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Marking Myself for Death

As if I haven’t enraged enough people this week: Why the Cubbies and Red Sox must lose. It’s over at By The Way because I have to spread out the love. You know. However, inasmuch as AOL Journals only allows AOL-associated accounts to comment, feel free to leave comments here.

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Link

Longtime Whatever reader Ed Thibodeau has started his own blog, Nonplussed. Go over and say hello.

Interestingly, one of this current entries starts off “John Scalzi has apparently gone off his meds.” I somehow suspect that’ll be reason enough for some of you to drop by for a visit.

I didn’t even know I had meds. Which, I guess, is part of the problem right there, isn’t it.

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Somewhat Rambling Follow-Up

Another widely distributed post, another influx of new readers, another orientation session with John Scalzi. As I’ve noted before, new commentors are often taken aback with me, since I tend to respond to attempts at condescending invective with even more condescending invective, and attempts at flamage with pure mockery and derision. Honestly I don’t see how that can be too surprising, given the general rantful nature of the posts of mine that seem to get wide blogosphere distribution, but there it is. I do believe it’s further confusing that I tend to respond to serious posts in a reasonably normal tone of voice. Since both kinds of posts are equally interspersed in the comments, I guess it’s disorienting.

Here’s the deal: With comments, I generally respond to what I’m given. If someone decides to be snippy and condescending, I don’t have a problem taking a swat at them. I mean, why not? It’s my experience that people who leave snippy and condescending comments tend to whine like Bill O’Reilly on NPR when you hit them back instead of collapsing into a pile of milquetoast quasi-reasonableness like you’re supposed to. And of course I enjoy watching that happen. It’s fun.

And then one of three things happen: They retreat like kicked dogs, which is good, they spin towards flamage, which is okay too, though inherently self-limiting, or they realize that I do smug and condescending just as well as they do, and settle down and talk like a normal person. In which case, I do too. And obviously this is the best option of all. At least a couple of people in yesterday’s comments went from troll-like to normal human over the course of the thread. I’m pleased with that, as it allowed me to do the same.

So the lesson, I suppose: I have a low tolerance (or depending how you want to look at it, a high avidity) for certain types of comments. Engage in rhetorical silliness at your own peril.

I do wonder what those who have never read me before think of me on the basis of a rant like yesterday, which, however fun it may be, is not exactly an accurate representation of my overall personality, either in real life or even here in the Whatever. I do imagine I come across as something of a nutbag. And I do know people tend to project their own assumptions on me. If I had a dollar for every time someone assumed I was a partisan Democrat yesterday, in the comments and on other sites, I could buy loaded pizzas for a week. One site had me listed with a set of links to Democrats whining about the recall, which included links to Terry McAuliffe and Jesse Jackson. It was mildly terrifying to be in such company.

Another interesting side effect is that a growing number of people (primarily AOL Journalers) know me only from By The Way, where as I’ve discussed before, my persona is rather more, uh, controlled than it is here. So when one of them stumbles on to this site (which I don’t link to from my AOL site), it can be a little surprising. But as I’ve mentioned before, one incarnation is not the “real me” more than the other — the helpful, mostly nice John Scalzi of By the Way, and the occasionally screedy rantmeister John Scalzi of the Whatever are part of the same whole. One can want to help millions of AOLers integrate peacefully with the blogosphere and call millions of California voters total morons. Yes, it’s a fun time in my head. You should visit.

I did get calls from Californians yesterday, incidentally. “It sounds like you hate ALL of us,” one — who also happens to be one of my dearest friends — said to me. Well, to be clear, I don’t hate any Californians (well, except the ones who were already on my enemies list — and they know who they are). And, rantyness aside, I don’t especially believe they’re all morons and losers. I do worry about the long-term implications of the recall, and I do wonder whether people looked past venting at Davis (and alternately, past the idea of Ah-nold as governor) to hazard a guess at what the implications of the vote are.

Having just completed a book on stupidity, I can tell you stupidity is not lack of intelligence, it’s the lack of appreciation of the consequences of one’s actions (this is why very smart people can do very stupid things). I suspect that not enough Californians were looking at the long-term picture, and that’s not smart.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been as much fun if I said it like that, all nice and reasonable and stuff. Which goes back to why I write rants: I enjoy them, and, given the number of comments, apparently people enjoy reading them. I don’t suppose I want to end up being known as the online world’s go-to “ranter” on things, since I can do other things too (what I really want to do is direct). But I guess I do have a talent for it. I expect I’ll do it again.

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California Schemin’

Yesterday I wrote a brief and somewhat snarky entry about the California election over at By The Way, which occasioned an e-mail from a frequent reader chastising me about my shallow observations and willingness to swallow the Democratic line on the matter. I sort of snapped off his head in an e-mail, which was not very nice, essentially telling him that the observations were shallow because that’s what this election deserved. While still agreeing with this, now that the election is over, let me provide more detailed thoughts on the matter.

First: Californians, boy, did you ever get played, you dumb-ass losers. This was, at its root, one of the most flagrantly un-democratic (small “d”) elections in the history of the United States, and you followed the script as if you were giggling, squealing paid extras. The recall was bought and paid for by one guy and orchestrated by a few zealots with an extremely narrow agenda, and both these parties were more than happy to push your emotional buttons to get you to do what they wanted you to do, which was boot the current and conventionally-elected office-holder for a chance to install someone more amenable to their own interests. Florida 2000 paranoids aside, this is the closest thing to a coup we’ve had in the country, and you swallowed it like it was a tasty treat. It’s sickening, really.

Note, please, that I have not once made reference to the political parties involved. As it happens, at this moment my interests and the interests of the Democratic party coincide on the matter, but I would be equally opposed to the recall if the sitting governor were a conservative Republican and the moneybags who paid to unseat him, and the partisans rounding up the signatures, were flaming Democrats. From my point of view this isn’t about political positions, per se, it’s about an unwillingness to respect the election process.

Admittedly, at this moment conservative Republicans are the people who are apparently the most inclined to piss on the election process, which is a culmination of a couple of decades of incestuous intellectual fermentation resulting in an insensate desire for power at nearly any cost. But in their time, Democrats have been more than happy to pull equally undemocratic tricks for their advantage. This recall election is a kissing cousin to a poll tax: Both ostensibly legal (in their time and place), but both designed to skew and corrupt the election process for a select group over others.

Yes, you say, but what about the voting percentages? More Californians voted in this special election than in the regular election! My response to this, of course, is: This is supposed to make me feel better? Californians are too damn apathetic to vote when they’re supposed to and should have, but are more than happy to get off the friggin’ couch for a stage-managed monkey show? I want to be clear, so there is no misunderstanding here: Every single person who voted in this election who did not vote in the actual gubernatorial election in 2002 is a complete and total fucking tool. You could not have been any more used if you were a spent condom.

You are certainly not the same as, say, the folks in Minnesota who got out of the La-Z-Boy to vote Jesse Ventura into office: Ventura was voted in during an election not bought and paid for by political extremists. And while we’re at it, every single person who voted in this California gubernatorial election who does not vote in the next one should very simply be taken out and beaten to death with a pipe, as it will be obvious you have no actual interest in the democratic process, you’re just a tourist looking for a thrill ride.

Yes, Gray Davis was unpopular. That’s what you get when you don’t vote, people. You want your leaders to reflect your interests, haul your whiny asses to the polls on a regular basis.

The very worst thing about this recall election is that it solidifies the concept of the permanent political campaign, with the focus on running for a position rather than the running of the government. Every vote for the recall was a vote for office-holders needing even more money to run their political organizations, money which will inevitably come from special interests and corporations, making the political process even more opaque to the needs of citizens than it already is. Every vote for the recall is a vote that signals that politicians can’t vote their consciences, on the rare occasion they have one, for fear of some excitable group deciding that it just can’t wait for the normal election cycle to boot their asses out. Every vote for the recall is a vote for short-attention-span government, one that inevitably trends towards the “bread-and-circuses” aspect of the political discourse, rather than the aspect that deals with long-term issues in a serious way.

So, to wrap things up: If you voted for the recall, you might have thought you were voting to boot Gray Davis out of office. But that’s because you’re a moron, easily distracted by sparkly lights and shiny objects. You were really voting to let small, inherently undemocratic groups run your state all the time, forever. The fact that you thought you were doing the former when in fact you were doing the latter suggests that you would have been more helpful in the governance of your state by hurling yourself off the Golden Gate Bridge and smacking into the bay below with a nice, bone-powdering swack. In addition to clearing out four million bottom-feeders from an already-overpopulated state, California might still have a government still nominally beholden to voters, instead of through special-interest control by mob rule proxy. Good job.

Second, and having said that: All things considered, you could have done much worse than Schwarzenegger, and yes, I really mean it. Look: He’s pro-choice, pro-education, (mostly) pro-environment and otherwise a reasonably moderate Republican. Given what your recall coup planners were aiming for, i.e., some far right-wing nutbag to squeak in with 15% of the popular vote thanks to the utterly friggin’ insane California recall process, this is a much better result. I know Democratic strategists wouldn’t think so; they would have preferred a nutbag so that voters would have stampeded back into the safe arms of the Democratic party come 2006. But a) I’m not a Democrat, so ask me if I care about their strategy, and b) this is exactly what’s wrong with the political process these days — it’s about running, not governing. Present me with a pro-choice, pro-education (mostly) pro-environment Republican versus your average Democratic hack (say, Bustamante) and you’ve got yourself a real interesting time at the ballot box.

I noted in my By The Way journal that while I would have voted against the recall, I would have also voted for Schwarzenegger for governor just to see what would happen next. It would be easy to infer that I meant I expected it to be insanity and chaos — i.e., entertainment. But I really don’t vote like that — I’m kind of humorless when it comes to the whole voting thing, and I tend to want my politicians to be useful rather than amusing. This is why my favorite personal elected representative of all time was Frank “fabulous roads” Wolf, who was my representative in Virginia (and who I will note is also a conservative Republican — but an ethical one, I thought, whose votes came from sober thought and reflection rather than the marching orders of Gingrich and/or DeLay).

Rather, I’m genuinely interested in seeing what happens now. I don’t think Schwarzenegger can do any real damage, since the legislature is still overwhelmingly Democratically controlled, and I think he could do some actual good. I’m a little nutty this way, but I have a tendency to believe that if one must have a two-party system (and for some unfathomable reason, apparently we in the US must), the best scenario is when the executive and legislative branches are controlled by the opposing parties. That way neither party gets everything they want and by and large the public is served by their need to compromise to get anything done. Thus, while the Cal lege will be able to make sure Schwarzenegger doesn’t suddenly give away the state to his rich conservative cronies, if for some reason he feels compelled to do so, by the same token Schwarzenegger will be able to keep the nuttier excesses of the legislature in line.

So: Presumably moderate pro-choice, pro-education, (mostly) pro-environment Republican (as opposed to scary frothing nutbag conservative) as governor, Democrats in the legislature, and everyone suddenly forced to compromise and on notice to actually get something done, at least until the public is distracted by other shiny bits of foil. As I said, for the average Californian, there are worse things that could have happened out of the unholy and inherently un-democratic clusterfuck that was this election. It is the equivalent of intentionally ramming your car into a tree, blasting through your windshield and yet landing relatively undamaged.

Of course, you’d still need X-rays. Along that line, and as I said, now we get to see what comes next — whether the Schwarzenegger administration can get things done, or whether there is long, deep, sustained damage to the democratic process in California. I genuinely hope for the former and rather darkly suspect the latter.

I will say this, California: If you get the former, boy, did you get lucky. If you get the latter, well, you got what you asked for.

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Plates

Just in case any of you thought I was just kidding about it, please peruse the license plate of our new minivan:

We’re gonna have so much fun with this thing.

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Chicago

I spent my weekend away from the keyboard in Chicago, where Krissy and I had tickets to see Eddie Izzard on Saturday night. That would only occupy a couple hours of time there, so we had to find other things to do. Fortunately, Chicago is not without alternate entertainment activities, and we kept ourselves suitably amused for the weekend in ways that are probably not entirely interesting to anyone who is not us. So rather than bore you with the details, I’ll just trot out a couple of pictures.

This is a rather large statue which we encountered at the Shedd Aquarium, and which I find interesting. It seems to ask — “What is so wrong about the love of a man for a large fish?” — and on the basis of this particular statue, I am hard-pressed to offer up an objection. Why, that fish is so happy, it’s spurting. Normally that’s not something I’d want for the kids, but you know. It’s an aquarium. You have to accept a little bit of Troy McClure-ness in an environment like that.

For all of you who saw that picture of me in total hick mode will not doubt be relieved to see this picture, which has me more or less back to normal. Well, let’s not lie: This is me rather more satorially together than usual. Krissy, of course, always looks this fabulous. What can I say? She’s just that way. This is the two of us on our way out the door to see the Eddie Izzard concert. I know several of you out there have tickets to a later show, so I won’t re-enact his comedy stylings here. But I will say we got our money’s worth, and those of you still waiting to see him should enjoy yourselves quite adequately.

The only bad thing I can say about the show is that Izzard has reached a point where he’s something of an icon to excitable young gay males everywhere, some of which were sitting directly behind Krissy and me and squealing like 13-year-old girls in 1963 confronted with the prospect of five minutes alone with Paul McCartney. I’m all for people being young gay males if that’s what they are, but really: Keep it together, people. Have some dignity. Although Izzard did look smashing in that slit-skirt number. So I guess I can’t judge the boys too harshly.

Anyway: Chicago. It’s a toddlin’ town. No doubt we’ll be back.

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AFK

I’ve promised Krissy she can break my fingers if I use the computer this weekend. So, you know. Don’t expect anything new until Monday, either because I’m not using the computer or because I’ve been reduced to typing with my nose.

Have a great weekend.

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National Novel Writing Month

I’ve had a reader request about my thoughts on the National Novel Writing Month thing, the annual event in which aspiring novelists from all over the country decide to bang out 50,000 words in the space of November. November has 30 days, so that’s about 1,700 words a day for each participant — a nice clip, if you can keep it up.

In a general sense, I like the idea. Generally speaking the most difficult thing about writing a novel is the actual writing — which is to say the process of sitting down and going type type type type until you’re done. I’m a big believer that anything that can help you enforce personal discipline is a good thing, and if it’s the idea of a “National Novel Writing Month,” well, why not. I also think that the idea of simply ploughing through 50,000 words in a month helps to demystify the writing process, and that’s a good thing. Once you realize that writing to a great extent is simply about getting the words out, it makes writing the next novel that much easier.

I don’t expect many of these novels to be particularly good, but I think that writing these novels to be good is secondary to the idea of writing the novel at all. One of the things I talked about at Torcon when I was on a panel for first-time novelists was the idea of writing a “practice novel” — a novel which you write simply to see if you can write a novel, and for which you have no other ambitions except for getting the damn thing out. I did it — Agent to the Stars is my practice novel, which I wrote just to try my hand at the form (I think it went pretty well). I learned a lot while writing it, and I think what I learned helped to make my second novel (that’d be Old Man’s War) salable. I think what people are doing with National Novel Writing Month is working on their practice novels, and that’s all to the good.

The one quibble I have with the event is that technically speaking, the word requirement is too short. In the real world, “novels” are considered to be works of 60,000 words or above. A 50,000 word piece of writing is a hefty novella but not a novel; in the real world, unless what you wrote was mindbogglingly brilliant, you wouldn’t have much chance of selling a 50,000-word “novel.” And possibly not even then, since book publishing is a business, and the business model of novels is predicated on 60,000 words or greater; I would imagine if a publisher really loved your 50,000 word piece, they’d ask you to bulk it up.

That being the case, writing 50,000 words, while substantially more useful than not writing anything, is still 20% shy of the full novel writing experience. If you really want a true National Novel Writing Month experience, you’re going to have to average 2,000 words a day, not 1,700.

But this is a relatively minor quibble. I like idea, because I like the idea of people writing and the idea that people are trying their hand at the novel format, if only to see if they can do it. If you are thinking of taking part in National Novel Writing Month, I say, have fun with it. If you grind out a novel in a month, good on you. If you fall short, that’s okay too. There are worse things than not writing 50,000 (or 60,000) words in a month.

Unless you’re on a real deadline, of course. No, I don’t want to talk about it.

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Country Boy

Living in the country has not affected me one bit.

Now, now, stop with the screaming. I’m just playing with you. I’m still the vaguely liberal high-tech geek with a degree in philosophy. Hell, I’m even wearing sandals at the moment. But I bet I had you going there for a minute.

Although for the record, people in these here parts are no more dumb than the folks you meet anywhere else. They do tend to have quantitatively and qualitatively less schooling than the people in, say, the Washington DC area, where I lived prior to coming out here. But as I’m fond of noting, just because you’re educated doesn’t mean you’re smart, and the converse is equally true as well. The folks around here are the same mix of people you get anywhere in terms of intelligence and common sense. Of course, I don’t blame people who think other people are stupid for how they look. I feel much the same way every time I see grownups dressing like they’re taking their fashion tips from the Bratz line of dolls. Which is, alas, happening with increasing and distressing frequency.

I’ve been a rural American for two and a half years now but I don’t feel especially changed by the experience, probably because my professional life is still deeply immersed in a techy and (yes) urban experience. My primary work contacts are in New York, DC and San Francisco, so when you spend eight hours a day communicating with people in those areas and on their pace, the slowpoke rural life is somewhat leavened. I do like the contrast, though. Occasionally when I have a phone meeting I’ll take my notes and sit on the porch and watch the tractors go by as I discuss marketing or financial brochures or whatever. It’s not a bad balance.

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