Reader Request Week 2012 #8: Short Bits

And now, the questions I’m answering quickly. These are unrelated to writing; I’ll do the writery short bits tomorrow.

Puss in Boots: Why do you think so many Americans avoid spaying and neutering their pets, even when they must know that shelters are full and have to destroy animals that don’t find homes quickly enough? More importantly, how can we best change their minds?

They don’t do it because it costs money, I suspect. Therein lies the solution, but then the question is who is going to make up the cost of the procedure. The money has to come from somewhere, because I imagine vets, like everyone else, prefer to be paid for their work.

K.W. Ramsey: What do you think in the history of all time and space is the greatest communication tool ever created?

The voicebox.

Syderia: What are your thoughts on romantic love ? What kind of love do you think lasts the longest?

I’m for romantic love in a general sense; it adds some flavor to life. I have no idea which love lasts the longest; I imagine it varies from person to person.

DavidW: What type of social injustice do you dwell on and rail against the most in your thoughts? Poverty? Human trafficking? Inaccessibility of the court system to poor people? Non-owner digital locks? Lack of jetpacks on our day and age? People who never mow their lawn? Artificial flavouring in everything? Misuse of the phrase “that begs the question”?

Poverty is the one I think about most, which makes sense because I’ve been poor in my life, so I know about it on a personal level, and I believe a lot of other issues of social justice spring from poverty; it’s a parent of a lot of woes. It doesn’t mean other social injustices are not worth addressing, just that this is the one I feel best qualified to address and think about.

A-drain: I recently read an article about all these successful people who had experimented with drugs and in many cases contributed a portion of that success to taking drugs (hallucinogens). Do you think drugs help creativity? Have you tried?

I’ve not used any drug recreationally, unless you want to count caffeine. I think drugs possibly could help with creativity, since they put you into a different mindspace, and that can be inspiring in its way. Given my rather bad family history with drug tolerances (i.e., we don’t have any and become gibbering addicts really easily), I find other ways to expand my creativity.

GC: How do you deal with the, “So only one kid? Hoping to have more?” from friends or family?

Both my wife and I are over 40 now so I don’t think most people are expecting us to make any more on our own, and “are you thinking of adopting?” is a question that doesn’t usually appear spontaneously (we have no current plans for adopting, incidentally). When we were younger we answered the question with “maybe, we’ll see,” which is both non-committal and not especially interesting, so most people left it at that. I should note I don’t find it a rude question, although others might.

ThatRobert: Does the fact that we in American have only 2 parties make for a bigger mess than countries with many parties?

Oh, I don’t know. Belgium has a parliamentary system, and it was dysfunctional enough that the country didn’t have a sitting government for a year and a half. Every participatory system has its benefits and disadvantages, and sometimes the people in those systems push them into dysfunction. I think the US political parties at the moment, particularly but not only the Republicans, are pushing the nature of our system toward dysfunction for their own political ends. This too shall pass, hopefully.

Shane: You studied philosophy in college. Did you pick that field *because* you wanted to be a writer, or did you change your life/career plans at some point (e.g., when you discovered philosophers don’t make any money)?

I picked it because I took so many philosophy courses just out of my own personal interest that at the end of my 3rd year in college I realized that if I declared as a philosophy major I could graduate right then, whereas if I declared as an English major, I would need five years to get a degree. So I declared for philosophy and had a reasonably relaxing fourth year of college. Bear in mind that away from the classroom, I was writing my ass off for newspapers and magazines; that was how I “studied” to be a writer. The formal education does turn out to be extraordinarily helpful for me as a writer, however.

Joe P.: If you were going to live in another country besides the US, where would it be? If you’d like, pick one where language is a concern, and another where you could magically know whichever language(s) you’d need. Explain what you you think to be the advantages/drawbacks of living in Country X instead of the US.

In the fantasy where I have to leave the US for some reason, the options are, in order: New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland. Each different from the US yet not so different I feel totally estranged. The major problem for three is that they’re so far away from everything I know; the major problem for the other is damn, it gets cold sometimes.

Pheltzer: What are your thoughts on the US Monetary system? Is there really any purpose served by keeping the penny in circulation, or quite frankly any denomination less than a dollar? And for that matter should we abandon the dollar bill and replace it with a dollar coin which would last longer in circulation, and I believe be cheaper to produce?

Dollar coins are cheaper to produce, but there’s more of a problem with counterfeiting, as I understand it, so the question of whether we end up saving money in the long run is a real question — and in any event in the grand scope of the US national budget, the sums involved are literally trivial. As to pennies, I wouldn’t miss them if they went away but I think people would lose their shit about it (I know pennies have been done away with elsewhere with success, but the US is messier than most places). I think we could keep the pennies if we recalibrated our monetary system so that a penny is worth what, say, a dime is now. But I think people would really lose their shit about something like that. So I have no viable solution here, I’m afraid.

Holland: What advice do you have for someone about to live on their own for the first time? I lived with my parents for undergrad, but now I’m moving out (and now cut off from parental funds for continuing education, which means I need to get a job + loans, though I do have some savings). The advice could be financial, about education, social stuff – anything you feel like.

Live within your means; if you can tolerate living with someone else do so, because it helps cover costs and also keeps you from being isolated; find ways to amuse yourself cheaply; pay attention to your bills; get out of the house and see other humans. Also, try not to eat just cheap starches like ramen and mac and cheese.

Janettes: I’d be interested to read your take on the current conservative push back on women’s reproductive rights and freedoms. Why now? Why the extraordinary vitriol? Why has the focus moved from abortion rights, to access to birth control and to women’s imagined sexual incontinence?

It’s partly because the conservative politicians in currently in power are far enough down their own worldview tunnel that they doesn’t see what the problem is, and it’s partly because those that have some relation to reality are aware this is their last, best chance to pull crap like this before the die-off robs them of a useful plurality for this sort of nonsense. Liberals like to say that the demographics are pulling against conservatism, but I don’t think that’s true; there will also always be room in American politics for economic and social conservatism. I do think demographics are pulling against sexual reactionaries, however; we’re seeing this rather vividly with the frankly transformatively quick switch in the acceptance of same-sex marriage. That social reactionaries are overplaying their hand at the moment makes their long-term problems worse, not better.

ST: Music question: Which “Wrecking Ball” is better – Bruce’s or Emmylou’s?

Emmylou’s is one of my favorite albums ever and I’m not a huge Springsteen fan, so I think it’s not difficult to guess how I would vote in this case.

Sarah: What are you afraid of?

Outliving my kid.

Christy: Public figures often have the opportunity to be unfaithful to those they love. Do you have any thoughts about that other than the obvious (admiration is an aphrodisiac, etc)? How do you inoculate yourself against this, or if that isn’t necessary for you personally how do some of the people you know try to protect themselves against it?

One, I’d like to thank you — on a purely egotistical front — for making the assumption that this is in any way an issue for me. Two, my standard-issue response to this is that anyone who wants to fool about with me has to clear it with Krissy first. Three, more seriously, “unfaithful” to my mind isn’t about what you do physically but what you do against the expectations of your partner. My general admonition to anyone, public figure or not, is not to be unfaithful to your spouse or partner, and that you should probably also have a clear discussion of what constitutes being unfaithful so that there are no surprises on that score.

Nikkita: Can you listen to Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford singing “Close my eyes forever” without getting shivers of pleasure down your spine? If you can, would you prefer to be deemed alien, a human whose musical taste is invalid or something else entirely?

I’d like to be an alien! Honestly, that particular song does nothing for me, although I was pleased it did well, since I liked Lita Ford and was glad to see her get at least one Top Ten hit to her name.

Paul Strain: Suicide mission to Mars: Good idea? Physically feasible? Morally feasible?

It’s certainly physically feasible, although I would imagine at this point hugely expensive. Morally feasible? If the people involved were absolutely clear what they were getting into, sure. Good idea? I don’t know about that. If we’re thinking along those lines of things, I would prefer not to have a suicide mission but to have a one-way mission, where it’s understood that those going aren’t coming back, but that the point of going is to explore the feasibility of long-term occupation of the planet.

Sean Eric Fagan: Looking at the comments you get, how do you keep from growing to hate the insane ignorant lunatic unwashed masses?

Why should I hate them? They have enough problems. And I have other things I want to do with my time.

44 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2012 #8: Short Bits

  1. Re Paul Strain’s “Suicide mission to Mars” question -

    It’s not Suicide Mission. It’s Lifetime Mission. Once you get them there, the material support to keep people alive through the end of their normal natural lifetime isn’t all that big a deal cost or technology wise (excepting spacesuit seals and joints, which is an open and vexing problem). They may die earlier due to lack of additional people / specialized knowledge / specialized medical equipment / emergencies; as long as everyone understands that it’s going to be no safer than say a 50-year Antarctic base stay, with all those risks associated with those operations, most people buy into that being something they don’t mind being done.

    Slight preen here, I was the first person to lay out a mission plan and rationale for a Lifetime mission, at Case for Mars IV in 1990, in a paper titled “One Way to Mars”.

  2. I used to be for getting rid of the dollar bill. Then I moved to the town next door to where they make the paper for the money and changed my mind. The majority of all money paper goes to the dollar and to lose that would devastate the local economy in ways that are not fun to even think about, Hundreds, thousands of jobs lost in a rural area that couldn’t absorb them never mind the ripples from such an event. I like the dollar coin but I like my local economy better,

  3. Jon, your comment about how you fear outliving your child hits especially close to home.

    My 20 year old sister was killed exactly one month ago in a car accident. My parents were devastated to the point of non-functionality. My father has always been a stoic, and its hard to see him completely lose his shit.

    I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

  4. I find the fact that people ask these questions almost as interesting as your answers. I am also amazed at the number of people who a) have a BA in philosophy and b) find the degree program was, in fact, good preparation for their apparently-unrelated-to-philosophy work. Sheila Williams is in that number, BTW.

  5. Aw, you made me cry. It’s those little questions with the short answers that can get you.

    (Using a fake email because of the WordPress/Gravatar situation. I wish they’d get their act together. Or maybe WordPress is deciding to be evil like FB and G and data mine me.)

  6. Couldn’t agree more about the temperature in Canada, so I have two words for you: North Vancouver.

  7. Outliving my kid.

    Jesus, dude, why did you have to go there? I gotta go find a Kleenex, and hug my girls, and I’m at work.

    Dude.

  8. Regarding the Osborne and Ford song: I would proffer a better song to judge the state of your humanity: the Johnny Cash version of “Hurt.” If that doesn’t make you feel anything and reflect on your life, you’re officially pushing the boundaries of human and may need to be reclassified.

  9. With regards to poverty, what are your thoughts on the best methods for ending (or at least drastically reducing) poverty locally or worldwide? Microfinance projects? Education (particularly education of girls)? Efforts to stop the spread of disease? Direct aid? Every year, when my husband and I try to pick which charities we will support, we usually end up picking ones that at some level try to reduce poverty in the world, but we have never really settled on what way is the best. We may be pretty bright, and we have thought about this quite a bit, but you are a bright guy and so I’d like to get your insight too.

  10. Warlord – I’m so sorry, I hope he finds himself again.

    Sam M-B – Naw, I say it’s human interaction patterns. Voiceboxes aren’t much good without ears, but those aren’t much good without a brain (oh, and lips, tongues, and so on) and the personal history during which you learned how to use them. Of course, some marvelously creative people use eyes and hands instead, or in addition to, ears and voiceboxes, but really we all use those anyway (check our See What I’m Saying by Lawrence Rosenblum. Incredible).

    Scalzator – I got to the end of this post, and had an image you you with a couple of smoking six-shooters, amidst the wreckage of dozens of neatly pinholed user-submitter questions. Nice work!

  11. Not trying to hijack the thread here, but this one-way trip to Mars thing has me thinking. Why do it that way? Why not just send a second ship to pick them up, set to land a couple of weeks after arrival? Or even send three…one robotic ship whose task it is to land and deploy “move-in-ready” habitats, one with the crew, one robotic ship with the food, water, etc they need for the trip back? Space geeks, your thoughts?

  12. I used to volunteer at the local animal shelter & the most common comment I heard when some guy was dumping a box of kittens or puppies was “I wanted to my kids to witness the miracle of life”. That pissed me off to no end. One day a repeat offender got on my last nerve & I responded – “YOU SHOULD BRING THEM IN BACK WITH ME – THEY CAN WITNESS THE MIRACLE OF DEATH WITH ME”.

    I was asked to not come back but thats ok. I broke my heart having to load up the room the few times I had to do that. I never had to empty the room & don’t think I could have, I still have nightmares of kittens mewing as I stacked the creates.

  13. “Jon, your comment about how you fear outliving your child hits especially close to home.
    My 20 year old sister was killed exactly one month ago in a car accident. My parents were devastated to the point of non-functionality. My father has always been a stoic, and its hard to see him completely lose his shit.”

    I watched my best friend and her family bury her younger sister at 23ish. I had no understanding of grief until I watched that death tear the family apart. The worst part was watching these people that loved each other not go and get professional help. Would it have helped? Maybe, maybe not. But having gotten help to deal with my mother’s recent passing and watching my siblings who didn’t get help, it has become clear that we have failed as a society in teaching our children about life and death and facing the death the loved ones.

  14. JD Rhodes writes:

    Not trying to hijack the thread here, but this one-way trip to Mars thing has me thinking. Why do it that way? Why not just send a second ship to pick them up, set to land a couple of weeks after arrival? Or even send three…one robotic ship whose task it is to land and deploy “move-in-ready” habitats, one with the crew, one robotic ship with the food, water, etc they need for the trip back? Space geeks, your thoughts?

    Without a couple of thousand words of in-depth jargon response…

    It costs far more to design and build a rocket to take a rocket to Mars that can then rocket back to Earth with people on board, than it does to build a rocket to take people to Mars. Somewhere between 65% and 90% of total mission difficulty is the return, depending on who’s counting and who’s engineering. It will add roughly 10% cost to send extra supplies with a Lifetime mission so that they stay and survive there.

  15. In the past, I’ve spent some time researching the no-kill nation efforts and some of its challenges.

    On the positive side: The $200 million Maddie’s Fund, started by Peoplesoft’s founder, has made great efforts to fund low and no-cost spay/neuter projects. Many vets and vet techs across the country do volunteer part time to conduct these services, which is admirable.

    Other than the previously noted “witnessing of the miracle of life” many animal owners feel it’s not “natural” to fix their pet. I think this is especially true among men with dogs. These two may well outweigh the cost as obstacles. (Unregulated puppy mills are a disaster for another day.)

  16. All of my cats – all but one adopted strays – are neutered (and the now-deceased-of-old-age first one we had, a female, was spayed). None because we had to, all because it was the right thing to do.

    The only regret we’ve had about that is the 32-lb monster we have, who it would potentially be amusing to breed and see how the line turned out, but it’s too late now… Other than cloning…

  17. @George Herbert: thanks. That makes sense.

    As for the spaying/neutering: I’m sure money has something to do with why people don’t do it. The extra care you have to give them for the few days after is a minor pain in the ass as well. But I’m thinking the biggest reason is just sheer inertia and laziness. They just never get around to it. But they should, of course, unless you’re a pro breeder who’s dedicated to caring for and finding good homes for the offspring.

  18. @Clarence Rutherford: yeah, I’ve thought about volunteering at a shelter, but I’m afraid that within a month I’d own 50 cats, just to give them a chance.

  19. Is Canada being cold your only thing that would detract you from moving here and knock it down as your third choice? Because after reading your blog for the last several years, it sounds like you get way more snow and it is far colder where you live then in my little spot in Canada. I’ve been wearing shorts for over a week now, and I had to only shovel my driveway once this year. My neighbour has been waiting about four years to be able to use the snow blower she bought. So yeah, the cold argument may not work so well for all parts of the rather large country, Especially since you live in Ohio.

  20. I read a bunch of your books (though I had to fight to get some included in the collection of the library I work at because you’re not an Australian sci-fi author…apparently the demographic we serve really only seem to like romances and crime fiction, which is not what I am in to, so I rarely benefit from having an large repository of books at my disposal), and I laughed my ass off. I then forced my boyfriend and my housemate to read them too. They were reluctant, but grateful. Then we listened to the audio of another together which was narrated by Will Wheaton. Then I started reading your blog. I must say I find your worldview refreshing and insightful. Your books are funny and serious without being preachy and you are refreshnigly candid.

    It helps that I agree with you on many political and sociological points.

    I guess I’m saying “I like your blog. It makes me giggle and think”, so thank you for writing it and brightening my day.

  21. Along with Christopher, I find it a little surprising that the cold in Canada would bother you. You lived in Chicago for a while, right? Just never really got used to it? I’m originally from Sacramento, then lived in Milwaukee for four years and Chicago for two (BA and MA, respectively), and the cold never really bothered me. But maybe I’m just a cold-weather person.

    Also, any particular reason why New Zealand over Australia? Is it just because of all the pretty scenery we’ve all seen in the Lord of the Rings movies?

  22. I would have thought that it was easier to counterfeit a dollar bill than a dollar coin? I dunno – I’m a Canadian transplant to the US, and I was briefly hopeful about the presidential dollar coin – good idea, reasonably good execution, but the refusal to stop printing the bills sort of killed it. but cturkel @2 makes an interesting point that I really hadn’t considered. Clearly, the issue is more complicated than I had thought.

  23. MTimonin, US currency is printed on special non-paper paper (actually cloth) with metallic fibers and watermarks and all kinds of counterfeit-detection stuff in it. They reserve the high-end measures for the higher-denomination bills, but even one-dollar bills have a unique serial number, which coins don’t have. It’s really hard to make paper that looks and feels right…whereas you make an impression of a coin, cast metal that’s about the right weight, plate it with something that looks convincing…and you’re golden. So to speak.

  24. Also, any particular reason why New Zealand over Australia? Is it just because of all the pretty scenery we’ve all seen in the Lord of the Rings movies?

    *cough* Why not New Zealand over Australia – I love Oz but here in New Zealand we now have indoor plumbing, electricity and all kinds of neat stuff. Also, most of our country isn’t desert full of unfriendly fauna. Promise. :)

  25. The settler colonies have always competed for immigrants:
    ‘I for one would rather encounter two NZ earthquakes than one African
    puff-adder or half a Canadian winter.’

    Charles Hursthouse, 1857

  26. And having a degree in anything has serendipitous consequences. The best course I took on my way to a computer degree was ‘Ancient Mythology.’ Just to understand the power of stories and especially a complete ‘mythos.’

  27. If we did send people to Mars without a return plan in place, they could still make a good bet on being able to return some day. After all, once they’re there, interest in going again is going to go way up. Meanwhile, technology is improving.

  28. Xopher Halftongue – Huh. I would have thought that printing notes would require less effort than minting coins, but I guess it depends on what you want to do with them. Counterfeiting a dollar coin seems like a lot of work for a dollar, though. I mean, no one counterfeits the dollar bill, do they? It’s always $20s, $50s, and $100s, because the pay off is higher..

  29. My parents went thru several (male) dogs before I prevailed on them to do the big snip. Actually what convinced them was the neighbor’s female coming to visit, and witnesses. And pups.
    Another acquaintance didn’t neuter his dog because of some nonsense about “manhood”. Please. He’s not a man, he’s a dog. I think a lot of folks are quick as anything to spay a female because they don’t want to deal with kittens or pups, but don’t give a hoot about whether a male belonging to them repopulates the whole neighborhood, because they think that isn’t their problem and because they are more upset about a minor operation done to a male than a major one done to a bitch or a queen.
    If I ever have cats, they’ll be neutered.

  30. Yes, John, it does get bitter cold in Ireland at times …

    If you want 5 acres (or at least 5 cheap and flat ones suitable for The Scalzi Giant Lawn), you’re not getting that in North Van or Victoria. But, you might want to google “the Okanagan.” It seems like some towns there are a closer comparison financially, weather, and acreage-wise to your current set-up. Worth a scouting visit perhaps … it’s always good to have a back-up plan in mind in case of President Santorum.

  31. 1) New Zealand for the win! I love the U.S., but Auckland would be my next choice.
    2) Then Brazil (I’d have to learn Portuguese, but I already know a little and it’s close enough to 3) Spanish that it’d be no problem).
    4) Then Argentina (already speak the language).
    5) Then Barcelona or Madrid.
    6) Then Tonga (big language barrier, but climate like tourists expect Hawaii to be).
    7)Then northern Japan, far from Tokyo (tough language, three different written ones and grammar that’s inside out, but I learned it once and I can relearn it if need be).
    8) Then the first permanent Lunar colony.
    9) Then somewhere in the general direction of Barnard’s Star.

    Vancouver and Toronto are pretty, but I’m cold blooded. I need mild winters. I’ve been to Toronto in the winter. No thanks.

    Ireland and the U.K. are in a dead heat with the U.S. and France to trash their government over partisan BS, so if I’m moving to the Isles, I’ll wait for Scotland to stick it to the English, then move to Edinburgh. But it still gets too cold and I like this thing called sunshine. Decent food is nice too.

    @Sarah M.

    With regards to poverty, what are your thoughts on the best methods for ending (or at least drastically reducing) poverty locally or worldwide? Microfinance projects? Education (particularly education of girls)? Efforts to stop the spread of disease? Direct aid?

    Poverty became manageable (not gone, just manageable) in the developed world with the rise of near-universal literacy, entrepreneurship, free trade (in the sense of not requiring imprimatur by nobles) and collective bargaining. All those things are still beneficial, as India is demonstrating on a scale even greater than did the United States.

    However, the globalized economy is a different animal from the merely international economy of the 19th & 20th Centuries. The rise of a global middle-class and realignment of the pyramid the West has been sitting pretty on top of for a century are changing the way countries industrialize and post-industrialize. I am of the opinion that we are witnessing the early rumblings of sweeping fundamental transformations in the way human trade functions.

    Charitable donations are wonderful vehicles for grassroots change and, just as importantly to me, they’re tax deductable. I kick my giving allocation to education, disaster relief, my local classical station and, more recently, women’s health care. Just remember to research whatever foundations look promising. Charity watchdogs will give you the skinny on how much of each dollar makes it to the cause, and what else the charities might be up to that you may applaud or scorn.

    @J.D. Rhoades

    Not trying to hijack the thread here, but this one-way trip to Mars thing has me thinking. Why do it that way? Why not just send a second ship to pick them up, set to land a couple of weeks after arrival? Or even send three…one robotic ship whose task it is to land and deploy “move-in-ready” habitats, one with the crew, one robotic ship with the food, water, etc they need for the trip back? Space geeks, your thoughts?

    A one-way voyage means less than half the fuel. If they want to come back, they best get crackin’ on Mar’s first gas station. Or they can call the Doctor…

    @MTimonin

    Huh. I would have thought that printing notes would require less effort than minting coins, but I guess it depends on what you want to do with them. Counterfeiting a dollar coin seems like a lot of work for a dollar, though. I mean, no one counterfeits the dollar bill, do they? It’s always $20s, $50s, and $100s, because the pay off is higher.

    Yeah, but if all you had to do was stamp a metal press, counterfeiting dollars might become cost-effective. It’s hard enough to get ahold of Treasury “paper” that it makes more sense to go for the Jacksons and Benjamins since you’ll have to forge the plates either way and the serial numbers you’ll have to generate won’t be in any government database, which means you need to launder the cash before anyone checks and the jig is up. This is why counterfeiting has long been the bailiwick of organized crime. The last couple years have seen major and ongoing overhauls in the $20 bill and above, but it’s an arms race. The counterfeiters learn new tricks too. *looks around furtively* Not that I’d know details.

  32. @Elizabeth,

    Yes, I noticed a PSA on this subject that clearly suspected that to be the reason many owners have. The slogan was “You’re more attached to them than he is.”

  33. @MikeB Have yet to visit; only moved from Halifax to NVan last spring. Hope to agree with you soon.

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