Monthly Archives: November 2003

Semi-Hiatus

Head’s up for everyone: I expect December to be positively packed with projects that I need to shove out the door in order to assure I and my family don’t spend 2004 eating nothing but Top Ramen and whatever I can scrounge out of the dumpster behind Patty’s IGA grocery store here in town. And you know what that means: The likelihood of fewer and/or shorter Whatevers for the month of December.

However: I will continue to blog daily at By The Way, on account that’s what I’m paid to do over there, so if for some reason you’re reading the Whatever and still haven’t added BTW to your bookmark list, now’s a swell time to do that. Oh, go on. We’ll have fun! Or your money back.

I don’t imagine December will be entirely bare around here, but I do expect it to be somewhat thin, and for the usual reason of when I have to buckle down and actually get some paid writing done (and potential paid writing projects pitched) the thing that must sadly need to suffer is the one thing I’m writing for free. This is life of the pro writer: Sometimes, even writers gotta work.

Thankful and Something Funny

I’ll be taking a break from the Whatever until Monday — I plan to eat myself into a coma on Thanksgiving (although I imagine I’ll be popping up in the comments for the previous entry). But before I do, two quick things.

If you ask me what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving, in addition to the usual things I am thankful to the people who have contributed $637.63 to date to my literacy drive. If you haven’t pitched in yourself yet, of course I heartily encourage you to do so — drop by the fund drive page for an explanation of what I’m doing and the link for contributing, and a Christmas poem similar to what I’ll be writing for everyone who contributes this year. I really am grateful so many of you have pitched in — it’s going to make a difference to the kids who get the books we’re buying for them.

Speaking of books, admire, if you will, the promotional doodad that’s being sent out with Book of the Dumb:

See, they’re pencils and they’ve got erasers on both ends. It’s dumb — which means, of course, it’s a smart little promotional item for this book. The book below it is of course the book (buy it now! Cheap!!), this particular copy of which is soon off to the local library as part of a pile of book I will add to its shelves. See, I do the book donation thing on my own as well.

I hope you have a fabulous and gut-busting Thanksgiving. I am thankful you read me. See you on the other side.

Fun with the GMH

One of the things that really chaps my ass about the people who oppose gay marriage is that so many of them seem to believe that allowing guys to marry guys or gals to marry gals will tumble the entire nation into a festering cesspool of carnal inequity, in which everyone suddenly turns into lustful raveners who engage in group marriages with dogs and close relatives, like recursively genetic unfortunates or characters from a late-era Robert Heinlein novel. Aside from being patently irrational, it also points to a certain worldview that is simultaneously fearful, smug and insulting:

1. It suggests that the gay marriage-haters (henceforth referred to as “GMH”) believe that the vast majority of people in the country are sexual degenerates who can only be kept from pets and the consanguineous purely by hard rule of law.

2. Or, should we wish to be charitable, it suggests that the GMH seriously believe that the rest of us cannot see or reasonably formulate a moral or legal difference between allowing a man to marry another man, and allowing a man to marry a bichon frise. This suggests the GMH think we’re all stupid and unreasoning and therefore need to be guided by our intellectual and moral superiors, i.e., them.

3. It clearly suggests that the GMH believe that gay men and women are morally and legally equivalent to dogporkers and uncleboinkers, despite so many of the GMH who suggest they’re perfectly fine with gay people, it’s just those dirty nasty unfathomably evil gay acts they do that are so darn bad. Actually, they do hate and/or fear and/or feel disgust over gay people specifically, it’s just that with the exception of Fred Phelps and a few drunken frat boys cruising the streets outside gay bars with pickups and bats, they realize that announcing that fact to the rest of us marks them as unsavory and intolerant, which should be a hint but is not.

4. It likewise clearly suggests that the GMH live in constant and overweening fear for their own personal morality in the face of differences in others; i.e., that should they encounter a legally married gay couple, their personal moral compass might swing so wildly askew that the next thing they know it’s 3am and they’re being bent over an interstate rest stop picnic table by a leather bear named Chuck while a fetching chocolate lab is licking their heroin-dusted nipples. They didn’t want it to happen. But they just couldn’t help it.

Now, naturally, I entirely expect the GMH to violently object to this, and maintain that they don’t think the rest of us are brain-damaged perverts or that they’re morally weak fag haters. But if you don’t and if you aren’t, well, then, what is the problem? Really. What is the big deal, here? If we’re not all glory-hole-seeking morons, how will the prospect of happily-married gay people change us? And if you’re not all prejudiced and on the verge of a lapse of sexual ethics, how does possibly getting an invitation to the marriage of Sue and Jill threaten you?

(Please don’t come at me with the arguments that marriage is about the possibility of procreation or that God says it’s between men and women. There are a number of religious denominations, Christian and otherwise, which offer religious blessing on same-sex unions, and unless you’re willing to ban the infertile from marriage, the second goes out the window as well.)

Allow me to make a radical suggestion here, which quite obviously I don’t think is radical at all. I submit that I believe that gay marriages, on average, are likely to be more stable and happy than straight marriages — that is to say, more likely to be “model” marriages in which the two partners are committed to each other in a loving fashion. And the reason for this, naturally enough, comes down to sex, as in, sex is not why gays and lesbians will get hitched.

Come on, you abstinence types. You know sex plays a significant role in marriage among the conservatively religious, who trend toward marrying younger than other groups. Indeed, it’s one of the selling points: You can have all the sex you want! And God approves! But I submit that someone who marries for access to sex — or has it in his or her unspoken top three reasons, as I strongly suspect any heterosexual human who reaches his or her early 20s as a virgin might – will find he or she has a weak pillar in the marriage after the first bloom of sexual activity wears off. And you know how humans are when it comes to sex. They’re all screwy for it. It makes them do things like have affairs and try to serve divorce papers on their wives in hospital recovery rooms and whatnot.

Now, take your gay couple. He and he (or she and she) don’t have the same hangups about sex and marriage, for the simple reason that gay people have never had the need or expectations regarding marriage and access to sex. They have ever had their sex independent of the marriage institution. So it would seem reasonable to suggest that if a gay couple decided to marry, the fevered idea of finally getting to have sex (and the irrationality such a desire can bring) would not be one of the major motivating factors. Instead the decision would be based on other more, shall we say, considered factors, like basic compatibility, shared life goals and expectations, and a genuine and well-regarded appreciation for the other, in the relationship and out of it.

Let’s be clear that I am not suggesting marriages between the religiously conservative are doomed once the rush of newlywed sex wears off (they’re not) or that every gay person who marries will do so in a sober, well-considered manner (they won’t). But I am suggesting that those gays who do decide to marry have one less distorting pressure on the marriage vow than many straights do.

For now, at least. Because here’s the really interesting blind spot the GMH have on the matter of gay marriages — they have the potential to make people rather more “moral” than less. After all, if gays and lesbians have the right to marry, the GMH, who we may reasonably assume have a large overlap with the religiously conservative and those who wish to promote abstinence before marriage, may then do just that — promote sexual abstinence to gays and lesbians in a reasonable manner.

Let’s grant that in their heart of hearts, most GMH wish gays and lesbians didn’t have sex at all, and would go through their entire lives miserable and sexually thwarted (see point number three above). But realistically, that’s just not gonna happen. So allowing gays and lesbians to marry is the next best thing, since it creates a structure that allows the abstinence-loving not only to limit gay and lesbian sexual activity on an individual basis but also on a larger scale. After all, the gay teenager who commits to abstinence before marriage is one less gay teenager having sex with other gay teenagers, and wallowing in the ancillary gay culture. It also quickly and efficiently stuffs the gay person into a monogamous relationship, thereby trimming away the promiscuity that (to the religiously conservative) defines the whole “gay lifestyle.”

True, these people are still gay. But at least they’d be gay like the rest of the religiously conservative is straight. Honestly, for a religious conservative, that’s as good as it’s ever going to get.

But of course, I don’t expect the GMH to see it that way (I also don’t imagine gay men and women will go for the abstinence thing in any higher numbers than straight men or women, but that’s another matter entirely). What I expect is for the GMH to continue to declaim that gay marriages will bring on zoophilia, incest and polygamy (or polyandry — I mean, why not?), and to continue to hate and fear and hate and fear and hate and fear some more long after the rest of us have welcomed the new gay married couple down the block to the next neighborhood cookout and traded wedding and proposal stories and have then gone on to other reassuringly mundane topics of conversation.

And to the GMH I say: Knock yourself out, kids. Just don’t do it near me. Also, when your moral compass gets whacked off course because you just couldn’t fight off the decadence, stay away from my dog.

The Burning of MP3.com

One of my readers is asking about my thoughts on the eventual extinction of the MP3.com musical archives, and since I love it when people ask me to opine about subjects because it saves me from having to think up of subjects to opine about, allow me to indeed hold forth on this subject.

First, background. MP3.com is/was a Web site where amateur and pro musicians could upload their music for others to hear and, if they chose, buy. During the now-fabled Internet boom, it was valuated at close to a billion dollars and today it’s worth, well, somewhat less. Several years ago MP3.com was purchased by Vivendi Universal, which for whatever reason didn’t seem to know very well what to do with all these amateur musicians and their music files. In the space of the last couple of weeks VU sold MP3.com to C|net, who it is presumed will attempt to build it into some sort of commercial music site. But apparently VU didn’t sell the archive of music and musician pages (or did and C|Net has no interest in them). Now every musician at MP3.com has until December 2nd to get their music files out of there before VU shuts down the servers and all that music — more than one million mp3 files, reportedly — is wiped.

This wholesale eradication of the MP3.com archives has people up in arms, including the founder of MP3.com, Mike Robertson, who likened the potential erasing of the MP3.com archives to the burning of a museum; others online have compared it to the burning of the Library of Alexandria. A number of organizations, including archive.org and Primetones.com, have offered to host the soon-to-be-deleted files, but at least so far, there seems to be no interest either from VU or C|net. That’s where it is at the moment.

Two observations to make here. First and I think obviously, I don’t see why either VU or C|Net shouldn’t allow other organizations to take up the MP3.com archives. It would seem neither company wants them, and if others are willing to take them, why not? Archive.org does seem a natural fit and claims to have the space to take on the songs, and is also dedicated to the proposition that information should be freely shared. Indeed, not allowing an archive seems positively churlish, and on the C|Net part, seems a good way to make sure that a redesigned MP3.com is utterly without goodwill.

Having said that, I have to wonder why the people and organizations clamoring about the need for an archive don’t simply start downloading file after file from MP3.com. The site, after all, encourages downloading the files (for now, anyway). Strictly speaking, if you have an account, you don’t need additional permission to download the files. 10 days is not a whole lot of time to download the entire of MP3.com, but surely if people took it on as a distributed project, it could get done. 1,000 people with broadband connections could do it, and I bet you someone (not me) could organize the event and get more than 1,000 people to pitch in and download most — if indeed not all — of the MP3.com music files in the time remaining.

Once the downloading was completed, everyone could place these particular downloaded files on a P2P network, and there you have it: MP3P2P. Then Archive.org or whomever has an interest in archiving the material could do so at their leisure.

Now, legally, I’ll admit we’re getting into some interesting areas, but on the other hand, if you’re an artist who has music on MP3.com, you’re already agreeing to allow people to download your material for their own personal use. What’s changing here is that people are downloading it from each other, for their personal use, rather than from MP3.com archives, which are now defunct in any case. I suppose either VU or C|Net could try to go after those who are on the MP3P2P, but considering that they’re ready to dump the entire archive, it seems odd that they would then try to go after people for picking through it.

So yeah, there’s my first point: The organizations with the MP3.com archives should let other organizations archive — and even if they don’t, people committed to the idea idea of this music being archived should archive it themselves anyway. Call it Commercial Disobedience: An act of saying “Screw You” to those who choose their own short-sighted goals over the long-term value of the Net.

Second point: It’s not as bad as people seem to think. The closing of the MP3.com archives is nothing like the burning of the Library of Alexandria, because the nature of the Internet itself allows for the multiplicity of information. When the Library of Alexandria burned, tens of thousands of original scrolls full of information were lost forever. If the Louvre were to burn, thousands of pieces of original art would be gone for ever. When the MP3.com archives goes, thousands of copies of original sound files are gone — NOT the originals of that information. Those originals still exist — and indeed, are endlessly replicatible. With the loss of MP3.com, we’re not losing a million pieces of music, we’re losing the organizational structure that makes them easy to locate.

There is nothing stopping any of the musicians who put their music on MP3.com from placing that music elsewhere on the Web: On their own Web sites, or on IMUA, or on dmusic, or indeed, in archive.org’s audio section. Indeed, I would imagine that many artists who were on MP3.com already have their music elsewhere. I know I am; I had a couple of tracks on MP3.com, but I also serve up those tracks on my IndieCrit.com site as well, and copies also exist on the AcidPlanet site. Losing MP3.com doesn’t mean that the artists on it have no other options to put their music online. That music is not gone forever. It’s merely scattered.

Likewise, since what we’re losing are copies of music, not originals, it’s not like a museum or a library has been burned; more like a chain bookstore or a museum gift shop. I am optimistic those artists who want their music online will get it back online in a reasonably short period of time — if it’s not already online somewhere else.

So, you know, relax a bit. Yes: Very bad the MP3.com archive could be lost. But not catastrophic. Not even close.

That Was Interesting

I was just contacted by Parade magazine (you know, the one that comes inside your Sunday Paper) for its annual How Much People Make feature. Apparently they were looking for someone to represent how much a blogger could make working fulltime in that capacity. I told the reporter that I suspected I probably wasn’t a good representative sample of that, as my income as a paid blogger (through AOL Journals) is only part of my overall take as a more general freelance writer and author. I suggested others who might be more representative, including Nick Denton (who can refer the reporter to the various people who run his sites) and Gabe and Tycho from Penny Arcade, who, if not traditional bloggers (and let’s pause for a second to consider the state of affairs which allows one to be able to use the phrase “traditional bloggers”), are basically pulling down their income from their Web site.

Regardless, I imagine this reporter will be able to find someone who will better fit his description for the article. And you bet I’m interested in know how much he or she makes. I want to see how my blogging income stacks up.

James At It Again

As many of you know, I get a lot of crap about the fact that I’m happy to note that Ted Rall is my friend and that I will on occasion note he’s roiled the masses with his typically strident leftyness. What you probably don’t know is that I get an equal (and somewhat opposite) amount of crap from people asking me why I like James Lileks, who I have also been fortunate to count among my friends. These questions about my friendship and admiration for Lileks have been piling up in particular after last Friday’s Bleat screed, in which James took a bludgeon to Iraqi blogger Salam Pax and actually wrote the words “fuck you,” which is the Lileksian equivalent of nuclear war.

Some of you may be shocked to learn that James earns, at least among my correspondents, an equal amount of disdain as Ted. Don’t be. As much as people on the right writhe at the strident middle finger that is Ted’s writing and drawing, people on the left are agog at what they see as Lileks’ softshoe, homey delivery of a right-wing agenda, which I assume they see as something like slipping poisoned-dipped needles into toasty warm marshmallows. One correspondent recently described James as a poster boy for comfortable fascism, which I thought was a bit much. The point is, in my experience James is just as much a lightning rod, merely in a different way. Believe it.

I was planning to note my own interpretation of Lileks’ screed, but I see James has offered a fuller explanation today of his thought processes, and not entirely surprisingly, it’s rather close to what I suspected he might be thinking, so I commend it to you instead. As I’ve said of Ted before, James is a big boy and he doesn’t need me to defend what he writes; in addition, as far as politics goes, frequently James and I are not eye-to-eye and therefore (and again, like Ted) I won’t defend him on that point either. James is who he is; you’re not required to like him.

I like James for a number of reasons. I’ve admired his writing style for well over a decade now — when I was working at the Fresno Bee newspaper I would crawl the wires looking for interesting things to read and I always knew that when I came across his byline (for his Newhouse column) I would have fun reading it even if I didn’t agree with it. When I started a humor area at America Online a number of years ago, I specifically sought James out and begged him to write me columns, offering him that absolute highest amount of money I could offer. I was delighted when he accepted; he was only one of two people I was absolutely certain would provide me with top-drawer material without worry (The other, I should note, was Ted Rall. So yes, there is some irony for you — my friendships with both these guys started at the same time and for the same reason. Make of that what you will).

I’ve also frequently credited James’ Web site as the inspiration for this Web site; the Whatever was originally modeled on James’ Bleats. Indeed, in a number of ways our lives have interesting parallels. He’s a short, balding newspaper columnist who lives in the Midwest with a fabulous wife and super kid, who is also a notable online presence and who has books that got their start from the site; I’m a short, balding former newspaper (and current magazine) columnist who lives in the Midwest with a fabulous wife and a super kid, who is also a notable online presence and who has books that got their start from the site. There are a lot of perpendiculars in our lives as well, of course. Be that as it may, I admire James’ professional output and personal style and I feel fortunate to have known him.

I’ll cheerfully note here that I don’t imagine either James or Ted would enjoy being in each others’ company, but I have a lot of friends who I would not mix short of my wedding or my funeral, so that’s perfectly all right. I’m not one of those people who expects all the people I like to like each other, or even to like that I like the other. Likewise, in a larger sense, I’m not bound to explain or justify my friendships to a larger world of acquaintances, correspondents or total strangers. In the quarters of the online world defined by the righty-libertarian-stuffy axes, my friendship with Ted puts me in bad odor. In the quarters defined by the lefty-overempathetic-humorless axes, my appreciation for James has the whiff of suspicion. I guess no matter what I just plain stink.

Whatever. I plan to go on admiring James’ style and his missives from Jasperwood and the surrounding environs. I’m aware occasionally he’ll bleat out something that exasperates people and makes them e-mail me, pointing it out as further proof of his genial consumer-oriented evilosity. They are of course perfectly within their rights to think that. But I know James a little bit. I’ll continue to feel free to think otherwise.

A Scalzi Christmas Teaser

First off: Thanks! I was hoping for $500 by Thanksgiving for my Writing for Literacy donation drive, and I’m very pleased to say that we’ve blasted right past that: As of 4:11 pm on Saturday, I’m at $606.49. So we’re chugging along quite nicely.

That amount, incidentally, doesn’t count the amount that’s apparently been contributed to Reading Is Fundamental directly by people inspired to contribute thanks to the little fund raiser I’m doing here; according to the folks I’ve spoken to at RIF, they’ve gotten some people who sent money to them directly and noted they did so after coming by here. I think that’s pretty neat.

At this point I thought it might be a good thing to offer up a bit of writing that can work as a sample for the writing I’ll be whipping up in December, so I’ve rummaged through the Scalzi Archives — scary that I have enough stuff to call the Scalzi Archives — and look what I found:

It’s a Christmas poem I wrote several years back, while I was still working full-time for AOL. I put it up in the now-long-gone “Howdy” area a few days before Christmas in 1996, and it got a tremendous amount of response — I remember something like 400 letters in a couple of days — so I figure it’s worth trotting out at the point. The illustrations are by my pal Richard Polt, whose style I really enjoy.

Here’s a link to the page the poem is on. The page also notes the fundraising thing I’m doing, so if you haven’t already linked to the fundraiser but planned to (or alternately, have linked but wouldn’t mind linking again), please use that page from here on out. It’s all colorful and everything. And, of course, please feel free to tell other folks you know about it as well.

Okay, that’s my pitch for the fundraiser for the next few days. On to other things, whatever they may be.

Meanwhile, In An Alternate Universe…

I don’t know how many of you read the Whatever and then forget to drop by By the Way, but if you don’t go over there, you miss me doing bite-size commentary on various things such as (in the last couple of days): Deep frying turkeys, the recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, al Qaeda, Schwarzenegger and Monica Lewinsky, the proposed designs for the WTC Memorial, Colorado considering dropping the 12th grade and camel cheese, which is actual cheese, not a disgusting euphemism. It’s fun stuff.

Won’t you drop by and boost my numbers? It’ll make my AOL overlords happy, which means they’ll continue to keep me on. Thanks, you’re a sweetheart.

Remember the Literacy Drive

I’ve collected just a few cents short of $460 for my A Scalzi Christmas Literacy Drive, and I think it would be simply groovy if I cracked $500 by Thanksgiving. So tell everyone you know about it. Remember: In exchange for a suggested $3 donation, I will provide you the password for a Web site on which three entirely original Christmas-themed stories (which I will write, no less) will appear. And of course, all money donated (minus PayPal’s processing fee) goes directly to Reading is Fundamental, which provides free books to needy children and sponsors literacy programs for kids and their families.

So: Great new Christmas stories and books for kids. All for $3. Is it the bargain of the century? Perhaps! It’s early in the century yet.

(Inspired to link to this? Use this entry. And thanks for the link!)

What Online Music Means

glenn mcdonald has a cogent if typically long meditation on iTunes this week at The War Against Silence, which I encourage you to read. He touches on several topics including the long-term repercussions of selling music online, both for Apple and the world in general, and suspects it will change the way things get done and music is perceived (in the many sense of the term) by consumers. He finds the virtual and veritable Pandora’s Box of iTunes to be worrisome in ways I do not (and oddly enough uses Mandy Moore to make the point), but of course that’s his prerogative and ultimately he may be right.

Without specifically rebutting mcdonald’s points, I’d like to do a few riffs on changes he sees coming down the pike for music and the music industry and provide my own thoughts about them.

1. iTunes itself: iTunes has a lot of competition and more is coming, but I don’t see Apple losing the pole position in the online music race. Part of this is perception — Apple has successfully positioned iTunes as artist-friendly, cool and (of course) the anti-Microsoft way of doing things. They have also, for the time being at least, won the “cool music hard drive” battle, since all the popular kids have got the iPod, and if you show up with a Dell jukebox or, God forbid, the Napster jukebox, you’ll instantly be relegated to the loser table in the lunchroom. And we know we can’t have that.

The flaw in the plan is the AAC format and Apple’s DRM overlaid upon it, since if Apple for some reason gets out of the music retailing business (which I doubt), all those files aren’t transferable to other music players. I assume however that if Apple were going to bail, it would have the grace to license out the DRM format so all the Macsters and everyone else wouldn’t be totally hosed (and also update the iPod firmware to accept other formats aside from AAC and MP3, including the dreaded WMA).

As I’ve noted before, I’ve made iTunes my primary music downloading experience, augmented by Rhapsody for streaming music. I also downloaded Napster, which could provide both at the same time, but I don’t much like the Napster experience; I find the interface unappealing and trying too hard to be too cool for school. Also, there’s the issue of Napster downloads being WMA, which I don’t like, not specifically because it’s Microsoft but because songs encoded in WMA sound “hollow” to me — there’s something in the encoding that diminishes the middle and gives upper frequencies a warbling sibilance. It also doesn’t offer a consistent encoding experience; some songs in WMA sounds fine, but others sound truly crappy at the same bit rate. AAC on the other hand sounds consistently solid and sonically full. For my money — and it is my money — it’s the better proprietary encoding format. I suppose this locks me into an iPod if I want to get a jukebox, but I can live with that. Which is what Apple ultimately wants to hear.

2. Music Turning Back Into a “Singles” Game: I have really no problem with this at all. The “album” concept is entirely artificial to begin with and arrived, as we know it today, with the advent of a technology that supported its existence, namely the LP (which allowed for 23 minutes of music on each side of the record). Prior to this, popular music was largely served up in a “single” format, whether it was in sheet music or 78rpm form (if you wanted an “album,” you had to go to the musical theatre or concert hall). CDs, with their 74 minute length, reinforced the album concept (although ironically also devalued the albums themselves — bands that would have had trouble thematically linking 46 minutes of music were totally at sea trying to fill up an hour and change). Today’s technology now means music is free of a certain physical and arbitrary time constraint/requirement, and that’s good.

Let’s be honest, now — most “albums” these days are a couple of worthy tracks and then a bunch of crap. This is one of the reasons online music (the paid version) took off: People liked the idea of not having to pay for crap they wouldn’t listen to again if they had a choice. One has to suspect that most musicians and bands are aware that much of their albums are filler, even if professional pride keeps them from saying so. If they were freed from having to add crap to their releases, and just release singles, what’s not to say they wouldn’t eventually make more money?

I also don’t suspect that over time the electronic delivery will kill longer “album-like” music. Instead, I suspect some bands/musicians will continue to work in the format, and their fans will still buy their output. For example, I would imagine that bands like Radiohead and Wilco would have no problem convincing their fans to shell out for a suite of interrelated songs. One of the nice things about electronic delivery is that these suites can now be as long or as short as the bands want them to be: Two songs, six songs, twelve songs, whatever. The length of the work will be defined by the needs of the work, not the needs of physical object holding the work in question.

And of course, artists who begin as “singles” artists can evolve into artists who can create viable album length pieces. The Beatles and the Beach Boys (to name two obvious examples) are singles bands who graduated into album bands (not to mention the previously mentioned Radiohead, as well as, say, Nirvana). Meanwhile, artists naturally suited to singles — your Elvises, Britneys and other artists not notably inspired to be songwriters or writers of extended musical thoughts — can play to their strengths. It’s hard to see a downside, except for:

3. The Music Industry Itself. And that’s because the music industry, as mcdonald notes, is currently designed to sell albums and very little of anything else — it needs its $12 to $18 per album or it starves. It’s damn well convinced it can’t survive on $1 a song. And of course they may be right. But ask me if that’s my problem, or the problem of the consumer. Indeed the consumers — or at least the significant and growing portion of the consumer base that gets the concept of downloading music — has already made the decision that we want to buy our music this way, so the music industry can either get with the program or get out of the way.

There is a significant group out there who hopes that online music actually kills the “music industry,” whereupon we’ll enter a utopia in which the musicians themselves have direct control of their own music, but I say to you — don’t get your hopes up, yo. So long as there is money to be made, there’s going to be someone acting as an intermediary between the artist and the consumer. And it’s not necessarily and automatically a bad thing, if the middleman takes care of the publicity and ancillary issues that musicians don’t have the brains and/or interest and/or financial wherewithal to handle.

Perhaps a side effect is that the “Music Industry” divorces itself from the huge multinational corporations who are only concerned with the generation of money for its own end, and we get labels which are actually interested in the music created rather than exclusively on how many units they can foist (or, if not divorced, created anew and parallel to the industry as it currently exists). But the industry will be there. It’ll just be an industry that is down with the way people want to buy music these days.

Incidentally, as I was writing this, I was also listening to the Mandy Moore album mcdonald mentioned in his review (“Coverage,” her album of singles) through Rhapsody and as a result bought a song off of it — her cover version of Joan Armatrading’s “Drop the Pilot.” It’s rather less than buying the entire album, but trust me, I guarantee you that the chances of me buying an entire Mandy Moore album are only slightly greater than me undergoing a spontaneous sex and age change that turns me into a 14-year-old girl. So you tell me: Has Mandy Moore, her label and the music industry in general suffered for me not shelling out for the entire album? Or have they benefited from me buying a track I otherwise would not have bought? It’s a matter of perspective, I suppose. The only person entirely happy with the transaction, I imagine, is Ms. Armatrading, who gets her songwriting royalities no matter what. God bless you, Joan Armatrading.

Leftover Turkey

Being that we’re coming up on Thanksgiving and all, allow me once more to exhume the body of The Mad Turkey for your delectation. For those of you new to Scalzi.com, back when I worked for AOL full-time, I wrote the “Mad Turkey” entries for AOL’s Thanksgiving area, in which I assumed the guise of a smart-ass gobbler whacking on humans for eating his kind. Interestingly, the Mad Turkey got tons of e-mail, apparently from people under the impression they were actually speaking to a turkey. It was interesting. Anyway, here you go:

Mad Turkey Year One: Part One, Part Two
Mad Turkey Year Two: Part One, Part Two

More Interviews

I’m all over the radio this week for Book of the Dumb. Here’s where you can find me. Links where applicable:

Wednesday, November 19, 2:30 PM EST
WAAM-AM
Ann Arbor, MI
TO BE RESCHEDULED. What can I tell you. It happens.

Thursday, November 20, 5:20 PM EST
KFTK-FM 91.1
St. Louis, MO

Friday, November 21 at 7:10 AM EST
WKRC-AM
Cincinnati, OH

Friday, November 21, 9:40 EST
KTBZ-FM
Houston, TX

Two Things

As I’m writing this, news of the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling the ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional makes me think two things:

1. Good for them.

2. If Massachusetts ultimately allows gays and lesbians to marry, Democrats have about as much chance of winning ’04 as I do.

What’s interesting is that the Mass. Court didn’t say that gay men and women could marry as of this moment; it’s just punted it back to the Legislature to do something about it. Now, naturally, I’m not a lawyer, but I think this is a pretty savvy legal move on the court’s part. If it had come straight out (heh) and said that gays and lesbians must be allowed to marry, it would have opened itself up to the conservative accusation that its members were legislating from the bench. Not that conservatives really have a problem with judges legislating from the bench when the legislating goes their way, mind you, but they surely get riled up when it doesn’t. But the court sidesteps the problem by saying to the state legislature, this is your job. Fix it. Smart.

I would imagine that Massachusetts will try to dodge the bullet and allow for a Vermont-like “civil union” rather than a traditional marriage, although the lawyer for the plaintiffs in this case seems to think that won’t be sufficient to achieve what the court has ruled. I don’t have enough of a legal background, especially regarding Massachusetts law, to comment on that. But if the legislature did allow for actual, honest-to-God marriages, boy, the shit would really hit the fan. In short order the ridiculous federal Defense of Marriage Act would be constitutionally challenged, a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman would start its rounds among the states, the South would threaten to secede and religious conservatives would riot with joy because they believe they’re mobilized to sweep into every conceivable office on the back of fear of homos while those mamby-pamby liberals are still wandering around in a daze. If you thought you were living in a theocracy now, liberals, well, just you wait.

For the record, I would expect the DOMA to be upheld (for now), the constitutional amendment to fail, barely (not on its merits, but because the only other time a constitutional amendment restricted people’s rights, it was a miserable failure), the south to remain in the US, and the theocrats (and those who know how to manipulate the reactionary religious) to win big in ’04 but to be whacked back in ’06 and ’08 when people remember that while God is great and God is good, many of His self-appointed representatives here in the United States are annoying prigs who won’t be happy until everyone’s doing the missionary position once a month, tops.

In other words: Interesting times, no matter what. Welcome! What, you didn’t want the 21st Century to be boring, did you? Silly people!

Here’s a link to the ruling.

Book is Out — and Cheap!

I think it’s safe to say Book of the Dumb is officially out there on the streets now, so it’s time to start agitating for your own copy in your local bookstore. However, if you like you can buy it directly from the publisher for a pretty wacky low price: $7.77, which is steeply off the $12.95 list price. But you have to hurry, relatively speaking, since this price is only good through the end of the year. But, holy cow. At that price, you can buy copies for all your friends and most of your enemies.

The Bathroom Reader folks have also put up sample articles from the book for your perusal. Here’s a short one, here’s a medium one, and here’s a long one.

Also, dig the ad over at Fark.

Ted At it Again, Again

My pal Ted Rall has got ‘em howling for his head again with this column in which writes from the perspective of one of the Iraqi insurgents recruiting new members. Instapundit calls him “loathsome” while Andrew Sullivan expresses the belief that Ted actually wants our troops attacked and killed.

I personally strongly doubt that. There’s a difference between writing what you think a Iraqi insurgent recruiter might say and think, and believing all of those things yourself. Clearly Ted thinks the Iraqi invasion was a mistake as carried out, and the occupation/rebuilding has likewise been botched, and these factors have combined to make the place somewhere Americans and those who aid them can get killed. Using the voice of an Iraqi insurgent recruiter is of course a massively inflammatory way of making the point, but that’s Ted for you. I would not immediately equate the use of an inflammatory rhetorical device with a desire on Ted’s part to have our people killed.

I won’t argue Ted’s points for him, since on Iraq we diverge on a number of issues. I supported the invasion of Iraq and I strongly believe that we need to stay in there for a comprehensive rebuilding as we did in Germany after WWII (during the aftermath of which American troops were attacked by German resistance, so there are not a few parallels between now and then). Likewise I’ll not try to argue with those who think Ted is loathsome or evil or unAmerican or simply insane. Ted writes in an intentionally antagonistic style in both his cartoons and columns; he’s going to get that from people, and it would be difficult-to-impossible to argue Ted doesn’t invite it. He appears to accept that he’s not going to be great pals with a lot of people out there. And as I’ve said before, he’s a big boy; he can take care of himself from all comers.

But with all due respect with Andrew (who gave me a nice link for my literacy drive, so I’m in his debt for that) I’m hesitant to let the assertion that Ted wants our people killed to stand uncontested. It seems unlikely. I would imagine, from Ted’s point of view, that if we wanted our troops and their supporters killed, he would not have brought up the point that people are hoping to kill them in the first place. The column is, I think, a cautionary tale rather than an aspirational one.

Update: E-mails and comments disputing much of a parallel between the German resistance after WWII and the resistance currently in Iraq, the argument being the resistance in Iraq is rather more severe than it had been in Germany. I would agree the situations are not perfectly consonant, but the idea that the dregs of a failed regime would fight on is on point (one difference between the two situations would be that after Germany fell, fighters from outside its borders didn’t sneak in to mount a resistance against the Allies).

Scalzi Christmas Update II

The “A Scalzi Christmas Literacy Drive” tally: here’s where it stands as of 11:26am 11/13/03: $437.51. Again, not bad at all.

If you’re new and wondering what the heck I’m taking about and why people are throwing money at me, here’s the scoop.

Everyone else, don’t worry, I’ll be doing a real entry update in just a few minutes.

Yargh!

Swamped. DVD reviews. Newsletter. Novel (must. Finish. Chapter). Intend to update later today. No promises.

However, this is a good time to remind people that when I’m slacking off here, I’m almost certainly writing about something or other over at By The Way. I am contractually obligated to make five entries a day over there, you know.

Also, a quick note for those of you who have ordered and/or are looking around for Book of the Dumb – I have reports that Amazon is now shipping copies of the book, even though at this moment they still say it hasn’t arrived. But obviously they can’t ship what they don’t have, so clearly, it’s in. As soon as I get official confirmation of the fact, I will let you know.