting tons of crap from both parties, in the mail and through the phone.

Yesterday the phone rings, I pick it up and it's an automated message. A folksy male voice with a southern accent says "John Kerry says he wants to be judged on the issues..." and that's as far as it gets before I hang up. I don't think I really need to hear the rest of that to know what's coming next.

Out to the mail, where a flyer with pictures of a middle-aged guy staring glumly at a pile of bills, and text that says "Under President Bush, Ohio has lost..." and then some number of jobs, plus a bunch of other dismal stats, accompanied by a picture of Bush in one of his more unpleasant expressions. Again, I don't think I really need to read the rest of this to see where it's going. It's in the trash before I get into the house.

Then to the phones again, where some alleged pollster wants to ask me a few questions. Which polling company do you represent? I ask. I can't tell you, says the alleged pollster. Well, then, I can't answer your questions, I say, and hang up. A small part of me is mildly interested in hearing the questions a push poller might ask ("Are you planning to vote for John Kerry, even though he's been caught on video tape biting the heads off of fluffy kittens?" "Did you know that voting for George Bush has been clinically associated with testicular cancer?"), but I'm also aware that the point of a push poll isn't to poll me, it's to push me. Well, I'm pushed, all right.

Unless one candidate or another gains a double digit lead in Ohio in the next three days and maintains it through the month, all this crap is simply not going to end until November 2. Because Ohio is the designated swing state. It makes me wish there was some sort of registry for people who already know how they're going vote to sign in on, so they could be left alone until it's time to vote (and you wouldn't even actually have to know how you're going to vote -- you could just say it so you didn't have to be bugged). And then, every time you did get bothered by one of the political campaigns or one of their duly-represented busybodies, you'd get $10. I'd be rich coming into November, I tell you.

Posted by john at 10:31 AM | Comments (24)

October 06, 2004

Catching Up on the Petblogging

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I haven't done much petblogging here at the Whatever recently -- I've sort of migrated that sort of action over to By The Way, where it seems somehow more apropos -- but I understand that many of the Whatever readers who do not avail themselves of my AOL Journal stylings yet yearn to see the furrier members of the Scalzi household.

So here you go: A semi-rare picture of Lopsided Cat and Kodi in the same frame, out enjoying a day together. Lopsided Cat and Kodi do in fact get along tolerably well; they're not as close as Kodi and Ghlaghghee are (the two of them will often nap together), but they seem to have a good working relationship, and Lopsided Cat takes the occasional chase by Kodi in stride, dutifully sprinting for a while before ending the festivities by turning and giving Kodi a light swat on the nose. Everyone gets some exercise; everyone's happy.

As an aside, there's something about Lopsided Cat's expression in the photo that reminds me of president William Taft; I can't explain why, and even if I could, I'm not sure I would want to.

Posted by john at 11:21 PM | Comments (3)

Look at Me, I'm Working. Yeah.

I'm supposed to be being a lot more productive this week than I have been, but I think I have some excellent excuses. Sunday my Web site imploded and needed tending. This leaked into Monday and then into Tuesday. Today everything's groovy with the Web site, but Athena was home today due to a teacher's "service day," and aside from the distraction she provided both of us were kind of sick -- a low-grade upset stomach and headache fever. This called for a nap, which seemed to do the both of us a world of good.

Tomorrow I'm going to start getting caught up -- I swear -- but tomorrow is also Athena's karate class, and that's another three hour divot in the day (I'm not even allowed to watch her in class because parents distract the kids from listening to the teachers; I fill the time mostly by reading in the car). Friday? DSL installation, which will require another chunk o' time, and Athena's participating in our small town Pumpkin Festival Parade, so I have to be there for the appropriate camera action. Saturday? Family gathering, which will involve driving for an hour, eating about sixteen pounds of food, and then racing back home before the peritonitis hits.

Somewhere in all this I have to write a chapter in the Science Fiction film book, and add several reviews. If I don't, I may have to beat myself in the head. Which won't get the writing done, but at least then I'll have head trauma as an excellent excuse for not getting around to it.

Not that I expect this really to be a problem. As I get older I sometimes feel I'm not writing as quickly as I used to, although if I'm going strictly by sheer volume of output, this is clearly not the case. I think it may be more of the case that recently I feel more easily distracted by other things; sometimes it takes longer to get started writing, which feels like it taking longer to write.

A lot of my current twitchiness -- aside from various technical and physical woes -- boils down to schedule changes. Which makes me sound like a damn creature of habit, but, well. My biggest problem at the moment is getting used to having Athena in the house in the afternoons again; for the last couple of years Krissy picked her up from her day care at the end of the work day, so I had from 7 to 6 pretty much to myself. Now I have 8 to 2:30. I need to enforce a little more writing discipline in those hours, since Athena (not unreasonably) feels like she deserves a little dad time after school, and I'd like to be able to deliver on that without worrying overly that there's some work I need to be doing.

That's my personal project for the rest of 2004: Stay reasonably focused during the work day, so I spend guilt-free time with my kids and don't feel like distractions are going to be the death of me (or my career). Let's hope it works, or otherwise I will have to resort to the head trauma trick. And no one wants that.

Posted by john at 10:28 PM | Comments (5)

Eh.

I've got nothing of any use to say about the vice-presidential debate. I keep trying to generate a head of steam about it, but it's a no go. Even the big post-debate talking point on the Kerry-Edwards side, in which Cheney's snark comment about never having met Edwards before was countered with a picture of the two of them standing side by side, fills me with an overwhelming sense of not caring. These guys jab at each other for 90 minutes, and this is the big gaffe? Wake me when it's November, people.

Don't confuse my lack of excitement with apathy; you know I'm voting. And I cheerfully cede the point that some certain number of undecided voters may have gotten something out of the debates, and that the party faithful on both ends will use this as a fetish around which they will flagellate, as required by their faith. Good for them. But, being one of those super-committed but non-fanatical voters who needs no convincing at this point not to vote for Cheney's boss, I approach all of these pre-vote preliminaries with a distinct lack of interest. Unless Dick and John pulled out knives and danced around slashing at each other just like those guys in the "Beat It" video, this show wasn't meant for me.

I've also made the executive decision that I'm not going to bother viewing Presidential debates two and three. Living as we do in a media age, I fully expect that any particularly juicy slip, gaffe, zinger or (heaven forfend) substantive policy point will be exhaustively essayed, like highlights of a football game, and at the end I will have the transcripts, which I can read in a matter of ten minutes, thereby freeing up all that debate time to do something more useful with my life, like do math with Athena or taunt my cats with bacon. Mmmmm, bacon.

I really do wish I cared more about the debates; I feel like I should. But I gotta tell you, I've been racking my brain to imagine a scenario in which I don't vote for Kerry, or even possibly where I might vote for Bush, and it's just not happening. I have to get way out there -- things like Kerry saying at the next debate that he plans to fill his administration's highest positions with pederasts, koalas and Babylon 5 fans (or some unholy combination thereof) and then address the United Nations dressed only in yogurt and aluminum foil -- before I begin to waver in my convictions. It's just not likely.

That said, honestly, what do the debates hold for the likes of me? I've got science fiction movies to watch. I think on Thursday I'll watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The 1956 version is 80 minutes long. Just long enough to avoid the debate. Coincidence? Yes. But a happy one. I'll take it.

Posted by john at 01:19 AM | Comments (26)

October 05, 2004

The New Look

So, I'm thinking this is the look I'm going to go with, for a while at least. Let me know your thoughts on it.

Update, 6:50 pm -- for everyone who is wondering why I haven't reinstalled pictures to the Scalzi.com site, the short answer is I'm waiting until my DSL installation later this week. Currently my satellite modem lets me download pretty quickly up it uploads at dialup speed; considering how many pictures I have to upload, it makes sense to wait until I have an upload speed that doesn't bring back not-so-fond memories of 1996.

Also, some of you may have noticed that the archived entries for the Whatever now extend back from before I used Movable Type -- this is part of the master plan to get (almost) every bit of content on the site into MT format. It makes sense to have all the Whatever entries actually associated with the Whatever, and quite frankly I don't know why I didn't think of it before. Right now all of 2003 is available; 2002 will likely arrive tomorrow and so on down to 1998.

Also: If you're not seeing clouds (a lot of you report seeing a whole lot of black), try clearing out your Web cache on your browser. That should help.

Posted by john at 02:16 PM | Comments (37)

A Note From Athena

Athena says:

"Hi there! My dad is going to be fiddling with the layout of the Whatever today, so at times it's going to look really really bad. Please humor him. He's a silly man, but we tolerate him anyway."

Update: 11:55 -- I know you can't see comments at the moment. I'm fiddling, remember. Rest assured it won't be that way forever.

Posted by john at 09:19 AM | Comments (9)

October 04, 2004

Do Me a Favor --

Leave a comment, would ya? I'm not entirely convinced I've set up my comments correctly so that anyone can leave a comment. If you can't leave a comment, drop me an e-mail and let me know. Thanks.

Posted by john at 11:58 PM | Comments (27)

The Whatever is Alive!

Looks like I wasn't down nearly as long as I thought I would be. The Whatever is now alive once more, with all its previous entries as well -- although, as I suspected, they all have brand spankin' new URLs. That's what the search engine is for.

All the text is up, but I should stress the Whatever isn't running at full power. There are no images right this very second (I'll be uploading them tonight, most likely), and I'll be fiddling with the template to get a look that I like (I probably won't return to the "Jupiter" look although I don't know what yet what I'll do to replace it. Expect the Whatever to have a variable level of usability for the next couple of weeks. For this reason, you may still want to read the Whatever in Exile over at LiveJournal -- if nothing else, its appearance won't be changing wildly. I'll be posting everything I post here over there as well.

The rest of scalzi.com is still out of commission. I'll be working on it, as advertised, over the rest of the month.

That's all for now -- more later.

Posted by john at 08:55 PM | Comments (4)

October 03, 2004

How It Works, 2004 Edition

Start off with the fact that the chances of me buying an entire John Fogerty album approach zero. This is for many reasons, not the least of which is the simple fact that Fogerty is a singles guy to me -- from his Creedence Clearwater Revival days, I like one or two songs on an album, but not the whole album (this is why the CCR album I own is Chronicles, even though I know he gets close to zip in royalties from it. Sorry you had a bad contract there, John).

Anyway, back to my thesis: I'm not buying a John Fogerty album, including the new one, Deja Vu (All Over Again). If I were to see it in the store, I'd say "Huh. Look, a new John Fogerty album," and I'd pass it on by. Since Fogerty is roughly 48,000 years too old to be played on commercial radio, the chances of me hearing anything from this album also approach zero. MTV played John Fogerty videos back in 1985, when Centerfield came out and the people running the joint didn't have their Logan's Run mojo rising, in which a band (or least MTV's interest in them) explodes when the lead singer reaches 30 years of age. Someone would get fired for playing a John Fogerty video on MTV these days. Bad scene for Fogerty.

However, when I saw the new John Fogerty album on Rhapsody, the streaming music service to which I subscribe, I said, "Huh. Look, a new John Fogerty album. I wonder what it sounds like." And then I clicked on the "Play Now" button and listened to the album while I did some work on my computer.

And listening to the album, I discovered there are two songs I really like: "Deja Vu (All Over Again)," the album's title track, in which Fogerty intentionally reheats the CCR tone and instrumentation (right down to the "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" bass line) to deliver a mournful protest song that parallels the war in Iraq with the one in Vietnam. Normally the "Iraq = Vietnam" meme drives me batty, but it works all too well here.

The second track is "I Will Walk With you," a sweet love note from a father to a daughter, which of course gets me like a sucker, because I have a five-year-old daughter, and I can just see myself playing this the night before her wedding, blubbering like a damn fool as I look at all my pictures of her when she was daddy's little girl. Please, shoot me now.

So: Two songs. Off I went to the iTunes store online, pulled up Fogerty's new album, and clicked on the two songs to buy them. And while I'm there, I also clicked on "Centerfield," the 1985 Fogerty song about baseball. I love that song. Why didn't I have that one already? Oh yeah, because I don't buy entire albums when I just want one song, and in 1985, I didn't have the instant gratification device known as the Internet to give me what I want, how I want it. Well, now I do, now I want it, and now I've got it.

And there you have it: One hour after finding out John Fogerty has a new album, Fogerty and his business associates have $2.97 of my cash. On one hand, it's less than the $11 that they would have preferred I shell out for the CD. On the other hand, it's $2.97 more than they were actually going to get from me otherwise. $2.97 in the hand is better than a CD sitting in the racks, unbought. This is how it gets done today.

Does this mean I won't buy entire albums? No: I downloaded all of kd lang's simply sublime Hymns of the 49th Parallel recently because I would listen to that woman sing a phone book. And I still buy CDs: I got the Everyone is Here CD by the Finn Brothers off of Amazon, not only because I wanted a physical copy but because when I ordered the CD, Amazon provided a stream of the album that I could listen to until the CD arrived.

What it means is that now I have the means to buy exactly the music I want, no more and (this is the important point) no less. By streaming his album on Rhapsody and selling its songs individually on iTunes, John Fogerty and his people made money they weren't going to get, and I get the songs I wouldn't have bought. Someone tell me this isn't the way things should be done.

Posted by john at 10:18 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 02, 2004

On Being on the Nebula Short Fiction Jury

Since I mentioned I was on this year's Nebula Short Fiction Jury, I've been hit with e-mail from people asking me what it's about and what they need to do to bribe me to consider their stuff. In the interest of clarity (and so I can henceforth refer people to this document rather than spelling it out each and every time), here are some things you need to know about the Nebula Short Fiction Jury, my involvement, and whether or not I'm going to read your stuff.

What The Nebula Short Fiction Jury Is: As many of you know, the Nebula is one of the big annual awards for the science fiction literary genre, given out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which is -- as you may be able to guess from the name -- the major association of SF/F writers here in the US (although SF/F writers from other places on the globe seem not to have a problem joining, since there are numerous Canadians, Brits and other folks of varying nationalities). The Nebulas are given in several categories, including Novel, Novella, Novelette and Short Story. By and large, the works are nominated by the membership of SFWA, and then there's a winnowing process by which the finalists are determined.

However, in addition to the usual "determined by the membership" nominations, SFWA also impanels small juries of its members who may, at their discretion, add a nominee in each category to the final list of nominees. The reasons to do this are numerous, including the fact that there's a lot of work out there, and some deserving but obscure work can slip through the cracks.

There's also the fact that the Nebula selection process can be rife with genre and personal politics -- SFWA is a relatively small community, and there's a lot of psychohistory going on underneath the surface from what I understand, some of which may have have an influence on what gets nominated and why(none of which I know about except as a bystander, since I'm a relatively new member, and also I think having pissy little literary feuds and cabals are a waste of time). The Nebula juries, I suspect, act as a corrective to this as well; they provide a second chance for a good work from unknown or unpopular writers to get a shot at what is supposed to be a literary award.

(Note that this is not to say that unknown and/or unpopular writers can't get onto the ballot through the usual means; this is why I say "second chance." Also, for all I know, the works that may appeal to juries may come from well-known, popular folks. Frankly, outside my own small circle of writer friends, I don't know and don't care about anyone else's personal or professional reputation -- my concern as a jury member is and should be good stories.)

So: The juries look at work -- including stuff not published in the obvious places. If they decide that a particularly compelling piece of work has been overlooked, they can vote to have it added. If they fell the SFWA members have generally picked the stories that best deserve consideration, they can decide not to nominate anything at all.

The particular jury I'm on has six members: Myself and five others whom I will not name at this point, on the possibility they might prefer not to be bothered. Each of us is reading stuff; at some point in the next few months we'll start talking about the stories we've liked and see if there is any consensus in adding stories to the nominee list.

How I Find Stuff to Read: Well, two ways: I go out looking for it, and it comes to me. In terms of going out looking for it, I'm currently largely ignoring the major SF magazines like Asimov's and F&SF, on the thinking that many if not most SFWA members are aware of these outlets and subscribe or otherwise have ready access. I'm looking at some of the qualifying Web-based magazines, like SciFiction and Strange Horizons among others. I'm also reading Nebula-qualifying work that authors have put up on their own sites.

In terms of what's coming in to me, I'm getting some short story collections and anthologies, primarily from Tor Books -- who in the spirit of disclosure I must note is my own publisher, although as far as I understand it my getting these books has rather little to do with my being a Tor author and rather more to do with Tor actually tracking who is on the Nebula Juries and sending materials to them. Likewise, I note that I have not received much in the way of short story collections and anthologies from other publishers. I don't know why, except to suggest that perhaps Tor makes these things more of a priority than other publishers.

Since I'm not especially likely to start shelling out tons of money to buy these collections/anthologies myself, if you're a writer whose work has been collected or anthologized this year (or are an editor of such a tome), if you want me to see it, either you need to have Tor be your publisher, or bug your publisher to send me stuff (my address and the addresses of other Short Fiction Jury members can be found in the August 2004 Nebula Awards Report, at the SFWA site or in that month's SWFA Forum mailing). You'll also find another option immediately below.

If You're a Nebula-Qualifying Short Story Writer and You Want to Make Sure I'm Aware of Your Story: E-Mail it to me. Simple.

BUT!!!! Follow these simple guidelines, and follow all of them, or I'm likely to trash the e-mail:

1. The first three words in your e-mail subject header should be "NEBULA JURY SUBMISSION:" followed by whatever you like (the story name and your name would be nice, though).

2. Before the story, include your name, title of the story, name of the publication it's in (or will be in), the date the story was published (or will be published), and word count, so I can know whether it's a short story, novelette or novella.

3. Put the story into the text of the e-mail, not as an attached file. If you think I'm going to open an attached file from someone I don't know, you're just plain silly.

4. One story per e-mail.

5. This is MOST IMPORTANT: Don't send me stories that don't qualify for the 2004 Nebula Awards. Not sure if your story qualifies? Read the rules. Still not sure? Don't send it until you are.

Once I receive the e-mail from you, I'll try to send you a quick return note to let you know I've gotten it. However, if I don't, please don't freak out. I may just be busy, lazy, or trapped by bears and unable to get to the computer. If after a week you don't hear from me and you're truly concerned, go ahead and send again (follow the suggestions above, please). Sending twice will be fine; please don't send again after that. Note also that by sending me a story, you're giving me permission to share the story with other jury members.

Please don't send me follow-up e-mails asking me how I liked the story, or if I've recommended the story to the other jury members, or if we've decided to place your story on the Nebula ballot. The last of these I suppose you'll learn when the final ballot is set, but otherwise the proceedings and determinations (at least from my end) will be opaque to outsiders. Call it Schroedinger's Nebula Jury: Until the final Nebula ballot, all jury-considered works exist in an indeterminate state, neither chosen nor unchosen.

Also, just in case you were considering doing so, which I very much doubt: I can't be bribed. I already have enough money and sex. But thanks for considering either (or both!). I appreciate the thought. Anyway, I'm just one of six people on the jury. Unless you're willing to offer money and/or sex to all of us, bribing one of us won't do you much good.

How I Read Stories I'm Considering for the Jury: This is simple: I read until I get bored and/or disgusted with the story. And then I stop. Any story where "bored and/or disgusted" happens before the end of the story is automatically disqualified from further consideration. If I get to the end of a story without being bored and/or disgusted, then I'll consider whether I like the story enough to recommend that the other jury members take a look. If I do, then I will.

Let me clarify that I don't start with the assumption I will be bored and/or disgusted with your work. Indeed, I hope to be enthralled and/or delighted. Your work has already cleared at least one editor's "bored and/or disgusted" hurdle, otherwise it wouldn't be eligible for consideration at all. So I have high hopes for each piece that I read.

That said, I expect that I will suggest no more than nine stories to the other jury members, or ideally three stories in each category we're considering (short story, novelette, novella). In fact, I'm going to aim to suggest no more than six (that's two in each category), but I keep myself open to the possibility that there will be more than nine truly excellent stories in 2004, or that one category length may have more good stories while another may have fewer. If I find myself with more than nine stories total to pass along, I'm going to force myself to make some hard choices, since I'm sure my fellow jury members will have their own selections to promote, and I don't want to get us bogged down on my account.

I think that's it. If you have any questions about the Nebula Short Story Jury and my role on it that I haven't answered here, go ahead and leave them in the comment thread.

Posted by john at 02:34 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 01, 2004

In Case You're Wondering...

The reason I haven't posted thoughts on the debate is that I haven't watched it yet. I was busy last night with Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which I thought was a sufficient excuse. However, I'll be watching the debates later today (probably) and any comments I have I'll make then. Of course, it's not as if tons of other people aren't essaying this topic in their own blogs. The general consensus seems to be that Kerry came out ahead in the debate, but not too far ahead, and that Bush needs to be careful not to smirk so damn much, even when he thinks the camera isn't on him. If that's indeed the case, I wouldn't be surprised.

Anyway, more on this later.

Posted by john at 12:50 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack