Monthly Archives: June 2011

Americans: Consistently Ignorant

Over at the New Yorker, an article reflecting on the fact that lots of kids these days (not to mention certain politicians) seem fairly ignorant of history, and how this really isn’t anything new:

And yet it may be that, while kids aren’t getting better, they’re not getting worse. The history of history-education evaluation is littered with voguish pedagogy, statistical funny business, ideological arm wrestling, a disproportionate emphasis on trivia, and a protocol that insures that each generation of kids looks dim to its elders. “We haven’t ever known our past,” Sam Wineburg, a professor of education and history at Stanford, said last week. “Your kids are no stupider than their grandparents.” He pointed out that the first large-scale proficiency study—of Texas students, in 1915-16—demonstrated that many couldn’t tell Thomas Jefferson from Jefferson Davis or 1492 from 1776. A 1943 survey of seven thousand college freshmen found that, among other things, only six per cent of them could name the original thirteen colonies. “Appallingly ignorant,” the Times harrumphed, as it would again in the face of another dismal showing, in 1976.

Personally, I think it’s appalling that many my great-grandparents’ contemporaries couldn’t tell the difference between Jefferson and Davis — maybe it was the name they shared in common which threw them off. Or maybe they were just plain ignit. But it doesn’t surprise me either, since it seems most people keep book learning in their short term memory cache no matter what era you’re in, because outside of the short-term goal of remembering facts long enough to pass a test, most learning does not appear to have any practical use, and people are happy to purge it in order to store things that do matter to them, or which give them pleasure. The same high school senior who can’t tell Jefferson and Davis apart, in either 1916 or today, is likely to be able to tell you the starting lineup of his favorite sport team, or the attributes of all the player classes in World of Warcraft, or the best lures for whatever fish you might be trying to get out of a stream. With apologies to Professor Wineburg, it’s not that the kids are stupid; it’s that they choose what they think is important for them to know.

From a pedagogic point of view, it seems to me that if you want kids to remember history (or science, or math, or whatever), it’s not a matter of simply jamming facts down their gullet, it’s making a case for why remembering the damn things is in any way relevant to their lives. These can include but are not limited to parental or teacher approval, a rational argument about the need to get into a good college, or appealing to a child’s geeky nature in a manner that the child does not feel instinctively that retaining the information will make them the pink chimp in the monkey house known as the United States educational system. I happen to think there’s another very salient reason for everyone to know such stuff — because a wide knowledge base makes one a better citizen and also less likely to be conned by political hustlers banking on one’s ignorance — but then I’m not the one who needs convincing on this subject.

The Big Idea: Greg van Eekhout

Timing isn’t everything — but timing doesn’t hurt, either, as author Greg van Eekhout learned with the release of his latest book, The Boy at the End of the World. In this Big Idea, van Eekhout talks about how Boy benefited from being in the right place at the right time… and also how a writer can tell a story that works on more than one level at once, a skill and practice that’s useful, regardless of timing.

GREG VAN EEKHOUT:

Giant killer parrots of death. Piranha-crocs. Insane, artificially intelligent wormbots. Weaponized prairie dogs. When people ask what The Boy at the End of the World is about and I list the wackier elements, the reaction tends to be positive. But, honestly, this book seemed like a pretty bad idea at the time.

Dark, post-apocalyptic science fiction, for a tween and early-teen audience? When I showed the book proposal to my agent, there really wasn’t much like it on the shelves. For precedent, the kinds of things I cited tended to be stuff I saw on television in the 70’s. Planet of the Apes. Land of the Lost. Maybe a little Logan’s Run. Maybe Ark II. (I can’t be the only person who remembers Ark II. The talking chimp was the stuff of nightmares, but the van was pretty cool.) These are not references you’d use when trying to sell a book to a kid in our new century, and one mistake I see a lot of writers make when trying their hands at YA or middle grade is writing the exact kind of book they read when they were kids. The world has changed a little. If you were a kid today, you’d be different than the kid you were two or three or however many decades ago.

Anyway, as I was saying, writing post-apocalyptic fiction for this age group didn’t necessarily seem like an awesome idea, commercially speaking. But then something happened. Well, specifically, Hunger Games happened, and suddenly booksellers were using the term “young-adult dystopia” to mean a marketing category encompassing anything science-fictional with a dark tone, and Hunger Games was selling by the crate, and suddenly we could describe my book as dystopian for middle grade, a slightly younger set than young-adult readers. You know, get ‘em early. (We can talk about whether it’s appropriate to file post-apocalyptic stories under dystopian, but I’d prefer to have that conversation over beer and wings. Actually, I’d prefer to have all conversations over beer and wings. So.)

Here’s the gist of the plot: Fisher, a vat-grown boy, emerges in a coffin-like pod amid the smoking ruins of the bunker where he, along with hundreds of other people and animals, has been stashed away to save the human species and preserve biodiversity. As far as he knows, he is the only surviving human on Earth. In the company of a broken robot named Click and a cloned pygmy mammoth, he sets out on foot across the continent in search of another bunker where he hopes to find other humans.

The robot was there from the very beginning, when I first started getting notions about writing this book. I’ve got a fondness for messed-up robots. HAL-9000, Box from Logan’s Run, the dented, beleaguered droids in Star Wars … they’re kind of funny, and kind of sad, and that’s an emotional area I like to explore. Fisher calls him Click because, thanks to damage sustained during the attack on the survival bunker, Click makes involuntary clicking sounds. Click doesn’t hear them himself. People are like that, and so are broken robots.

The mammoth came about because limiting the main cast to two characters would have made the story a buddy flick. Three made it a quest, and I wanted this to be a quest. Fisher names him Protein because a mammoth carries a lot of meat on its body and Fisher is hungry. The basic necessities of survival are never far from Fisher’s mind: Food, shelter, fire, water. Also, early on, when I was talking in vague terms about the book to Margaret Miller at Bloomsbury, who eventually became my editor, I mentioned the kid would have a robot pal and maybe a mammoth, and she may have squee-ed a little bit, because it turns out Margaret really loves elephants. So, yeah, the book totally required a mammoth.

If readers come away from my book feeling they’ve gone on a fun amusement park ride filled with Wacky Stuff, I’ll be okay with that. But I do think it’d be a shame to have the attention of a smart, engaged, young audience and not use that opportunity to tackle some bigger and more complex issues. Because, even more than attempting extrapolations about technology and the future, I think what science fiction does well is pose philosophical questions about humankind’s place in Nature. And I really did want this to be a science fiction novel. So, over the course of his journey, Fisher comes to understand a few things:

1. The world will hurt you, sometimes badly.

2. The world doesn’t do it on purpose, because the world isn’t conscious. It doesn’t think about you one way or the other. Even if you raise global temperatures and extinguish yourself along with the polar bears, the world doesn’t care. It will go on existing in some form, with or without you. You are not its primary concern, nor its secondary, tertiary, quaternary, nor other numeric terms I’d have to look up. You’re not all that big a deal.

3. You don’t need an asteroid impact to achieve apocalypse. Consumer habits will do quite nicely.

4. Friends make everything better. But if your primary purpose is survival, what happens when helping yourself comes into direct conflict with helping your friends? Part of the hero’s journey — or at least the journey of any hero I can be bothered to care about — is engaging with the notion of altruism.

You may notice I began this Big Idea post with giant killer parrots of death, and here I am at the end, talking about apathetic Nature and heroic altruism. To my mind, there’s not much of a jump there. Because the kind of science fiction I loved when I was a kid was the sort where things like darkness and Nature and heroism were explored in worlds with talking chimps and light sabers. You can ask big questions while fighting weaponized prairie dogs.

—-

The Boy at the End of the World: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Read the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Reminder: San Diego Appearance at Mysterious Galaxy, July 6th, 7pm

Hey, people of San Diego: remember when I was on tour and I didn’t come to your town? Well, it wasn’t because I don’t love San Diego — I really, really do — but because I knew that I would be visiting in the summer and would be doing an appearance then.

And so: I will be at the fabulous Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore on July 6th, at 7pm for your edification and delight. The event is officially described as “Clarion Instructor John Scalzi Discusses the Writing Process,” which makes sense because indeed I will be an instructor at the Clarion workshop this year, and I expect will discuss the writing process, because, hey. Seems to be a popular topic. But I imagine I will talk about other things as well and may even do a short reading and sign books, or what have you. Or I may just talk for an hour on how I think San Diego is the only place on the planet where you can get truly excellent fish tacos. Who knows? You’ll have to come out to see what I do.

So there you are, San Diego. Save the date, and I’m looking forward to seeing you all then.

Nominate for NPR’s 100 Best SF/F Books EVAR

Over on the National Public Radio Web site, the book folks there are soliciting reader suggestions for the 100 best science fiction and fantasy books. And, hey, lots of you read science fiction and fantasy books, right? Sure you do. So head on over and nominate some of your all-time favorites – the NPR folks let you nominate up to five books for inclusion. It should be interesting to find out what makes the all-time list over there.

Back on the Chain Gang + Bookgasm Review

I have a little project that needs to be completed by mid-July, so until it’s done I’m going to be doing my “Don’t play with the Internet until I write 2,000 words/it’s noon” thing, because it’s a pretty effective way for me to actually do my work. Just so you know.

While I’m away this morning, here’s a new review of Fuzzy Nation for you, from Bookgasm, and it says nice things about the book, including this:

This is a reboot that works, and it works in such a way that should make people revisit Piper’s original FUZZY books and draw old-school science-fiction fans to Scalzi’s work… It’s easy to read, accessible, moving and ultimately great.

Awesome.

Back at it for me. I’ll be back later in the day.

The Latest Installment of AOHell

As a former AOL employee and contractor, people are asking me about this article, in which someone who was paid for cranking out content on one of AOL’s sites kvetches about how awful it was. My answer is that I find it interesting. When I was at AOL, one of my largest conflicts with my boss was not that he didn’t care what I wrote as long as it was SEO-optimized, but that when I was starting a column for the company, he was so concerned about getting the initial column “just right” that I eventually had to tell him to either write it himself or let it run, because his vague comments about “it’s not quite there” weren’t actually helpful. So in my case, my bosses were looking for quality, even if they didn’t always know how to express it. This was more than a dozen years ago, however; I was laid off in 1998.

Later on, when I worked for AOL as an independent contractor, there was still an emphasis on quality; at one point when I was writing newsletters I was called onto the carpet (correctly) for allowing too many copy errors, and praised when I made a nice turn of phrase or otherwise committed decent writing. I stopped working for AOL entirely, either as an employee or contractor, at the end of 2007, when it wanted to switch my compensation at their AOL Journals area to a “per post” model from a general quasi-salaried position. That was the first time I got the sense it was wanting quantity over quality, and while I have no problem with quantity, I didn’t think AOL was going to go about it the right way, and besides, what they were wanting to pay for quantity wasn’t enough for me.

That AOL is going after eyeballs is not particularly news to me; AOL has always done what it thinks it needs to in order to maximize its revenue. When I started at AOL it was still on its “per hour” revenue model, so the plan was to develop content that made people stick around and read. When it switched to “all you can eat,” then the plan was to develop content that got people to click pages and rack up ad impressions. AOL is not nor has ever been the only organization using content of whatever quality to drive their business model, so I’m not going to criticize it for that. I will say that it’s entirely possible to drive a business model with content that doesn’t suck. But doing that takes a fair amount of work and also people who actually care about quality of the product. It doesn’t sound like this fellow was at AOL in an era where either was a priority.

The Scalzi Recommendation: Mortality Bridge

Several months ago I got a sneak peek at Steven Boyett’s newest novel, Mortality Bridge, and I was excited but also a little apprehensive. Excited because I’ve long admired Steven as a writer — he wrote a book as a teenager (Ariel) that most people would have killed to have been able to write at twice that age (or heck, at any age) — but apprehensive because Mortality Bridge was a rock and roll fantasy story, and I’ve read enough of those to know that “rock and roll fantasy” is an easy target to aim for, and then to miss, widely, failing both components miserably.

And then I started reading and realized that my apprehension was misplaced. Mortality Bridge has rock and roll in it (in the form of Niko, a musician who signed a monkey’s paw of a contract in exchange for fame) and it has fantasy in it (in the form of a journey into Hell), but the book isn’t about either. It’s about other things entirely — love, regret, and redemption among them — and that makes the difference. Also to the point, Steven’s natural facility for writing spookily well has been tempered by the fact he’s a couple decades on from being that hotshot teen; he’s lived enough that when he writes about love, regret and redemption, you get the idea he’s not writing from theory. I don’t expect Mortality Bridge is autobiographical in any real sense, but it’s a book of someone who’s been around the block, and down a couple of the less fun alleys on that block as well.

I won’t go into the overall plot the story except to say that you’ve seen elements of it before, and that’s sort of the point — the difference, both for Niko as a character and for the reader, lies in the details. Steve does a really excellent job walking a line between melancholy and absurdity, between horror and humor and between the things you think you’re going to experience here and the things he surprises you with. Even with my apprehension I knew I was probably going to like this book. I wasn’t expecting how much it affected me.

Steve will be on Whatever in July as part of the Big Idea, to talk to you a little about Mortality Bridge, but I wanted to get my own personal recommendation out there first. I happily gave a blurb to the book, which reads: “Luminously tragic, darkly funny, and deeply moving, all in turns and sometimes all at once. Boyett is one of the very few writers who will make you eager to go into Hell, and not worry about whether you return.” It’s also been glowingly reviewed by Publishers Weekly, which gave it a starred review and noted, “Through unusual turns of phrase, heart-rending introspection, and mythic tone, Boyett explores themes of betrayal, redemption, and personal sacrifice in a tortured landscape of bedlam and pandemonium.” So it’s not just me who likes it.

Mortality Bridge is out now, available as a signed, limited edition from Subterranean Press, of which 750 copies are available. It’s possible that in the future other editions might exist, but right now, this limited edition is it. I have a copy and as with nearly all SubPress books, it looks fantastic. At $40, it’s not cheap, but I guarantee you it’s money well spent, both for the story and the physical book itself.

In short: this is the good stuff, folks. Don’t miss out.

(Update: Steve notes that sample chapters are available at the Mortality Bridge Web site.)

My Anniversary Wish

Today’s the 16th anniversary of my wedding; sixteen years ago my wife and I stood up in front of friends and family and made a vow to love and support and cherish the other as long as we lived. Then we kissed on it and we were married. I would not be otherwise.

My anniversary wish is that one day here in the United States — in all of the United States — anyone who wants to do what my wife and I could do sixteen years ago will one day be able to do so: Stand up with the person they love the most in the world, vow before friends and family to love and support and cherish each other, then to kiss and be married.

It’s a simple wish, but so far not an easy one to fulfill. I hope we get there.

In the meantime, to my bride: Thank you for saying yes. Thank you for the vows. Thank you for the kiss. Thank you for everything since. Thank you. I love you.

 

A Random Announcement

If you’re viewing this on the Web site, if you look to the right to the “Whatever Select Blend,” you’ll see a new link there called “Random Whatever.” If you click on that link, you’ll be taken to a random entry in the Whatever archives. The current archives go back to early 2002, so that’s a lot of random. And when you’re done, you can click on it again and get another random entry! It’s hours of fun for the whole family!

If you’re viewing this through RSS: YOU GET NOTHING.

Oh, don’t look at me like that, RSS people. I didn’t mean to make you sad. Here, this link will do the same thing. There, happy? Good.

The Big Idea: James S.A. Corey

As you read today’s Big Idea, don’t be concerned when James S.A. Corey starts discussing himself in first person plural. He’s neither royalty nor confused; “he” is actually two people: Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who have joined forces to create Leviathan Wakes, an old-school space opera that’s got the reviewers happy (“strong characterization and excellent world-building will have readers jonesing for the planned sequels” — Publishers Weekly). How did these two authors make their collaboration — and their novel — work? The answer is surprising.

JAMES S.A. COREY:

The thing that will sink a collaborative project the fastest – and I mean damn – is having different projects. And I’m using projects in its high-brow “creation-of-personal-meaning” drag here. When we sat down to write the book that turned into Leviathan Wakes, we spent a long time talking about what the book was not in the sense of should we write a horror novel or a scifi novel, but as in why write? Why read? What are we doing here? What’s the point?

We got lucky. We weren’t in a place where one of us wanted to write a postmodern reflection on the futility of all human endeavor interspersed with passages from Faust when the other guy was thinking more Tom Clancy Meets Dracula. And in fact for two folks with wildly different life experiences, we found that we were, project-wise, in pretty much the same place.

So here it goes. Big idea? Embrace sentimentality.

Writing is an undignified sport. Writers take their personal lives and experiences – including the romantic failures and family hang-ups and fears and insecurities – and turn them into entertainment for other people. We hold some part of ourselves up for the casual judgment of the world, and there’s not even an objective scale to tell us how we’re doing. If you went into a government lab to design a program to instill anxiety and neurosis, you couldn’t do much better. Different writers build different ways to deal with that.

One common defense – the one we both were reacting against – is to pretend we didn’t really mean it in the first place. “Oh look,” the narrator seems to say, “it’s a science fiction adventure. But I don’t take it seriously. I mean what kind of person would take this seriously? We’re all in on the joke here, right?”

There are, it seems to us, two ways this preemptive irony presents. Call them the Fluffy Bunny and the Solemnist.

Connie Willis told Daniel something once in relation to a different project. She said that in a romantic comedy, you could make fun of everything except the love the two main characters have for each other. Once you start making fun of that, you’ve gutted the story. The Fluffy Bunny writes light, arch stories that remind you at every turn that you aren’t really supposed to care. These characters are just characters in a story, and not really even a particularly believable story. God knows the author would never take these people seriously. Lighten up! Be in on the joke.

(At this point, Daniel goes on a foaming-at-the-mouth rant about that one part of Cryptonomicon despite the fact that it’s in many ways a fine book and his friends assure him that Neal Stephenson is a perfectly decent human being.)

The Solemnist is the same problem in different drag. Where the Fluffy Bunny points out that everything’s a joke, the Solemnist makes a point that everything in the story is very serious and ripe with scientific accuracy and allegorical and psychological meaning. The books are idea books, and if you criticize them it’s because you weren’t smart enough to get the idea. The story is still a joke, but now instead of the punchline asking for laughter, it asks for a knowing nod.

Either way, the story becomes safe for the writer. The writer beats the critic to the punch by leaving out the sentimentality.

Us? We’ll take the hits. We’re sentimentalists. We care whether the soul-crushed cop finds redemption. We care whether the quixotic holy fool of a captain overcomes his own failings in time to get the girl. And we expect you to care too. The risk we take is that you might not, and if you don’t, there’s no defense against the failure on our part. But you know what? We think it’s worth it anyway.

Writing genre fiction is undignified. Reading genre fiction is undignified. If we’re going to do this, it should be joyful. We should create a little literary pocket universe where we can shuck off the irony and defensiveness and care about these imaginary people, and weep for them, feel awe when they’re awed, triumph with them when they win, and grieve with them when they fail. If there is any sense of wonder to be had, it’s there. Wonder is what we come here for.

Our project, and the reason we can work together, is that we both respect and honor the opera half of space opera and all the tragedy and awe and romance and fear that comes with it.

—-

Leviathan Wakes: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck’s shared blog, Lizard Brain.

A Shocking Confession

I’ll just come right out and say it: After 20+ years of being unengaged at best in the world of automobiles outside of their strictly utilitarian purpose of hauling my pasty white ass from Point A to Point B, I’m totally in love with my new car, the Mini Cooper S Countryman All 4. It’s not the sort of love that will compel me to start going to “Mini Meets” and get new Mini friends, to whom I can talk about my new Mini-centric lifestyle — I mean, where am I going to fit those in around my science fiction conventions — but it’s the sort of love where I am actually happy to get out of the house and drive places, whatever that place may be, because I get to tool about in my little car. I’m like a dog excited for a walk — oh boy! A walk!! — except my walk is a drive, and my leash has all wheel drive and satellite radio.

I’m vaguely discomfited by this and wonder if it’s some sort of late-onset midlife crisis thing, which I wasn’t aware of until after I got the car (which, I’ll note, was gotten at the instigation of my wife, since her 1997 Sidekick is in the midst of dying on us). I suspect it might be, in which case, I suppose it’s better this than a 23-year-old, which was the other midlife crisis option. 23-year-olds don’t come with satellite radio, and if they do, it’s not tuned to a station that has anything I want to hear.

I think possibly the reason I like this car so damn much may be that it is actually the first car I’ve owned that wasn’t simply purchased for pragmatic reasons. I mean, it was purchased for pragmatic reasons — Krissy’s car dying, we needed a car with four doors and all wheel drive, not too expensive, and one we can have on hand for years to come — but, come on. If we were aiming for entirely and blandly functional, we could have got a Subaru Forester for cheaper (sorry, Forester fans). We also got the Mini because it’s supposed to be a fun, cool car, and it is just that. And now I drive about in it, a happy dorky dork who is dorky about his car.

I didn’t mean for it happen. But, well. There are so many things we don’t mean to have happen. This is probably one of the more innocuous of those possible things.

Di Filippo on Fuzzy Nation

Paul Di Filippo reviews Fuzzy Nation for the Barnes & Noble Review, where he says stuff like this:

Taken solely on its own merits, Fuzzy Nation is a jim-dandy, thought-provoking thrill ride. Readers will race through this novel and demand more at the end.

Excellent.

That said, Di Filippo has some further thoughts on the differences between 1962 (when Little Fuzzy came out) and 2011, and what they mean in the context of my book. They’re interesting points, and you can read the whole thing here. Note: there are some mild spoilers in the piece.

How to Have a Writing Career Like Mine

You can’t.

Which is not to say you can’t have a career as a writer; maybe you can. But you can’t have a career like mine. Because here’s what you would have to do:

1. Start writing freelance in college.
2. Get a movie critic gig right out of school.
3. Have your second job be for the largest online service on the planet.
4. Get laid off and go solo.
5. Start a blog and have it become very popular.
6. Sell four non-fiction books before you sell your first novel.
7. Sell your first novel off your Web site.
8. Have that novel be an award-nominated breakout success.
9. Etc.

Each of these steps is actually important to having a career like mine; each step informs the steps after it. Skip a step and suddenly your career isn’t like mine anymore; it’s something else entirely, and the map I used to get where I am is no longer useful to you. You can’t have a career like mine. The only one who gets a career like mine is me.

Other careers you can’t have: Neil Gaiman’s, Ursula Le Guin’s, Robert Heinlein’s, Cherie Priest’s, Nalo Hopkinson’s, Toby Buckell’s, Pat Rothfuss’, Mary Robinette Kowal’s, Cassandra Clare’s or Robert Silverberg’s, to name just a few people off the top of my head. Their careers are not replicable, because they are to a very large extent the product of time and personal circumstance — and in many if not most cases a healthy helping of luck, which matters, too. Learning how each of them reached their successes can be interesting, and may yield some general ideas that you might apply to your own career-building. But if you look at their careers with an eye to ape particular moves, you’re likely to be disappointed by the results.

If you feel you must look at other writers’ careers, a suggestion: Look at more than one, and see what they have in common. What did Neil do that Ursula also did that Robert did too that Cherie is now doing? Look at the things that consistently appear in the careers of multiple authors, and you’ll find the things that might be worth incorporating into your own. As a warning, they are likely to be boring things like “write regularly,” or “minimize distractions” or some such, which are the “eat less, exercise more” of the writing career world. But that’s life for you.

I can guarantee you this: If you try to have a writing career like mine, you won’t have a career like mine — and more to the point, you won’t be having the career you could have had. And that will happen no matter whose career you try to make yours like. So don’t try to have a writing career like mine or anyone else’s. Have your writing career. You’ll be happier.

Technical Update

The repairman at CenturyLink came out, fixed the phone line, then fixed it again fifteen minutes later when it went dead again, then fixed it again an hour later when it went dead again, and then finally, though whatever alchemy phone repairmen use for such a thing, switched my home phone line and DSL to another physical wire entirely. This seems to have solved the problem, since I’ve been able to use my Internet service for several hours in an uninterrupted fashion for the first time in a week. So three cheers for Gary, the CenturyLink phone repairman. Let’s hope it stays up from here.

Attack of the Cromulent Box Office

This week at FilmCritic.com I take a look at the less-than-genuinely-spectacular box office grosses of some of the summer’s hits and explain why it is Hollywood probably isn’t too horribly concerned (yet). Yes, it’s me getting all wonky about the business side of things, but that’s why they call it “show business,” right? I’m glad you agree. As always, leave your comments there. Because I know you love to comment, and it’s one of the things I love about you.

Judge Stuffs Stupid Argument, Film at 11

The drive to have the ruling which declared California’s Prop 8 unconstitutional vacated because the judge who issued it might conceivably one day wish to marry his same-sex partner meets a welcome and unceremonious end. This from the ruling (pdf link):

Finally, the presumption that “all people in same-sex relationships think alike” is an unreasonable presumption, and one which has no place in legal reasoning. The presumption that Judge Walker, by virtue of being in a same-sex relationship, had a desire to be married that rendered him incapable of making an impartial decision, is as warrantless as the presumption that a female judge is incapable of being impartial in a case in which women seek legal relief. On the contrary: it is reasonable to presume that a female judge or a judge in a same-sex relationship is capable of rising above any personal predisposition and deciding such a case on the merits. The Motion fails to cite any evidence that Judge Walker would be incapable of being impartial, but to presume that Judge Walker was incapable of being impartial, without concrete evidence to support that presumption, is inconsistent with what is required under a reasonableness standard.

Let’s get the response from the same sex marriage hating out of the way: Blah blah blah activist judge blah blah blah eroding moral standards blah blah blah will of the people blah blah blah SLIPPERY SLOPE WHERE ONE DAY MEN WILL MARRY THEIR SISTER WHO IS ALSO A LESBIAN BADGER. I think that covers it.

Oh, and a federal bankruptcy court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is invalid. Plus: New York state within one vote of legalizing same-sex marriage. Busy day.

(Incidentally, the ruling document is worth the read, not only for the reasoning but for lines like this:

In this context, [a] “reasonable person” is not someone who is “hypersensitive or unduly suspicious,” but rather a “well-informed, thoughtful observer” who “understand[s] all the relevant facts” and “has examined the record and law.”

Nice.)

Zeus the Cat Confronts the Greatest Mystery of His Life

For the pets, we have a water bowl with a three-gallon reservoir, and every time I fill it up and put on top of the water bowl, it eventually “burps,” sending several large air bubbles to the top of the reservoir. And when it does so, it absolutely fascinates Zeus — enough so that if he sees me filling up the reservoir he will wait until I’m done to watch the bubblation. He views it so intently and with such intensity that it’s pretty obvious (to me, anyway) that what he’s trying to do is figure out where the bubbles come from. One day, he seems to be saying, I will learn the secret of the bubbles. And when I do, all the mysteries of the universe will be open to me. And what a day that will be! The problem, of course, is that he will never figure out the secret of the bubbles. Because, you see, he’s a cat. And while he’s a pretty nifty cat, the intricacies of bubble formation are forever beyond his comprehension.

I think about Zeus on occasion, when people confidently predict that humans will one day be able to explain everything about the universe. The human brain is a marvelous thing, and to be clear, I don’t think we’ve come close to the limits of its abilities to understand and comprehend the world around us. But the fact of the matter is the thing is limited. And just like my cat will never quite grasp the Mystery of the Bubble, eventually we’re going to come up against stuff that, no matter how hard we rack our brains, we’re never going to get. And then we’ll know what Zeus knows every time he sees those bubbles go up. I think it will be an interesting day when that happens. I don’t expect to be around for it, I should say. It will be an interesting day nevertheless.