Daily Archives: June 21, 2008

Your Home Improvement Tip For The Day

From time to time, you may discover that your sink has become clogged with a large mat of hair. When this happens you must take action. First, grab your bathroom plunger, like so:

Then, apply the plunger directly to the mat of hair clogging the sink.

Vigorously move the plunger up and down to develop sufficient suction.

It’s just that easy!

Warning: Depending on conditions, your mat of hair may be entirely unamused by your actions.

A Sure Sign of Summer

Not unlike the swallows returning to Capistrano, the in-window air conditioner returning to my office window heralds the start of summer around these here parts. The room of the house my office is in is both the warmest room in the summer and the coldest in the winter, thanks to poor air circulation and its position in the house (facing northwest, which means it gets a lot of sun in the summer and bears the brunt of arctic wind blasts in the winter), and so in both seasons requires additional cooling and heating. The first day of summer seems like a fine time to drop it in. If last year is any indication, it’ll stay in until October (at which time it will not have been run for a month and will look increasingly silly in the window sill). Welcome, in-window air conditioner! Your cooling presence is appreciated.

Where It Began

You know, as a young teenage boy, I was about as homophobic as any young teenage boy is. Why? Oh, for all the usual reasons, including years of soaking up general anti-gay sentiment without even knowing or understanding it (for example, playing lots of games of “smear the queer” in elementary school), and of course having just hit puberty, being oversaturated by hormones, and thus being turned on by just about everything, and wondering oh my god what it meant that I found Boy George maybe a little cute. So yeah: Basic gay panic case at 14 years old. What can you do.

Getting over that took the usual things, like actually knowing gay people, learning the history of gays and lesbians, finding out that many of the people I admired culturally were gay or bisexual, sorting out my own sexuality to my satisfaction, and also coming to the conclusion that the lot of people who didn’t like gays and lesbians weren’t the sort of people I wanted to hang around with anyway. It took time, and I think I’m fortunate to come to the place where I am at the moment.

That said, and unlike most people, I can tell you exactly when the first time I actually thought about homophobia was, and the first time it seemed like nonsense to me. It was when I saw the video for “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat on the video show of a local UHF channel.

In the video, if you haven’t watched it (and won’t watch it now), a young gay man (played by BB lead singer Jimmy Sommerville) visits a local gym, where a swimmer seems to come on to him, only to beat the crap out of him with a bunch of friends. Jimmy is taken home by the cops, and this is how his parents find out he’s gay. He decides to leave home, and his dad is still so upset that he can’t shake his own son’s hand goodbye. And off he goes.

I remember being 15 years old, watching the video, and feeling sad for the Jimmy Sommerville character, and also being aware enough to know that the video was almost certainly based on experience; if not Sommerville’s directly, than that of someone else in the band, or of someone they knew. I knew the band members were gay — there was a kid at school who got every issue of Smash Hits, so we were all caught up on all the Brit bands of the time — so it wasn’t hard to connect the dots. And when the dots were connected up, they seemed unfair.

I’m somewhat famous for noting that life isn’t fair (ask Athena, after she’s tried to use the “unfair” defense to get out of doing something), but at the same time, there’s a difference between the fact that the universe is inherently unfair on a cosmic level, and the fact that life is unfair because people are actively making it so. There’s not much one can do about the former, but the latter is fixable. What was going on with Jimmy Sommerville’s character in that video was unfair in the latter way. There was no reason he shouldn’t be loved by his family. There was no reason he ought not find love with someone else.

None of this hit me like a ton of bricks, I should say. I was 15, I wasn’t a brilliant critical thinker, and I had other things going on in my mind at the time (mostly involving a girl I had no chance of getting with; another story of messed-up sexuality entirely). But I can say the video and the song stuck in my head and I came back to both more than once, trying to figure out why they affected me as much as they did. I did figure it out, eventually.

Now, I like to think that without the video and song, I would have still ended up where I am on this particular subject; I suspect that sooner or later people do become who they are meant to be, no matter how they get there. But this takes nothing away from the fact this was the video and the song that got that ball rolling in my life. It does point to how music can be meaningful, and yes, change lives in its way.

I’m not the only one who thinks this of course, or even thinks this about this particular song and video. A couple of years ago Andrew Sullivan singled out “Smalltown Boy,” as a critical anthem for the gay community: “Even now, it chokes me up,” he said. “The video is a record of the beginnings of a revolution. You can feel it coming.” I don’t doubt he’s right that it mattered to any number of gay men, back in the day. For at least one other person, it mattered too.

From the “That Doesn’t Actually Make it Any Better” Department

First, yes, I’ve heard about the middle-school science teacher here in Ohio who is getting fired for branding crosses into the flesh of his students with a high frequency generator, and who was also slipping religion into his science teaching. Oops.

What stands in my mind, however, is this bit from the article, in which the teacher explained “he simply was trying to demonstrate the device on several students and described the images as an ‘X,’ not a cross.” Because, you see, zapping an “X” into the flesh of your pubescent students with a tool that outputs 50,000 volts a pop is not a problem.

The particular tool comes with the following warning: “Never touch or come in contact with the high voltage output of this device.” Any teacher willfully ignoring the safety instructions on high voltage equipment to use it to intentionally inflict pain and injury on his students, and to brand a large, recognizable pattern on their skin, is one that’s going to land on my “fire this idiot” list. You don’t even have to get into the religious angle, as far as I’m concerned. That’s just the bonus round, as far as the firing goes.

Another choice quote from the article, from a friend of the teacher: “With the exception of the cross-burning episode. … I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district,” said the friend. Yes, well. That’s a heck of an exception, now, isn’t it.

On the Wanting of Good Stories, Or Not

Nick Mamatas, in his capacity as acquiring editor at Clarkesworld Magazine (and also in his capacity as, well, Nick Mamatas), explains why he thinks the oft-expressed editorial comment of “I just want good stories” is a contemptible lie, and eventually stemwinds himself into this paragraph:

I don’t want good stories. I want great writing with no story, good stories with great writing, wonderful anti-stories with poor writing, nifty ideas on silver platters, stories that depend on having read some other story to make any sense at all, stories that nobody will think are good until three days after they are read, stories that couldn’t have been written before 1969, stories that will never be written again after 9/11/2001, mood pieces, monologues, atmospheric effects, grand tours, minute examinations of places I’ve never been, thinly-vieled autobiographies, grocery lists, liner notes of records never pressed, stories about pro wrestling that only people well-versed in kayfabe will fully understand, stories written as if “story” were some weird new thing that nobody ever heard of, etc.

Oh, Nick. There you go again. It’s certainly true enough, however, that blandly saying “I just want good stories” doesn’t begin to cover what most editors actually want, or for that matter, need for their venues.

My Own Fair Use Policy

In the recent fracas of the Associated Press versus bloggers, I noted what I felt was a reasonable level for fair use regarding quoting from news stories (basically: no more than three graphs). So the question now becomes: What do I feel qualifies as fair use while quoting from me, and anything I post on my blog?

Well, basically, I think the same level applies. If you’re quoting from Whatever, three paragraphs seems like a perfectly reasonable amount to consider as fair use. And a link back would be appreciated. If the graphs are really short (or I’m posting a numbered list, or whatever) then adjust accordingly. But generally, if you’ve posted more than a third of the entire entry, you’re missing the point of “excerpting.”

If you post more than three paragraphs of something I wrote, will I hunt you down and kill you, or at least slap a DMCA notice on your sorry ass? Unlikely. I’m aware of lots of folks who have cut and pasted entire Whatever entries onto their own blogs, mostly on the rationale that “this is too good to just quote from,” which is flattering, even if I don’t necessarily agree. Most of these folks also correctly attribute and link back to the original entry. For non-commercial, personal use, that’s fine.

Where I do get my back up is in the following circumstances:

1. A post is cut-and-pasted without attribution, implying that the poster wrote it;

2. Something of mine is used, with or without attribution, on a commercial site (i.e., the people who run it somehow expect to make money from the site, and are using my material to drive traffic).

That said, in both cases, this sort of thing happens only very rarely, and in both cases, I don’t usually have to do anything about it, because, strangely, it appears that I and my words are not unknown on Teh Intarweebs, and others will do the “hey, wait a minute…” thing for me. Thanks, guys.

By and large, if you’re worried that the amount you’re posting on your blog is too much, or that you’re infringing on my copyright, or that I’ll get angry with you and send legions of minions to your door, just send me an e-mail and ask. Generally there’s not going to be a problem.

(If you’re a commercial entity, ask about reprint fees. Yes, I have sold Whatever entries as reprints. Lots of times.)

What about pictures that I post here? Sure, you can use ‘em, full-size, for your own personal, non-commercial use, as long as you attribute and link back. And, actually, since I have three terabytes of bandwidth a month (or host them on Flickr), feel free to “hotlink” them. That said, I reserve the right to tell you to stop if you’re doing something with the photos I don’t like. That’s what copyright generally allows me to do.

(Indeed, this is why I don’t use Creative Commons licensing generally. Fact is I don’t generally mind when people use stuff of mine for their own personal amusement, but occasionally I do, and I don’t want to have some existing licensing agreement in the way of me telling some dude to knock that crap off. Call me mercurial. Of course, even in those cases, fair use applies.)

In any event, if you go with the “three graphs” rule of thumb, you’ll rarely do wrong by me, in terms of fair use. That’s pretty simple.

(For more details about fair use of the uninitiated, this article at Wikipedia is actually mostly helpful)