Blah Blah Blah 8/6

No, I haven’t finished the book. I’ve still got about five articles to write (I’ll probably write ten, just to be safe). No, I don’t have a good excuse. Leave me alone, damn you. I swear I’ll be finished later today. Or, I’ll drive a hammer through my skull, claw end first. In the meantime, some thoughts:

1. I’m in a mildly pissy mood over a very stupid thing, which is: People writing about films saying stupid things about box office grosses on their way to making a point about a filmmaker or star. Two examples in the last week: First in Slate, in which Michael Agger, ragging on M. Night Shyamalan’s work says this about his movie Signs: “It became a modest hit, but only after it was adopted by Christians as movie about the power of faith.” And then today over at MSNBC, Michael Ventre says this about What Lies Beneath, starring Harrison Ford: The picture was a critical and commercial disappointment, which is probably one of the reasons why Ford is signed on to ‘Indiana Jones 4.'”

Both of these assertions are stupidly wrong: Signs grossed $225 million domestically and $400 million worldwide; that’s not a “modest hit,” that’s a big-ass blockbuster. Also, it had a $60 million opening weekend, which suggests more than just the Christians came out to see it right from the start. As for What Lies Beneath: $155 million domestically ($290 million worldwide), the 10th highest-grossing film of 2000 and the third highest-grossing film of Harrison Ford’s that wasn’t an Indy or Star Wars movie. I’m sure movie studios would like some more “disappointments” like that.

What’s annoying to me about crap like this is a) here are guys writing for professional publications who can’t be bothered to check their facts with a 3-minute visit to, b) the implication that one gets from this is that people who are writing entertainment are held to a more lackadaisical standard when it comes to, you know, facts. This may be a by-product of so much entertainment writing being opinion (reviews) or fluff (celebrity interviews). But look — no matter what you write, if you’re going to dangle something out there as a fact, make sure the facts back you up. Both of these guys undercut their credibility by either not bothering to check the facts — which is easily done — or (even worse) knowing what they’re writing is crap and simply not caring because, after all, it’s writing about entertainment. It’s not like it matters.

This reminds me of one of the things I noticed when I worked as a movie critic at the Fresno Bee newspaper, and would attend junkets with a lot of entertainment writers. Many of the entertainment writers didn’t strike me as particularly interested in entertainment so much as they were reporters who got punted into the entertainment section because they couldn’t be trusted to get their facts straight; i.e., they were punted into the one area of the newspaper where being fuzzy on the details was unlikely to get the newspaper in legal hot water. Needless to say, I found this distressing. I still find it distressing. These guys aren’t helping the category’s credibility any. And the thing is, it’s so easy to find entertainment data — Any industry that thrives on selling its hits is awash in figures. There’s no reason not to get your facts straight.

No, entertainment isn’t as “important” as hard news, or politics. But that doesn’t mean its writers should be lazy to the point of being factually wrong. I’m done ranting on this subject now.

2. I’m vaguely expecting some more “childfree” nutbags to be passing through here in the next couple of days since I went out of my way to antagonize one on the USENET earlier this evening (hey, they started it), and that somewhat predictably brings them round to vent about how horrible their lives are because other people’s children are breathing the same oxygen as they are; it’s the difference between “I don’t want to have any children,” which is perfectly reasonable, and “I think your children should be dipped in chum and thrown to sharks,” which seems a little out there to me.

The childfree nutbag I antagonized was this one, who by his/her LiveJournal seems otherwise perfectly decent, in that comic book-reading, too-much-Buffy sort of way (i.e., just like lots of the people I’ll be seeing at Noreascon in a month or so). One does wonder what happened to this person to make them so twitchy when it comes to kids. Perhaps not enough hugs were involved. Or perhaps too many of the wrong hugs. With so many damaged people, it seems to be one or the other.

It’s also a reminder that people who are otherwise seemingly normal (or at least seemingly acceptably socialized) can suddenly rear up and get hella freaky on you when you hit whatever really sensitive spot they’ve got. I suppose the nice thing about the USENET and the Web is that you get the advantage of finding out what that really touchy spot is ahead of ever physically meeting them, so you can, you know, avoid pressing that button (unless you’re mean). Were I ever to meet Lots42 in real life, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have Athena around for it. I don’t think it would be a quality encounter for either of them.

3. I go to about 100-200 blogs/journals a day (it’s part of my job, you know), and I have to say I’m giving very serious thought to paring off the ones that are politics-oriented until, say, December, because I’m finding the politically oriented ones really irritating these days. It has something to so with the fact that otherwise reasonably rational bloggers and journalers with whom I share a fair amount of intellectual common ground are checking larger and larger portions of their brains at the door as this election campaign goes on, and it’s depressing to see so many people undergoing what can charitably be described as systematic intellectual system failure. This is the first presidential election cycle since the ascendancy of the blog information metaphor; there were people blogging in 2000, mind you, but they didn’t have the same hyper-kinetic echo chamber feedback loop thing going on we’re getting this year. I will be stunned, frankly, if several of the more prominent bloggers on both sides of the spectrum don’t actually physically combust by mid-October.

And I hear you say: Well, you’re not exactly the voice of moderation in your own political writings, now, are you, Scalzi. No, I’m not. It’s pretty clear where I am on this election, and I don’t make any apologies from that. On the other hand, it’s not all politics all the time, and I don’t think I’ve become any more irritatingly strident about my positions; I’m at the same level of irritating stridency I was at a year and two years ago. Consistency, that’s the key.

Look, I’m not saying that this blog polarization isn’t warranted; it’s a tightly-contested, highly-contentious campaign in which everyone is jumping on everything, no matter how trivial, as proof that the “other guy” is a lying sack of crap. Fine. Have fun with it, kids. All I’m saying is that I’m looking forward to this election being done so that a lot of blogs I’ve generally found enjoyable will go back to being mostly enjoyable again. All this “bloggers chewing on their own intestines” crap is getting old fast.

4. Okay, so if I’m not wanting to focus on politics, what am I going to read? It’s not like other people are going to stop writing on politics just to make me happy. Well, look: It’s not that I don’t want to read about politics. I just don’t want it all the friggin’ time. If you’re all hate Bush hate Bush hate Bush or hate Kerry hate Kerry hate Kerry unceasingly and without end, it just gets tiresome. I mean, I know how I’m going to vote already. I’m done. Write about politics, fine. But give me something else, too.

So, at the moment I’m reading Boing Boing, which has a lot more politics than before, but also a lot of basic geekitude and random crap. I also stop by AllThingsChristie a couple of times a day because this woman apparently does nothing but update her page with really funky links. Hey, she’s in college, she can do that. I steal shamelessly from both of these sites for By The Way, because part of my job with AOL is giving the AOL Journalers fun little links to amuse themselves with. Honestly, probably not a day goes by where I’m not linking to something I’ve found at one or another of these sites. Cory et al and Christie, you are Teh RoXX0r. Don’t ever change.

Gizmodo and Engadget, because I just like to see what the hell people are coming up with these days. Also, while the tech world has its own politics, the technology itself is largely free of any agenda other than “let’s make something cool that will separate humans from their cash,” and I for one like that basic straightforwardness of mission, especially now.

Preposterous Universe, Uncertain Principles and The Panda’s Thumb, all of which are generally science-oriented (physics, physics and evolutionary biology), but which sprinkle other subjects in as well (politics, music, teaching) to keep things going on. Vaguely related to Uncertain Principles, Outside of a Dog, written by Kate Nepveu, wife of Chad Orzel (who writes Principles). Dog is (mostly) a booklog, and Kate has a good critical eye (so far as I can tell).

I’m casually reading a number of LiveJournals now, mostly because I’ve bookmarked Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s friends page, which saves me the effort of having to track down all these people on my own, and there are other LiveJournals I read independently. I am reminded that for some reason many people on LiveJournals seem more confessional (and consonantly, more screwed-up) than people in other blogging communities; of course, it may just be I’m somehow reading people who are simply drama cases (I should note that the people on pnh’s list don’t seem particularly drama-filled; I’m speaking of other LJs I’m reading). I wonder if there’s a certain parsing out of personalities — if certain people more likely to use LiveJournal or Movable Type or whatever because of certain personality traits. A master’s thesis in the making. Use it with my blessing.

I’m off to bed, perchance to then wake up, do a couple of AOL entries, and then write about stupidity long the merry day. What a life.

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