Entering Low Posting Period

Starting tomorrow through probably the rest of September, we’ll be entering a low posting period here at Whatever. This is due to me traveling on business the next few days, and then teaching for a week at the Viable Paradise. So all the time that I’m usually spending staring dully into a computer screen I’m going to spend talking to actual humans instead! Go me. It also means my focus will be elsewhere than this site. The “Whatever X” series will continue (I’ll be preloading the rest of those today), and Internet access permitting I’ll post other stuff, although, you know, don’t expect long, involved posts (note: around here, that’s usually a sign I’ll write War & Peace-sized posts in the time I usually use to sleep). Basically, if you don’t see a lot here, don’t assume I’m trapped with my head in a cereal box and/or clinically depressed or anything. I’m just away.


Fiddling, Part II

Okay, after trying WP-Supercache and not actually having it appear to cache much of anything (and after studiously following installation directions, thanks), I’ve reinstalled WP-Cache and have set the cache to be twice as long as it was previously. Also, I have sacrificed a goat. And a Mountain Dew. Hopefully this will placate the server gods. We’ll see.


To Staunch The Flood of E-Mail

Yes, I know about Sarah Palin’s private e-mail being hacked. You don’t have to send it to me anymore. Thanks, though. I also know about that e-mail from that lady from her hometown. God forbid there should ever be anything involving Sarah Palin and bacon, I might max out my GMail account in a single day.


The Last Colony, Now In Readable Electron Form

The Last Colony is now available in electronic form, both on the Kindle and apparently in other formats as well (here it is in the Sony eBook Store). So now all my books are available electronically one way or another. I wonder if I should, like, get an eBook reader now or something.


Oh My God! We’re Nationalizing Businesses!

Are we socialists yet?

No, no. Relax. We couldn’t possibly be socialists. Socialists only nationalize successful businesses.


Whatever X, Day XVII

This one’s a two-parter, from February of 1999.

FEBRUARY 3, 1999: The Day The Groundhog Died

A friend forwarded me the following story, of which I will quote the opening graph:

TORONTO (Reuters) — The untimely death of a groundhog named Wiarton Willy cast a cruel shadow over a traditional rite of Canadian winter Tuesday.

Apparently Willy, who was 22 years old — well beyond your average life expectancy for any rodent, much less a groundhog — just upped and died last Sunday. His owners, either too dazed to react, or perhaps hoping for a two day resurrection (besting the previous record by a full day!), didn’t inform anyone until Tuesday. At which time they broke it to the crowd that was waiting for the groundhog to appear. The kids in the crowd burst into tears. The Groundhog Day officials noted, however, that the spirit of Willy said it would be a short winter. Somehow I always knew that the first recorded incidence of groundhog clairvoyance would come from Canada.

I thought the story might be a hoax until I went to the CNN site and saw a picture of Willy lying in state, mourners in topcoats and tails surrounding his sad little coffin. Perhaps they’ll preserve him in his own shrine, not unlike Lenin, who, it must be noted, served at the helm of the Soviet Union for only six or seven years. Willy made the scene every year for two decades. If anyone deserves cult adulation and a failed political system that oppresses its practitioners to be built around him, it’s this very groundhog.

The story notes that the groundhog people are now looking for a replacement, a “Wiarton Willie II,” as it were. Which makes me wonder. These people knew that their groundhog was the rodent equivalent of  the phrase “older than God.” They had to know the end was coming. They should have found a replacement already. I’d like to know why they didn’t think about it before. Perhaps they feared some sort of disturbing “All About Eve” type scandal, where Willie, drunk on too many fermented carrots, smashes his plastic water bottle and threatens to cut his younger, furrier rival. We may never know.

To tell you the truth, the most disturbing thing is not that the groundhog died — certainly this animal earned his eternal rest — but that his handlers couldn’t think of anything better to do but tell a festival crowd that he had croaked. Those kids in the crowd will be forever traumatized. Groundhog Day will no longer be a happy time, but a constant reminder of death and mortality in the bleak midwinter. 10 years from now, I expect that Wiarton, Canada will become the new North American epicenter of dark, gothic teenage poetry.

Lying frozen in the snow
The groundhog soul resides far below
Gone to a place of doom and gray
Now winter will always stay.
Die Groundhog Die!
Mommy and Daddy Lied!

I can’t help but think that it’s a Canadian thing. If this had happened in the United States, they would have figured some way around it. They would have dressed up some guy like a groundhog and played it for camp. They would have borrowed a minx cat, inked it with a brown marker, and just moved through ceremony very quickly, before the cat could scratch out anyone’s eyes. Or they might have just used the dead groundhog carcass. I mean, they’re up on a stage. No one in the audience would ever know. All the guy holding carcass would need to do is position his thumbs so it looks like the groundhog head is moving from time to time. Just like a hand puppet, filled with greasy grimy groundhog guts.

And then, a day or two after the ceremony, they’d announce the rodent’s demise; a little groundhog stroke, perhaps. And everyone would be happy, because they’d think: At least he was able to perform, one last time. Like it matters to the groundhog.

Well, maybe it does. Maybe, in its own little furry brain, Groundhog Day is not just some seemly random event, in which the animal’s normal daily routine of eating, pooping and sleeping is rudely interrupted by being grabbed at daybreak and thrust in front of a crowd of howling, drunken bipeds. Maybe it’s a day of groundhog empowerment. Surely there was some band of Native American who worshipped the groundhog as a god; groundhog day, then, would simpy be a return to the species’ formerly exalted position. So maybe, that groundhog would want one last moment in the sun, to see his shadow, or not. I’d bet that would have been the way Wiarton Willie would have wanted to go.

FEBRUARY 4, 1999: The Day The Groundhog Died, Part II

Now, on to the groundhog Wiarton Willie, who, as you know from yesterday’s entry, died before Groundhog Day and whose body was photographed lying in state in a dinky little pine coffin. Or was it? Now news comes from the sordid little burg of Wiarton, Canada, that the rodent corpse in the coffin was not Wiarton Willie at all, but a stuffed stand-in. The real Willie was apparently found so decomposed that the gelatinous remains were unsuitable for public display. So the town elders found a stuffed groundhog that just happened to be lying around (apparently the body of a previous “Wiarton Willie,” who was no doubt poisoned by the current, and now rotting, Willie in an unseemly palace coup), plopped it into that Barbie coffin, and presented the remains to a horrified public. Here’s the groundhog you’ve all been waiting for! And he’s dead! Winter for the next ten years!

The people of Wiarton meant well, I’m sure. But I’m having serious doubts as to their combined mental capacity. First off, the real Willy was found in a state of advanced decomposition, which means he had been dead for weeks. Weeks. How could that happen? This rodent is the cornerstone of Wiarton’s entire tourism economy for the month of February, and no one bothers to check on him from time to time? Did they just stick him in a cage after last Groundhog Day and then forget to feed him? Every kid in the world had a hamster they forgot to feed, but you’re usually, like, five at the time. These were actual adults. They say he was hibernating when he died. Sure he was. I used that excuse about the hamster.

Second, the folks of Wiarton thought enough to present a fake corpse, but they didn’t think of using the stuffed groundhog to actually go ahead and get through the ceremony. As I said yesterday, they’d’ve been up on a stage. They could have made it work — very few people who aren’t around groundhogs on a daily basis are even aware of how a groundhog should move. It the groundhog were a little stiff and wooden, most people would have probably thought the little furry thing had stage fright, and who could blame him? But they chose instead to tell everyone he’s dead and display the remains, making the townsfolk deceitful and morbid at the same time. Wiarton: We have values!

Death, corpse switching, lies, deceit. The folks from Wiarton say they’re now looking for a replacement for Willie. If there are any groundhogs reading this, I have one word for you: Run. Run as fast as your little furry feet will carry you. Wiarton is the village of the damned. If they catch you, you are doomed.



I’m doing some backend stuff to try to deal with some of the slowness I’ve been noticing on the site. This may result in some short-term wonkiness with the site. If that happens to you, don’t panic. It’s not you, it’s me.


Name Your Personal Fairy

Justine Larbalestier, my absolute favorite Australian, has a new book out today: How to Ditch Your Fairy. It’s a YA book with a really fun conceit, and that is that every person in the book has a fairy that has one trick that benefits its owner: Some fairies allow you to always have a good parking spot, others make all the clothes you buy fit you just right, and so on. Justine goes to town with this idea, highlighting the downsides as well as the upsides, and writes a book that is funny and clever and smart (just like the Justine. Did I mention she’s my favorite Australian? Well, she is). I had a ball with it, and so did Krissy, so I would recommend it to you and/or any young adult reader you might happen to know.

The conceit of the story naturally opens up a fun participatory thread for you all to play in. Here’s the question to consider:

You are allowed a fairy with one trick that works for you. What trick would you prefer?

The only rule I would put on it is that this trick has to work for you specifically: You can’t wish for the “World Peace” fairy or the “My Enemies Burst Into Flame” fairy, because as nice as it would be to have world peace (or to have one’s enemies burst into flame), both of those are contingent on a lot of other factors and/or would get you thrown into prison. So pick something personally-oriented.

Personally, I want the “Where The Hell Are My Keys” fairy. Because, seriously, man: Where the hell are my keys? Half the time these days I’m using the spare key to the car, and if I lose that, I’m screwed. Having a little flitty thing that knows where my key are all the time: Awesome.

So that’s mine. What’s yours?


Whatever X, Day XVI

I’m willing to bet that this following repeat, written in the wake of the death of noted film critic Pauline Kael in 2001, was the first and last time Kael and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt were ever mentioned in the same piece of writing.

SEPTEMBER 6, 2001: Fetishizing the Dead

Let’s talk a second about fetishizing the dead. I got a letter today from a reader of mine who thinks NASCAR is a real professional sport (it is, actually, although so is arena football, so make of that what you will), dismissing Pauline Kael, the subject of a previous entry, as merely being a woman who complained about movies for a living and thus not worthy of being written about. This is direct payback for my comment in a previous Whatever about Dale Earnhardt having been a guy who made left turns for a living. His point being, it’s not nice to be mean to other people’s heroes, especially the recently dead ones.

I won’t get into the “my dead idol is better than your dead idol” debate, because there’s no way to win that little bit. Earnhardt means very little to me, but I’ll allow he means something to others. And I’ll cheerfully admit that the ratio of Dale Earnhardt fans to Pauline Kael fans is something on the order of 1000 to 1, so they’ve got the numbers on their side, even if I suspect raw IQ figures come out about equal. However, to the Kael fans’ credit, none of them are likely to put a sticker of Pauline Kael with a halo and wings on the back of their pickup truck, with a notation underneath that reads “God Needed a Movie Critic.”

It’s not that Kael or her fans are better than Earnhardt or his fans. But at least Kael’s fans aren’t likely to be so damned tacky about remembering her. No laser-etched coins. No lawn flags. No splinters from the true cross. No friggin’ commemorative wrench sets, for Christ’s sake. At most, Kael’s fans will buy a book of her writing, if they don’t already own it, which, given who Kael fans are, seems unlikely.

This is, I admit, almost entirely a class thing. Working class heroes are almost always fetishized after their deaths: Earnhardt being the most recent example, but Elvis being the secular pinnacle of the art (followed closely by Diana, princess of Wales, the fetishizers of the dead equivalent of Barbie). Whereas the dead among the purported intellectual class get tasteful obituaries in the short run and thick biographies later. I quite obviously prefer the latter over the former, if for no other reason than they take up less room.

Of course, not that it always works out this way, either: John Lennon started out in the tasteful intellectual camp but slogged his way into the crappy tchotcke camp. And Elvis is slowly working his way up the ladder, as the snobs begin to grudgingly admit there was something to the man besides his fat sequined period. They’ll meet somewhere in the middle, and won’t that be fun. I don’t expect either Earnhardt or Kael to budge, however, from their respective positions on the fetish pole. Who wants a book on the semiotics of Earnhardt? Or a commemorative Kael pencil and legal pad set?

As I mentioned in the earlier Whatever, if you’re an Earnhardt fan and you want a flag, or a bumper sticker or a laser-etched coin, fine. Have it if it makes you happy. But I do think you ought to think about why it’s being offered to you — the people feeding you this crap are doing so not because they want to commemorate Dale (or Elvis, or Diana, or whomever), but because they know that you’re willing to spend good money on it. You’re buying crap. Not that there’s a market for laser-etched Kael coins, but if there were, and someone I knew bought one, I’d call him a damn fool for doing it, too. People should remember the dead for what they mean to them, not for the merchandise to be had after their demise. Save your money and remember your heroes  in your heart and mind, not in your wallet.


A Tribute to John Scalzi

No, not me. There was a John Scalzi back in the 1920s and 30s who was quite the sportsman, playing baseball, football and basketball, and who made it all the way into the pro leagues in the first of these, with the Boston Braves, although apparently an arm injury made his tenure very short. He went on to be the president of a minor league for a few years and eventually had a park named for him in his hometown in Stamford, Connecticut. In terms of notable John Scalzis, he’s right up there with the late John B. Scalzi, in his life the nation’s most pre-eminent masonry scientist (the highest award in masonry science is the Scalzi Award, don’t you know). And you know, I don’t have a park named after me anywhere, so maybe he’s the most famous John Scalzi after all.

The Stamford Historical Society has unearthed “A Tribute to John Scalzi,” dating back to 1963, so if you’re at all curious about this athletic triple-threat who just happens to share my name (we’re not related, as far as I know), here’s the link. Enjoy.


Zoe Sounds Good

I got my copy of the Zoe’s Tale audiobook today, and have been listening to certain parts of it that I was hoping the narrator wouldn’t mess up, and I’m really extraordinarily happy to say that, in fact, the narrator here has done a really fine job of it and nailed several of the critical scenes pretty much exactly right, and also in a general sense has done good work capturing Zoë’s voice and tone and feel (as well as those of most of the other characters as well). Since I feel very protective of Zoë as a character, you can assume I was ready to be critical of whomever the narrator would be, so the fact I’m happy with the rendition should be taken as taken as a positive sign.

So, thank you, Tavia Gilbert, for taking good care of Zoë while you read her. I do appreciate it. For the rest of you: man, you are so going to cry in places. Be prepared.


Twitchy, Twitchy

The site seems to be having hiccups today, so if you have some problems with accessing/commenting, it’s not you (or not just you). I’m looking into it.


Lie to Me

One of the more depressing articles of this political cycle popped up on Slate today, asking not why McCain’s campaign is outright lying about so many things in its political ads and messaging, but why Obama isn’t. Sure, it says, Obama’s stretching the truth here and there, but when someone notes facts, the Obama campaign amends the message. When the McCain people get caught in a lie, on the other hand, they more or less shrug and continue the lie, on the grounds that it’s working. And well, it is, as anyone who can read a poll can see. Therefore, since outright lying and distortion seems to be what people want, one has to wonder why Obama isn’t doing more of it.

As fantastically depressing as the thesis of the piece is, it points to a fact that is alas well in evidence, which is that the McCain campaign is the reductio ad absurdum of the GOP strategy that “facts are stupid things” — and that from the simple realpolitik point of view that winning isn’t just the important thing, it’s the only thing, it might be onto something. It’s a campaign that will lie and continue to lie when called on its lies because as far as it can tell it’s being rewarded for doing so. As the article notes, the GOP has spent the last several presidential cycles inculcating the idea to its partisans and to the public that truth is a relative thing and that an actual, verifiable fact can and should be discounted if it is presented by someone whose politics are not your own — and indeed the very act of pointing out facts is a suspicious activity in itself.

It’s entirely possible that McCain campaign will benefit from a critical mass of people — and not just dyed-in-the-wool, will-vote-Satan-into-office-if-he-wears-a-flag-pin Republicans — who have been primed by years of intentional and structural undermining of the legitimacy of fact, to accept bald-faced lying as just another tactic; people, in other words, who know that they are being lied to, know the lies are being repeated in the face of factual evidence, and know the campaign knows it is lying and plans to continue to do so all the way to the White House… and see that sort of stance as admirable. Can you blame McCain for taking advantage of this dynamic? Well, quite obviously, you can, and should. It’s one thing to imagine one’s self a “maverick” for speaking truth to power; it’s quite another thing to be a “maverick” by deciding to lie one’s way into power. However, it’s also amply clear that many who should blame him, or would be outraged by Obama lying in such a transparent and recurrent fashion, won’t.

And this is the interesting thing about this particular election cycle. I’m not suggesting that distortion and lying are new to this presidential election cycle (it goes back to at least the 1800 election, when Adams and Jefferson teed off on each other), and I’m not suggesting the Obama campaign is comprised of innocent does who would (gasp!) never stretch a truth for political gain. I am suggesting the McCain campaign is the first campaign, certainly in modern political history, that has decided that truth is entirely optional, and isn’t afraid to come right out and say it. And it’s working — and might well work all the way to the steps of the White House.

If it does, that will be an interesting political lesson for the GOP. It will be confirmation of the actual “Bush Doctrine” of “do and say whatever the hell you want, because no one has the will to stop you.” When there is no real-world penalty for lying, distorting and demonizing, then the only thing to stop you is your own moral compunctions. However, if McCain actually had any moral compunctions on this point, he wouldn’t be running the campaign he’s running now. And I would suggest that a man who shows no moral compunction in pursuit of power is not a man who will suddenly find those compunctions once he has power. An election is a job interview, people. If someone lies to you during a job interview, and says to you “yes, I’m lying, what of it?” when you catch them in the lie, and you hire them anyway, well. You shouldn’t be surprised at what comes next.

To go back to Obama and whether he should embrace the philosophy of flat-out lying, perhaps it makes sense for him to do so, but I certainly hope he doesn’t. Not because I think it’s better to have honor than power (although I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have honor rather than power) but because I believe that someone should be making the argument that one can win an election by something other than a willful determination to lie in people’s faces, and to encourage them to cheer those lies.

The fact of the matter is that at this point in the election, it’s not just about what positions the candidates hold on various political subjects. It’s also about how the candidates, and the parties behind, choose to see the people they intend to lead. The GOP and the McCain campaign, irrespective of its political positions, sees the American voter as deserving lies, lots of lies, repeated as often as necessary to win. And maybe they’re right about it. We’ll know soon enough.


Whatever X, Day XV

Let’s just say that my daughter’s personal style became apparent pretty early on, as this next repeat, from when she was four, shows.

APRIL 16, 2003: Scene From an Uno Game

SCENE OPENS on John and Athena, playing a game of UNO.

John (setting down a red four card): Four. Your turn, honey.

Athena (sets down card): Draw two, daddy.

John: Okay. (draws two)

Athena (sets down another card): Draw two again, daddy.

John: Um, okay. (draws two more)

Athena (sets down yet another card): Now you have to draw two more, daddy.

John: Wow. Three Draw Two cards in a row. That’s pretty evil, Athena.

Athena (reprovingly): That’s not a very nice thing to say, daddy.

John: You’re right, honey. I’m sorry.

Athena (sets down another card): Draw four, daddy.


That Bastard Ike

Being that Bradford, Ohio is 1,250 Google Miles* from Galveston, Texas, you might have expected that by the time the remnants of Hurricane Ike managed to make their way here they might be nothing more than a stiff breeze and a spot of rain. But look what that bastard Ike did to one of the trees in the yard:

The wind literally cleaved the poor tree in twain, it did, and now half of the leafy beast is lying across my driveway. Here’s a closeup of the wound:

Hopefully this doesn’t end up killing the rest of the tree. My father-in-law is coming tomorrow with a chainsaw to chop up the debris.

Now, to be sure, this is nothing even remotely close to what Texas and other points south of us experienced; we lost part of a tree, other people had their homes turned into soggy rubble. But what it does tell me is this: Ike, it was one hell of a storm.

One silver lining to this all, however: Got some nifty pictures of Athena playing in the windstorm (well away from the tree):

Click through to see the rest of them.

* Google Miles: The miles it takes to go from one place to another, as measured through Google Maps. Bear in mind I do not really think Ike used Google Maps to find my house to beat up on my tree.


The By Now Standard E-Mail Note

Which is:

I’ve now caught up with my e-mail for the last couple of weeks. With the exception of Big Idea submissions, which I am still working on, if you sent me e-mail since the beginning of September and were hoping for a response but got none, go ahead and send another e-mail on the same subject. Thanks.


Whatever X, Day XIV

This following reheat, from 2003, is interesting to me because in a very real sense, I don’t think this controversy would be a controversy anymore, simply because there are so many professional blogs now that no one any longer has a problem with the idea that they might be edited somewhere along the way. Which is to say, the very nature of the “blogosphere” has fundamentally changed over the last five years.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2003: Pro Blogs and Editing

I’m so far behind the blog news cycle on this story that the New York Times managed to publish a story on this before I did, but I’ve been asked by one of my readers to comment on the “edited blog” fracas involving the Sacramento Bee and a blog run by one of its reporters. And you know how I am about reader service. I love you guys.

But first, a quick recap for those of you who aren’t blog geeks: the Sacramento Bee newspaper has a politics reporter named Daniel Weintraub who in addition to the regular stuff also writes a blog for the Bee called California Insider. For the first part of the blog’s life, it was unedited, but a week or so ago, the Bee’s ombudsman announced that the material in the blog would now be edited before it was put up. The ombudsman’s column seemed to imply the reason for the editing was that the unedited Weintraub had written something that upset some prominent Latinos, but later iterations of the explanation seemed to move the reason internally, suggesting that other Bee reporters were upset that the blog was unedited while all their stuff had to be passed through a human filter.

The blog world went nuts about this, proclaiming it was in a blog’s nature to be unedited and unmediated, and generally proclaiming the Bee’s move as unwanted editorial intrusion/a bad political move/various other stripes of the sky is falling. That’s pretty much where it stands at the moment.

I suppose I might have an interesting perspective on this story, having been at one point or another in my life a newspaper man, an employee of one of the Bee newspapers, a professional blogger and (yes!) an ombudsman, although for the University of Chicago rather than for a newspaper. But to be honest I couldn’t find it in myself to get all worked up about this story. I pretty much side with the Bee with this, although (of course) I’d like to note a few caveats.

First, let’s state what should be the obvious: If Weintraub is writing a blog as a Sacramento Bee employee, on the Sacramento Bee Web site, located on a Sacramento Bee Web server, and using information collected in his duties as a Sacramento Bee reporter, that blog can reasonably assumed to be associated with the Bee and the newspaper is entirely within its rights and obligations to be concerned about the editorial content and to edit such content. Just because what Weintraub is writing in “blog” form doesn’t give it some sort of special immunity from editorial insight or oversight, and I think suggestions that the “blog” form is inherently meant to be unedited are kind of stupid.

Blogs have been traditionally unedited because blogs are typically written by (in the best sense of the following words) blathering amateurs in their own homes or dorm rooms, who don’t have access to editors, even if they wanted them, which they don’t. However, there is a manifest difference between a blog written for amateur purposes and one written explicitly as an adjunct to one’s professional life on one’s employer’s Web site. If I write something stupid on the Whatever, for example, the only person who gets blamed for my stupidity is me. But if Weintraub writes something stupid (or even worse, legally actionable) on his blog, the Bee is also on the hook, both in reputation and in legal fees.

From my point of view the question should not be “Why is Weintraub being edited now?” but “Why wasn’t he being edited before?” If the Bee just sort of let him wander off and do his blog without oversight, then may I suggest it was being somewhat negligent in its duties. At the very least, Weintraub should have been made aware by his bosses that the unedited nature of his blog was strictly provisional and could be revoked at any time for any reason.

To go even more into it, I don’t know that it’s in the best interest of news organizations to let their reporters and staffers blog unedited. This is not the same as saying they should not let their reporters and staffers blog. If the kids wanna blog, why not let them? It solves one of the great editorial quandaries that everyone on staff wants to be a columnist, right? So instead of listening to Joe Schmoe, ace cub reporter, beg and wheedle and whine for 20 years about having a column space, you give him a blog space on the Web server and tell him to have a ball, so long as it doesn’t mess with his real job of putting high school sports scores into agate type. Everyone’s happy.

Also, and more to the point, such blogs could be a distinct advantage to the newspaper or news organization, since one of the real reasons you can’t get the “kids these days” to read a friggin’ paper is that all the newspapers have the personality of Pablum. A Web site full of actual personalities might encourage readers to feel allegiance to their favorite writers, a strategy straight from the golden age of newspapering (and the reason you have columnists in the first place). Blogs can work to the real advantage of the news organization.

But at the end of the day, a news organization is responsible for everything that goes onto its Web site, particularly from its reporters and staffers. The first newspaper lawyer who tries to suggest to a judge that her news organization had no idea what one of its reporters was saying on its own Web site because, after all, it was in a blog, is going to get laughed all the way to a very expensive settlement. If a news organization wants to trust its reporters and staffers not to say or do something stupid on their organization-provided blogs, well, I think that’s nice. But if I were a newspaper editor, I don’t know that I’d go that route.

Much of the hue and cry about Weintraub’s editorial oversight is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how newspaper editing works. I suspect a number of the complainants believe that the editors are going to hover over his shoulder and challenge every single word and thought that comes out of Weintraub’s fingers. But, you know, news editors usually don’t have the time for that sort of crap, even if they have the inclination, which they usually don’t. Editors aren’t thought police.

Look, back at the Fresno Bee, I wrote a weekly column where I wrote some pretty wacky stuff, like calling the Congress of the United States a “hideous bloated mass of cane toads.” I can think of only a couple of times where the editors actually came over and told me to re-write a paragraph, and in both cases they were perfectly reasonable requests. Most of the time, however, all they did was catch my inevitable spelling errors and edit for space (which is a consideration at papers).

Every newspaper editor I’ve worked for (as well as most of the magazine editors and online editors) assume a certain level of competence on the part of the writers. This is why Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass got away with as much as they did. This being the case, most of what writers write stands as is. Therefore, I would imagine that Weintraub being edited in his blog will mean very little to the final product. There may be a couple of times where someone says to him “is this the best way to put this?” and that would be that. Now, you may think that I’m being naive about the editorial process as it exists. But on the other hand, this belief is based on actual past experience (and current experience, since I write freelance on a weekly basis for the Dayton Daily News), so may I humbly suggest this naivety has some basis in personal experience.

As a pro blogger, would I want to be edited? Well, I wouldn’t mind having someone else looking for my spelling errors, that’s for sure.

Let’s also go back to what’s at the core of this fracas, which is that blogs are “supposed” to be unedited and unmediated. My question: Why? As far as my understanding of blogs go, they’re not “supposed” to be anything — the whole appeal of the blog form is its infinite flexibility. Blogs typically haven’t been edited, for the reason noted above: It’s primarily an amateur medium. But as more “pro” bloggers arrive, you’re going to find more edited blogs. I suspect eventually those who edit blogs will need to learn to adapt to a blogger’s capricious disregard for 9-to-5 updating (newspapers are actually well-suited for this, since a large percentage of the not-small ones do have a “night desk”), but otherwise I don’t see why or how editing changes the nature of a blog itself, as the nature of a blog is to be whatever those who create it want it to be.

Likewise, I think the other observation of bloggers on the subject of editing — “the blog world edits its own” through the use of comments and entries on other blogs — is looking at the editing process ass-backwards. No offense, guys, but you’re largely confusing kvetching with actual editing, and it’s not the same thing. Also, given the amount y’all fisk edited newspaper columns, there’s an interesting potential hypocrisy here, since clearly the point of a fisking is that the column in question has not been edited enough. Yes, fact-checking someone’s ass is all very fun, but in the case of professional writers, it’s on balance more efficient to have the editing done up front. An ounce of editorial prevention beats of a pound of haphazard blog-world cure.

If a professional writer wants to write a blog without being edited, the solution is simple — don’t write the blog for one’s employer. The Web is rife with journalists with their own personal blogs, and good on them. Occasionally that journalist’s employer will tell them to can the personal blog, which is something to which I am adamantly opposed. Journalists, like everyone else, are more than their jobs, and I’m firm in believing that your bosses can’t tell you how to live your own life, particularly if it has nothing to do with your job. If, for example, Weintraub decided to do a personal gardening blog and the Bee told him to quit it, I think he’d be perfectly within his rights to tell them to stick it — and bloggers would be perfectly right to raise a ruckus about that.

But it comes down to this. You write a blog on a news organization’s site, you’re writing it on their time, in their space, by their rules. You play by their rules, or you go somewhere else. It’s pretty simple stuff.


On Ten Years of Writing Whatever

Well, first off, it doesn’t feel that long ago, but then, one of the things you learn as you get older is that very few things actually feel like “that long ago.” The past is always closer to the present than it’s assumed to be.

Second, for something that was basically a way to goof off, it’s funny how integral Whatever has become to my professional life. I’ve gotten lots of writing gigs because people like what I write here, sold dozens of Whatevers as reprints, had four books published because their contents were here first and won a Hugo, for crying out loud, for the things I write in this space. I suspect I would have been successful as a freelance writer and novelist without Whatever, and I also suspect that if I were to leave Whatever behind, I would still do just fine. But there’s no doubt in my mind that writing here has made lots of things easier.

Third, I think that I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, as far as blogging went. There is some value in being a first generation blogger — being one of the people who did it before it was known as “blogging,” and did it for the hell of it, rather than doing it because everyone else was doing it, or because the rumor was it was useful for your career, or because it seemed like a good way to get free money through advertising, or whatever reason people felt compelled, sometimes against their own personal interest, to put themselves online. This site had none of those expectations; it was just a place for me to keep writing in a certain way. It is what it is because of this complete lack of plan. Naturally, this suits me because I like the idea of doing things just to see what will happen. It also means that whatever happens with the site will be fine with me. When you have no plan, you can’t say things didn’t go the way you expected, because you had no expectations to start.

I think it’s also something people like about this place — that it’s sort of an overgrown, organic thing rather than something designed from the start as an eyeball magnet, or a place for authorial marketing, or whatever. This isn’t to say that I don’t promote myself or write stuff here I figure people will link to — I do both, quite obviously — but I think it’s also clear that there’s a lot here that’s here simply because I want to say something about it, or because it amuses me, or both. Which is to say it’s a not-entirely-inaccurate reflection of me: easily amused, easily bored, messy, interested in lots of stuff, somewhat egotistical, and sometimes just plain weird (by the way, I didn’t end up drinking the pickle juice yesterday. Just seemed like a beverage too far, you know?).

Fourth, sometimes Whatever is a real pain in my ass. Believe it or not, there are entire weeks and occasionally whole months when I just don’t want to post a damn thing here, but I feel obliged to, not in the least because (no joke) if I skip I day I get actual concerned e-mail wondering if I’ve fallen down a well or something. Now, mind you, part of that is merely me pushing the blame for my own vague OCD-like compulsion to post onto other people. But on the other hand it can be a real challenge to balance the time I put in here with the time I spend doing other things (notably, writing novels). One of the things I’m confronting about myself is that I really suck at time management, and this is one of places where I suck at it the most.

(Indeed, if I ever do put advertising on the site, one of the reasons I have in my head to do it is so I can hire an assistant who can do all the mundane stuff, like, oh, mail out copies of books I’ve promised to people, so I can just keep doing all the goofy, easy crap, like writing. I could have Krissy do it, but, you know, she has a job, and it doesn’t involve me. Now, mind you, if I get an assistant, he or she would assist me in other things aside from the Web site. But helping me around this place would be one of the big duties.)

In any event, I do love writing the Whatever; it’s why I do it. But sometimes it really is like a job, and sometimes I just want to leave it alone. I don’t think you do any sort of work for as long as I’ve done this without feeling that way from time to time. Don’t worry it’s not you. In fact,

Fifth, this site has had five years without comments and five years with them, and the five years with them have been better, because the people who comment here are (usually) smart and civil and good people. I think it’s really neat there’s a community of folks here, because in many ways it makes what I do here easier; sometimes when I don’t feel like writing much of anything I just point you folks in the general direction of a topic and off you go. Makes the place interesting and I don’t have to do a damn thing. So thanks for that.

Also, in general, thanks for your tolerance of me, because, as many of you know, some days having an argument with me is like walking into a buzz saw, and yet most of you forgive me for that, which I appreciate.

Sixth, and finally, I have no idea where Whatever goes from here, except to say I expect Whatever will go on from here. Aside from that: who knows. As mentioned earlier, Whatever began without a real plan, and it’s worked so far. I think I’ll keep at it that way.

But I can plan this much, and that is to say that whether you’ve been reading Whatever since the early days or just started reading this week, thank you for reading. It’s meant a lot to me in the last decade. Thank you for being a part of it all.

And now: Moving forward.


Indulge My Curiosity

The first day I wrote on Whatever, it got maybe 50 visitors, mostly old friends who I alerted by way of e-mail. Now it gets a few more visitors than that. My question for you: To the best of your recollection, when did you start reading Whatever? How did you find it? I’m just curious as to how people came here. If you don’t mind sharing, I’d like to know. Thanks.


Of Slightly Lesser Import

Today is also the second anniversary of the Bacon Cat incident. To mark the occasion, I arranged for a special reunion:

Let’s just say it was not as harmonious a reunion as one might have hoped. Oh well. Maybe next year.

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