Reminder: There is No Such Thing as Private E-Mail

Atrios gets tightly wound over the fact that The New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent named someone who had sent a nasty e-mail to a New York Times reporter. This is what Okrent said:

But before I turn over the podium, I do want you to know just how debased the level of discourse has become. When a reporter receives an e-mail message that says, “I hope your kid gets his head blown off in a Republican war,” a limit has been passed.

That’s what a coward named Steve Schwenk, from San Francisco, wrote to national political correspondent Adam Nagourney several days ago because Nagourney wrote something Schwenk considered (if such a person is capable of consideration) pro-Bush. Some women reporters regularly receive sexual insults and threats. As nasty as critics on the right can get (plenty nasty), the left seems to be winning the vileness derby this year. Maybe the bloggers who encourage their readers to send this sort of thing to The Times might want to ask them instead to say it in public. I don’t think they’d dare.

Atrios says:

The fact that the NYT’s public editor, the person who is supposed to represent the *readers*, has chosen to publish the name and a clipped quote from a reader who never intended his name or comments to be published, and made that desire clear multiple times, is disgusting. It doesn’t matter what the person wrote to the reporter. As I’ve said, I’ve been aware of the identities of people who have not only sent me obscene and insulting emails, but who have made an effort to disrupt the comments of this site, for a long time. I never went as far as publishing their *personal* name/address/phone number/email. Why? Because it’s an unfair fight.

In terms of personal handling of e-mail, I’m with Atrios: My personal policy has always been not to air the e-mail I get, unless it’s anonymous or unless I get permission. Most of the time my truly nasty e-mail isn’t worth responding to, anyway; anyone who’s gotten as much hate mail as I have over the years has high standards as to what deserves to be shared with others.

However, I have not even a thimbleful of sympathy for Mr. Schwenk. For one thing, as Mr. Okrent points out, anyone who e-mails a reporter expressing a wish that a specific reporter’s kid gets his or her head blown off has set up a sphincter kiosk on Asshole Avenue and is doing gangbuster business. Perhaps a little public shaming will do him some good, or least keep him from sending anymore e-mails wishing people’s children would die. No doubt Mr. Schwenk is embarrassed and is finding out what it’s like to be on the receiving end of asshole behavior at the moment, and maybe this possibility will give people pause before they send off an e-mail like Schwenk’s. It’s one of those “live by the sphincter, die by the sphincter” teachable moments.

For another thing — and I don’t believe we still have to make this point at this late date in the world — there is no such thing as private e-mail. Certainly not in the case of an e-mail to a reporter; assuming the e-mail was sent to Mr. Nagourney’s New York Times e-mail address, that e-mail is legally the property of the Times, not Mr. Nagourney, and it may do anything it wishes with that e-mail, including giving it over to the Public Editor to write about. Now, I think we can safely assume that as a general rule, the editors of the Times don’t spend a lot of time combing through their reporter’s e-mails looking for juicy bits to air. But legally speaking, they could, and that’s worth drilling into one’s head.

But we don’t need to involve the Times as an institution in all of this, since there’s simply the matter that once one hits the “send” button on the e-mail client, one loses all control of the e-mail one has sent. It’s the recipient who has the privilege of deciding what happens to the e-mail, whether the e-mail is kept private, aired for the public edification or amusement, or simply plonked unread. In this particular case, I suspect that Mr. Nagourney shared the e-mail with Mr. Okrent, Mr. Okrent asked if he could use it, and Mr. Nagourney gave his assent. And why shouldn’t have he? By writing to share his hope of the decapitating death of Mr. Nagourney’s progeny, Mr. Schwenk made it pretty clear he has absolutely no respect for Mr. Nagourney, nor has he made any effort toward common courtesy. By the Golden Rule (a fine metric for human behavior), Mr. Schwenk should expect no less.

As Atrios noted, it’s probably a fine guess that Mr. Schwenk didn’t expect that everyone would learn he thinks it’s just fine to wish death upon the children of people who write newspaper articles that are not to his liking. But I ask: So what? Once he sent that e-mail, it was no longer his choice to make, just as when I send someone e-mail, what happens to it from there is no longer under my control, either. When you send e-mail, you give up control of what happens to your words. If you don’t want to give up that control, don’t send the e-mail. Mr. Schwenk may have been ignorant of this little detail regarding e-mail — or blithely assumed (if Atrios is correct that he said the e-mail was not intended for public consumption) that his own desire to have his vile little e-mail be private obliged Mr. Nagourney to consent to the request. But I don’t see how that should restrict either Mr. Nagourney or Mr. Okrent. In any event, he’s not ignorant of this little detail now.

Live it, learn it, love it: You have no expectation of privacy in e-mail. None. Ever. Presume that you do have an expectation of privacy, and you are going to be sorely disappointed (and, as Mr. Schwenk has discovered, possibly humiliated).

(Would I want some of the e-mail I sent in the past aired for public consumption? Well, no; Hell, there are some I’ve written in the last month I’d prefer not to have seen in the open. However, I recognize that I have no control over those e-mails; as a result, I don’t think I’ve written an e-mail recently that I wouldn’t own up to if it were aired.)

Atrios trots out the public/private individual thing, i.e., that evidence of Mr. Schwenk’s jerkitude should have remained private because he’s not, say, a New York Times reporter. But this isn’t a libel thing, and unless there’s a section of Times v. Sullivan I’m not aware of, there’s no private v. public litmus test in revealing whether one has voluntarily been an ass to another person. After all, it’s not as if Mr. Nagourney had to investigate to discover if Mr. Schwenk hoped his child dead; Mr. Schwenk affirmatively offered up the hope himself, in writing, no less, with name appended. Atrios likewise suggests that it doesn’t matter what Mr. Schwenk wrote, but I find it difficult to imagine a scenario in which Mr. Schwenk had written something complimentary to Mr. Nagourney, and Mr. Okrent had published it and Schwenk’s name, and then Atrios (or anyone else) had worked himself into a rage about how mightily Mr. Schwenk’s personal privacy had been violated.

I’m a little strict on these things, but I believe that one of the trade offs of free speech is the responsibility for your words. Should Mr. Schwenk be held publicly accountable for his words, even if he didn’t expect he would be? Well, why shouldn’t he be? One assumes Mr. Schwenk is a grownup and understands he’s accountable for his actions. He wrote the e-mail, and he signed his name to it. Let him stand by his words or retract them. After all, what’s the point in saying anything to anyone anywhere if we’re not willing to either stand by those words, or admit we were wrong for saying them?

Because he’s been outed as a jerk in the New York Times, does Schwenk deserve to be harassed and abused by other jerks? No, I think being called a coward in the New York Times is enough for most people. As I said, I don’t doubt that Schwenk will be harassed and abused by jerks, and I do feel a measure of pity for him for that, since it’s no fun to be abused and harassed by jerks. On the bright side, now he and Mr. Nagourney will have something in common.

As an aside, I’d just like to note that Democrats (or other political affiliations) saying something is a “Republican War” is no less odious than when Republicans were saying of Clinton that he was not their president. As Americans, we all own the current war; our government called for it, our military fought it, our people are dying in it. The question is what we do about it.

Random Blatherings, 10/09/04

Some thoughts that in themselves don’t merit a full entry:

* So, here’s the basic line coming out of the debate, so far as I can tell: George Bush neither drooled on himself nor shook like a palsied chimpanzee, and was actually reasonably composed, so he wins (and by “wins” we mean to say it’s a draw, since Kerry apparently did just fine, too). Talk about the soft bigotry of lowered expectations. Also, and feel free to call me a snob here, but I want more from a president than that he didn’t soil himself live on television. If a victory can be derived simply from not embarrassing one’s self, it’s time to explore new metrics of victory.

In response to yesterday’s venting about Kerry, a couple of people noted in the comment thread that it’s in the media’s self-interest to make it appear the contests are close right down to the wire; therefore unless Dubya really did absolutely lose it, last night’s pundit spin would be charitable no matter what. On reflection this has probably got truth to it, although I’m not entirely sure just how much the punditry out there realized it’s trained itself to do this sort of thing; they do it as automatically as a short order cook flips a burger.


* I went out and bought The System of the World Thursday, thus completing my purchase of Neal Stephenson’s entire Baroque Cycle, but I have to admit that I haven’t the slightest idea when I’m going to get around to reading the whole damn thing. I started Quicksilver not long after it came out, and was about 200 pages in when I realized that I’d basically read an entire novel’s worth of nothing but set-up; I put it down and haven’t picked it up since. Someone informed me that it does pick up somewhere around page 400, and I know I like Stephenson’s writing in a general sense, so I planned to get back to it, and bought The Confusion and The System of the World on the basic faith that I would eventually settle down with them. But, jeez. 3,000 pages, and 400 pages to get things going. I just don’t know. Especially since I’ve picked up Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is not small book in itself (730-odd pages), but at least is its own thing. We’ll have to see if I get to the Baroque Cycle sometime before I hit 40.

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been using the Baroque Cycle books for: Doorstops. Yes, really. Look, if you’re going to write a book big enough to stop a door, don’t be surprised if that’s what someone uses them for.

* On the tech geek front — where the hell is my DSL? All my modem fixin’s were supposed to be here on Thursday, and now here it is, not Thursday, and I am still DSLess. This crap is beginning to piss me off.

Also on the tech geek tip: I ordered Half-Life 2 today through gamemaker Valve’s “Steam” online download function, not only to get that game but because one of the packages also offers the games in Valve’s archive, including the original Half-Life. I have half life on disc, of course, but it’s so old now that my current computer just laughs at me when I ask it to run the game; it’s like it won’t lower itself to play a game designed to be played on Windows 98. The only problem I can see with the Steam delivery is that it appears to download the game a map at a time, and that’s not necessarily a good thing when you have a balky satellite connection. All the more reason for me to have my DSL now, damn it.

The Election and Kerry’s Shoes

I want to be clear on this, so that there’s no confusion. If John Kerry cannot beat George W. Bush in this election, he should be taken out and beaten to death with his own shoes. How can any major party candidate not beat a sitting president who is the first since Hoover to have the economy lose jobs on his watch? How can any candidate not beat a sitting president whose economic policies took the federal budget from massive surpluses to massive deficits in such an alarmingly short time? How can any candidate not beat a sitting president whose rationales for a war of choice have been shown over and over again to be false and reckless — and because of that 1000 members of the US armed forces have no better reason for their mortal sacrifice than “presidential misadventure”? How can any candidate lose to the most incompetent man in living memory to hold the office of president?

Don’t talk to me about the Republican smear machine, or stupid voters, or a complicit media. This is a candidate’s job, to make his case to the American voters. John Kerry has been blessed with an opponent who makes Warren Harding look like a sharp tack, whose major policies have uniformly been one fat disgusting disaster after another, and who by most polls has lead the country in what most Americans view to be in the wrong direction. And here it is, 25 days before election day, and Bush and Kerry are still more or less statistically tied; Kerry’s up today, but not enough that he won’t be behind tomorrow if he doesn’t ace tonight’s debate.

This is appalling. It is unfathomable to me that at this late date in the campaign that Kerry is not more than a percentage point or two — at best — beyond the statistical error of the polls. I am reasonably confident that Kerry will be a perfectly acceptable president, certainly by comparison to his predecessor if nothing else. But as a candidate, he gives me the smacky shakes. I understand that this is his modus operandi in campaigns: to come up fast in the final quarter, just like he did in his senate campaign against William Weld in 1996. But look, Dubya ain’t no William Weld. Bush doesn’t have the 70% approval ratings Weld had. Dubya doesn’t have the successful executive track record Weld had. That race deserved to be close. This one doesn’t.

And let’s also be clear on this: Kerry needs to win outside the margin of error. Bush got into the White House in 2000 because Gore, that stupid, stupid man, let the race get close; he lost his own home state, for God’s sake, and then it all came down to Florida, where Dubya’s brother was governor, and then got kicked upstairs to the Supreme Court. If it all comes down to Florida again, there will be riots and Disney World will burn, baby, burn, but it’ll go to Bush again. Or what if it comes down to Ohio, home of Diebold and a Republican Secretary of State who attempted to disallow voter registration cards because of the weight of the paper until he was shamed into backing up? Come on, people. Do you really think if it’s close that the Republicans will let it get away? When it comes to elections, you don’t let the GOP get close. Letting them get close just means you can’t see where they’re planning to jam in the knife.

And you know what — I totally respect that. In 2000, I enraged a rabidly liberal friend of mine by saying, basically, that the reason Bush was in the White House was quite simply that the GOP wanted it more. The Florida recount was a dirty business all the way around, and the GOP, rabid little powermongers that they were, were like the poor schmucks at a radio contest who were willing to dive headfirst into a vat of pig shit to get the sparkly prize, while the Democrats were only willing to get in to their knees and half-heartedly pick around, and complain that they shouldn’t have to wallow in pork crap in the first place. Well, you know. That was the game at that point. If it comes to that again, you know the GOP has got the snorkels at ready.

This is why Kerry needs two have a two or three state margin (at least!) at the end of the day. This election needs to be incontestable; on election night, Dubya and the GOP have to look at the tally board and know that short of a military coup they’ve only got a few more weeks to enjoy the use of the Air Force One snack bar. Otherwise it will never end. I have entirely too much respect for the GOP’s ability to pull an electoral rabbit out of the hat to be anything less than totally paranoid if Kerry continues to let Bush and his buddies keep it close.

And what if — as is entirely possible — Bush actually wins? Not by leaning on Jeb or his pals at Diebold, but definitively, by two or three states worth of electoral votes? Ach, the reckoning there will be then, my friends. Because then the only thing that Bush and the GOP will have learned from all of this is that competence simply doesn’t matter, and if it doesn’t matter, then why bother. As for the Democrats, the best they can hope for is that they manage to get 50 seats in the Senate and hold on for dear life until 2008, and I wouldn’t count on either. And while the rest of us don’t necessarily have to start stocking dry goods in the cellar, we should at the very least know where we can get our hands on a 55-gallon drum of beans when the time comes.

As for Kerry, I imagine he’ll become one of the most reviled men in the country. He’s already reviled by the folks on the right, simply as a reflex, so that much is taken care of. But the ones in the left and in the center will revile him too, because he couldn’t close the deal against the manifestly worst sitting president in decades. And as I’ve said before, yes, George Bush is an utter incompetent. But think how much more incompetent you have to be to lose to him. Death by his own shoes would not be too fine a punishment for such an act.

I Got Dem Cozmic Swing State Blues Again, Mama

Friends from California tell me that to judge from the campaign activities there, you’d hardly know there was a presidential election going on. You can’t say the same in Ohio, 2004’s appointed Really Important Swing State, where it seems the candidates are visiting just about every day, and where I’m getting tons of crap from both parties, in the mail and through the phone.

Yesterday the phone rings, I pick it up and it’s an automated message. A folksy male voice with a southern accent says “John Kerry says he wants to be judged on the issues…” and that’s as far as it gets before I hang up. I don’t think I really need to hear the rest of that to know what’s coming next.

Out to the mail, where a flyer with pictures of a middle-aged guy staring glumly at a pile of bills, and text that says “Under President Bush, Ohio has lost…” and then some number of jobs, plus a bunch of other dismal stats, accompanied by a picture of Bush in one of his more unpleasant expressions. Again, I don’t think I really need to read the rest of this to see where it’s going. It’s in the trash before I get into the house.

Then to the phones again, where some alleged pollster wants to ask me a few questions. Which polling company do you represent? I ask. I can’t tell you, says the alleged pollster. Well, then, I can’t answer your questions, I say, and hang up. A small part of me is mildly interested in hearing the questions a push poller might ask (“Are you planning to vote for John Kerry, even though he’s been caught on video tape biting the heads off of fluffy kittens?” “Did you know that voting for George Bush has been clinically associated with testicular cancer?”), but I’m also aware that the point of a push poll isn’t to poll me, it’s to push me. Well, I’m pushed, all right.

Unless one candidate or another gains a double digit lead in Ohio in the next three days and maintains it through the month, all this crap is simply not going to end until November 2. Because Ohio is the designated swing state. It makes me wish there was some sort of registry for people who already know how they’re going vote to sign in on, so they could be left alone until it’s time to vote (and you wouldn’t even actually have to know how you’re going to vote — you could just say it so you didn’t have to be bugged). And then, every time you did get bothered by one of the political campaigns or one of their duly-represented busybodies, you’d get $10. I’d be rich coming into November, I tell you.

Catching Up on the Petblogging


I haven’t done much petblogging here at the Whatever recently — I’ve sort of migrated that sort of action over to By The Way, where it seems somehow more apropos — but I understand that many of the Whatever readers who do not avail themselves of my AOL Journal stylings yet yearn to see the furrier members of the Scalzi household.

So here you go: A semi-rare picture of Lopsided Cat and Kodi in the same frame, out enjoying a day together. Lopsided Cat and Kodi do in fact get along tolerably well; they’re not as close as Kodi and Ghlaghghee are (the two of them will often nap together), but they seem to have a good working relationship, and Lopsided Cat takes the occasional chase by Kodi in stride, dutifully sprinting for a while before ending the festivities by turning and giving Kodi a light swat on the nose. Everyone gets some exercise; everyone’s happy.

As an aside, there’s something about Lopsided Cat’s expression in the photo that reminds me of president William Taft; I can’t explain why, and even if I could, I’m not sure I would want to.

Look at Me, I’m Working. Yeah.

I’m supposed to be being a lot more productive this week than I have been, but I think I have some excellent excuses. Sunday my Web site imploded and needed tending. This leaked into Monday and then into Tuesday. Today everything’s groovy with the Web site, but Athena was home today due to a teacher’s “service day,” and aside from the distraction she provided both of us were kind of sick — a low-grade upset stomach and headache fever. This called for a nap, which seemed to do the both of us a world of good.

Tomorrow I’m going to start getting caught up — I swear — but tomorrow is also Athena’s karate class, and that’s another three hour divot in the day (I’m not even allowed to watch her in class because parents distract the kids from listening to the teachers; I fill the time mostly by reading in the car). Friday? DSL installation, which will require another chunk o’ time, and Athena’s participating in our small town Pumpkin Festival Parade, so I have to be there for the appropriate camera action. Saturday? Family gathering, which will involve driving for an hour, eating about sixteen pounds of food, and then racing back home before the peritonitis hits.

Somewhere in all this I have to write a chapter in the Science Fiction film book, and add several reviews. If I don’t, I may have to beat myself in the head. Which won’t get the writing done, but at least then I’ll have head trauma as an excellent excuse for not getting around to it.

Not that I expect this really to be a problem. As I get older I sometimes feel I’m not writing as quickly as I used to, although if I’m going strictly by sheer volume of output, this is clearly not the case. I think it may be more of the case that recently I feel more easily distracted by other things; sometimes it takes longer to get started writing, which feels like it taking longer to write.

A lot of my current twitchiness — aside from various technical and physical woes — boils down to schedule changes. Which makes me sound like a damn creature of habit, but, well. My biggest problem at the moment is getting used to having Athena in the house in the afternoons again; for the last couple of years Krissy picked her up from her day care at the end of the work day, so I had from 7 to 6 pretty much to myself. Now I have 8 to 2:30. I need to enforce a little more writing discipline in those hours, since Athena (not unreasonably) feels like she deserves a little dad time after school, and I’d like to be able to deliver on that without worrying overly that there’s some work I need to be doing.

That’s my personal project for the rest of 2004: Stay reasonably focused during the work day, so I spend guilt-free time with my kids and don’t feel like distractions are going to be the death of me (or my career). Let’s hope it works, or otherwise I will have to resort to the head trauma trick. And no one wants that.


I’ve got nothing of any use to say about the vice-presidential debate. I keep trying to generate a head of steam about it, but it’s a no go. Even the big post-debate talking point on the Kerry-Edwards side, in which Cheney’s snark comment about never having met Edwards before was countered with a picture of the two of them standing side by side, fills me with an overwhelming sense of not caring. These guys jab at each other for 90 minutes, and this is the big gaffe? Wake me when it’s November, people.

Don’t confuse my lack of excitement with apathy; you know I’m voting. And I cheerfully cede the point that some certain number of undecided voters may have gotten something out of the debates, and that the party faithful on both ends will use this as a fetish around which they will flagellate, as required by their faith. Good for them. But, being one of those super-committed but non-fanatical voters who needs no convincing at this point not to vote for Cheney’s boss, I approach all of these pre-vote preliminaries with a distinct lack of interest. Unless Dick and John pulled out knives and danced around slashing at each other just like those guys in the “Beat It” video, this show wasn’t meant for me.

I’ve also made the executive decision that I’m not going to bother viewing Presidential debates two and three. Living as we do in a media age, I fully expect that any particularly juicy slip, gaffe, zinger or (heaven forfend) substantive policy point will be exhaustively essayed, like highlights of a football game, and at the end I will have the transcripts, which I can read in a matter of ten minutes, thereby freeing up all that debate time to do something more useful with my life, like do math with Athena or taunt my cats with bacon. Mmmmm, bacon.

I really do wish I cared more about the debates; I feel like I should. But I gotta tell you, I’ve been racking my brain to imagine a scenario in which I don’t vote for Kerry, or even possibly where I might vote for Bush, and it’s just not happening. I have to get way out there — things like Kerry saying at the next debate that he plans to fill his administration’s highest positions with pederasts, koalas and Babylon 5 fans (or some unholy combination thereof) and then address the United Nations dressed only in yogurt and aluminum foil — before I begin to waver in my convictions. It’s just not likely.

That said, honestly, what do the debates hold for the likes of me? I’ve got science fiction movies to watch. I think on Thursday I’ll watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The 1956 version is 80 minutes long. Just long enough to avoid the debate. Coincidence? Yes. But a happy one. I’ll take it.

The New Look

So, I’m thinking this is the look I’m going to go with, for a while at least. Let me know your thoughts on it.

Update, 6:50 pm — for everyone who is wondering why I haven’t reinstalled pictures to the site, the short answer is I’m waiting until my DSL installation later this week. Currently my satellite modem lets me download pretty quickly up it uploads at dialup speed; considering how many pictures I have to upload, it makes sense to wait until I have an upload speed that doesn’t bring back not-so-fond memories of 1996.

Also, some of you may have noticed that the archived entries for the Whatever now extend back from before I used Movable Type — this is part of the master plan to get (almost) every bit of content on the site into MT format. It makes sense to have all the Whatever entries actually associated with the Whatever, and quite frankly I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Right now all of 2003 is available; 2002 will likely arrive tomorrow and so on down to 1998.

Also: If you’re not seeing clouds (a lot of you report seeing a whole lot of black), try clearing out your Web cache on your browser. That should help.

A Note From Athena

Athena says:

“Hi there! My dad is going to be fiddling with the layout of the Whatever today, so at times it’s going to look really really bad. Please humor him. He’s a silly man, but we tolerate him anyway.”

Update: 11:55 — I know you can’t see comments at the moment. I’m fiddling, remember. Rest assured it won’t be that way forever.

Do Me a Favor —

Leave a comment, would ya? I’m not entirely convinced I’ve set up my comments correctly so that anyone can leave a comment. If you can’t leave a comment, drop me an e-mail and let me know. Thanks.

The Whatever is Alive!

Looks like I wasn’t down nearly as long as I thought I would be. The Whatever is now alive once more, with all its previous entries as well — although, as I suspected, they all have brand spankin’ new URLs. That’s what the search engine is for.

All the text is up, but I should stress the Whatever isn’t running at full power. There are no images right this very second (I’ll be uploading them tonight, most likely), and I’ll be fiddling with the template to get a look that I like (I probably won’t return to the “Jupiter” look although I don’t know what yet what I’ll do to replace it. Expect the Whatever to have a variable level of usability for the next couple of weeks. For this reason, you may still want to read the Whatever in Exile over at LiveJournal — if nothing else, its appearance won’t be changing wildly. I’ll be posting everything I post here over there as well.

The rest of is still out of commission. I’ll be working on it, as advertised, over the rest of the month.

That’s all for now — more later.

How It Works, 2004 Edition

Start off with the fact that the chances of me buying an entire John Fogerty album approach zero. This is for many reasons, not the least of which is the simple fact that Fogerty is a singles guy to me — from his Creedence Clearwater Revival days, I like one or two songs on an album, but not the whole album (this is why the CCR album I own is Chronicles, even though I know he gets close to zip in royalties from it. Sorry you had a bad contract there, John).

Anyway, back to my thesis: I’m not buying a John Fogerty album, including the new one, Deja Vu (All Over Again). If I were to see it in the store, I’d say “Huh. Look, a new John Fogerty album,” and I’d pass it on by. Since Fogerty is roughly 48,000 years too old to be played on commercial radio, the chances of me hearing anything from this album also approach zero. MTV played John Fogerty videos back in 1985, when Centerfield came out and the people running the joint didn’t have their Logan’s Run mojo rising, in which a band (or least MTV’s interest in them) explodes when the lead singer reaches 30 years of age. Someone would get fired for playing a John Fogerty video on MTV these days. Bad scene for Fogerty.

However, when I saw the new John Fogerty album on Rhapsody, the streaming music service to which I subscribe, I said, “Huh. Look, a new John Fogerty album. I wonder what it sounds like.” And then I clicked on the “Play Now” button and listened to the album while I did some work on my computer.

And listening to the album, I discovered there are two songs I really like: “Deja Vu (All Over Again),” the album’s title track, in which Fogerty intentionally reheats the CCR tone and instrumentation (right down to the “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” bass line) to deliver a mournful protest song that parallels the war in Iraq with the one in Vietnam. Normally the “Iraq = Vietnam” meme drives me batty, but it works all too well here.

The second track is “I Will Walk With you,” a sweet love note from a father to a daughter, which of course gets me like a sucker, because I have a five-year-old daughter, and I can just see myself playing this the night before her wedding, blubbering like a damn fool as I look at all my pictures of her when she was daddy’s little girl. Please, shoot me now.

So: Two songs. Off I went to the iTunes store online, pulled up Fogerty’s new album, and clicked on the two songs to buy them. And while I’m there, I also clicked on “Centerfield,” the 1985 Fogerty song about baseball. I love that song. Why didn’t I have that one already? Oh yeah, because I don’t buy entire albums when I just want one song, and in 1985, I didn’t have the instant gratification device known as the Internet to give me what I want, how I want it. Well, now I do, now I want it, and now I’ve got it.

And there you have it: One hour after finding out John Fogerty has a new album, Fogerty and his business associates have $2.97 of my cash. On one hand, it’s less than the $11 that they would have preferred I shell out for the CD. On the other hand, it’s $2.97 more than they were actually going to get from me otherwise. $2.97 in the hand is better than a CD sitting in the racks, unbought. This is how it gets done today.

Does this mean I won’t buy entire albums? No: I downloaded all of kd lang’s simply sublime Hymns of the 49th Parallel recently because I would listen to that woman sing a phone book. And I still buy CDs: I got the Everyone is Here CD by the Finn Brothers off of Amazon, not only because I wanted a physical copy but because when I ordered the CD, Amazon provided a stream of the album that I could listen to until the CD arrived.

What it means is that now I have the means to buy exactly the music I want, no more and (this is the important point) no less. By streaming his album on Rhapsody and selling its songs individually on iTunes, John Fogerty and his people made money they weren’t going to get, and I get the songs I wouldn’t have bought. Someone tell me this isn’t the way things should be done.

On Being on the Nebula Short Fiction Jury

Since I mentioned I was on this year’s Nebula Short Fiction Jury, I’ve been hit with e-mail from people asking me what it’s about and what they need to do to bribe me to consider their stuff. In the interest of clarity (and so I can henceforth refer people to this document rather than spelling it out each and every time), here are some things you need to know about the Nebula Short Fiction Jury, my involvement, and whether or not I’m going to read your stuff.

What The Nebula Short Fiction Jury Is: As many of you know, the Nebula is one of the big annual awards for the science fiction literary genre, given out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which is — as you may be able to guess from the name — the major association of SF/F writers here in the US (although SF/F writers from other places on the globe seem not to have a problem joining, since there are numerous Canadians, Brits and other folks of varying nationalities). The Nebulas are given in several categories, including Novel, Novella, Novelette and Short Story. By and large, the works are nominated by the membership of SFWA, and then there’s a winnowing process by which the finalists are determined.

However, in addition to the usual “determined by the membership” nominations, SFWA also impanels small juries of its members who may, at their discretion, add a nominee in each category to the final list of nominees. The reasons to do this are numerous, including the fact that there’s a lot of work out there, and some deserving but obscure work can slip through the cracks.

There’s also the fact that the Nebula selection process can be rife with genre and personal politics — SFWA is a relatively small community, and there’s a lot of psychohistory going on underneath the surface from what I understand, some of which may have have an influence on what gets nominated and why(none of which I know about except as a bystander, since I’m a relatively new member, and also I think having pissy little literary feuds and cabals are a waste of time). The Nebula juries, I suspect, act as a corrective to this as well; they provide a second chance for a good work from unknown or unpopular writers to get a shot at what is supposed to be a literary award.

(Note that this is not to say that unknown and/or unpopular writers can’t get onto the ballot through the usual means; this is why I say “second chance.” Also, for all I know, the works that may appeal to juries may come from well-known, popular folks. Frankly, outside my own small circle of writer friends, I don’t know and don’t care about anyone else’s personal or professional reputation — my concern as a jury member is and should be good stories.)

So: The juries look at work — including stuff not published in the obvious places. If they decide that a particularly compelling piece of work has been overlooked, they can vote to have it added. If they fell the SFWA members have generally picked the stories that best deserve consideration, they can decide not to nominate anything at all.

The particular jury I’m on has six members: Myself and five others whom I will not name at this point, on the possibility they might prefer not to be bothered. Each of us is reading stuff; at some point in the next few months we’ll start talking about the stories we’ve liked and see if there is any consensus in adding stories to the nominee list.

How I Find Stuff to Read: Well, two ways: I go out looking for it, and it comes to me. In terms of going out looking for it, I’m currently largely ignoring the major SF magazines like Asimov’s and F&SF, on the thinking that many if not most SFWA members are aware of these outlets and subscribe or otherwise have ready access. I’m looking at some of the qualifying Web-based magazines, like SciFiction and Strange Horizons among others. I’m also reading Nebula-qualifying work that authors have put up on their own sites.

In terms of what’s coming in to me, I’m getting some short story collections and anthologies, primarily from Tor Books — who in the spirit of disclosure I must note is my own publisher, although as far as I understand it my getting these books has rather little to do with my being a Tor author and rather more to do with Tor actually tracking who is on the Nebula Juries and sending materials to them. Likewise, I note that I have not received much in the way of short story collections and anthologies from other publishers. I don’t know why, except to suggest that perhaps Tor makes these things more of a priority than other publishers.

Since I’m not especially likely to start shelling out tons of money to buy these collections/anthologies myself, if you’re a writer whose work has been collected or anthologized this year (or are an editor of such a tome), if you want me to see it, either you need to have Tor be your publisher, or bug your publisher to send me stuff (my address and the addresses of other Short Fiction Jury members can be found in the August 2004 Nebula Awards Report, at the SFWA site or in that month’s SWFA Forum mailing). You’ll also find another option immediately below.

If You’re a Nebula-Qualifying Short Story Writer and You Want to Make Sure I’m Aware of Your Story: E-Mail it to me. Simple.

BUT!!!! Follow these simple guidelines, and follow all of them, or I’m likely to trash the e-mail:

1. The first three words in your e-mail subject header should be “NEBULA JURY SUBMISSION:” followed by whatever you like (the story name and your name would be nice, though).

2. Before the story, include your name, title of the story, name of the publication it’s in (or will be in), the date the story was published (or will be published), and word count, so I can know whether it’s a short story, novelette or novella.

3. Put the story into the text of the e-mail, not as an attached file. If you think I’m going to open an attached file from someone I don’t know, you’re just plain silly.

4. One story per e-mail.

5. This is MOST IMPORTANT: Don’t send me stories that don’t qualify for the 2004 Nebula Awards. Not sure if your story qualifies? Read the rules. Still not sure? Don’t send it until you are.

Once I receive the e-mail from you, I’ll try to send you a quick return note to let you know I’ve gotten it. However, if I don’t, please don’t freak out. I may just be busy, lazy, or trapped by bears and unable to get to the computer. If after a week you don’t hear from me and you’re truly concerned, go ahead and send again (follow the suggestions above, please). Sending twice will be fine; please don’t send again after that. Note also that by sending me a story, you’re giving me permission to share the story with other jury members.

Please don’t send me follow-up e-mails asking me how I liked the story, or if I’ve recommended the story to the other jury members, or if we’ve decided to place your story on the Nebula ballot. The last of these I suppose you’ll learn when the final ballot is set, but otherwise the proceedings and determinations (at least from my end) will be opaque to outsiders. Call it Schroedinger’s Nebula Jury: Until the final Nebula ballot, all jury-considered works exist in an indeterminate state, neither chosen nor unchosen.

Also, just in case you were considering doing so, which I very much doubt: I can’t be bribed. I already have enough money and sex. But thanks for considering either (or both!). I appreciate the thought. Anyway, I’m just one of six people on the jury. Unless you’re willing to offer money and/or sex to all of us, bribing one of us won’t do you much good.

How I Read Stories I’m Considering for the Jury: This is simple: I read until I get bored and/or disgusted with the story. And then I stop. Any story where “bored and/or disgusted” happens before the end of the story is automatically disqualified from further consideration. If I get to the end of a story without being bored and/or disgusted, then I’ll consider whether I like the story enough to recommend that the other jury members take a look. If I do, then I will.

Let me clarify that I don’t start with the assumption I will be bored and/or disgusted with your work. Indeed, I hope to be enthralled and/or delighted. Your work has already cleared at least one editor’s “bored and/or disgusted” hurdle, otherwise it wouldn’t be eligible for consideration at all. So I have high hopes for each piece that I read.

That said, I expect that I will suggest no more than nine stories to the other jury members, or ideally three stories in each category we’re considering (short story, novelette, novella). In fact, I’m going to aim to suggest no more than six (that’s two in each category), but I keep myself open to the possibility that there will be more than nine truly excellent stories in 2004, or that one category length may have more good stories while another may have fewer. If I find myself with more than nine stories total to pass along, I’m going to force myself to make some hard choices, since I’m sure my fellow jury members will have their own selections to promote, and I don’t want to get us bogged down on my account.

I think that’s it. If you have any questions about the Nebula Short Story Jury and my role on it that I haven’t answered here, go ahead and leave them in the comment thread.

In Case You’re Wondering…

The reason I haven’t posted thoughts on the debate is that I haven’t watched it yet. I was busy last night with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, which I thought was a sufficient excuse. However, I’ll be watching the debates later today (probably) and any comments I have I’ll make then. Of course, it’s not as if tons of other people aren’t essaying this topic in their own blogs. The general consensus seems to be that Kerry came out ahead in the debate, but not too far ahead, and that Bush needs to be careful not to smirk so damn much, even when he thinks the camera isn’t on him. If that’s indeed the case, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Anyway, more on this later.