I’ve been asked again, as I frequently am at this time of year, whether I plan to participate in NaNoWriMo, or, for those who like things uncompressed, the National Novel Writing Month. The answer, as it pretty much always is, is no. One, I just finished writing a 130,000-word episodic novel two weeks ago. I’m a little burnt. Two, at the risk of sounding a little obnoxious, guys, writing novels is what I do. Every month is a novel writing month around the Scalzi compound. I don’t need to set aside a specific month on the calendar for it.
But I don’t look down my professional nose at NaNoWriMo. Speaking as a pro writer, I will tell you that for me the hardest part is not the writing, it’s the starting. If for someone new to writing having a month set aside where you and a bunch of other aspiring novelists encourage each other on is the thing that gets your ass into the chair and typing, then rock on, NaNoWriMo and all those who participate in it.
My November will be NaGeSFWAStuDoMo (National Get SFWA Stuff Done Month) and NaVidGaWriMo (National Video Game Writing Month). And of course NaWriWhaIWaOnWhaMo (National Write Whatever I want On Whatever Month). I trust for most of you the last of these, at least, will be sufficient.
In which I talk about Star Wars stuff, including a story about when I was asked to write a Star Wars novel. Plus writing and bloggy things and also I REVEAL THE SECRET END OF SG:U. It’s about 30 minutes long.
As I’ve been talking about the upcoming presidential election here this week, I was asked by a pal of mine: If I were given Constitutional leave to remake the presidential election system here in the United States, how would I do it?
Well, there are lots of different ways to do it, all of which are flawed in one way or the other. That said, what I would want to do in remaking the election system is to try to balance the popular vote with the (I think) legitimate need for state representation via the Electoral College, and to minimize the influence of money in creating electoral choice. So here’s one way to do it.
1. The presidential election is to be non-partisan. A candidate may belong to a political party, but would not be running as that political party’s candidate and would not be allowed to coordinate their campaign with that party.
2. No one other than individual humans may contribute money to a presidential candidate’s campaign. The amount would be no more than $2,000 per candidate per election, indexed to 2012 dollars.
3. Those wanting to run for President must announce their intention by July 1 of the year prior to the election and file such intent with the federal government by that date.
4. Between July 1 and December 31 of the year prior to the election, they must gather signatures from at least 1% of each of no less than two-thirds of United States (i.e., 1% of the population of each of 34 individual states). This is to ensure the candidate has widespread appeal. The signatures must be from US citizens of voting age. Each person may offer their signature to only one potential presidential candidate.
5. From January 1 to June 30 of the election year, all candidates who have met the qualifications outlined in point 4 will be official presidential primary candidates. The US government will allot a television and radio channel in each media market reserved entirely for the airing of information by the candidates about their positions. In addition, a similar channel must be carried on all cable/satellite services. All candidates will have equal allotment of time on these stations, with the times allotted generated randomly on a daily basis. Likewise, all candidates will be offered equal access to the Internet to create sites to carry their information. Additionally, all qualified candidates will be allowed equal space in a voter’s information packet, printed by the government, to be mailed to every household in the United States by May 15.
6. On June 30, the United States will hold its primary presidential election. Registered voters in all states will choose up to three candidates for the office of President. The results will be tallied and the three top vote-getters nationwide will be declared Final Presidential Candidates. The nationwide balloting ensures the people have a say in the final candidates.
7. From July 1 through the first Monday of November of the election year, the Final Presidential candidates will make their case to the people. The US government will again allot television, radio, internet and print access to each candidate in the manner described in point 5. Additionally, each candidate will be require to participate in no less than three debates with the other two candidates, of no less than two hours length, to be made widely available through all media. Final Candidates must choose their vice-presidential candidates no later than August 1.
8. Election day, the first Tuesday of November, is a national holiday, to allow the largest number of voters access to the polls. All voters who cast ballots will have the option of ranking the Final Candidates by preference, in an instant runoff style. The votes shall be tabulated first in first-past-the-post style: Whichever candidate in each state has the highest number of votes shall be awarded the electoral votes for that state. If by tabulation in this manner one candidate reaches the sufficient number of electoral votes to be declared winner (currently 270), then that candidate will be the next president.
9. However, if no candidate has a sufficient number of electoral votes after the first counting of the votes, then the candidate with the fewest number of votes nationally will be dropped from the ballot, and their votes reapportioned to the two remaining candidates in a manner consistent with instant runoff voting. The ballots will then be recounted, with the highest vote getter in each state winning that state’s electoral votes. Whichever candidate reaches the sufficient number of electoral votes will be the winner.
10. In the event of a tie in this case, the vote is then thrown to Congress in a manner consistent with the Constitution.
Complicated? Sure. More complicated and insane than the current electoral process? Probably not. I figure it would be worth a shot anyway.
Bluntly: Best thing that could happen, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan. George Lucas is the most influential filmmaker of the last half century and we all owe him a debt in terms of how he’s advanced the technical aspects of cinema. But the dude can’t write or direct his way out of a paper bag. Equally bluntly: The best parts of the Star Wars extended universe are the parts where he’s not writing or directing. Thirdly and most bluntly: George Lucas hates all nerds now, because they poop all over him and his can’t-write, can’t-direct ways, and now wouldn’t go back to the Star Wars universe if you paid him.
Now: Disney. Yes, soulless corporate monster that gives babies adorable Mickey Mouse ears and tickles their chins before it swallows their souls. On the other hand: Also smart enough to buy Pixar and Marvel, give their respective brain trusts the keys to the castle, and say “Get to work.” Result: Films that are relentless commercial, entertaining and profitable, not only in themselves but in all sorts of ancillary markets. The mouse is a monster because it knows how to entertain the very living crap out of you. This can only be good for the Star Wars universe, freed now as it is from its cranky, frustrated Emperor Lucas.
In fact, if Disney had any brains at all, it would give the administration of the Star Wars property over to its Marvel Studios and say “That thing? That thing you did with The Avengers? Yes, that. Here. Now.” And then let them do their thing. And come 2015, when Episode VII thumps its way across the screen and you, you damn fool, you who ground your way through the Prequel Trilogy out of a patent sense of duty to your Dread Lord George, trudge off in your Jedi robes to go see it, by the sweet and merry mouse above, you will be entertained.
And George Lucas? Well, who knows? Who cares. Let him be happy on his enormous pile of money, away from the likes of you. Everybody’s better off that way.
I’ve written popular science articles and books, and one of my personal philosophies is that about 80% of any subject can be understood by any ordinary person — if you can manage to explain it correctly. Robert St. Amant has written a book to explain computer science to everyday folks — appropriately entitled Computing for Ordinary Mortals — and in the writing, he found himself confronting the task of making approachable what is often considered an unapproachable field. How did he do it? I will let him tell you this story.
ROBERT ST. AMANT:
When I was ten years old or so, I saw a battered paperback copy of Triplanetary on my grandfather’s bookshelf. I borrowed it… and found myself in ten-year-old heaven. Science fiction led me to popular science, with Isaac Asimov (and Edgar Cayce, embarrassingly enough) to help me cross the boundary. I read about physics, space, biology, math, and psychology. It was formative reading. Today I’m a computer scientist, and I’ve just written my own book.
The big idea in Computing for Ordinary Mortals is that the basics of computer science can be conveyed through stories. Not stories about computers and how we use them, but stories about other kinds of everyday things we do. Computing is more about abstract concepts than about hardware or software, and we can understand these concepts through analogies to what happens in the real world.
For example, imagine you’re shooting a low-budget horror movie, set in a haunted mansion. Unfortunately, you don’t have a mansion, much less a ghost, but you’ve found a couple of big, empty rooms that you can redecorate from one scene to the next, so that in the finished movie they’ll look like different places. You’re taking advantage of the locality principle. Movie-making is a complex activity that needs a lot of space, in theory, but it can be broken down into smaller activities that fit into much smaller spaces and work at different times; each part only needs what’s in its own neighborhood. So you can reuse the space you have, over time. We see the same thing happening when people play half-court basketball or timeshare a vacation apartment.
Analogies like these can be spun out into short-short stories, with characters and a minimalist plot, to make the how and why of computing a little more memorable. Why do computers have caches? How does virtual memory work? Can a gaming environment be infinitely large? “Well, you can think of it as if you’re making a movie…” I’ll skip the detailed explanations to get to the most interesting part–if a story works, it means that we can understand computing through some ordinary experience and the reverse. Real life as computation.
That’s exciting, to me. How hard could it be to write an exciting book full of computer-relevant stories? Hmm. Harder than I’d expected. The explanation part was straightforward, but the stories themselves didn’t come as easily. Eventually, though, I realized that I was writing something close to modern parables or fables, following strict conventions about how a story should unfold (with a bit of science, math, or engineering at the end instead of a moral insight). Most computing concepts are about making sense of problems and how to solve them; I just had to figure out how these problems might arise in an interesting way in some real or imaginary world.
For example, the opening story in a late draft was an Alice in Wonderland pastiche. I liked it, but one reviewer was irritated with the pacing, and another just said, “Alice has to go.” So Wonderland changed into a balloon ride over a coastal town, then became a scientific expedition to Mars, and ended up being a conversation with an alien on a spaceship. I was rewriting the “same” story, in a sense, but that was worthwhile; some stories express a given theme (or analogy, in my case) better than others.
Telling stories in popular science carries some risk. Are the stories true? No–analogies and metaphors are never literally true. Charles Petzold even argues against such story trappings in his excellent book, Code: “Metaphors and similes are wonderful literary devices but they do nothing but obscure the beauty of technology.” My analogies do approach metaphor at times. But I think a better question is whether the stories work, whether they give us appropriate insight. After all, we understand the world around us through stories. If those stories happen to encompass the computers and computations in our modern lives, then so much the better.
Not a lot, and it won’t last until noon, but here it is: The first snow of late 2012. I’m not terribly happy to see it, but considering at the moment there are entire cities submerged in standing seawater, I’m not going to complain.
I’ve made my endorsement for president this year, and I know many of you would be interested in making endorsements of your own. So, here: Have a comment thread to endorse your own favorite: Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Gary Johnson, or anyone else you have a mind to endorse to Whatever’s 50,000 or so daily readers.
But first! Instructions:
1. The thread is for making endorsements only; don’t pop in to criticize someone else’s choice or otherwise argue. To that end, one posting per person, please. Also, I will snip out any posts that are not endorsements.
2. Confine your endorsements to people who are actually on ballots and that others can vote for. The person doesn’t have to be on every state ballot, but needs to be on at least one.
3. Speak primarily to why you’re voting for the candidate of your choice, rather than using the space to slag the other candidates (it’s fine to note your criticisms of other candidates, just don’t have it as a focus).
4. Use civil language, please. If you need a guide in this regard, imagine you’re writing the endorsement for a major newspaper and try to emulate that. Remember that other people here will read your endorsement, so who knows? Maybe you’ll convince someone.
5. You can use links but if you use more than a couple your piece will probably be sent to the moderation queue. If that happens, don’t panic. I’ll release it when I go through the comments.
6. This thread is not limited only to US citizens, but if you are not a US citizen, it’d be lovely if you would note that fact, if only so readers are aware how the US elections play outside the country’s own citizenry.
This should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone anywhere, but to make it official: I will be voting for Barack Obama to have a second term as President of the United States, and I think you should too.
There are, generally speaking, two reasons to give your vote to someone as president. The first is because you are inclined to vote for that person. The second is that you actively wish to deny another person the presidency. In this case, I am voting for Obama because I wish to do both: Vote for him, and vote against Mitt Romney.
Let me attend to the first of these now, and let me preface further explanation by pointing to a piece I wrote the day after the 2008 election, called “Reality Check,” in which I warned everyone who was expecting Obama to magically make everything better that, in fact, it wasn’t going to go like that. One specific thing I mentioned, which I will highlight here:
Your next president is going to disappoint you. Barack Obama does not fart cinnamon-scented rainbows. He is not trailed by angels and unicorns. Reality does not reshape itself to his wishes. Dude’s a human being, and a politician, and he’s going to have to work with other human beings who are also politicians. Per point 2, some things you want him to do he won’t be able to do, and some of the things you want him to do he won’t want to do, so they won’t get done. He will make mistakes. He will make errors. He will be caught flat-footed from time to time. He will be challenged by antagonists, foreign and domestic, who will have an interest in seeing him faceplant. He will piss most people off. His approval rating will drop below 50%. He is going to disappoint you. Get used to the idea.
Obama came into office with a burden of expectation absolutely unlike any other president, in no small part because he’s black. For the United States to have elected a black man to the presidency seemed like it had to herald a new era in our country. That made Obama a repository of a lot of hope and desire and a lot of people projected some frankly unachievable expectations on the man. The most ridiculous example of this was when Obama woke up one morning and found himself a Nobel Laureate, given the peace prize not for anything he’d done, but for who the prize committee apparently hoped he would be.
Which was nonsense. It’s not the most embarrassing Nobel Peace Prize ever given, but it’s probably in the top five, and I think crystalizes the problem Obama was saddled with, in terms of being an icon even before he was a president. To be clear, he didn’t exactly run away from the iconography that sprung up around him, because why would he? He was running to be president, and every bit helps. He was a participant in the cult of personality. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a problem.
Obama has other problems as well: the caricature of him as Spock, the emotionless and cerebral Star Trek character, is not necessarily intended to be a flattering one. I think some of people who expected him to be some sort of North American analogue to Nelson Mandela got a shock to their system when he turned out to be a prickly wonk; it also apparently didn’t help him in the chummy go-along-to-get-along world of Washington DC. Obama’s own party, which held both the House and Senate in the first two years of his presidency, was splintery and balky, which helped contribute to it losing the House in the 2010 election cycle.
And as for the Republicans, well. They’ve made it their policy to be against anything the man is for. If Obama said he liked the sunrise, the Republicans would have gone on Fox to explain how it was socialist to have sunlight distributed freely to all. The modern GOP has got a Stage IV case of Gingrichitis, in which Democrats are not just as seen as the opposing party, but the enemy of all that is good and pure in the world. This would be a problem at any point but it’s especially bad in the case of the modern GOP, for reasons I will get to later.
Obama came in burdened with unrealistic expectations, didn’t necessarily help himself on the ingratiation front, and faced both disorganized allies and a vehemently angry opposition. For all that, he managed to do a number of things that I approve of, including taking the first steps to universal health care, ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and choosing not to defend DOMA, killing Bin Laden, drawing down our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and also (and this is significant) working to keep the American economy from entirely collapsing into a hole after the economic meltdown of four years ago. Yes, things got bad. Things could have been so very much worse.
Ironically, I’ve never been notably disappointed with Obama. His policies and political inclinations are largely in line with my own, I don’t mind and indeed kind of prefer a Vulcan president, and I voted for him in 2008 cognizant of the political realities into which he was being elected. I generally like his deliberative style and his willingness to take a half a loaf rather than nothing if half loaf is realistically what’s going to be able to get. Which is to say I find him and his politics to be pragmatic, thoughtful and largely practical. The right likes to foam about how the man is a socialist, but I’m not obliged to pay attention to nonsense. Obama’s politics are “careful centrist,” and I’m fine with that.
Given what he’s accomplished in the context in which he’s had to work, I’m satisfied with Obama as president so far. That alone would enough in most election years to allow him to keep my vote in his tally. Is this the glowing, ringing endorsement that Obamaites can shout to the hills? I suppose it’s not, but this should not be confused with a lukewarm or half-hearted endorsement. This is not “you’ll do.” It’s “you’ve done well. Keep going.”
Now, to Mitt Romney. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t see Romney as an ideologue, I see him as an administrator, and in a different time, and against a different opponent, he might be a more compelling candidate to me. I don’t mind politicians who have a few core values but are also able to take the temperature of a room and say, “okay, let’s work with this.” However, I’ve already got a presidential candidate like that, whose core values are closer to mine. And there’s the little matter of the room Romney has to work in, which is to say, the modern national Republican party.
Look: The modern national Republican party is a hot mess, a simmering pot of angry reactionaries driven by selfishness and willful ignorance, whose guiding star is not governance but power, and whose policies and practices are tuned to build an oligarchy, not nurture a democracy. Its economic policies are charitably described as nonsense and its social policies are vicious; for a party which parades its association with Jesus around like a fetish, it is notably lacking in the simple compassion of the Christ. There is so little I find good or useful in the current national GOP, intellectually, philosophically or politically, that I genuinely look on it with despair and wonder when or if the grown-ups are ever going to come back to it. Before anyone leaps up to say that the modern Democratic Party has problems of its own, know that I do not disagree. But if your practical choices for governance of the country are between the marginally competent and the actively malicious, you go with the marginally competent.
In his campaign for president, Romney has embraced many of the worst elements of the modern national GOP policy thinking, up to and including choosing Paul Ryan, architect of a ruinously idiotic budget plan, as his vice-president. Romney’s run on this nonsense, and despite a late burst of tacking to the center, I think he’s beholden to it, and will be as president. I think it’s obvious that I believe it’s the wrong course for the country, economically, socially and politically.
More to the point, I think the real problem is that the actively malicious, awful and small-minded politics of the modern GOP have to be stopped. The modern GOP, simply put, has no moral center; it pays superficial obeisance to “traditional values” while yearning to implement policies whose highest moral achievement is consolidating wealth for the very few, and is perfectly happy to be as cynical as it needs to be to achieve that goal. If the GOP wins this election, it will simply become further untethered from the common good of the nation, because why shouldn’t it? There is no political reason for it to be otherwise. If mendacity continues to be rewarded, then mendacity is a legitimate strategy of power.
I would like for the GOP to be better than it is now; I’m pretty sure it was, once, and I’m pretty sure it can be again. I would like to actually feel that I can ethically give my vote to a Republican candidate at a national level. I can’t do it now. I don’t think I’ll be able to until it becomes clear to the GOP that to continue on the path it’s on now is a path to political extinction.
I have problems with Romney as a candidate — his lack of transparency regarding his taxes, his tendency to say “elect me, then I’ll tell you my plans,” his choice of VP, and the overarching sense that he wants to be president mostly because he feels like he should get to be president, and gets cross when it’s suggested that’s not a sufficient reason — but my biggest problem with Romney is the party he’s a candidate of. I can’t support it; I won’t support its candidate because of it.
So those are my reasons for Obama, and against Romney.
(And you may ask: What about a third party candidate? My answer: Dude, I’m in Ohio. Ask me to be capricious with my vote some other time. That said, of all the candidates on my electoral ballot, Obama’s the closest to my own politics. He would get my vote this year in any event.)
Zach Weinersmith has fond memories of a certain sort of book — a kind of book, it seems, that had disappeared from the common consciousness. Rather than lament its passing, Weindersmith took it as a challenge to revive. And thus: Trial of the Clone, an interactive adventure cleverly disguised as a paperback. Here’s Weinersmith to walk us down the Clone’s path to publication.
About a year ago, before this book was published, I was doing a Q&A session with an auditorium of MIT students. I mentioned that I was working on a “choose your own adventure” style book with more interactive elements. I said it was going to be a lot like the old “Lone Wolf” books of Joe Dever.
This was met with blank stares.
“Lone Wolf?” I said. This was Cambridge, after all. If there’s any place a dork can be a dork, it’s at the intersection of Harvard and MIT.
“The game we all played when we were teenagers?”
This was when I started to get really excited about this book. For those of you (apparently the vast majority) who never played a gamebook, it’s sorta like solitary D&D. You’re reading along, making choices about your moves, but you also have health and stats and items to worry about. You have to kill bad guys. You have to use random numbers to determine outcomes. Gamebooks are awesome and not as well known as they deserve to be.
So, the cool thing was that I could introduce this concept to a new generation of dorks. And, I hope, there will be a lot of novelty to it. Those old books were great, but aimed toward very young kids. My book is not; one friend at MIT said it reminded him of Terry Pratchett, but a lot more obscene.
I’m hoping to make that my epitaph some day.
The most exciting thing to me is that it was a chance to modify what I remembered to make the game system really cute. Early on, I talked to some geek friends about the best way to generate random numbers without having to carry dice or a computer around. I got a few ideas, including one suggestion to think of a number, then check a clock, add the numbers, and take the last digit. This seemed a bit cumbersome. So, I came up with a system where each page has a random number (0-3, weighted to hit 1 and 2 more often) in the lower right corner. To throw a random, just flip pages until you get somewhere random!
Another thing I love about this book is that it’s broken into five acts. We set it up so that on the right side of each page there’s a gray bar denoting the current act. The cute part is that this means you can tell where you are in the book (and how long each act is) by looking at its side, where gray bars show up.
My absolute favorite part however, is a part I can’t really tell you about. The book has an ending that actually trades on the fact that you’re existing in a second person narrative, making choices. I really don’t want to say anything more specific, because the book does have a bit of a trick ending. But, as far as I know, we’re the first to make use of the genre in this way.
Getting to do a book like this is the fulfillment of a number of geek fantasies at once. The best part is that, because of the success with this first book, we’ll be able to put out sequels. Halfway through writing this, I told my assistant that if I ever tried to write another such book, he was to kick me. Fortunately, I live a bit distant from him now, because having seen the reaction to this first book, I’d be happy writing a dozen sequels.
* The predicate cause, I think clearly to most people who are following politics these days, was Indiana senatorial candidate Richard Mourdoch opening his mouth wide enough to stuff in everything below his belt regarding abortion and rape during his debate the other night. It was the cherry on top of a whole summer of general stupidity regarding rape emanating from (as I delicately put it) certain conservative candidates, and I’d pretty much had enough of it at this point.
* The piece you see is the second one I wrote; the first one I wrote was a pretty standard “are you fucking kidding me?” rant in which I wrote the point that not allowing a woman control of her body gives her rapist control of it by default, but then skipped past it to other points. About half-way through I realized I mostly wasn’t saying anything anyone else hadn’t already, and that the issue about rapists having control of women’s bodies and lives was one that was both compelling and one that I, at least, didn’t see discussed a whole lot. So I chucked the previous piece and wrote this one.
* I wrote it from the point of view of a rapist, I think obviously in retrospect, because it would have a stronger impact if I did. A couple of people have asked me (not entirely unwarily) how I could get into the head of someone like that. The short answer is, folks, fiction is what I do. I try to put myself in the heads of a lot of different people. I will note that in this case, I was very happy to get out of that particular head as quickly as possible. I don’t often squick myself out writing a piece, but this is one time I definitely did.
* After it was done, I read it and realized I had absolutely no idea whether it worked like I wanted it to work, or if I overshot the goal and ended up in a place where it would do more damage than anything else. So I asked Krissy to read it and tell me if it worked; while she read it I went off to run errands. When I came back she said “It works, but you’re going to catch a lot of shit for it.” Well, shit I could handle. So I published it. If Krissy told me it didn’t work — and she would have — then it wouldn’t be out there. I trust her judgment in general and in this specific case, she had a better perspective on it than I could have.
* I wrote the piece to be read — I think that this much is obvious — but I should note that I wanted to write it for the same reasons I write about anything here: It was something that was on my mind, I had thoughts about it, and I have a place to say them at and an audience to say them to. Attaching any additional motives to its writing is probably overthinking my thought process as it involves Whatever.
* I will note that in this case I know it had the potential to spawn a “lively” comment thread, and that had I not finished The Human Division earlier in the week, I might not have written it (or would have at least kept the idea for a later time) because I wouldn’t have had time to babysit the comment threads. There is some irony that the fact largest time suck aspect of Whatever isn’t the time I take writing my words, but the time I taking riding herd on everyone else’s. Fortunately I had time this week. Also, fortunately, the thread needed relatively little moderating. So thanks, folks, for that.
Blogger Joé McKencatches one of my regular detractors making a spectacularly dumb move, and then watches him flail about, trying to rationalize his unintentional comedy gold. No, I’m not going to link to the detractor’s site directly, because among other things the site is full of racism, sexism and general ick; McKen’s got the links if you want them, and all the relevant details if you don’t.
Over on McKen’s site, one of the commenters there, who is also a frequent commenter here, wonders about whether my detractor could be on the hook for libel. Certainly the detractor’s headline for the particular blog entry in question (“John Scalzi is a rapist”) is factually inaccurate; the detractor is (now, at least) aware it’s so; presuming McKen’s account of event is accurate, which I have no reason to doubt, it wasn’t published with the intent to be satire or hyperbole nor has much chance of being considered so now; and obviously, being branded a rapist, and having it believed, would be detrimental to my public and private life. So if I had a mind to sue my detractor for libel, he might have to hope I am enough of a public figure that it would obviate all those other factors and he wouldn’t be squashed like a bug.
But why sue? I’m happy to have him leave it up as a testament to his both his credulity while he thought it was true, and his mendacity now that he knows that it’s not. It’s a cogent reminder of what both his opinion and credibility is worth.
(Comments closed here to help foster the conversation over at McKen’s site. If you go there from here, do be as polite and courteous to him as your host as you are to me. I thank you in advance for that.)
My high school class is having its 25th reunion this weekend, which I will unfortunately not be at (I had that little book deadline, you may remember, which played merry havoc with my scheduling), but the side effect of which is to have a number of my classmates post pictures of our high school days on Facebook. Here’s one from Scott Moore, of yours truly. I don’t know the exact year, but given the shirt and hair, I suspect it’s sophomore year, i.e., 1985, and I would have been fifteen or so in that picture.
I know some of you will ask what I was like at fifteen. The best answer to that is to say you should ask my classmates, since my own memory of myself would be at this point highly revised and edited. I will say that by fifteen, I was already writing short stories and imagining myself being various types of writer: A columnist, mostly (I had discovered H.L. Mencken, Molly Ivins and P.J. O’Rourke by this time) but also a novelist and even a lyricist, heavily informed at the time by Pink Floyd and Depeche Mode, a dangerous combo if there ever was one. I had already decided that I was going to be a professional writer when I grew up, because when you’re fifteen, you can make decisions like that, fully ignorant of what such a decision entails. On the other hand, I have been a full-time, professional writer all of my adult life, so well done, fifteen-year-old me! You showed me a thing or two.
I am not going to show you today the writings of the fifteen year old me. However, as it is the 25th reunion of my class, I am going to share with you something from the seventeen year old me: My chapel talk. At my high school, we had (non-denominational) chapel three days out of the week, and during the year, every senior who wanted to could give a chapel talk. Often it was a summation of their high school experience to that time, and sometimes it was just what they were thinking about that day. It really depended on the senior. This is what I was thinking about when I gave mine.
Please note that aside from small spelling and punctuation errors, I have resisted the urge to clean up the piece in any way, so what you’re getting is genuine 17-year-old John Scalzi. Have fun with him. Don’t tell him what happens to his hair.
And to my friends and classmates: Have fun at the reunion. I wish I was there, and you have my love.
I would like to write about a topic that I have always had a fascinated interest in. That topic is time.
I looked up the definition of time in Webster. Webster said that time is “the measured or measurable period during which an action proceeds, or a condition exists or continues.” The subject of time is a subject in which we, human beings in general and students in particular, are particularly interested in. We spend it, waste it, give it, take it, ask how much we have left, and ask for more. Somehow we never seem to have enough time.
A man named Bernard Berenson wrote, “I would I could stand on a busy corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me their wasted hours.” How many of us would do that if we could? I would. Actually, it depends on what kind of time it was. Time is relative, it seems, and I would be happy to take all that time I spend in a particularly bored state of mind and transfer it to when I could use it; for example, I could always use a little more sleep or a little more study time. First, though, I would use that saved time to do those things which I enjoy: playing drum, reading or writing, or being with my friends.
However, we cannot transfer time. So we exist, and our time is terminally short. The time we seem to have the lest of is the time that is the most important: The time spent doing what we wish with those whom we wish to be with. Anyone who had had a friend or relative pass from their life, by death or some other circumstance, knows this to be true. We never seem to take the time to say what we have to say to those people. Then they are gone and there is nothing we can do about it. Nothing hurts worse.
Our culture is riddled with examples of man’s wish to suspend time. Peter Pan lives in Never-Never-Land, forever young. The six-foot rabbit in “Harvey” can stop the clock with a mere glance in the clock’s direction. Jim Croce wrote a song in which he wishes to save time in a bottle. Our religions have eternal paradises, where we live forever, unto infinity.
But we are finite creatures, moving through an infinite amount of time, and while we would reach out and grab as much of that eternity as we can, we cannot. We run out of our allotted time and slip away, our affairs and concerns uncompleted, our dreams and desires, for the most part, unfulfilled. If there is a Heaven, I believe it is filled with men and women bitter with the knowledge that they could have done so much more and could have meant so much more during their lives if they had had just a little more time.
As you can tell, I have spent much of my time think about time. I am painfully aware of the fact I don’t have enough time. I joke to my friends about being immortal, but that is only because I am not, and it infuriates me that I am not. I have very little time, as do we all.
So I have decided, over the course of time, that I wish to live my life in such a manner that when I am on my deathbed, I will be able to say to myself, “I have lived a good life. I am content with how I lived.” And when I am called on the carpet by God, Yahweh, or whoever it is that is controlling our little machinations, I will walk through all those bitter people with a smile on my face.
This is a philosophy of life which I urge everyone to follow. Take pleasure in your life, now. Tell jokes. Play music. Dance. Stay on the phone until two o’clock in the morning. Laugh and live life. Most of all, let those you love and who love you know what they mean. Hold them to your heart and tell them what you need to say: That you need them, are glad to have them, and love them. Do these things. They are more important than you may think.
Ben Hecht wrote: “Time is a circus always packing up and moving away.” I would ask all to use their time so that when it is packed up and sent away, they can watch it go with a smiling face and content heart.
WARNING:this post is going to be oh-so-very-triggery for victims of rape and sexual assault. I am not kidding.
Dear certain conservative politicians:
Hi! I’m a rapist. I’m one of those men who likes to force myself on women without their consent or desire and then batter them sexually. The details of how I do this are not particularly important at the moment — although I love when you try to make distinctions about “forcible rape” or “legitimate rape” because that gives me all sorts of wiggle room — but I will tell you one of the details about why I do it: I like to control women and, also and independently, I like to remind them how little control they have. There’s just something about making the point to a woman that her consent and her control of her own body is not relevant against the need for a man to possess that body and control it that just plain gets me off. A guy’s got needs, you know? And my need is for control. Sweet, sweet control.
So I want to take time out of my schedule to thank you for supporting my right to control a woman’s life, not just when I’m raping her, but for all the rest of her life as well.
Ah, I see by your surprised face that you at the very least claim to have no idea what I’m talking about. Well, here’s the thing. Every time you say “I oppose a woman’s right to abortion, even in cases of rape,” what you’re also saying is “I believe that a man who rapes a woman has more of a right to control a woman’s body and life than that woman does.”
Oh, look. That surprised face again. All right, then. On the chance that you’re not giving me that surprised face just for the sake of public appearances, let me explain it to you, because it’s important for me that you know just how much I appreciate everything you’re doing for me.
So, let’s say I’ve raped a woman, as I do, because it’s my thing. I’ve had my fun, reminding that woman where she stands on the whole “being able to control things about her life” thing. But wait! There’s more. Since I didn’t use a condom (maybe I’m confident I can get other people to believe it was consensual, you see, or maybe I just like it that way), one thing has led to another and I’ve gotten this woman pregnant.
Now, remember how I said the thing I really like about raping a woman is the control it gives me over her? Well, getting a woman pregnant is even better. Because long after I’m gone, she still has to deal with me and what I’ve done to her. She has to deal with what’s happening to her body. She has to deal with doctor visits. She has to deal with the choice whether to have an abortion or not — which means she has to deal with everyone in the country, including you, having an opinion about it and giving her crap about it. And if she does have an abortion, she has to deal with all the hassle of that, too, because folks like you, of course, have gone out of your way to make it a hassle, which I appreciate. Thank you.
Every moment of that process, she has to be thinking of me, and how I’ve forced all of this on her — exercised my ability to bend her life away from what it was to what I’ve made of it. Me exercising my control.
I gotta tell you, it feels awesome.
But! You know what would feel even more awesome? The knowledge that, if you get your way and abortion is outlawed even in cases of rape, that my control of her will continue through all the rest of her life.
First, because she’ll have no legal choice about whether to have the baby I put in her — sorry, dearie, you have no control at all! You have to have it! That’s nine months of having your body warp and twist and change because I decided that you needed a little lesson on who’s actually running the show. That’s sweet.
Once the baby’s born, the woman will have to decide whether to keep it. Here’s an interesting fact: Of the women who have gotten pregnant from rape who give birth to that baby, most keep the baby, by a ratio of about five to one. So my ability to change the life of the woman just keeps growing, doesn’t it? From the rape, to the nine months of the pregnancy, to the rest of her life dealing with the child I raped into her. Of course, she could put the kid up for adoption, but that’s its own bundle of issues, isn’t it? And even then, she’s dealing with the choices I made for her, when I exercised my control over her life.
Best of all, I get to do all that without much consequence! Oh, sure, theoretically I can get charged with rape and go to prison for it. But you know what? For every hundred men who rape, only three go to prison. Those are pretty good odds for me, especially since — again! — folks like you like to muddy up the issue saying things like “forcible rape.” Keep doing that! It’s working out great for me.
As for the kid, well, oddly enough, most women I rape want nothing to do with me afterward, so it’s not like I will have to worry about child support or any other sort of responsibility… unless of course I decide that I haven’t taught that woman a big enough lesson about who’s really in control of her life. Did you know that 31 states in this country don’t keep rapists from seeking custody or visitation rights? How great is that? That’s just one more thing she has to worry about — me crawling out of the woodwork to remind her of what I did, and am continuing to do, to her life.
Look how much control you want to give me over that woman! I really can’t thank you enough for it. It warms my heart to know no matter how much I rape, or how many women I impregnate through my non-consensual sexual battery, you have my back, when it comes to reminding every woman I humiliate who is actually the boss of her. It’s me! It’s always been me! You’ll make sure it’ll always be me. You’ll see to that.
I am totally voting for you this election.
Just Another Rapist.
P.S.: I love it when you say that you “stand for innocent life” when it comes to denying abortions in cases of rape! It implicitly suggests that the women I rape are in some way complicit in and guilty of the crimes I commit on top of, and inside of, their bodies! Which works out perfectly for me. Keep it up!