Curious About Newspapers

This is a participatory entry, to satisfy my own curiosity, since it’s a subject near and dear to my heart. If you would answer the following three questions in the comment thread, I would be obliged:

1. Do you subscribe to a newspaper? Note the question is "subscribe," not "read." If you pay for an online subscription (Wall Street Journal, Times Select), that counts, but I’m really looking for offline subscriptions.

2. Why do you subscribe or not subscribe?

3. If you don’t subscribe to a newspaper, what might convince you to subscribe? If you do subscribe, what would make you quit subscribing?

My own answers are in the comment thread.  


My Big Fat Camera Experience


A couple of folks who are in the market for a camera have asked me about my experience with the new camera (a Nikon D70s) and whether it’s helped me to take better photos. The answer to that is so far my experience with the camera has been mostly positive. As to whether it’s made me a better photographer, I’d say yes, but with a few caveats.

To give a quick recap, the D70s is a slightly-better-than-entry-level digital SLR camera, which means it’s got the capability for more options than your basic point-and-shoot digital camera, but will also quite happily do snapshots for you if that’s what you want or need. The resolution of the camera is 6.1 megapixels, which is less than some cameras in its price range (there’s a comparable Canon model with 8 megapixels), but the various reviews I’d seen of the D70s suggested that the picture quality was as good as or better than other cameras with slightly higher resolutions, and nothing I’ve seen out of the camera leads me to believe this is not the case.

In any event 6.1Mpx is more than enough for an 8×10 print, which is about as big a print as most of us are going to get out of the local photo shop, and for technical reasons at this point in time more megapixels aren’t necessarily better (it’s not only the number of megapixels that matter but the size of your camera’s sensor, the quality of its lenses, so on and so forth). The D70s seems to hit a fair balance between the size of the picture and the quality of the picture it makes. At the very least there’s nothing I’ve tossed at the camera that a full-sized blowup of the picture in Photoshop doesn’t show pretty impressive detail.

The color response of the camera has been very good — it does an accurate reproduction of the colors I see with my eye most of the time, although I tend to boost up the saturation of sunsets and shadowed pictures in Photoshop. Aside from that, usually the only time I have to fiddle with a picture in Photoshop is when I’ve done something dumb, like take a picture of someone when their face is in shadow. It’s also really good at color gradiations; when I snap a picture of the sky I hardly ever see the sort of pixelated graininess you can get with a digital camera. The camera’s built in flash is very good — I’ve read pro photographers who say it’s one of the best integrated flash systems around, and the camera is generally good at estimating when a flash is needed.

The majority of the pictures I’ve taken with the camera have been in its auto mode, and it’s done a fine job of making me look competent; I have to go out of my way to take a bad picture with it. The only major complaint is that the autofocus sometimes needs to be convinced that it needs to focus on what’s directly in front of it, but this happens only in about one picture in 20. I’ve been fiddling with the other various modes of the camera with varying success; I get more bad pictures with those, but the limiting factor there is me, not the camera.

Has the camera made me a better photographer? In a limited sense, yes, for two primary reasons. The first is that the camera is smarter than I am with it comes to judging what it needs to do in any given situation, and thanks to its SLR heritage, its large and superior lenses, and its depth of field focusing ways, it creates pictures that look more "professional" than a snapshot digital camera would. The final picture in this entry, for example, is not one I’d’ve gotten with my Kodak EasyShare, and the fullsize version (3008×2000 pixels) is just gorgeous.

The second reason I’m a better photographer with this camera is that the camera encourages multiple photographs via a memory card that can store more than 500 photos at the resolution noted above, and it also a "continuous shooting" mode that can fire off three frames a second. The entry I pointed to in the above paragraph features three photos of Athena on a tire swing, but I took 66. Most of those have Athena with her eyes closed, or turning away from the camera, or just acting like a goofy six-year-old. When you can take as many pictures as you want with no penalty, you’re almost assured of getting a good picture, by sheer dumb luck if nothing else. This doesn’t actually make one a better photographer, but it certainly allows one to give the appearance of being one.

As to whether I am genuinely becoming a better photographer with the camera, the answer is yes, although rather more slowly than I would like. Having the capability to do more with a camera opens up a lot of options, and I’m becoming more aware of the things I need to do to make good pictures and not just snap away and rely on statistic to pop up the occasional really excellent photo. In the short run, the D70s makes me look like a good photographer; in the long run, I have the potential of actually becoming a good photographer, thanks to having a useful tool to work with.

The drawbacks to the D70s: Well, digital SLRs, like all cameras of their type, are susceptible to dust and other stuff, and I’m already seeing that; when I take pictures of the sky I can see little dust motes in the same place in each picture. It’s minor, but it’s there (you don’t see them in the pictures I post because I Photoshop them out). Eventually I’ll need to take the thing in to be cleaned. The camera is great for serious pictures but it can be bulky and inconvenient for fast, spur of the moment photos; if I just need to take a snap, I find it simpler and easier to grab my little Kodak digital camera. Likewise, I’m not all that likely to take the D70s with me to an amusement park or other such outing; for those places the Kodak does just fine.

Moving away from the camera to the processing end, the pictures themselves are large enough (1.5MB each) that loading a couple hundred of them up on the card reader I’ve attached to my computer takes a fair amount of time (another reason I use the Kodak for snaps — pictures from the Kodak load up super quick). The other thing I’ve noticed is that the pictures I take with the Nikon seem to make large files after I’ve trimmed them down for Web display than the ones I took with the Kodak, although I don’t know if that has something to do with how the camera writes data or just that I’m taking more ambitious pictures (read: more information in each picture) and that I’m making the pictures a bit larger these days (450 pixels width rather than 400 as I used to do). I do try to keep the photos under 70k whenever possible; I don’t want to antagonize my dial-up readers too much.

Overall, however, I’ve been having a great time with the D70s and I think it’s a very good camera both for what I need today, and what I’ll want to do for the immediate future. If you are in the market for a digital SLR, I do recommend trying one out.  

Useless Atheism

Marshall Brain, the guy behind the site and its attended media ancillaries, has decided to prove to everyone once and for all that God does not exist, therefore helping the lot of us to get rid of that nasty, distracting God and allowing us to focus on the really important stuff, like, I don’t know, rocket cars to the moon or a gum with flavor that’s actually long-lasting, and not just an extra thirty seconds of vaguely fruity tang at the tail end of your chewing experience. Thus: Why Does God Hate Amputees, which uses amputation as a central conceit to prove that God doesn’t exist, and that people are wasting their Sundays sitting in a pew.

Leaving aside the fact that a God who orders his followers to hack off part of their children’s genitals as a handy sign of religious identification clearly likes amputees just fine, here’s a tip for atheists: The problem is not that people believe God exists. The problem is that people want to use God as an excuse to do damn fool things. The two are entirely separate issues. Where atheists rather charmingly get things backward is by assuming that by getting rid of God, people will stop doing the damn fool things they say God wants them to do. As if they won’t find some other excuse.

Surprise! They will. Take, if you will, the 20th Century (please). What do Hitler’s killing 9 million Jews, Gypsies, gays and political opponents, Stalin’s starving of 25 million of the Soviet Union’s own citizens for political ends (and sending 1.5 million to the gulags), and Pol Pot’s presiding over the Cambodian autogenocide of up to 2 million people all have in common? If you say "Why, not a trace of a religious rationale on the part of those committing crimes against humanity, that’s what," you’d be entirely correct (note, however, that many of the victims were targeted wholly or in part because of their religion). The Rwandan genocide was not manifestly an issue of religion either, as the Tutsi and the Hutu largely share the same faith. Didn’t stop the Hutu from hacking up 800,000 Tutsi (and some inconveniently moderate Hutu as well) in the space of just 10 days.

Pound for pound, death for death, ruin for ruin, if you want to plot the destructiveness of secular and religious conflicts and movements in the last 100 years, I’m pretty sure you’ll find the religion-free ones have got the religiously-motivated ones beat, hands down. The reason should be obvious to an atheist: because God is not the one who wants people to do damn fool things; people want to do damn fool things, and they go looking for the excuse that will provide them what they need to do that damn fool thing. Sometimes, it’s "God wants this." Sometimes it’s not. Getting rid of God won’t stop people from doing damn fool things, it’ll just make them look for another way to get it done. Bullies and demagogues are notable for using whatever excuse is expedient and popular. God happens to be expedient and popular. It’s no surprise that He gets used. When He is no longer expedient or popular, the demagogues and bullies will move on to something else. The net amount of human-to-human atrocity and conflict will likely remain the same thereafter.

The same God that Fred Phelps allegedly worships is worshiped by the members of the Metropolitan Community Church; the same God whose more unsavory adventures in the Old Testament are used to justify abject hate is the same God worshiped by the Church of the Brethren; the same God that some say is leading us into battle against the heathens in the Middle East is the same one prayed to by the Quakers. Some people would see this as an example of how God can’t exist, since so many people believe so many contradictory things about the same entity. I tend to see it as a reflection of the desires people bring to the human need for spirituality and fellowship. God is many things; one of those things is a mirror.

Disposing of the God of the Quakers or the Brethren or the MCC– even if one could, which one cannot — is not something I see as either useful or desirable. These people do no harm in their worship, and their faith and their works in their faith have done immense good, as have the works in faith of many good people. The flip side of this is that we have to endure the God of Fred Phelps and the God of the Intelligent Designers as well. But this is where a useful atheist — which is to say, a person of good conscience — will spend his time combating those who are using their religion as an excuse to act to the detriment of society, rather than wasting his time in teleological debates that he can no more definitively conclude than can those who hold the opposite opinion.

As almost all of you know, I am an agnostic; I rather seriously doubt that God exists, or if He does, that She is actively concerned whether one eats shrimp or has sex with a member of one’s own sex, or chooses sides in a football game like a celestial bookie. I even doubt It hopes we all love another as we would love ourselves, thought it’s a nice thought. I rather profoundly doubt that anyone else knows whether God does these things either. But I could be wrong, which is why I say I’m agnostic rather than atheist. I don’t know. It does me no harm if other people believe other than I; what matters is what people do with that belief. If they use it to enrich their lives and to do good for others, than agnostic though I am, I will happily celebrate their faith and believe that their belief is an excellent thing. If they use it to justify their hates and fears and to make others wallow in their self-satisfied ignorance of the world, well, naturally, I’m going to have a problem with that.

Marshall Brain thinks he’s on to something by aiming to disprove the existence of God; what he’s doing is akin to looking at the smoldering remains of a house brought down by shoddy wiring and suggesting the solution to the problem is to expunge electricity from the land. You can make the argument that electricity is the problem, I suppose; rather more useful is to suggest the problem is an idiot electrician. Even more useful is to do what you can to make sure that particular idiot electrician doesn’t get any more work.

Look and Feel Update

Okay, I’ve made a couple of tweaks to the layout of the Whatever from the last time I noted the tweaking. The new tweaks include:

* Making the photo strip repeat vertically so it doesn’t end abruptly;

* Making the sidebar blue so the black background is not so contrasty (the black background has also been upgraded; now it’s a very very very very dark blue), and making the main text area a solid light blue color.

* Changing the typeface of the main text to sans serif. Depending on which fonts you have, you’ll now see the main text as Optima or Myriad Web (if you have neither, it’ll default to the former fonts and you won’t notice a difference). I’ve also tweaked the leading for the text to make it slightly more dense. I’ve also changed the headline font in Windows; on Mac it should stay the same.

Hopefully all of this will make the Whatever even more readable for you, the discerning consumer.  

Update: 3am — What do you know: turns out you don’t need to have the main content pane a set width. You can make it a percentage instead. And so I have: The main content pane is now 65% of the width of the page, with the text window being 75% of that and the sidebar being 25%. For folks at 1024×786, this means everything fits pretty much exactly as it should. With smaller windows things will start to look scrunched (particularly pictures) but the text collapses so it can remain readable. Larger resolutions, of course, will have no problems whatsoever (except that if you have your browser superwide, the text window will get a little wide for reading).

Let me know how that works for you.  

Swing Swing Swing

There are probably things in the world more fun than a tire swing on an autumn weekend. Not many, though.





It’s not the best picture of Mars you’ll ever see, true enough. But it’s the first picture of Mars you’ll ever see taken by me. As you may or may not know, tonight Mars is as close to Earth as it will be in more than a decade, a mere 41 million miles away, close enough that my telephoto lens had no problem making out the fact the planet is a disk, and not just a point. This is just the sort of thing that makes you want to spend a stupid amount of money on a telescope that allows you to hook up your camera to it, to take even better pictures. But I’ve done all my major spending on myself for 2005. It’ll have to wait. In the meantime: Mars! It’s red and everything.

Fiddle Fiddle

Yes, I’m playing with the look of the Whatever again. Feel free to comment.

Update: 4:24pm: All right, the fiddling is largely completed. Differences you may note will include the picture bar running down the left side of the Whatever and new banner image. Text layout remains the same. To make the picture bar work, I locked the left margin, which means that the left margin will no longer collapse when you shrink your browser window. This means if your browser window is less than 750 pixels across, you’ll need to scroll to see the text. However, I don’t know how much of a problem this will be for people, since most people these days have monitors set to 1024×768 at least. I guess if you are cruising the Internet at 800×600 I’ll say to you what I say to people who complain that the site doesn’t look good in Netscape 4.x: Welcome to the 21st century! We have many wonders here. Please upgrade your online experience accordingly.

Along with this, I’ll note the background image is a 120k download, which may be mildly annoying to people on dial-up. However, if your browser caches, then this will probably be annoying only once. Everyone on broadband, of course, won’t even notice. If you find that all the changes make for an intolerable reading experience, I suggest subscribing to the atom feed (you’ll find it in the right sidebar), which will give you all the text and none of the images (unless I include them in the entry, that is). But again, I don’t really expect the changes will be an issue for most people, as I don’t find them annoying, and when it comes to the Internet, I assume everything is annoying until proven otherwise.  

Again, however, I welcome your comments.  

The Scandal Standard

I note that various right-wingers are already trying to minimize the fact that Scooter Libby just got indicted on five charges related to the Valerie Plame case, but fortunately for everyone involved I have a solid acid test to let you know just how serious a political scandal is. It’s a very simple standard:

For any political scandal involving the Bush administration, would the same scandal cause right-wingers to wet themselves with glee if it happened to the Clinton administration?

If the answer is yes, the scandal’s a bad one.

So, let’s apply it here: A senior Clinton White House staffer indicted on one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements. Anyone want to suggest how right-wingers might respond to such news? Oh, come on, guess just a little. You’d hear little popping sounds out of Washington as heads exploded with joy from Capitol Hill to K Street. So there you have it.

News flash for everyone: Any senior White House staff member in any administration getting indicted on five counts of anything is bad, bad news. It’s even worse news when the President is hovering around a 40% approval rating. Let’s try not to polish this turd too vigorously, now, shall we.   

Also, anyone want to lay odds that, if it comes to that, on January 20, 2009, Libby’s getting a pardon? How about Rove? You know, if it comes to that, too.

Various Notes and Links 10/27

Things I know, things I wonder, things I’d like to say:

* Notable science fiction author Norman Spinrad has had difficulty placing his novel He Walks Among Us with publishers in the US and UK, so he’s released it as a shareware novel, with a suggested price of $5 (although he notes in the text of the document that "more will be gratefully accepted and less will not be scorned"). Spinrad suggests that his novel "may be the world’s first shareware novel," although personally I can think of at least one other novel that started out that way, and some six years ago at that. Nevertheless I welcome Mr. Spinrad to the ranks of shareware authors and hope it works out as well for him as it did for me. You can get more information on the book, plus links to where it’s downloadable, off of Spinrad’s own site.  

* In the realm of books that you have to buy — not only because that is how they need to be acquired but also because you should acquire them — is Pretties, Scott Westerfeld’s latest YA novel and the sequel to Uglies, both of which take place in a world where everyone is made to be beautiful whether they want to be or not (that’s pretty much the gist of it, anyway). The reason you want to buy this is because not only is Scott a good friend of mine, but he’s also the writer that when you were a kid you wished you could be when you grew up, provided you wanted to be a writer when you grew up (and possibly even if you didn’t). This and Uglies would also be fine, fine books to give to a teenager right on the cusp of giving up the ghost of individuality and throwing their lot in with the vapid shallow types because that’s just how high school is. This is the sort of literary intervention session for which you’ll be thanked later. I’m just saying, is all.

* One more interesting thing, writing-wise: Claire Light clued me in to Chasing the Fourth Crusade, a blog in which author Nicole Galland is following in the steps of (guess!) the Fourth Crusade, which is the one where the Crusaders had planned to take Jerusalem by way of Egypt but then took a wrong turn at Alberquerque and sacked Constantinople instead. Like you do. You may not know this about me, but I’m endlessly fascinated by the Crusades, particularly the ones that ended poorly for the Crusaders (which would be most of them, actually), so this combination history/travel/writing blog is pressing most of the right buttons for me, and I think you might enjoy it as well.

* My quick reaction to all the news of the last several days:
Meirs Withdraws: I’d probably be more excited if it weren’t for the fact Bush will now most likely nominate someone to the right of Pat Robertson.
Sheryl Swopes Comes Out: Good for her. Shame she plays in a state that’s about to ban all marriage to make sure them gays don’t get any hot marital action.
Iran Wants to Annihilate Israel: What, this is a policy change?
Dick Cheney Wants to Let CIA Torture People: What, this is a policy change?

I’d have deeper things to say about each of these if I wasn’t waist-deep in submissions at the moment. But I am. In fact, I need to get back to them right now.  


The Rock Family!


We’re the Rock Family! Because we rock! Hard and out loud! My hair is a loving tribute to Steve Perry in the Escape era! Don’t stop believin’… in the ROCK! Rock on, brah!

Chicago’s First Team

Call me petty, but I can’t tell you how happy I am that when it came time for a Chicago baseball team to win it all, it was the White Sox and not the Cubs. I can’t chalk up this emotion to any south side Chicago identification — although the University of Chicago is on the south side, it’s pretty much a north side neighborhood plopped down between 51st and 59th — but more to the fact that the Cubs are Chicago’s entitled team, in no small part because they’re owned by a huge media conglomerate (and thus are plastered everywhere), and also because its fan base has a far larger stratum of latte drinkers than do the Sox, and everyone knows you can chart the feelings of entitlement of any large group of people by the per capita consumption of poofy coffee products.

The Sox are and have always been Chicago’s second team as long as I knew about them; hell, even their 88-year drought between Series wins is a distant second to the Cubs’ record of futility, now closing in on the century mark. Their blandly utilitarian stadium doesn’t have the storied history of Wrigley Field. You couldn’t pick their players out of a lineup, even in Chicago; you could stand next to one at Harold’s Chicken Shack and never even know. The ratings for this World Series were in the toilet. These are the "other" guys, this is the "other" team. I like the idea that Chicago’s "other" team gets to be Chicago’s first team for a while.

I’ll note I have a consistent record in this regard; I was pleased when the Angels won the Series a few years back for much the same reason, as the Dodgers are LA’s team, and no one has ever seemed to know what to do with the Angels. And what would make me truly delirious with glee would be to have the LA Clippers win the NBA Finals. But even I have difficulty imagining the sick and disturbing world where the balance of nature is so far off the rails that such a thing could happen, so for now I’ll just stick with the White Sox.

Here’s one other thing, which makes the Sox win sweet: Unlike the Cubs fans, the Sox fans never seem to have made a fetish of their losing streak. They were aware of it, they were unhappy about it, they wanted it to end and were frustrated when it didn’t. But there was no talk of a "curse" on the White Sox, as far as I knew about it. Or maybe there was, it was just that the discussion of the Cubs Curse, complete with that damned goat, sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Point is, the White Sox fans never seem to have made a cult out of their team’s tradition of losing or internalized it as part of their fan psyche, as Cubs fans do. This is weird psychology on the part of Cubs fans, to feel both cursed and entitled, but welcome to baseball. And since they do feel both entitled and cursed, I feel they are entitled to their curse.

This is not to say I think Cubs fans want the Cubs to lose; what sort of idiot would you have to be to want your team to lose? But I do think Cubs fans have acclimated themselves to their team’s futility to such a degree that they take a perverse pride in it: Thus the curse and the goat and all that rigmarole. What do you have when all of that gets taken away? Ask a Red Sox fan. This year they’ve got no Curse of the Bambino, they’ve just got a team that was steamrolled by the White Sox like everyone else. The Red Sox are now just another team. I wonder if the Cubs fans could handle being fans of just another team.

The White Sox fans can. Curses are for people who think too much; White Sox fans aren’t in aggregate any more stupid than any other baseball fans, but you don’t sense they’re burdened with existential frippery like Cubs fans seem to be. They wanted their team to just win, and finally it has. Good for them. Good for Chicago. And good for the White Sox, who are Chicago’s first and best baseball team, at least for today.

The Document No One Knows About

This is the document no one knows about. If anyone knew about it, it would be the document someone knows about. But no one does. Hence its name. You may think you are reading it, and that you are someone, but please refer back to the title: The Document No One Knows About. No one. Including you. Therefore, either you are, in fact, not reading this document, or you don’t exist. There are no other options, because this is the document no one knows about. Not even the person who wrote it knows about it, if indeed someone wrote it at all, which is a matter of some question. It’s possible someone wrote it, then died. Which is perfectly acceptable, as being the document no one knows about does not logically preclude being the document someone knew about at some point or another, but now that person is dead. Alternately, the person could be alive but in a coma, or a victim of lacunar amnesia. Or simply very forgetful and busy. Or — and this is a very real though unlikely possibility — the document spontaneously arose, winking into existence on the desk of a minor functionary of a small, middle European government in a pile of unimportant and previously read documents, whereupon it was given to a filing clerk who had no more enthusiasm for his job than Bartleby the Scrivener, and who filed the document without so much as a cursory glance, secure in knowing that, bureaucracy being what it is — especially in the government of a middle European country — there would never be a need for the document ever to be examined again, and even if there were, no one would be able to trace its absence or mis-filing to him. And so into a file cabinet it went, to rest with other documents, which may equally have spontaneously arose, or perhaps were typed by people now dead, thus also becoming documents no one knows about. Eventually the middle European government would fall, as they so frequently do, and the need or interest in this document, already at a rock-bottom low, would collapse through the metaphorical bedrock into the even more metaphorical mantle of the world, so devoid of interest to humanity that it actually exuded a negative sort of energy — not only the document no one knows about, but also the document no one wants to know about. However, this is all mere supposition; as no one knows about the document, certainly no one can test its capacity to make potential readers desire not to read it. It is Schroedinger’s black box, wrapped in a puzzle, swaddled in an enigma, covered with a thick, muffling quilt and thrown down a well that was subsequently filled up and buried under the foundation of a whirly amusement park ride. Perhaps you are on that very ride, idly wondering what lies beneath, as G-forces threaten to extract the contents of your intestines through your mouth. Really, who knows.

The Mac’s Back


The Mac is back, after a certain amount of time of inactivity, much of it brought on by my own sloth in getting it off to the repair shop. There are three places to get your Mac repaired in the Dayton area, and all three of them are on the other side of Dayton from me. I finally roused myself to drop the thing off over the weekend; on Monday I got a phone call from the service department telling me that my power supply and motherboard had been fried, and that this was actually a known issue — apparently iMac G5s are frying in their own juices all across this great land of ours, so many, in fact, that the service shop expect it might be a four week wait for parts. Then they called back today, said the parts were in and been installed, and everything was working great and i could come and pick it up.

Part of me wonders if the "it’ll take a month" thing was just a ruse to appear to be providing excellent service. On the other hand, they did fix my computer in three days, which does count as excellent service, particularly as they did have to order a new power supply and motherboard from Apple. So no matter how you slice it, a fine job by the technicians. Assuming nothing else goes wrong. The best news: it’s all under the warranty, so it didn’t cost me anything. And there was much rejoicing.

The bad news for Mac lovers is that I didn’t really miss it all that much while it was gone. The thing I missed most about it was the mail client, which is both way smarter than any PC mail client in terms of spotting spam, but which also (naturally enough) had all my e-mail in it. Since I use my e-mail as my back-up brain (which is to say it’s where I store phone number addresses, etc, all easily accessible through Spotlight), not having all that at my fingertips was a bit aggravating. Otherwise: eh. I use the Mac primarily for writing books and for e-mail, and I wasn’t writing a book at any point when it was down. All the other major functions transferred easily back to my PC without a hiccup (and of course some functions never left: I do all my image manipulation on the PC because that’s where my Photoshop is).

This would bother me more if I wasn’t already clear on the fact that my Mac is something of an affectation, something I got in the "want" category rather than the "need" category. I will say that it’s definitely an argument for having more than one computer in the house (and for having most non-system files on a networked archive drive). So all things considered I was and am pretty mellow about the whole "iMac iMploding" incident. Although now that it’s back I guess I should start another book or something. You know, to keep it busy.

A Note on the Day of the Passing of Rosa Parks

Not too long ago Athena and I touched on the subject of segregation. We were looking at a calendar and I was pointing out holidays, and there was Martin Luther King Day, so I explained that he was someone who had fought for civil rights in the US. Athena, being six, didn’t know what that meant, so I explained that at some time in the past, not too long ago, people who had dark skin couldn’t use the same things or go the same places as people with light skin; they had use different water faucets, stay in different hotels and eat only at certain tables at restaurants, and sit in the back of the bus. 

"Why?" she wanted to know.

"Because people who look like us thought they were better because of the color of their skin," I said.

"It’s just skin," she said.

I allowed that it was, but that at the time, people thought that it mattered.

"But people in my family have tan skin," Athena said. I should note that at some point in her past, Athena observed that some people have tan skin and some people have peach skin, and inasmuch as that is a far more accurate assessment than "black" and "white," we never saw the need to "correct" her language on this point.

"Yes they do," I said, because they do. In fact, many of her cousins are tan to some degree or another, thanks to Mexican or African ancestry. "And if you lived back in that time, they couldn’t go to the same places you could, or do the same things you could do."

I wish you could have been there to see the expression on her face at that moment, which was not one of puzzlement, but of actual anger, over the idea that people she knew and loved would not be treated like she would. "If someone tried to do that to me, I would get into a fight with them," she said.

"That’s sort of what Martin Luther King did," I said, and we talked a little bit about the protests and the boycotts, and we may have even talked about Rosa Parks. And then she watched some cartoons and played videogames and lived in a time where a six-year-old girl with peach skin had to be told about segregation instead of already knowing it existed through the day-to-day experience of her own life.

This is not to say that various forms of segregation don’t still exist, or that Athena won’t meet with them or won’t see how they affect her or people she loves and cares about. It does, and she will. But she’ll come to those knowing that they are wrong, as opposed to them just being the way it is. It matters.

I thank Rosa Parks for being one of the many people who helped point out to millions of people a thing that my six-year-old daughter was able to grasp in a moment: segregation was unfair. And I thank her for helping create a world where my six-year-old daughter’s mental leap in considering segregation had her arriving at the fact it’s unfair, and not at the fact that everybody does it. The service Rosa Parks has done to me in this regard is small compared to the service she has done others, to be sure. But it doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge it, or her.

Thank you, Rosa Parks. Godspeed.



Uxoriousness, Flickr Style

I have nothing useful to say today, so instead, please feel free to look at these pictures of Krissy.

More Proof Astrology Is Irrevocably Wrong

I have the same birthday as Rick Santorum.

Man, now I need a shower.  

Guess The Theme

Here’s the mix of six songs (~16MB). What’s the theme? Also, if you can get the names of all the artists and the songs, I’ll be impressed.

This Almost Makes Me Want to Go To Church

Marissa Lingen, on taking communion:

Sometimes when I take communion, I gloat about the people who have to be Body of Christ with me against their will. James Dobson is a big one that way. This is because I am Not A Good Christian. "We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord," and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it, suckahs. Ahem. Sorry. But it was a great theological revelation for me to realize that the Body of Christ has AIDS, has diabetes, has cancer, has everything. The Body of Christ is gay, is bi, is straight, is asexual, is not sure, is sure of something rather more complicated than any of that. Because you can’t say, "Oh, well, I’m not bi, my right thumb is bi." Doesn’t work that way. So as long as people like James Dobson and the aforementioned worthies of Undefined Cosmic Circumstances keep taking communion, they’re part of being transsexual lesbians and unwed mothers and the whole mess of the rest of us who also take communion. Neener neener.

This is a much deeper and more useful observation regarding the Body of Christ than my own, which is that after 2,000 years of transubstantiation, the Body of Christ must be, like, totally huge. This is what I get for sleeping in on Sundays.  

Reminder — Get Those Subterranean Submissions In!

We’re down to single digits in terms of the days left to turn in your submissions for the Subterranean Magazine Spring 2006 "Big Honkin’ Sci-Fi Cliche" issue, so if you’re still hoping to get a submission in, type type type, my friends. Once again, here’s all the information you need to submit.

As a reminder, do please pay attention to the submission guidelines. Some people haven’t, and thus I have received multiple fiction submissions from the same author, submissions that are significant multiples of the suggested 5,000 word (or less) story length, and submissions as attached files. These people (I suspect quite unintentionally) have made it harder for themselves than it has to be.

Also, as flattering as it is to be confused with him, I am not, in fact, Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, so addressing your submission to him (as more than one submitter has) is curious at best. No, this in itself will not rate a rejection, so don’t freak out if you did it. For someone aspiring to edit SF, there are worse things than to be called by Patrick’s name in the fervid heat of submission. Really, I’m not the jealous type. But for future reference: Not the same person. Indeed, we have been seen in the same room at the same time, as this photo gacked from Cory Doctorow clearly shows:

This was from Torcon in 2003. I’m the one holding the Coke can, as if that needed to be stated. We look pretty much the same here in 2005, although I have less hair, while PNH maintains his luxurious cranial thatch, the bastard. Also, these days I drink Coke Zero. Stupid slowing metabolism.

In any event: Hurry, my potential writers, and get those stories in! Tick tick tick, type type type.  


Ho Ho Ho, I Say — Another Uncle John Book For Ye.

Oh looky — another Uncle John’s book to which I have contributed. This one is the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Christmas Collection, which as you may surmise from the title has a bunch of articles related to that wintry festival of toys and Jesus (although hopefully not in that order). I came in on this one as a bit of a ringer, adding in several articles at the last minute. I think the articles turned out well, and in a general sense I have to say this is one of the better-looking Uncle John’s books — it’s got some very nice Victorian-style line art, and a nice layout overall. And needless to say the articles are pretty interesting too. 

Anyway: Interesting and lots of fun. I wouldn’t mind getting it under the tree this year (provided, of course, that I didn’t already have a copy. Which I do).