Monthly Archives: October 2003

Cover Art

Amazon finally got around to replacing a horrible blue “temp art” cover for Book of the Dumb on its order page with the actual cover, which you’ll see below:

This is something of a relief, as I was the opinion if the book came out and the temp cover was still there, no one would buy the book because it would have appeared to have been made out of construction paper and mucilage. At the very least, this cover looks like someone gave some thought to the cover design.

Someone asked when the book would actually hit the shelves. My understanding is any second now. I will of course let you know when I get my own personal copies.

The Downside

Pamie went looking for her book at a bookstore and discovered that not only was it no longer on the shelves, but that the copies that had been on the shelves had been sent back to publisher. This is part of the life cycle of nearly every book, and Pamie’s a bit depressed about it. She’s not quite sure how to wrap her brain around it (“I have no conclusion or witty reaction to this news. I’m just reporting it. Maybe in a month I’ll know how to process it.”) but from someone who’s been there, Pamie, sweetheart, I guessing you’re still a bit depressed.

Of course, how else should one be? This is something nearly all creative people face at some point or another once they’ve put something out: The disappearance of product — which is to say, your blood in artistic form. Authors have the thing where they cruise through the store to find their book, to find it missing from the shelves, or worse — consigned to the pay-by-the-pound literary purgatory known as the remainder table. Musicians have to deal with their CD showing up in the Used CD shop. It doesn’t mean the book or CD was a failure, mind you — I’ve seen a fair supply of Stephen King and Norman Mailer and Orson Scott Card hardbacks on remainder tables (it’s how I got Harlot’s Ghost for four bucks). Also, I’m quite positive Pamie’s book would be considered a success just off the sales of her Web site readers alone. But it’s still no damn fun.

The Rough Guide to Money Online, which you’ll recall was my first published book, is currently loitering in remainder racks if you can find it at all. As well it should; the book’s three years old and purports to be about the Internet, and that’s just no good. The general information is still okay, but the specific information is dreadfully out of date; half the financial Web sites listed have gone the way of the dodo. This is what one gets for publishing an Internet book in November of 2000. Short of Rough Guides asking me to update and revise the book, which I don’t expect them to do, I wouldn’t suggest anyone buy it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t look to see if it’s on the shelves, or that I’m not a little bit rueful that you can pick it up for $2.75. At least the Universe book is still chugging along merrily — and the universe, as far as we know, will be around for a while.

Perhaps the lesson here is that it’s better to have been published and remaindered than never to have been published at all. But I think it’s more to the point to say that you do everything you can for a book (or CD, or whatever) when it comes out: You promote it, you celebrate it, you cherish it and hope for its success — and eventually you let it go and your start on the next one. Or get back to the next one, should you be so lucky.

I’m not worried about Pamie. She’s got it going on, yo. But I certainly understand.

Subscriptions

Josh Marshall is asking for people to pay for him to go to New Hampshire for the primary, so he can write about it on his blog instead of having to approach his usual sources of income and write in non-blog fashion for them. I’m going to go ahead and kick in a few bucks myself, but I do have to wonder why Josh doesn’t go up to some of his usual sources and offer to blog the primary for them. The “blog-as-reporting” paradigm is no longer sparkly-new; it was used extensively during the Iraq invasion, and has popped up here and there since then on various online news sites. Given his reputation as a political reporter and a blogger, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he got some media entity to fund his travels. It may be more to the point that he wants to write on his site, for various reasons including engaging his own editorial discretion as to what’s important and what’s not. This is entirely understandable, but were I in his position, I’d hit the media folks before going to the readers of my site (and maybe he did. I don’t know).

I do imagine he’ll get enough funding for the trip, which says both positive things for Josh’s relationship with his audience and something regarding the nature of blog readers, in that they regard blogs as a legitimate enough source of news and information that they’d be willing to fund something like this directly. I don’t think everyone could do this, nor do I think that this is something that Josh (or any other blogger) could sustain for a long period of time — i.e., I don’t imagine Josh would be able to get his audience to subsidize an entire presidential campaign. My own personal feeling is that blog money collecting is like a sprint rather than a marathon; so long as you don’t ask often and don’t ask for too much, you can indeed nab some cash from the readership.

But it’s also something that again I don’t really see myself ever doing. I’ve never done a pledge drive or asked for donations for the Scalzi.com site because (no offense) I don’t want to feel beholden to anyone regarding writing here. Time and time again the site has shown that it’s in my economic self interest to put stuff up, but even so I like knowing that if I want I can take a day or week or even a month off (or, indeed, close the site) and not have to worry about it. Maybe it’s a psychological twitch, but I just really like the site on my own terms. It’s not to say I don’t sell things here or that I don’t encourage y’all to buy my books and other stuff when they come out. But I wouldn’t, say, threaten not to write on the site, if you all didn’t go out and buy a copy of Book of the Dumb or Old Man’s War when they come out.

The one thing I have thought about recently is doing a pledge button in which I encourage Whatever readers to make a pledge to a charity of my choice (which, knowing me, would probably be something related to literacy). But then I think, why do you need me to tell you these things? I mean, you all already contribute to charity, right? But it’s still something that rolls around in my mind — perhaps something along the lines of offering a value-add to the site to donation contributors: A special story site, perhaps. Maybe I’ll do something with it in December. We’ll have to see.

Update: Josh raised about $5,000 in just under 24 hours and is no longer soliciting donations for the New Hampshire trip. Not bad.

Procedural Stuff

Some things:

* My contract for By The Way was picked up again by AOL, so I’ll be doing that for a few more months at least. This is really good news. I’ve enjoyed doing it, and I’ve enjoyed watching the community of AOL Journalers coalesce and grow, and have some hand in that development. I think we’ve had a good start, and I’m looking forward doing more with both the company and the AOL Journalers. Also, it keeps me from having to look for much in the way of drudge work to pay bills, and that’s just a bonus for me. So yay, and thanks to AOL. Being a pro blogger is fun.

* But the most exciting employment news in the Scalzi household belongs to someone else. No, not Athena. She’s still refusing that contract for work in the salt mines. No, I don’t know why. No, the big news is with Krissy, who got a promotion at work and is now Head of Support Services. Yes, she’s a boss. She’s the man, yo. And they even thought to pay her more, which is nice. I’m fabulously proud of her, of course. Between the two of us, we’re finally scrabbling our way into the middle class! Oh, wait. At the very least, we’re even more petty bourgeoisie than we were before, and considering the minivan, think about what that means.

* Look, it’s the cat, drinking out of the toilet!

I have nothing to add to the picture here, but I write about it at By The Way.

* Question for Mac iTuners, or PC iTuners who are more technologically advanced than I am: I’m using iTunes to listen to CDs, and generally it’s perfectly fine — but it pauses every time the CD drive spins up (I believe it also does this when one of the hard drives spins up). What’s up with that? And is there anyway to create a buffer so the music replay is not interrupted? I already looked through the preferences and set the streaming buffer to “Large” but I don’t know if that relates to the CD player and in any event, it hasn’t stopped the pause.

That’s it.

Industrious Publishers

I was on the Barnes & Noble site looking up some information on one of my books (and I love the fact that I can say “one of my books,” signifying that there is, indeed, more than one), when I noticed something interesting. Not only does the B&N site have a listing for Old Man’s War, which won’t be out for a year, it also has a listing for “Untitled Scalzi Science Fiction Novel,” including an ISBN number, and that book probably won’t be out until November 2005 at the earliest. That’s forward thinking, people.

The Genesis of a Literary Feud for the Ages

Who should drop by but Leland Gregory (or at the very least, someone claiming to be he), author of Hey Idiot! Chronicles of Human Stupidity, whose book, and the similarities in subject matter to Book of the Dumb therein, I noted yesterday. Noted he, in the comments:

“I heard your book smells bad and mine has better dumberer people in it.”

To which I responded:

“Yeah? Well, I heard YOUR book was made from ground-up kittens!”

That’s where it stands at the moment.

I’m serious about the ground-up kittens. Go feel the cover of his book. It’s all felty.

Beg Leland Gregory to think about the kittens. Here’s his Web site.

Update:

Leland Gregory responds:

“Holy crap,

LG: Oh, hey there Satan!
Satan: Wazzup?
LG: Not much, any dictums for the weak-minded and/or inherently evil?
Satan: Sure, pour McDonald’s coffee on fair-skinned babies, burn Gideon bibles to heat your heroin spoon, and read Scalzi’s *Book of the Dumb*.
LG: I’ll pass that on to them. Did you know I was on the Today Show?”

I respond:

“So, Leland, when you were talking to Satan, did you ask him about the working conditions in that Guatemalan factory? You know, where the impoverished orphans are forced to assemble your book by hand, with cheap glue sticks, 17 hours a day? In exchange for a thin gruel made from KITTENS?”

Kittens! I wonder if Katie Couric asked him about that.

Update:

Leland Gregory responds:

“Touche.

One second before I retort.

*rips another page out of BOTD*
*wipes*
*flushes*

Ok then. All I can say is that the kittens are injected (in the eye of course) with a solution of important vitamins and minerals to make sure I have the healthiest impoverished orphans in Guatemala, nay even in all the lands South-Southeast of Huehuetenango! We also recycle at the factory. We remove those reflexive tendons from the kittens just before we kill them for use in the cheap glue sticks. All I see you recycling, Scalzi, are my ideas.”

I respond:

“Nonsense! First off, I don’t recycle, I steal. Second, I only steal from bright-eyed would-be writers who confide in me their one great idea for a book, which they hope one day to write and will bring them fame and fortune and members of the sex of their preference who will happily lick their toes. They’re typically so crushed at the betrayal they don’t even sue, which is of course what you want when you’re stealing.

Pleased that you’re finding use for the book. Alas, the poor pulp grade and high acidity of the paper in my copy of *Hey, Idiot!* has not allowed me to likewise employ your book, for fear of a chapped, burning rectum. I do find, however, that leaving a page on the ground causes the insects that meander across it to desiccate and expire. Testing is underway to determine if this is due to the toxins in the ink, or merely the prose. “

Update:

Leland Gregory responds:

“I didn’t want it to come to this.

Pistols at dawn…NO…wait.

Each man can arrive with a copy of his opponent’s book and use it in WHATEVER way he wishes. I, for example, will hurl your literary poopookaka in many small crumpled-page lumps (or ‘Scalzi-pies’ as they call them on the plains) like so many Reesus monkeys after a chili dinner. You will find yourself the singularity at the center of a black hole (err, brown?) from which no poop can escape…even that which I light on fire. Yes indeed, Scalzi-Pie en Fuego!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must begin working on my new books: *The Approximate Manual to the Cosmos* and *Geriatric Male’s Military Confrontation*.”

I respond:

“Why just one copy of our respective books? My idea is to arrive with entire pallets of your book (amply and cheaply purchased from the remainder tables at Barnes & Noble), and use those tomes as the building blocks for subsidized housing for what few impoverished Guatemalan orphans have escaped your book-binding sweatshops. True, the shoddy workmanship of the binding and near-particulate nature of the paper all but assures that sooner or later these houses will collapse and implode, dooming those inside to death by suffocation and tortured verbiage. But until that happens, those escaped impoverished Guatemalan orphans would be safe and secure. It will be the happiest sixteen minutes of their life!

And now, off to begin my next classic. I believe I will call it *The Most Mentally Challenged Lawbreakers*. It could be BIG. “

Ha! Literary feuds are fun! Why haven’t I done this before?

Update:

Leland Gregory responds:

“Back to our respective, individual, and completely non-mutually exclusive pursuits then.

Maybe we should try each writing half of the same book. We will then have a control group of readers peruse the book and note their reactions on different parts. For instance, my sections will induce euphoric ‘mindgasms’ as the reader drinks in the Dionysian prose with a satisfied grimace of total understanding as if one finger of God connected with their right temple and osmosed the meaning of life directly into their brain (to be polytheistic). Conversely, the readers of your staccato, high-minded, Crayola-verse will seem to actually ‘catch’ Hell personified in virus form and bleed ebola-style from every orifice for no other reason than to make the hurting stop…or at least cover the pages with an opaque layer of blood. Either that or the confluence of opposing forces will completely negate existence as a whole…or at least blow up the Stay Puft marshmallow man.

This is the last time I go to a site when my 8 year old cousin tells me my name was mentioned on a site he found from some ancillary archive link from penny-arcade.com.”

I respond:

“Oh, Leland. Surely you can tell when your readers are faking a mindgasm, right? Right? Oh, dear. Well, all I can say is that quick half-lidded glance is your direction is not a look of *satiation.* I’ll be happy to send you some pictures of what that looks like to help clear up any confusion. Because you know, I have quite the collection.

I would be pleased to collaborate with you, but I do have worries — strictly related to the physical aspects of such a collection. You see, it’s well understood that if matter and antimatter should meet, they would annihilate each other, releasing all their potential energy in one monumental blast. By the same token, I fear that were my crystalline prose, filigreed with pure veins of knowledge, to even lightly graze your, shall we say, *earthy* emanations of logorrhea, the resulting furious explosion might shatter the very mantle of the planet, reducing us all to carbon smudges on bare, melting rock.

Therefore I must beg — for the sake of every living thing, even the kittens — that this collaboration must not be. Please understand that I hold you in the highest regard possible under the circumstances. But some things are better left uncontemplated. “

Writing Stuff

Notes about the writing life and etc for this fine October Wednesday.

* In one of those interesting coincidences, there’s another “stupid people doing stupid things” book out on the market right now, pretty much directly competing with mine: Hey, Idiot! Chronicles of Human Stupidity, by Leland Gregory. Mr. Gregory has mined this territory before: He’s also the author of America’s Dumbest Criminals and What’s The Number for 911? I saw the book in the bookstore yesterday, so I picked it up to see what the competition’s like. No, I won’t tell you what I thought of it; slagging a direct competitor seems tacky, and of course praising one wouldn’t be the smartest thing for me to do either, now would it. But I think it would be interesting to put both books in front of a reader and see which he or she prefers.

On a purely business perspective, Gregory’s book does have a couple of advantages, primarily in that it’s already out and its list price is marginally cheaper: $10 vs. $13 for my book (however, I note that on Amazon, the price difference between the books is actually about 40 cents, so maybe that’s not going to be a real advantage). My book has its own set of business advantages, including its association with the Uncle John’s brand and the fact that the publisher is owned by the company that services books to warehouse stores like Sam’s Club and Costco as well as other “non-traditional” retailers. So while Gregory’s book may have the jump, I think I have the reach. We’ll have to see.

Not that it has to be a competition, of course. Theoretically, there are enough book buyers for both us. And, I should hasten to add, his collection of stupid bits and mine has absolutely no overlap in terms of content; you could buy both and not read the same story twice (which says rather unfortunate things about the quantity of stupidity in the world at the moment). But I’m interested in seeing how the sales go. I will note that at the moment (12:25pm Wednesday 10/22/03) the Amazon Sales Ranking for Hey Idiot! is 1,918,308, while the ranking for Book of the Dumb is 52,419, and my book isn’t out yet. It probably doesn’t mean anything, and you know how those sales rankings can change. I still like it, though.

* Yesterday I also picked up my yearly edition of The Writer’s Market, which, if 2004 is like each of the last six years, will sit on my shelf all year long, entirely unused, as the majority of my work comes in from non-traditional writing avenues like business and marketing and whatnot. Krissy asked me yesterday why I keep buying the thing if I never use it — she is the practical one in the family, after all.

Basically I keep buying it because it represents two things to me. The first: A security blanket. It’s nice to think that if my usual gang of clients dry up on me (and indeed, over the last couple of months my business writing business has been slow), I have something to hit to drum up new work. The second: An aspiration. Fact is for a successful freelance writer (which is to say one who doesn’t have a day job), I don’t have a huge number of magazine article credits aside from my steady and totally fabulous OPM gig. Every year I keep meaning to query more magazines, and each year I kind of get sidetracked into other things, like books and business writing and what not. Mind you, this is not a complaint — I know a lot of magazine writers wish they could get sidetracked into writing books — but it would still be fun to see my name in some magazines it’s not been in before.

Also, I have high regard for the Writer’s Market as a resource and I do avidly recommend it (or at least some sort of writing market book) to other writers in terms of gunning up business. Part of me feels I shouldn’t recommend the thing if I don’t buy it myself and have at least a vague plan to use it. So those are my reasons for buying, and buying it every year.

* Over at Penny Arcade, Gabe had an entry that resonated with me, when he discussed how he ditched a chance to go to art school when it became clear the instructors thought the art he was interested in wasn’t worth consideration:

One professor told me that he could see the same caliber of work by examining the margins of any 9th graders algebra notes. They all agreed that I had “potential” though and decided to allow me into their school under the assumption that I would of course focus on doing “real art” as opposed to the crap I had been producing up to that point. I toured the campus and saw the sorts of people that go there and the sort of work they produce. I realized that I was not like them. I decided not to attend the most prestigious art school in Washington and instead went to community college for a few years.

I had a rather similar experience to which which I’ve related before, when I took a creative writing course and the professor, a novelist of some experience, said at the outset of the first class that he didn’t want to see any science fiction stories because, basically, he was of the opinion that writing science fiction didn’t actually constitute writing. Now, maybe he was right and maybe he was wrong, but I do happen to know that outside of the professor, I’m the only guy who was in that class who has sold a novel. So you tell me what that means. By the same token, I don’t know what Gabe’s potential classmates are doing now, but Gabe’s work is successful enough that not only does he live off it, he actually employs others. Again, you tell me what that means.

“Art” is a remarkably hardy thing, but “artists” tend to be a bit pissy. In both the case of Gabe’s professors and mine, there is some resonance in what they were trying to say — both comic art and science fiction can be tar pits for the mediocre and the self-marginalizing — but their solution of expunging them entirely from consideration is like condemning a house because you’re worried a trainee plumber won’t learn install a pipe correctly. Better to encourage people to learn several forms to enhance the forms they love. Then maybe comic art and science fiction (or any other number of marginalized genres) would improve.

That is, if they need improving. I like science fiction because people actually tell stories in the genre; I like comic art because the people drawing it want to connect with the readers. I suppose the implication here among artists is that certain genres of art or writing are not challenging. But I would argue that there’s a difference between “challenging” and “alienating.”

I’ll mention this in closing: Not long after I sold Old Man’s War, I went to New York to chat with the Tor editors and we tossed around some ideas — one of which was my suggestion that they consider Gabe to do the cover art. I suggested Gabe for two reasons: One, I knew I’d get a book cover that wouldn’t look like anything else out there, and two, Penny Arcade’s got thousands of rabid fanboys and fangirls who’d probably buy the book just for the cover art. They’d get the hardback, slide off the cover, have it framed and then maybe get around to reading the book. And I’d be okay with that.

I can’t and certainly wouldn’t criticize the artist Tor eventually went with, because his art rocks in a completely different way, and I’m thrilled to have him doing the cover. Hell, my local bookstore owner asked who was doing the cover, and when I told her, her eyes got all sparkly because she made the connection between this guy’s artwork and sales at the register. Tor’s made my local bookseller pleased, so color me six shades of happy.

But I have to say I will envy the first guy who gets a Gabe book cover. And one day, I’d like to have one of my own. That’s artwork worth having.

I For One Welcome Our New Preschool Overlords

Meet Mingette the Merciless, your new galactic empress:

Mingette wishes her loyal subjects to know that she intends to begin a reign that will bring peace and prosperity and hardly any beheadings! Well, so long as everyone keeps in line. You know how it is.

This costume is supposed to be a vampire costume, but I think it’s much better suited for universal domination, don’t you? Now all we need is to get someone in her preschool class to run around as Flashette Gordon. And the best thing is, when we switch Dale Arden over to a boy, he can keep the name unchanged! I love it when a plan comes together.

In answer to your queries, yes, I am a geek, yes, I have too much free time and yes, I imagine I’ll be horribly embarrassing to Athena as she gets older. But for now, just let me have my Photoshop fun, okay? Thanks.

Final Spam Tally

All right, I’m ending my spam count about an hour and 20 minutes early. But from 12:01am last monday morning to 10:38pm tonight, I have received exactly 3,503 pieces of spam mail. In contrast, in the same amount of time, I’ve received 80 non-spam e-mails, for a ratio of 43.8 pieces of spam for every bit of “real” e-mail that I get. Or to put it another way, only 2.2% of the mail I get is not trying to scam me or sell me something I don’t want. It’s also 500 pieces of spam a day — one e-mail of spam every 172 seconds, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The amount of spam I received has also demonstrably increased over the last year. A year ago I could expect to get some 4,000 pieces of mail a month — mostly spam — and now as you can see that amount has just about quadrupled, so now instead of my mail being mostly spam it is almost entirely spam. It seems unlikely that the amount of spam I get would quadruple again in the next year, but then again, I would have thought 1,000 pieces of spam a week would have been difficult to top.

I wouldn’t want to kill a spammer myself. But I do have to say that if I read that someone crept into a spammers mobile home and tortured him slowly over six days, using various gauges of piano wire, I would spend so little time grieving that I worry about my loss of humanity. Odd that I have not received a spam offering to find it for me.

Buying Music Online

I’ve been fiddling around with iTunes for Windows for the last couple of days, and not entirely surprisingly, I like it quite a bit; it’s well-designed both functionally and esthetically, downloading’s a snap (I downloaded a Sarah McLachlan EP and the Jeff Beck-Rod Stewart version of “People Get Ready”), and as a player it handles most of the music I own just fine; it doesn’t seem to want to play nice with the few .wma files I have, but this is not exactly surprising. I would prefer to download mp3s over the aac format, but I can live with the need for digital rights management, and as nearly all my music listening these days is done from my computers anyway, this is not an onerous thing. It does at this point marginally lock me in to the iTunes player as the music player on my system, since my other music players don’t support aac files, but I imagine that will change over time.

It does have me lusting for an iPod to replace my years-old Creative Nomad Jukebox (yes! That’s right! I was hauling around thousands of tunes before any of you Mac dweebs! Choke on it!) and of course that’s Apple’s plan. It’s like the reverse of “Cheap razor, expensive blades” business model — Apple sells the music as a back door for selling the iPod, which is rapidly becoming the company’s gravy train. I can live with that, of course. I’m not in any great rush to ditch my Windows box, which regardless of what the Macsters say is still a rather more useful platform for all the things I need/want to do than the Mac, but I won’t mind dropping a couple hundred bucks for an iPod, which continues to be the best portable music player around.

With the addition of iTunes, I’ve pretty much come to a workable solution for all my online music listening and purchasing needs. It works across several music services and isn’t exactly efficient, but it’s not so inefficient that it’s a burden, and satisfies my need and desire to make sure musicians and copyright holders get paid, while at the same time allowing me to sample new music. Here’s how it breaks down:

* iTunes for purchasing music from new musicians and living musicians whose music I have not already purchased in some other format. Apple has agreements with all the major music companies, 200 minor labels and a distribution deal with CDBaby, which distributes music from indie musicians themselves. Overall, my musical bases are largely covered. I happen to think $1/song and $10/album is a workable price point which makes sure everyone gets paid, so I’m happy to pay it in the cases noted above. I do like that Apple does make room for indies in their formulation, since I am very pro-indie and typically speaking more of my money in an indie purchase goes to the musician. But I’m not militant anti-RIAA either, and don’t have issue tossing major music labels a little cash as well. The one other advantage of iTunes is that it doesn’t charge a per-month fee for access; when it comes to buying tunes, ala carte is the way to go

* Rhapsody to listen to new albums and existing albums/artists I may want to listen to from time to time but am not in a rush to buy. Rhapsody, in my opinion, is very close to the ideal of the “celestial jukebox,” in which you pay a modest fee to listen to everything ever recorded by man. While Rhapsody’s holdings aren’t quite that comprehensive (it lacks a lot of indie labels) it does allow me the luxury to listen to music I can’t find on the radio and probably wouldn’t purchase on blind faith alone. And thanks to the monthly fee, artists and copyright holders do get some renumeration for lending their music to me, and again, I think that’s totally fair. The benefit of this model is that when I do find music I like, I buy it — the most obvious recent example of this is Fever to Tell, the album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which I purchased in CD form after hearing it on Rhapsody. Rhapsody does have an option for buying music: For 79 cents you can burn most of the tracks to CD on your computer — but not download them, which seems silly. I think Rhapsody will probably have a downloadable option in the future and depending on its DRM and format variables, I may just go ahead and purchase tunes from them as well, but in the meantime, the $10 a month I spend for the streaming service is money well-spent for me.

* Allofmp3.com for music I already own in non-digital form and/or dead artists and/or catalog music from artists richer than God. Allofmp3.com is a Russian online music service that has reached agreements with Russian music copyright holders to distribute music online, and offers a truly fabulous deal: 1000 downloads (in DRM-free MP3s or any number of other formats) a month for $15. I don’t imagine that the RIAA will be pleased such a service exists or that non-Russians can access it, but as far as I can tell it’s all fine and legal and is no different than if I flew to Russia, bought all those CDs, and flew back home (indeed, given how rampant piracy is in Russia and other former Soviet Bloc countries, this is probably a great deal more remunerative to the copyright holders than if I bought a CD in Red Square). In any event, if RIAA has a problem, they’ll want to take it up with Allofmp3.com, not me.

Be that as it may, my personal sense of ethics applies here. I’m perfectly happy, say, to download Man at Work’s “Overkill” from Allofmp3.com because I bought Cargo, the album from which the song is derived, back when I was in junior high. I already own it. Columbia Records and MAW got US-level royalties from me once; they can live with Russian-level royalties from me this time around. Likewise, I’m not going to get all teary-eyed about paying Russian-level royalties for Roy Orbison songs because Ol’ Roy’s long dead. He doesn’t need the cash. Finally, Sting may want me to pay full price for that song I downloaded off of Mercury Rising, but the Stinglemeister is, according to the 60 Minutes II report I watched the other week, worth $300 million and doesn’t go anywhere without his personal chef. So he’s not scrounging for that next meal. For an older song, it won’t kill him to get the Russian royalty.

Now, for Sting’s new album, I’ll cheerfully pay full price American. For artists that are starting out, or in the swing of their career, full American royalties are also the order of the day — I’d feel like a dirtbag nicking the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ off some Russian site, or nicking Sarah McLachlan’s Mirrorball or Surfacing, which are “older” albums but which are still an ongoing concern for her as an artist. Likewise, I’m all about paying fully for relatively obscure but long-running-career musicians; Tanya Donnelly, Julie Miller and Edie Reader need every dollar they get, and I’m pleased to give mine to them. Basically, if it’s new or relatively recent, I’m in for full price American. I can afford it, I’m happy to pay it, and I think everyone should feel the same way.

As I noted before, the RIAA may not be pleased with this personal formulation for royalty distribution. But I guess my feeling is that while I have a moral and legal obligation to pay for music, if the market allows me the ability to impose my own moral and financial value system on these purchases, I’d be foolish not to do so. The Internet has now pretty much made it possible for me to pay exactly what I feel I should pay for music in nearly every circumstance.

I’m good with that, as at this point the alternative for me not paying what I want to pay is not to buy music. Which does ask the question of whether under certain circumstances it’s better to get Russian royalties than no royalites at all. It’s a ponderer, all right.

Update, 10/20: Totally friggin’ hilarious Penny Arcade today on the angst Windows users and/or Mac mockers feel about enjoying iTunes. I don’t have the hang-up (I’m an apostate Mac user, in that I started on the Mac and then moved to the dark side), but I can sympathize.

States’ Rights Stupidity

One of the reasons that it’s depressing to talk to Confederate sympathizers is that they have no understanding of just how profoundly idiotic they sound to anyone who does not bathe in the same feculent oil pit of ignorance that they do. One of my correspondents yesterday chose to attempt the “The US was bad, too, you know” argument for justifying Confederate evil, to which I pointed out that be that as it may, it was the Confederates who constitutionalized slavery, while the US constitutionalized making all men free. To which the response was (and here I have permission from my correspondent to quote him):

“Yeah, after 89 years. I doubt under the CSA they would have been enslaved that long.”

In one sense I admire the chutzpah required to forward this sort of argument, in that it willfully ignores both the fact that the eventual Confederate states were the ones primarily active in prolonging the institution of slavery within the United States during those aforementioned years (especially in the two decades running up to the Civil War), and rather incomprehensibly suggests that a political entity that had encoded slavery into its very founding documents would then dispense with the institution in a historically expeditious manner. The Confederate states’ reluctance to let go of their slaves while part of the US, I would submit, rather dramatically undercuts the suggestion they’d be all in a rush to let them go when they weren’t being pressured by those annoying free states in the North. Now, I will admit my correspondent was correct in noting that slaves were in fact not long enslaved under the CSA. But there’s the Union to thank for that, now, isn’t there.

More than I admire the chutzpah in forwarding this argument, however, I’m agog at both the pan-hit ignorance that this fellow exhibits in formulating this argument, both in his understanding of US history and his appreciation of the aims of the Confederate political entity, and the assumption of ignorance (or contempt for the possibility of intelligence) forwarding such an argument implies towards those to which it is offered. But as I said, it just goes to show the recursive mental processes of Confederate sympathizers, who apparently live in such an intellectually hypoxic state that an argument like this seems reasonable.

I wouldn’t suggest all Confederate sympathizers are stupid, though I’d be willing to place money that rather more of them loiter on the left side of the bell curve than not. Rather, I’d suggest that even the more intellectually gifted among them appear to refuse to think deeply about their abiding interest, attempting to win on nitpicks, because that’s all they’ve got. They’re trying to score through the intellectual equivalent of scrabbling up the grass to make a field goal, while the other team is dropping touchdown-laden long bombs deep into Confederate territory time and time again. It’s not a winning strategy for the Confederate sympathizers, but then, the Confederacy is all about losing, isn’t it.

The prime example of this “small points” strategy, if you ask me, is the fetish Confederate sympathizers have for that “State’s Rights” thing. Suggest to your contemporary Confederate sympathizer that the Civil War was about them white folks down South wanting to keep their cheap black labor, and he’ll get all puffed up and indignant at the idea that slavery had anything to do with it. It’s all about states’ rights, he’ll say, and ramble on about how the Confederate states had a perfect right to secede once it became clear they had come to an impasse with the Federal government of the United States (the subject of the impasse? Well, slavery. But shhhh!). Thereby, the United States had no right at all to attack and invade the Confederate states, who in forming the Confederate States of America were, after all, exhibiting the same drive for self-determination the US exhibited against the British during the War of Independence.

I’ve noted before that the Confederate sympathizer position on states’ rights is rather highly debatable — which is, lest we forget, one of the major reasons we all had that Civil War thing going on — and that in any event, having suggested their innovative view of states’ rights, the Confederate states were then obliged to defend it by use of arms. They were unable to do, so their interpretation of states’ rights is aside the point (indeed, because of the Confederate’s ineptitude in this regard, it’s been rather dramatically settled in the other direction). Some of my correspondents think this is a simple “might makes right” argument on my point, but I prefer to see it not as “might makes right” but rather “might defends right” — i.e., the Confederate application of the states’ rights argument was disastrous and evil, so it’s just as well that it was stomped on the neck and shot through the brain pan.

But just for shits and giggles, let’s grant the Confederate sympathizer position that the Confederate states had a right to secede from the United States, and thence form new, independent countries individually or severally (as indeed they did in creating the CSA). So, okay, Confederates, have your states’ rights and your new country. Enjoy! It’s on us.

There’s just one catch: Once you’re an independent country, you have no “states’ rights.” Yes, yes. We grant that you have the right to secede and form a new country. However, I don’t see anything that says the United States is obligated to let you keep your shiny new country. If you’re not a state in the US, then you’re just land held by people who are not us. And you know how the US is about land held by people who aren’t us. We wonder why we shouldn’t be holding that land. Just ask Mexico, from whom we took two-thirds of its land mass, more or less because we felt like it. Or ask the Native Americans.

Now, let’s take a look at the new, entirely legal CSA. First, your country is rather inconveniently located on what was previously roughly a third of the total US land mass. Well, that’s bad. Second, y’all went and attacked US forces at Fort Sumter, which even if we grant was technically on your land, was still pretty hostile. Third, what population remains in the newly-truncated US is now not exactly inclined to let you sneak off with a goodly part of the continent. Fourth, there are no treaties between our countries which suggest the US is obligated not to stomp your ass and take your land. Even if one were to suggest that the various state constitutions implied that the US were obligated to treat the states with respect if they were to secede, I would suggest that by banding together in a new federal entity and subordinating their independence therein, the obligations the US may have had in regards to those state constitutions were voided. Save for passages regarding slavery and a few other tweaks, the CSA constitution is a copy of the US constitution, and therein the states are not allowed to make foreign policy. And I don’t think I need to remind anyone the US certainly didn’t have any non-hostility agreements with Confederacy.

So, to wrap up: A new, hostile country right on our border, sitting on land that used to be ours, which we have no legal impediment not to squash like a bug. And, let’s not forget, thanks to codifying slavery into its constitution, the CSA is also officially and undeniably evil.

Honestly, now: Are you Confederates so unbelievably stupid as to think the US would continue to let you exist?

To be entirely truthful about it, I would rather the US had granted the Confederate states had the right to exit the Union. It would have made the subsequent stomping the Confederacy’s racist and evil sorry ass all that much cleaner and sweeter. It would have been straight-out conquest, with which the US (on our own continent, at least) has never had much of a problem. Also, I don’t really see how the former Confederates would have subsequently had much cause to bitch. After all, they did run off with a third of our land, much of which (hello, Texas!) we had recently acquired from another country, namely Mexico (yes, I know, the Republic of Texas. Whatever, guys). They did a land grab, we did a land grab back. That’s the way these things work.

But no. The US rather charmingly held these states to be in mere rebellion. Which meant that the individual states were eventually readmitted intact to the Union, thus retaining their already-existing character, and the former erstwhile citizens of the CSA allowed to reclaim their identity as American citizens. Hell, we didn’t even hang Jefferson Davis. In all, the Confederate states and their citizens were lucky the US was under impression those states still belonged to the Union. The alternative, I assure you, would have been grim. It would have made the Reconstruction look like a county fair.

That former Confederate states have “state rights” at all is predicated on the fact that the Confederate position wasn’t correct, or at the very least, poorly backed up by the Confederacy itself. In other words, the only reason that Confederate sympathizers can argue that their interpretation of states’ rights was correct is because, to their good fortune, their interpretation turned out to be so very wrong. The fact that they argue “states’ rights” at all points to how little they have to work with when discussing the virtues of the Confederacy. But I guess Confederate sympathizers would prefer to have a idiotic argument than no argument at all. Again, isn’t that just the Confederacy all over.

Speaking of Losers

Apparently some “Southern Heritage” site linked to one of my “The Confederates Were Losers” screeds, which is precipitating another wave of good ol’ boys to trot out their victimized wailings and send them to me in poorly spell-checked form. To forestall having the same argument over and over again, this would be a good time to trot out the various screeds I have on the subject in my archives and link to them, so they can read them all before sending their verbiage. So here they are.

Southern Heritage is a Crock

The Confederacy is Evil

Confederate Flags are Racist Symbols of Evil (Scroll down a bit)

State Flags Based on Confederate Flags are Also Racist and Evil

And Even Good Ol’ Boys Know This (To a Point)

And I Don’t Care That You Think I’m Being Unfair to the Confederacy.

I hope this clears up any confusion.

Update: I’ve had cause to add a new installment: The “States’ Rights” Argument is Just Plain Stupid. Enjoy!

Fans of Losers

As is my capricious right, I’m going to go ahead and elevate this out of the comment thread for “Dear Cubs Fans.” It comes from “Bowler” who writes:

This is the one point where I think I lose interest in your writing. I realize you write for a national audience, but let me tell you something:

Cubs fans don’t need you telling us what a great lovable bunch of losers we have/are over here, and let’s face it, you addressed this one to us (Dear Cubs Fans). We don’t need you telling us how they need to keep on losing, or how we’re better fans than any other fans on the planet. Pointing this out to us is like telling a leper who’s about to die that he looks bad. All you’ve done is simply repeat the obvious.

All we want, more than anything in the world, is to get just one trip to the World Series. We don’t even need to win it. We just wanted to get to the final five (or seven) games. Even if after that we didn’t make it back for another forty five years, that’s O.K. We would have had the memories to keep us warm and to tell the grandkids about. All we wanted was one, and I don’t think it was too much to ask, really.

But please, I know you’re done and all with this, but in the future, it’s not a good thing to point your finger and call a bunch of people (some of which are also fans of yours) losers. Lovable or not. You can try and spin it however you want to (and I do see the glint of respect in this piece, so there’s no need to go over it), but really, in the end, that’s how it feels on this end of the finger.

So I can call the majority of California voters losers, but not Cubs fans? Interesting.

Anyway, I don’t recall calling Cubs fans losers. Certainly I called the Cubs losers, because, quite obviously, that’s what they are. But it does not necessarily follow that Cubs fans are in themselves losers for rooting for their team. Or Red Sox fans, or White Sox fans, or fans of any team with a history of total ignominy.

Most obviously, aside from your exceptionally occasional Steve Bartman type, fans have nothing to do with what goes on in the game — otherwise how could the Marlins, with their weak-ass fan base, have done anything? (Not to mention the Angels last year; speaking as a native southern Californian, for years the Angels didn’t so much have fans as spillover from the Magic Kingdom.) As I mentioned yesterday, Cubs fans appear fated to feel implicated in their team’s failures. But it doesn’t often mean that they are.

Fans aren’t losers for rooting on losers, unless they’re rooting for those losers to keep on losing (in which case, they’re not really fans). I certainly don’t expect Cubs fans to cheer the team toward futility. Aside sullen existentialists, that’s just not in the human psyche to do something like that (and even the sullen existentialists secretly want the teams they love to win, win, WIN!!!). Yes, I wanted the Cubs and Red Sox to lose, but as it should be amply clear by now, I’m not a fan of either of these teams.

I’m not much of a fan of any team. Well, no. For the record, I’m nominally a Dodgers’ fan, for the same reason I’m nominally Italian; it’s about where my ancestors are. But I don’t get emotionally involved in the manner of a true fan. I’m sort of mildly irritated that the Dodgers seem to rent the second through fourth places in their division year after year, but that’s really the extent of it. I’m not the “fan” sort.

But his doesn’t mean that fans are wrong for being fans — I mean, why not? Everyone needs something to believe in and identify with, and with the exception of soccer hooligans most people seem to handle the quasi-tribal emotional qualities that sports fandom evokes admirably well. You want to be a fan of a sports team, then by all means, go right ahead. Have a ball. But remember that neither I nor anyone else is obligated to affirm your feelings, hopes and dreams concerning your team. That’s your own baggage, especially in the case of the Cubs and Red Sox, who load their fans up with so much baggage to begin with.

Cubs and Red Sox fans are fans of losers, but let’s have a reality check here. Given the competitive structure of sports, ultimately most fans are going to end up being fans of losers. To quote the philosophical motherlode that is the movie Highlander: “There can be only one.” One World Series winner, one Super Bowl winner, one World Cup winner, and so on and so on. The Yankees have won the World Series 26 times since the Red Sox last won theirs (I think), but that only means that roughly 70% of the time, their fans ultimately rooted for losers — high-achieving losers, naturally. But even so. This is why they’ve got all those silly divisions and leagues and such: To ladle out consolation prizes to cushion the blow of loserosoity (well, and to string along the fan pathology for additional commercial gain. But the former is just an iteration of the latter). So in this regard, on a year-to-year basis, Cubs and Red Sox fans are no different than fans of every other team but one: All rooting on losers.

The difference, of course, is in the span of decades, which is where mythology and legends and talk of curses arise. These are far more interesting than mere winning to someone like me, who is an observer of the game but who is not a hardcore fan of a particular team. Let’s be honest here: The even distribution of success in sports is incredibly boring. It’s why people these days watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. Major League Baseball is far more interesting because the Yankees are evil and have more money than God, because the Braves keep winning their division and choking in the postseason, and because the Cubs and the Red Sox find new and exciting ways to lose, than it would be if the championship rotated more or less evenly through the ranks. We crave dynasties, of both the winning and losing sort, so we can have the drama of their respective downfalls and ascensions.

I think it’s more interesting that the Cubs and Red Sox keep losing, and losing in innovative and heartbreaking ways. I mean, really: That’s entertainment. And I think it’s more interesting to be a fan of such a team than a fan of one without such a fascinating history. I don’t mind having that bias, nor do I feel uncomfortable with continuing to hope the Cubs and Red Sox keep their fabulous losing ways going — or telling you all that it’s better this way. Globally speaking, I think it’s more fun. Everyone’s got their way of enjoying baseball; this is mine. You don’t have to like it.

The fans Cubs and Red Sox root for losers — as year to year, so does nearly everyone else. That’s the nature of competition. Doesn’t make the fans losers. It just makes them fans.

Hit It, Sadly Enough.

I mentioned earlier this week that I expected I would get more than 2000 pieces of spam this week, in which I’m tracking my spam rather than deleteing it outright. I just want to note that as of 8:05am (Eastern) friday morning, I am in the possession of 2190 pieces of spam, and still have more than two and a half days before I stop counting.

Dear Cubs Fans:

I told you. You didn’t believe me. But you believe me now, don’t you.

And, my God, it was perfect. Yes, yes, you’re in pain, I know. But, honestly, now. If you had to lose — and you did — isn’t it better this way? Not just to lose, but to lose big, to lose historically, to lose epically, yea, verily, to implode. Think of the stories you’ll have. Let’s just trot this dog right out and shake its shaggy paw: The Cubs had a collapse of biblical proportions. Biblical. This is the Book of Cubs, which reads rather suspiciously like the Book of Job, except, of course, that after God tests Job’s faith, Job is rewarded.

Cubs fans, on the other hand, are precisely personified by the unfortunate Steve Bartman: Hopeful and groping towards history, yet destined to be personally implicated in, and to feel personally responsible for, the Cubbies’ failures. Do not blame Steve Bartman, Cubs fans (and certainly don’t kill him). He is a 200-proof distillation of everything it’s been to be a Cubs fan for the last nine decades, the eye-watering, throat-desiccating, head-spinning Everclear of Wrigleyville. Pointing your angry, shaking finger at him is merely pointing back at your own disappointed self. He is you, with a better seat.

This is not gloating. I know it looks like it. I know it sounds like it. I fully admit you could package this as I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gloating! and stock it in the refrigerated aisle. But, follow: Gloating implies I wanted the other team to win, and really, who cares about the Marlins? I mean this literally, by the way. The Marlins averaged 16,000 spectators a game in 2003, and a single Cubs fan has more frothing team love than all of those Marlin spectators put together. Being a Marlins fan today is like licking a block of aspartamine: You have the sweetness but you also have that unnatural metallic aftertaste you get from something not quite real. (Cubs love, on the other hand, is pure cane sugar — it’s just too bad about that sugar crash at the end). In all, the Marlins are a speck, a bug, a straw man propped up by the baseball gods. Aside from the small, cheap irony that the Cubs were whomped by a fundamentally ahistorical wild-card collection of nobodies and cast-offs, the Marlins are entirely incidental to this whole thing you’ve got going.

Nor is it to the point to ask me if I’m happy the Cubs lost. That’s like asking me if I’m happy the sun rose today. When the sun comes up, I’m happy to the extent that it means the fundamental laws of physics and reality continue to apply, and that as a consequence, we’re not all flung into space by Earth’s hard braking maneuver, and our planet sent looping towards doom in the immense gravity well of our star. I’m happy not for the sunrise, but for the well-ordered universe it represents.

Quite obviously you won’t see it this way now, Cubs fans. I understand. Hell, I even sympathize. But in your heart, Cubs fans, you know the place of the Cubs and the role they play in the world. You’ve always known, just like you know what your role is, as the fans of The Team That Can’t Close the Deal. You know, it’s just that every once in a while you don’t want to believe. That’s why the baseball gods let you get close to the promised land every once in a while. To remind you.

In any event, it’s almost over now. There’s just one thing left to do: Root for those damn Yankees. Even if the baseball gods mean for the Cubs to lose and Cubs fans to suffer, they don’t mean for you to suffer alone. Maybe that’s comforting for you. Probably not so much for Red Sox fans.

Yeah.

I, like all right-thinking men should, love Dahlia Lithwick. What’s more, I’ve loved her for a long time. I have no special reason for pointing this out at this particular moment, excepting that her comments regarding the word “no” as it relates to sexual activity are exactly right and stand in stark contrast to the beef-witted promulgations of others on the subject. Fact is, were I not already married to the perfect woman for me (and she were not otherwise available to be married), and I was given a choice of women to bond myself to forever, it’d probably be a toss-up between Lithwick and Emma Thompson. This no doubt to the surprise of their respective spouses/significant others. But let’s not go into that now.

While we are on the subject of “no” and sex, why is it apparently so hard to understand the concept of “no means no”? As Ms. Lithwick rightly points out, it’s not as if we’re confused in other situations what “no” means. Yes, sex is a complicated mesh of desire, guilt and trying to decide if that thing we saw once in a porn film might actually work on someone who is not a professional porn actress. However, were I ever confronted with a situation in which a sex partner said “no,” I would stop. Seductive ambiguity is all very nice, but I think “no” is the ultimate “safe word,” and if you don’t want me to stop, you very simply should not say no. Call me parochial and square, but I like positive reinforcement with my sexual attempts. You could say it’s one of my kinks.

And for that matter, every time someone suggests that men can’t understand what no means in a sexual context, I get insulted. I’m a man; I have no problem with the concept. I’m willing to entertain the idea I might be somewhere on the right side of the intelligence bell curve when it comes to men, but it doesn’t take that many brains to encompass the concept of “no means no.” I’d like to believe that the vast majority of those with Y chromosomes are intellectually capable of handling such a minor tautology. Guys who can remember every single set list of every single concert of an entire Metallica World Tour, or can tell you the batting average of every person who ever wore a Rex Sox uniform, have the intellectual wherewithal to process the word “no.” To suggest otherwise offends the entire gender. Which is why I have no problem tossing guys who persist in attempting sex after the word “no” into the slammer. They know better.

Signal to Noise

I get a lot of spam, which is the result of having my e-mail address out there on the Internet. And I was wondering just exactly how much spam I get, and how it compares to actual e-mail (that is e-mail from real people and/or companies with which I do legitimate business). So for fun I’ve decided to do a little experiment. At 12:03 am this morning I cleared my e-mail of random crap; between now and next Sunday at 11:59 pm I will store rather than instantly delete every piece of junk mail I get. We’ll see just how much actually piles up in a week. My guess will be somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 pieces of spam.

(this little observation will not include the AOL addresses I have, which at this point are used strictly for business relating to the By The Way AOL Journal)

As a point of reference, between 12:03 and 6:38 am today, I’ve already accrued 117 pieces of spam — and two legitimate e-mails, which means I get one piece of “real” e-mail for every 58 pieces of spam. This ratio, I’m willing to bet, will drop somewhat over the week, but it’s still going to remain rather high. I used to get more e-mail from people, relative to spam, but three things have happened over the last several months: One, the amount of spam has increased somewhat. Two, I’ve added comments to the Whatever, so much of what would come to me as e-mail is now left as comments. Three, I’ve noticed that many of the people I know appear to be e-mailing less. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, although I do assume it’s not just that I’ve suddenly become personally unpopular. I’m wondering how many people are simply just giving up on trying to fight through all the spam to reach people by e-mail.

The one bit of good news here is that dealing with spam has become slightly easier recently; the e-mail program I use has a reasonably good spam filter which catches 98% of the crap and 98% of the rest of the time I can tell from the subject header whether it’s spam or not. So the time I spend clearing out spam has gone down rather a bit in the last few months. I suspect at least a couple of e-mails from real people have gone down the spam trap tube; I check addresses and subject lines before I delete, but you never know.

I think this will become a convenient excuse for people who choose not to answer e-mails; I think “it must have gone into my spam trap” will become the e-mail version of “my answering machine must be broken” or “I’m entering a tunnel” on the phone. I don’t use it that way, however. Honest.

Interview Mania!

If you really have an itchin’ and burnin’ to hear me on the radio, you’ll have four — count them, four — chances to do so next week: Three on Monday and once on Tuesday. Here are the dates, times and stations:

Monday, October 13, 7:40 AM EST
WINK-FM
Ft. Myers, FL

Monday, October 13, 9:10 AM EST
KORB-FM
Davenport, IA

Monday, October 13, 4:00 PM EST
WRVC-AM
Huntington, WV (Tri-state region of OH, KY, and WV)

Tuesday, October 14, 8:45 AM EST
KTBZ-FM
Houston, TX

The bad news is, alas, none of these stations appears to Webcast, so unless you live in their broadcast area, no Scalzi for you.

The occasion of this media blitz is Book of the Dumb, which is supposed to be in stores this very next week. Whether it will be is another matter, since the book was only sent to the publishers on Friday. So if you see it on the shelves somewhere next week, color me hella impressed. But if not this week, then next week. No matter how you slice it: Soon. Very soon.