Monthly Archives: July 2005

Finally, some real blogging

(Posted by Jeff Porten)

Coming in a day late and a dollar short on the Saturday post; time management, not my strong suit. I have a persistent feeling I used up my somber essayist quota last week, so I’m going to get all bloggy on you and wind up with some lingering comments on the last few weeks.

Ohio: Nothing to add, not an expert. But it reminds me to mention “None Dare Call It Stolen” by Mark C. Miller in the August Harper’s. Oh, and of the time I walked from Indiana to the Dayton airport. Well, not all the way… really, the less said, the better.

Why America Doesn’t Suck at All: superhero comic books, unlimited soft drink refills (with ice!), nacho platters the size of a small principality, the hold ‘em poker boom and the Internet to play it on, and the Constitution. Oh, and the part of Hollywood responsible for Buffy and Battlestar Galactica.

Blogging and censorship: okay, so count me as a gobsmacked over the nannygate controversy that hit the NYT. Seems to me, if you want to write an anonymous blog involving the salient and salacious, then you damn well should stay anonymous. In my experience, the TV version of the slip-of-the-lip that gives away the murder to the detective doesn’t happen often in real life. More often, the people who get in trouble with a terminal case of TMI were on the road to self-destruction one way or another. Most people, just not good at keeping secrets. Which is why it’s a good idea not to go out of your way to generate any.

Anonymity: I promised a follow-up post on this, but every time I started it I ended up hating it four sentences later. Long story short, after a post on what separates us, I wanted to go for what connects us—and as you might guess, any post that has to disclaim Seven Degrees of Separation in the first sentence is just begging to be cliché-filled.

But what I had in mind was writing about how most of us are connected to the people around us in terrifying ways. We hear about a tiny fraction of these connections, but most of them stay hidden. My examples: met an old college friend I hadn’t seen in years, found out she was a co-worker with my first girlfriend who I hadn’t etc. Or the time I met a Newsworthy Individual at a conference in Japan and we discovered we lived across the street from each other. You have your own examples. We all do.

It seems to me that we build up these connective calluses to survive living in a teeming mass of humanity, but it also seems somewhat tragic that this means so many people pass in and out of our lives daily without notice. Try it sometime: silently say “goodbye, forever” to a stranger as she gets off the subway train. Not that I have any ideas on what to do about this, if anything.

Batman: Here’s everything you need to know about Batman. There’s this scene in the recent JLA series where Batman has gone off to do some scouting of the bad guys’ base. Superman is standing next to the Martian Manhunter (about as powerful, somewhat different powers), and both are watching the horizon. Superman says, “Can you see him?” Manhunter says no. Batman appears behind them in the frame and says, “okay, let’s go.”

If you’re a comic reader, and I am, you’re used to seeing all sorts of fantastic things in the storylines. I recall one storyline from my youth when Superman temporarily stopped the Earth from orbiting for a little while. Into all of this waltzes this man, merely human, who wasn’t rocketed from his exploding home planet or hit by lightning in front of a chemical locker. Through sheer force of will, he makes himself into a hero.

The big three of DC comics are Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The Man of Steel, an Amazon princess—and a human being with wits and training and just a dash of psychotic obsession. The movie didn’t quite capture all that, but it’s the closest one so far.

Finally, while I liked the discussion that came out of my freelance agenting idea, I’m a bit disappointed that I generated less buzz from the professional crowd here than I hoped (buzz meaning “actual thoughts on doing this”). I’m guessing that there are flaws to the idea that I missed, but if anyone wants to discuss further, my email address is cleverly hidden on every page of my site.

Alright, time for this Antiscalzi to turn out the lights. Looking forward to having John come back, actually; I’ve missed him, although I hope I did 1/7th of the job of making you miss him a little less. Thanks for listening.

Ohio: The Heart of It All (Yeah, Right.)

(Posted by Jim Winter)

[WARNING: Lots of footnotes. Please read before commenting, or I will say rude things about your mother.]

Since today is July 31 and the end of John’s sabbatical, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on this mysterious state he and I share.

When you travel, it’s amazing what people really think of where you live. This is especially true when the people you meet have never been to your neck of the woods. If you live in California, or especially New York City, people’s opinions of your home are pretty much set in concrete. They’re experts on the place without ever having visited.

I’m finding the same to be true for Ohio. On a recent business trip to Baltimore, a colleague asked me how Ohio could support two baseball and two football teams. Aren’t those teams awfully close together for such a rural state?

Well, I wouldn’t say that. For starters, the Indians and the Browns play 225 miles from the Reds and the Bengals. And having lived in both cities, I can tell you it’s like moving to a foreign country travelling between the two. And rural? Well there are vast stretches of the state where you can almost hear Michael Learned calling out “Goodnight, John Boy.” Indeed, my parents lived in such an area, where broadband is a rumor, cell service an urban legend, and everything closes after eight. My youngest brother still lives in that area, but he moved into the nearest small town in search of cable.

“But surely,” you must say, “you and John are in the same corner of Ohio. Don’t you two get together at all?”

Technically, we’re in the same area, but I live in Mt. Washington, a detached neighborhood of Cincinnati that’s sort of its own suburb. If the wind’s blowing in the right direction, John can call his area Dayton, though he lives in Darke County. I never even heard of Darke County until he mentioned it. It’s north of Dayton, over an hour-and-a-half drive from my place. In actuality, we’ve only met once in person, at a book signing in Dayton. It was a drive for both of us.

John can better describe where he lives than I can. I’m fairly certain he does not have to dodge Amish buggies or their resulting droppings. (That would be up in Holmes County, where my brother lives.) I can tell you that most of Ohio is urban, suburban, and increasingly exurban. I can also tell you everyday I live in Cincinnati is another day of culture shock for a boy raised on a culture of American cars and steel, Slavic food, Bruce Springsteen, and Cleveland’s answer to political correctness, the Certain Ethnic joke.* Cincinnati is college basketball, German Catholics, Bible-belt crusades against anything remotely sexual, and UDF ice cream.**

Along with Columbus (Buckeyes football, classy strip bars, and pro soccer), Cleveland and Cincinnati are the major urban centers in Ohio. But their attitudes are like night and day. If Cleveland has a rival, it’s Pittsburgh, two hours away in Western Pennsylvania. It’s barely aware of Cincinnati, probably because the Ohio State Buckeyes block the view. Cincinnati, on the other hand, has a prevailing attitude that Cleveland is the portal to Hell, based largely on the fact that Art Modell lived there when he screwed over Paul Brown, former Cleveland Browns coach and founder of the Cincinnati Bengals. This attitude is generally not based on anyone having actually VISITED Cleveland, which never stops AM talkshow hosts from expounding on how the city to the north is so much worse than Cincinnati.***

Still, Cleveland has a tendency to go broke a lot. It hasn’t gone bankrupt since the late seventies, probably because the last three mayors tended not to take advice from space aliens or Shirley MacLain****. That alone has helped the city rebound time and again. Cincinnati, for all its lethargic development, tends to be a quiet city. When the murder rate rises above 75, people call it a major crime wave. Meanwhile, even smaller cities in Ohio are saying, “What are you doing right?”

One thing I do not miss about my hometown is the weather. I’ll be honest, I hate snow. I’ve lived in Ohio all my life*****, and believe me, a couple days of heavy snow every winter beats the weekly onslaught of lake effect snow hands down. The temperatures also stay warmer in Cincinnati. Spring starts earlier, and fall lasts longer.

I suppose the big difference is this. Cleveland has more in common with the East Coast. When I go to New York or Baltimore or Philly, I feel right at home. I think it’s the culture and the ethnic mix. It’s also because Cleveland sits on the edge of a large fresh water sea someone with a warped sense of humor called a “Great Lake.” (Lakes do not swallow iron ore carriers whole. They just don’t. See EDMUND FITZGERALD; LIGHTFOOT, GORDON). Cincinnati has more in common with the south. A river town, Cincy is otherwise landlocked. Parts of it remind me of Atlanta or Memphis (though it’s much easier to get around than Atlanta, which doesn’t say much.) Cincy is more conservative as a whole, like the South, and has more in common with Kentucky, across the river, than it does the rest of Ohio.

So there you have it. Ohio. It’s not a foreign country after all.

It’s four or five of them.

*Invented by an angry Pole who thought the FCC had no business telling him he couldn’t make skits out of Polish jokes.

**Have to plug UDF ice cream on behalf of my employer, who makes a killing off the stuff. Also pads my 401k nicely.

***Glaringly absent from such talk is that all the action in Cincinnati is actually across the river in Northern Kentucky. Cincinnati is a suburb of Covington.

****We had a mayor who, in fact, did that. Dennis Kucinich. The town went bankrupt on his watch. However, careful analysis of the situation shows that the former CEI (now FirstEnergy) triggered the bankruptcy. This is the same outfit that triggered the Great Blackout of 2003. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has added FirstEnergy executives to its list of open seasons for hunters. I plan to mount the CEO’s head over my fireplace.

*****Yes, I know. I could always move to Florida or Texas, but are hurricanes really preferable to six feet of snow?

Cat Vacuuming: A Post With Visual Aids

(Posted by Claire Light)

(Sorry about posting this late! technical difficulties, you know. I’m a geek, but not a computer geek, unfortunately. So here’s my last blog of the month. Thanks for listening!)

By now, most of you know what cat vacuuming is. If you don’t here’s a definition from the forward motion website: “Cat hoovering (also Cat vacuuming) – 1. any excuse to avoid writing, even vacuuming the cat (Gerri); 2. A pointless exercise used to avoid real work. (HughSider)” For example, reading this blog rather than doing … whatever it is that you do (unless what you do professionally is read blogs for some reason) is a perfect example of cat vacuuming.

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A final Thursday half-hearted shout-out to my peeps (or complete lack thereof)

(Posted by Eric Magnuson)

July’s almost over. And with its passing shall go my brief interlude as your Thursday shtick-artist. I hope to leave the place as I found it – with a not entirely unpleasant smell, a re-stocked mini-fridge and all the neighbors unwilling to (formally) file restraining orders. But before I go, I do feel the urge to cut a more natural swath through things I find to be absurd currently. And shamelessly plug my often brilliant blog, and the Family Buick, in hopes of luring the buncha youse on a more regular basis over yonder after my time here is done. With that said, I’d like to offer my Reasons Why America Doesn’t Completely Suck, as inspired by the despicably self-righteous Bernard Goldberg. If you see Bernie anywhere near your communities in the near future promoting his new book, egg the man mercilessly. Trust me – he deserves it.

Why America Doesn’t Completely Suck
1. Even with most of the Country sweaty and gross, the temperature outside my San Francisco apartment is currently 64 degrees. And I only have to pay exorbinant cost-of-living rates year round to enjoy the beauty of room temperature all day long.
2. DirecTV is currently running ads for their NFL Sunday Ticket package incessantly featuring an overweight Jeff Garlin, even though the season won’t start for another 6 weeks.
3. ComedyCentral is also incessantly promoting a “Roast” of Pamela Anderson, even though she’s about as funny as Dick Van Patten. With huge knockers.
4. There’s a new cigar bar opening in Little Rock named “Monica’s on Clinton” near the Clinton Presidential Library. Seriously.
5. The Bushies are now calling the “Global War on Terror” the “Global Struggle against Extremism.” No wait – that’s one of the Reasons This Country Sucks (sorry, wrong list).
6. Pauly Shore can still find work.
7. Jon Stewart can say what he says without getting arrested. Unless he does so while buying crack with a male prostitute from an undercover cop. So to speak.
8. We invented TiVo, the Apple PowerBook, and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Entirely by accident.
9. Baby jogging strollers are now better equipped than my entire childhood elementary school.
And a final Reason Why This Country Doesn’t Suck…
10. The internet has made it possible for anyone to publish for a World full of the curious (and spurious) at ree-deek-you-lousy low rates.

Any other Reasons you might want to offer? Regardless, tanks for reading. Rock on.

They Call Him the Wanderer…No, Wait, Scratch That

(Posted by Ron Hogan)

About a month ago, I contemplated reading The Traveler, noting “a suspiction that, having spent my entire adolescence and early adulthood devouring all the science fiction I could get my hands on, I’ve seen this all before.” My fears were well grounded–I managed to get through about the first hundred pages yesterday, and it was only because I didn’t have anything else to read on the subway that I continued past this whopper on page 23: “As far as he was concerned, anyone who used random numbers to guide his life should be hunted down and terminated.” I mean, I know pulp villains are predisposed to believing wacky things, but those beliefs usally aren’t quite so ridiculous. My favorite line, though? “This is a special security room. Everything said here is confidential.” Yeah, that sounds enforceable.

Bascially, we’re looking at a cross between the Gnostic paranoia of Philip K. Dick and the transdimensional Machiavellianism of Roger Zelazny, with details from Wired articles on surveillance technology thrown in for good measure. Plus some other sources: everytime those random number-generating anarchist ronin refer to themselves as Harlequin, I catch myself expecting that the highly regimented authoritarian society against which they rebel is going to change its name from the Tabula to the Ticktockmen–but no such luck. John Joseph Adams, a/k/a “the Slush God,” gives it the benefit of the doubt as a “snack novel,” but I find myself leaning towards Tod Goldberg’s more acerbic take: “mindless entertainment that engages you while the neighbor kids piss in your pool.” Apart from the ridiculous dialogue and the fact that the premises don’t really work all that well if you think about them for more than thirty seconds, on the surface it’s polished well enough.

A lot of people have commented that it seems less like a novel than like a treatment for the eventual movie, and they’re not far off. That’s actually one of the factors that went into my (probably wrong) guess as to the true identity of “John Twelve Hawks,” the allegedly “off the grid” author behind this psychedelic potboiler. It all started when I realized that something in the “voice” of The Traveler was reminding me of a prison riot novel I read a decade ago. A little Googling told me that book was Green River Rising, and it’s by a psychiatrist turned writer named Tim Willocks. It wasn’t the fact that Willocks is a novelist and a screenwriter that sold me so much as that he hasn’t published a novel in a long while…and that the first third of the novel is largely set in London and Los Angeles, the two cities between which he seems to divide his time. I could be wrong, but I’d love to have the guy who unmasked Joe Klein run a concordance analysis between the two, just in case…

…and, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note a potential problem with my theory: Willocks just sold a novel about the Knights of Jerusalem and their defense of Malta against the Ottomans in the 16th century. Then again, that might just tie back into Twelve Hawks’ Illuminati-lite secret history of the world…and, hey, “T. Willocks” even sort of sounds like “Twelve Hawks,” right? I mean, I’m not crazy, am I?

UPDATE: Well, maybe I am, just a little. I’ve been discreetly informed that there’s no way Willocks could’ve found the time to write a wacky sci-fi trilogy around the new novel. I’ll buy that–and gladly, because I kinda had a soft spot for Green River Rising. More conclusively, Joe Regal is Twelve Hawks’ agent, but Tim Willocks isn’t on his client list…

Saturn Speaks

John Scalzi again. No, I’m not back yet. I still have a week left on my hiatus. However, I wanted to drop a musical composition I did on y’all. The Cassini mission has recorded radio frequencies from Saturn and NASA has fiddled with them to put them into human hearing range, and I thought they sounded interesting enough to work with in a musical sense. So, for your musical delectation: “Saturn Speaks.” It comes in three flavors: Real Media (3.4 MB), small variable bit rate mp3 (4.3 MB) and large variable bit rate mp3 (9.9 MB). The track itself is 7 minutes long. Let me know what you think.

Doctors and lawyers and priestly ways

(Posted by Laurel Halbany)

The legal system’s often a mystery, and we, its priests, preside over rituals baffling to everyday citizens. (attributed to Henry Miller)

Anyone who tells you that people like filing ‘frivolous lawsuits’ because it’s easy money also probably believes that women have abortions for recreational purposes.

Law school is initially disorienting because you’re having your entire brain rearranged to a different way of thinking; when they’re done with you, though, you can’t imagine having been different. (It’s a bit like “The Colour Out of Space,” where the farmed humans come to prefer the aliens’ strange, ill-tasting food to normal Earth produce.) It’s easy to lose sight of how opaque–and terrifying–the legal system is to people who are not lawyers.

I work in an area of law where my clients are people rather than corporations. As with doctors, people come to us when they need answers, or help, sometimes when they need that help very badly and they’re very frightened. Like doctors, we have a weird language all our own, we may not seem to understand what it’s like to be in their shoes, and we have to hedge everything we say with scary things. “This will probably be just fine, but there’s always a small chance that…”

Doctors have the advantage that, sometimes, they can make their patients better, or whole. In the law, “better, or whole,” means getting money. I can’t arrange for a settlement where my client’s stage-four lung cancer will be taken away, or where he will be awared another four years to see his grandchildren grow up.

When I talk to our clients, I imagine that doctors must play part of the same role we do, as confidants and confessors. Because of that famous attorney-client privilege, people know they can tell us things that will never go beyond the walls of the law firm, even if those things are not “necessary” to their lawsuit. They tell us things they won’t tell their spouses or their children, even though that may not be anything that’s “relevant”. And we listen, and we assure them that we will make things better. Most likely. We’re working hard on it, certainly. But, like doctors, we can’t say for a hundred percent sure that the treatment will work.

Doctors, of course, are fighting against disease and injury. We’re up against other lawyers. I’m not sure who has it worse.

Agent to the Stars Arrives

athenaa2s.jpg

Athena is clearly impressed by the blurb on the back cover. I’m personally quite pleased by the book — it looks great (particularly Mike Krahulik’s artwork), and of course it’s just a happy, happy thing to have Agent finally in book form. I’ll have more to say about it when August rolls around, but for now, thanks to Bill Schafer and Subterranean Press for doing such a great job with it. It’s everything I wanted it to be.

If you haven’t gotten your own copy yet: Plug plug plug.

Scalzi Mojo Winners

(Posted by Bill Schafer)

Winners, get your Scalzi mojo here. It wasn’t easy, not at all, and as I have a decision making disorder, my lovely wife Gretchen made the near-final call on these. By her estimation, and mine, these were the “best” reasons to buy a copy of John’s new limited edition, Agent to the Stars.

Oliver Dale:
Because John is too delicate for jail.

If I don’t buy a copy, John will be forced onto the streets, and, just to survive, will be sucked into an underground ring of thievery. But he’s a writer, not a thief, and so he’ll be caught and arrested while stealing from Dunkin’ Donuts. John’s milky white skin will attract the ardor of the jail’s cohabitants and I think we all know that ain’t a good thing.

Dwight Brown:
Because if you don’t buy a copy of *Agent to the Stars*, the terrorists have already won.

Steve Eley:
So that an angel will get its wings.

Rich G:
Because verily, in this land of ice and snow I live in where winter lasts three quarters of the year and the sun is a legendary object, seen only in the distant memories and dreams of those who reminisce about Pangea, I have need of entertainment that will double as a source of heat in the lean times ahead.

Though if Bush has his way, we Minnesotans will soon be wearing grass skirts and holding pig roasts. On the bright side — I’ll have beachfront property!

***

Yes, I know we chose more than one entry, but it was close, and we had several favorites. Winners, if you’d be so kind as to email me your address at subpress (at) earthlink.net, I’ll see that you’re given some of that Scalzi goodness.

What Prevents Terrorism?

(Posted by Jeff Porten)

Jeff Porten here, on Jim’s day, and still recovering from the crap that laid me out for the past few days. So this is a note of apology for the late post, and notice for Patrick and anyone else who wants to know who’s writing.

I haven’t been keeping up with the news as much the last few days, but as best as I can tell the world is still losing its collective mind. Random searches in New York, for the first time ever. An innocent man slain at point-blank range by police on the London Tube. New attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh. And the steady drumbeat of bombings in Iraq, which have become so common that I doubt most people consider them to be breaking news.

All of this is taken as part of living in the brave new world, in dangerous times, where there are evil men out there who would kill us. They do not have the power we wield to invade our countries and overthrow our governments, so they resort to bombs and the inculcation of terror. Our leaders tell us that this is new, that they will put a stop to it, and that when they do we can stop being afraid.

Perhaps the key to Londoners’ calm is that they know full well that this is old and unstoppable, for they remember, remember the fifth of November, of gunpowder treason and plot, exactly four centuries ago. Perhaps, being British, they remember the IRA. Or perhaps, being European, they remember Brigate Rosse or Epanastatiki Organosi 17 Noemvri.

What is certain, however, is that Americans have forgotten April 19, 1995, when we were attacked by our own. We have forgotten the weeks following that attack, when many Americans jumped to the conclusion that we had been attacked by foreign terrorists. I wish I had a copy of my call at the time to a national NPR show, during which I rebuked the experts who were talking purely in terms of international terrorism.

After Oklahoma City, we had no one to invade, and so we turned to the rule of law. We prosecuted the attackers as criminals, and put one of them to death. In contrast, after Ground Zero, we invaded and overthrew two countries and passed dozens of laws to tighten up domestic surveillence on anyone living on U.S. soil.

Was Oklahoma City less important? Her dead less valuable to us? OKC led to changes in the American legal system, and inspired some (mostly stillborn) measures to watch Americans more closely. 9/11, in turn, led to the most radical reshaping of American foreign policy—and some might argue, domestic—since the close of World War II. The difference was in the origin of the attacks. The difference was in our leadership. The difference was in ourselves.

Today, the watchword for any move by government is claiming it keeps the people safe from terrorists. We rarely stop to ask what we mean when we say that. The tactics of terrorism are as old as humanity. This is not to justify the attacker; I have no interest in painting a sympathetic picture of such vicious animals. This is merely to be a student of history.

Nor is it possible to take away their weapons. Gunpowder can be made from urine. Explosives can be made from excrement, as Oklahoma should remind us. I have it on good authority that a suitable substitute for napalm can be made with gasoline, Ivory Soap, and a cheese grater. Granted, such weapons are crude and less lethal than the modern varieties; however, since America continues to be one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of small arms, we can rest easy knowing that only the most truly impoverished terrorists will be forced to resort to such measures.

So—what should we do? If weapons are eternal, if the will to engage in terrorist acts is eternal, do we then simply resign ourselves to it?

The answer to that, of course, is no. But the correct answer is not to declare war on terror, because America has a poor track record with such things. We have waged wars on drugs, on poverty, and on crime. There are many reasons why we have lost these wars, but the core reason in my view is that intoxication, subjugation, and evil are part of the human condition.

But can all crime be attributed to evil? To believe that, you have to believe that Americans are among the most evil people in the world, based on our incarceration record. Perhaps we are. Or perhaps you can pay heed to history and human nature, and decide that people can commit evil acts, and can become evil, when their condition becomes sufficiently desperate.

Brian took a good stab at discussing successful preventive measures to crime, but to my mind he’s answering the wrong question. The question is not to prevent motivated criminals from harming us; at that stage, we are fighting a rearguard effort and all it takes is a criminal to be smart or lucky. Given sufficient trials, we will eventually be exposed to the smart and the lucky.

The weak link in the chain is in the number of trials. We may believe that all those who would attack us are irredeemably evil and were always thus; if that is true, then we must engage in perpetual war to exterminate our enemies. Or we may believe that some forms of evil are born in nurture and not in nature, and do what we can to stem their conversion. We will still need to fight the naturally evil; they exist, they will remain, and they need to be countered. But we are all aware that the evil can be assisted by the impressionable, the desperate, and the foolish. Jones and Manson and many others have shown us that on the small scale; Hitler has shown that entire countries are not immune.

When we fight al-Qaeda, an army of 20,000, outspent by the American military by 1000 to 1, publicly befriended by none, are we fighting an army of the evil or the desperate? Of its leaders there can be no question; but what makes them leaders but that they have followers?

What Brian got right is the phrasing of his question, in asking about the prevention of crime. For terrorism is just a form of crime, one that is carried out for political ends. Why do we afford a certain kind of criminal so much credence, tell him that he alone is so threatening and dangerous to us that we would reconfigure our nation in response to his actions?

We need to remember that terrorism is crime, plain and simple. We are Americans. We and our true allies fight crime with justice; we know whom our true allies are because they do not shame us. We combat criminals with the rule of law. We were among the first to declare the equality of humankind before the law, and while we have been imperfect in our implementation, it is to the strength of this virtue that we owe the respect humankind affords us. For a millennium, nations wished to be feared; we were the first among many which gave reason to be loved.

When we forget that, when we declare war and start torturing our presumed enemies, when we deprive them of their freedoms without the due process that we have enshrined in our law, when we pretend that we need not act according to our ideals because we have the firepower to enforce our will, then we have sacrificed something indefinable which we are putatively defending. We are destroying the nation in order to save it.

I remember 9/11. I remember being out on the street in Washington DC, on an excrutiatingly beautiful day, all of us trying to make sense of the day’s events. I remember thinking how normal it was. I remember thinking, for the first time, what it meant to be a superpower. We were too strong; our enemies, unlike our enemies of the last great war, to feeble to harm us as a nation. They could blood us, they could kill us, but they couldn’t destroy us.

But that was before I saw military commandos riding the Metro. That was before we took a page from the Soviet playbook and started demanding papers. That was before Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and an entire nation living on Guiliani Time.

We are a people with a long history. We are a people who are used to the exercise of force, who are comforted by our use of it. We should know that force can prevent acts of terror, but not the will to terror itself. We should know that force can turn our enemies into the Hydra. But we are frightened, and we are more than willing to trade our liberties for temporary safety.

What prevents terrorism is justice. The show of force is simple, its costs borne by our voluntary defenders and our involuntary targets, and temporarily effective. But it is the pursuit of justice that chokes off the support of evil, that leaves it to founder, and makes its destruction possible. It is the pursuit of justice that made us who we are. It is what we claim to be willing to die for in the abstract, but history will show this to be a time when Americans mouthed the words and forgot the lessons. When we refused to pay the price and forced others to bear the burden.

We were built on the rule of law, trusting in the civil liberties of a free people, using our military force as a true option of last resort. Our power was built on the backs of the millions who came here believing they could find such values here. It is a slow, difficult, and dangerous way to live. It served us well for two centuries. The United States may be able to survive its repudiation, but America cannot.

Watch Your Mouth

(Posted by Jim Winter)

Having a blog is great. In fact, having two this month has been great. I just now have to figure out how I’m going to finish out this month. Thank God it’s only Sunday.

It’s been mentioned by a couple of acquaintances that one must be careful about what one blogs about and whom. There are anonymous blogs out there to be sure, which let some writers vent. However, that does not shield one from the consequences of what one says.

Does that mean censorship? Yes and no.

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Safe Travels, James Doohan

(Posted by Eric Magnuson)

On a day when London’s all a twitter once again (or maybe just the media is trying to make it appear so in their coverage of another handful of bombing threats), I expect that few people are taking the time to mourn Star Trek’s Montgomery Scott. James Doohan passed away yesterday at the relatively ripe age of 85. I’m far from a Trekkie, even though this is now my second posting with a reference to that area of entertainment geek-dom. But I do have a James Doohan story to pass along, in hopes of making us all see the man behind the man behind the machines.

I went to college in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota. One Saturday after an intramural co-ed football game my sophomore year, our team headed to Big 10 Subs on Washington Avenue to get some grub and hopefully score a few pitchers even though we were all officially underage. While waiting in line for a table, two Trekkies came up behind us – I recall one half-assed Spock and a pretty saucy Asian Uhura. What does one say to Trekkies in the real world? Probably some derivation of what we said – “is there a convention nearby?” There was – across the street at the Radisson – and we then inquired whether anyone of note was there. With glee they told us that Scotty was there, signing autographs and chatting with his fans. What would you do? I couldn’t have crossed the street faster if I’d had a few dilithium crystals horked up my butt.

Two of my female teammates with not only well-developed irreverent streaks agreed to join me in checking out the scene. To say that they were both attractive would be unfair. We were a teamful of ringers (I played ball in High School, as did the other guys). But the women were all way out of my league, so to speak. When we went to the concierge’s desk to ask where Scotty was, he never even bothered to look at me. “Upstairs,” we were told with a helpful, drooly response. “And you’ll want some paper, ’cause they’re charging for it up there,” he said while handing over a few sheets to Holly. Surprisingly, he gave us enough hotel stationary for Holly, Shelly AND me. We bounded up the stairs and saw that only handful of people were in line ahead of us. Everyone’s attention was directed at Mr. Doohan, who was seated at a long banquet table with an array of pens and glasses surrounding him. As we moved closer to Scotty, I soon realized that he was what you might call tipsy if you were being respectful. Flunkies seemed to appear with alarming regularity with new drinks for him. But he was entirely in jolly-mode, not the least bit surly or overtly Canadian (sorry, bad joke – he was from British Columbia, after all, not Scotland). When we reached him, I tried my best to offer something witty or at least not irritating. But I could have been speaking Klingon for all the attention he paid to me. Instead, as most men did, he focused his attention on Holly and Shelly. The line I remember was, “would you like to sit on Scotty’s lap?” There were others. But here’s the point of my recap, offered with the utmost respect to him and his family – he was utterly charming. In a funny, slightly-bawdy, very much there for his fans way. My friends didn’t sit on his lap, but if he’d asked twice they most surely would have. And from what I read in his NYTimes obit, he continued to do conventions until last year. I assume charming all manner of fans – real or feigned – along the way.

The end of the Times obit mentions how his family has arranged for his ashes to be shot into space. Damn straight – he earned that burial. Anyone else had a brush with a member of the Enterprise crew? I’d love to hear about it if so. Moonrock on.

One of My Life’s Great Mysteries, Solved!

(Posted by Ron Hogan)

superfolks.jpgI read something when I was seven years old that, even though I didn’t know what it was, stuck with me for the rest of my life. From what I’ve been able to reconstruct of my memories, it must have been in a magazine, probably something like Esquire, which my dad got sometimes–and I was the kind of precocious kid who would basically read any chunk of print I could lay hands on. Anyway, it was a story in which all the superheroes in the world were gone, most of them killed. The thing that always stuck with me was that, as I’d one day rediscover in its exact wording, “Even Snoopy had bought it; shot down by the Red Baron; missing in action over France.”

For years I tried to remember what the heck that story was and how could I track it down again. At some point, because I remembered there being so many characters created by other people, and because I’d read it in a magazine, I got the idea that it was a Philip José Farmer story. (Which, for some reason, also made me think it had sex scenes, because I also remembered not really getting much of the story beyond the fact that it named comic book heroes I recognized.)

A couple months ago, I was browsing in my local bookstore when I stumbled onto Robert Mayer’s Superfolks, which had just been brought back into print, and nearly felt chills as I read the opening pages, because I knew instantly this was that story. I’m positive now that I read an excerpt in a magazine, because I can’t imagine either of my parents buying this novel in 1977–it turns out to be sort of a parody of Donald Barthelme parodying Frederick Exley by making his sad sack suburbanite a washed-up superhero who’s retreated entirely into his secret identity…as newspaperman David Brinkley. And, yeah, it’s pretty much the real David Brinkley: the entire novel is populated by a mixture of real-life and pop culture icons. It’s also a send-up of 1970s New York, when crime was hitting all-time highs and the city was nearly broke. That’s one of the things that would have gone completely over my head in ’77, since I was not only at the complete opposite end of the country, but another couple thousand miles beyond that, living on a military base in Hawaii.

So of course I started reading the novel as soon as I left the store, and pretty much devoured it overnight. It’s just fantastic stuff–apparently, a lot of comic book writers who either read the whole book in ’77 or a few years later cite it as a major influence in their desire to write more psychologically “realistic” superheroes (including the sex scenes, which do turn up, but which I probably didn’t read back then–a good thing, too, as the thinly disguised Marvel Family scene alone would have scarred me for life if I’d seen it as a kid), but there’s a lot more to it than just the comic book satire. I would definitely recommend going out and tracking down your own copy.

The Search for Scalzi

(Posted by Laurel Halbany)

No, not John Scalzi himself. He’s…he’s over there in Ohio somewhere. I mean his books.

I didn’t want to buy Old Man’s War right off Amazon–I generally prefer to buy from independent bookstores when I can, and failing that, it’s an excuse to go into a physical bookstore and browse. Unfortunately, I live in a smallish town where the next closest bookstore is a Borders; the next independent bookstore is about a 45-minute drive in either direction.

One of the features of my job is that I am frequently sent out to tiny, remote towns. My firm represents people harmed by asbestos, and it’s not unusual for a client who is ill or dying to have retired to a small town because it’s affordable or near family, and when they aren’t physically able to come to the Bay Area for a deposition, we go to them.

These two things came together when John posted that the second run of OMW was on its way. I should really pick this up at an independent bookstore, I thought, and then, Why not a bookstore at one of those little towns?

Thus began my quest: The Search for Scalzi.

The first thing I discovered is that many small towns simply don’t have a bookstore. People get their books at Wal*Mart, or I suppose Amazon, or the grocery store on racks. For anything like a real bookstore, you go over to the big city. In some of the towns I’ve sayed in, “the next big city” is an hour or more away and is still too small to have a bookstore. When they do have a bookstore, it tends to be very tiny, heavy on local-interest books and paperbacks.

I thought I had a pretty good chance on my last trip, since I stayed in California and was in a small farming town. The “next big city” bookstore owner explained that she doesn’t carry hardbacks often, and doesn’t order SF hardbacks, because people generally don’t buy anything but paperbacks. “Except when a new Robert Jordan book comes out, you know, those sell.”

This isn’t a commentary about OMW being obscure or hard to find. It’s not as though I’m clawing my way through stacks of pristine copies of Hokkaido Popsicle or the latest Laurell K. Hamilton and just not finding any Scalzi. I seriously underestimated how few and how rare brick-and-mortar bookstores are outside the big city, and how independent booksellers, struggling to keep their doors open, have to make very narrow choices about what they can put on their shelves.

I really feel bad about not having bought the damn book yet, so I’m probably going to stop at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books next time I’m down at the courthouse. But I can always use a second copy, eh?

The quest goes on.

D’oh! Accidently Deleted Comments

John Scalzi here. While rooting out the spam, I accidentally deleted a small number of actual comments, so if you commented here between about 11am and 3pm today (Eastern time), you might want to come and repost. This is particularly the case with those of you who are taking part in Bill’s book contest. If it makes it any better, I deleted a couple of my own comments as well.

Sorry sorry sorry.

Monday Morning Shill

(Posted by Bill Schafer)

The trees have been killed, the paper milled, the proofs approved (some doubly so). Later this week, the Signed Limited Edition of John’s protean novel, Agent to the Stars, begins shipping from Subterranean Press.

Let me tell you. The demands we had to put up with to get this done. Chocolate in the mornings. A masseuse for Scalzi’s dog. The typos hunted and bagged, the largest of them professionally stuffed and mounted in Scalzi’s living room. It’s been an ordeal.

But here we are, and later this week, here the books will be, all minty and fresh and just waiting to be bubblewrapped, bagged, and shipped.

I should tell you a few things:

A2S, as it’s called, is limited to 1500 individually numbered hardcover copies, all hand signed by the author.
— The incomparable Mike Krahiluk (of Penny Arcade) provided the dust jacket art.
— Speaking of PA, 10% of the cover price ($30) of each copy sold direct will be donated to their charity, Child’s Play.
— If you order now, U.S. shipping is on us. Order later in the week and we’ll ding you $5 for it.

As a thank you to Whatever patrons and our customers, we’ll be sending direct purchasers a small bonus, a chapbook containing two Scalzi short stories. (Unless I’m mistaken, they remain the only two short stories John has published.)

Well, I’ve had my say, and now everyone should have theirs. Please post the best reason you can muster for buying John’s novel. At the end of the week, I will pick the “best” reason and bestow upon that person a free copy.

The Sky Is Falling!!! (Not!)

(Posted by Jim Winter)

Well, it is if you’re here in Baltimore, like I am for the weekend. The remnants of Dennis blew into town shortly after I did and combined with Chesapeake Bay’s already unpredictable weather. Note to Baltimoreans: I hereby promise not to go to Marley Station to shop anymore. It rains hard every time I do.

But I’m not talking about the rain when I say the sky is falling. What I’m talking about is the “Woe unto us! The poor, bedeviled professional novelists!” Last week, I read no fewer than three blog posts about how making a living at writing novels is hard, and how there will never be another Ed McBain because there’s no opportunity.

I also looked at the authors’ Amazon ranks. On the day in question, all three had lower ranks than I had at the time. I am a small press author who has to fight to get on store shelves and depends quite a bit on out-of-trunk sales and online shopping. Theoretically, my rank should be somewhere around Boston Teran’s last novel (which effectively killed his career for the forseeable future.)

They blame the publishers. They blame the chainstores. They blame their agents. Nowhere do I hear authors blame themselves. They ask, “Why can’t I be Ed McBain or Lawrence Block or Stephen King and write prolificly?”

First off, McBain, God rest his soul, was a freak of nature. This is a man who, at the start of his career (as Evan Hunter) forced himself to slow down to 8000 words a day. (For those of you who want to know, that translates into 32 typed, double-spaced pages.) Stephen King, no slouch himself when it comes to production, banged out about eight pages a day before he kissed the grill of a minivan and slowed down. There will never be another Ed McBain again not because the opportunity isn’t there. Create the next 87th Precinct and you might not be able to produce them fast enough. It’s because only Nora Roberts comes close to his level of production.

Continue reading

Anonymity

(Posted by Jeff Porten)

So, I’m just back from a trip to Boston, where I succumbed to a serious case of municipal puppy love. Damn, what a great town. Yummy food, worthwhile eye candy, and the people were all friendly to a fault.

Except this one guy. Long story short, it was a crowded Starbucks, and he felt I had done him an injury over table-sharing etiquette. So after moving to another table, he came back and lectured me on my manners. Naturally, before I left, I went back to his table and told him that I was a visitor to Boston, and he was the first rude person I had met there.

I left as he cheerily called behind me, “Anytime! Come back, I’ll do it again!”

I can’t say that this exactly bothered me. Not to put too fine a point on it, some percentage of the population consists of assholes, and you can’t live in a city without encountering a few. He probably put me in the same category. But it stands out because I was traveling, and in that odd sensory state where you notice the world around you a bit more, and perhaps are bit more open to making new connections.

On the trip in from the airport this morning, I struck up conversations with at least nine people; might have been more, I just remember the nine. Three instances of giving directions to out-of-towners, and a conversation with a guy at the bus stop about the historical social impact of air conditioning in the American South. (This is how I talk about the weather.)

I didn’t do this because I’m a nice guy. In fact, I’m an acknowledged bastard—crotchety and irritable and quick to get into a confrontation. The Starbucks thing was all about that, when I wouldn’t back down from the one guy holding a table for four next to the only power outlet; other people might be less likely to stand their ground there. But I also make a point of deliberately choosing to be friendly, because I want people leaving Washington with the same warm feelings I had in Boston—and those stemmed from the sum total of how people treated me there.

It’s good for my karma. But more importantly, it’s a massively positive trade-off. On my side, I’m giving up 10 minutes of my humdrum day. On the other side, if I give good advice and warm fuzzies to someone who is having, perhaps, a once-in-a-lifetime trip, then I’m contributing to something that might last decades. In 2035, someone might take a look at their picture of the Zoo and remember that nice guy who gave them bus directions. More likely (and more importantly), they’ll just remember what a good day they had.

That’s if I single you out. But otherwise, if I don’t know you, you’re just part of the scenery, and I am the same to you. I probably was in the vicinity of over a thousand people this morning alone: in two airports, on Metro trains, and then arriving home in my busy tourist-bedecked neighborhood. Nine of them briefly became human to me; everyone else made up the human flotsam, the loud voices when I tried to sleep, or the foreign language soundtrack you always hear in DC. A necessary requirement for urban living; there are good sociological reasons why you only greet people on the street in places where the population density is low.

And yet…. It was precisely that anonymity that gave that man in Boston social leave to lecture me, and the same that allowed me to respond in kind. What if he’s a Whatever reader? What if he liked my previous posts, felt like he knew me a little bit? What if he reads this and recognizes himself? Would that change the self-righteousness he took from our encounter—which I’m sure he felt, as I did. It’s my distinction between my calling him an asshole and myself a bastard. Bastards are justified in what they do, at least in their own minds. Assholes are just in it for the random cruelty.

My name is Jeff, and I’m a bastard. (Chorus: Hi, Jeff!) But catch me at the right moment, and I’ll be astonishingly generous to you, or any other stranger. I think most of us fall into that pattern to some degree or another. And I also believe that a fairly large number of social ills stem from the calluses we’ve had to build, which we live behind whenever we act like bastards.

When I have time, I have a few more words to say about that.