Happy Athenamas to All

Yet again, the planet has swung around to the day wherein my wife and I burst into our daughter’s room while she is still sleeping, shout “Happy Birthday!” at her and shove a flaming pastry at her while she’s still groggy. We love it. Well, Krissy and I do. I suspect the kid tolerates it because she gets cake for breakfast at the end of it.

Athena is 17, the year in which one is allowed to watch R-rated movies without a parent, which as we all know is a momentous marker in any young North American’s life. She will not be celebrating by seeing an R-rated movie, although we did take her to see The Force Awakens last night and about halfway through it became her birthday, so there is at least some cinematic aspect to the day.

As my gift to you this day, I present you with the song that was playing in the delivery room the moment Athena was born, on this day, seventeen years ago. It’s “Waltz Across Texas Tonight,” performed by Emmylou Harris, from her 1995 album Wrecking Ball. It’s probably my favorite album, so I’m delighted to have it forever associated with one of the most important and joy days in my life, the day my and Krissy’s child was born. Enjoy, and have a wonderful Athenamas.

Note: Today Is My Last Productive Day of the Year

Which is to say that if you have any outstanding business with me for 2015, you’ll want to let me know about it today, because starting tomorrow and through to Monday, January 4, I am off the business clock and any outstanding business will be unceremoniously punted into 2016.

With that said: People still waiting to hear back on January Big Idea slots: Don’t panic (and don’t send me a raft of reminders today), they’re in process.

Inasmuch as I think most people who can have already clocked out for the year, businesswise, this will not be a hardship on anyone.

The Scamperbeasts Pose, 12/21/15

First the serious one.

And now the “fun” one!

Oh, Scamperbeasts. Never change.

Interview With Santa’s Reindeer Wrangler

Photo by bisongirl, used via Creative Commons. Click picture for original.

 

Q: Your name and occupation, please.

A: I’m Naseem Copely, and I’m the Reindeer Corps Manager for Santa Claus.

Q: What does that title mean?

A: Basically I’m responsible for recruiting, outfitting and caring for the reindeer who pull Santa’s sleigh on Christmas. If it has anything to do with the reindeer, I’m the one in charge of it.

Q: Why would you need to recruit? We already know who the reindeer are. Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and so on.

A: Well, that’s the first misconception. The canonical names of the reindeer aren’t of the reindeer themselves. The canonical names describe the role of the reindeer.

Q: I’m not sure I follow.

A: So, it’s like this: You have a football team, right? And a football team has a quarterback and full backs and half backs and centers and such. And in the role of quarterback, you could have Eli Manning or Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers or whomever.

Q: Okay.

A: So on a reindeer team, there’s a Dasher and a Dancer and a Prancer and so on. They’re roles. They’re positions. And the position of Dasher, as an example, is currently held by a reindeer named Buckletoe McGee. And before her, it was held by Tinselhart Flaherty, and before her, Ted Cruz.

Q: Ted Cruz.

A: Yes. No relation.

Q: All right. So the canonical names are the role of the reindeer, but this leaves open the question of why there are roles at all.

A: Because of varying the weather and various atmospheric conditions, basically. Depending on the weather, one or another of the team will be in lead position.

Q: So, for example –

A: So if the weather is clear, then Dasher is in the lead, because she’s fast and good with straight lines. If there’s a lot of turbulence in the upper atmosphere, then Dancer’s in front, because she’s good finding pockets of calm air for Santa to navigate into. “Donner” is the German word for “thunder,” so our Donner’s up when we have thunderstorms, and so on.

Q: Okay, but what about Cupid?

A: In the lead when we have to sweet-talk our way out of a moving violation citation.

Q: That really happens?

A: Lots of little towns have speed traps, man. They don’t care if it’s Santa. You see Santa, they see a wealthy traveler who won’t come back to town to contest a ticket.

Q: How does that even work? A reindeer mitigating traffic violations, I mean.

A: It’s technical. Very technical. I’d need graphs and a chart.

Q: And Vixen? What role does Vixen play?

A: Uh, that role’s currently in transition.

Q: What does that mean?

A: It means I’m ready for your next question.

Q: All right, what about the Rudolph position?

A: (Sighs) There is no Rudolph position. Never was. Never will be.

Q: You seem annoyed by this question.

A: None of us up here at the pole are big fans of the whole “Rudolph” thing.

Q: Why not?

A: Well, it makes us look like jerks, doesn’t it? A young reindeer is discriminated against up to and until he has marginal utility. I mean, really. Who looks good in that scenario? Not all of the other reindeer, who come across as bigots and bullies. And not Santa, who is implicitly tacit in reindeer bigotry.

Q: I have to admit I never really thought about it that hard.

A: You know, here at the pole we work hard to make sure that everyone feels welcome – it’s not just a legal requirement, it’s the whole ethos behind the Santa organization. And this one song craps on that for a reindeer who never even existed? Yeah, we’re not happy.

Q: You could sue for defamation.

A: No one comes out ahead when you do that. Anyway, Santa has his way of dealing with things like this.

Q: What do you mean?

A: Let’s just say a certain songwriter received lots of coal one year. In his car. The one with the white bucket seats.

Q: Okay. The next question: Why reindeer?

A: Why not reindeer?

Q: Generally speaking, they don’t actually fly.

A: Neither do sleighs, generally speaking, and yet here we are.

Q: We could talk about that. I mean, the general violation of physics that goes on around the whole Santa’s sleigh thing.

A: Look, I don’t pretend to know the science of the flying sleigh thing, okay? That’s not my job. You can ask Santa’s physicists about it if you want.

Q: Santa has physicists on staff?

A: Of course he does. He’s one of the largest recruiters of physicists outside of NASA. What, you thought all this happened because of magic?

Q: Well, now that you mention it, yes. Yes, I did.

A: See, that’s just silly. It’s not magic. It’s technology. Highly, highly advanced technology.

Q: So technology makes the reindeer fly.

A: No, that’s genetic.

Q: Oh, come on.

A: You’ll have to interview some of Santa’s biologists about that.

Q: Leaving aside the questionable physics and biology of flying reindeer, how do you recruit them? The reindeer, that is.

A: Craigslist.

Q: You’re telling me the reindeer can read.

A: Of course not. That’s just ridiculous.

Q: Unlike them flying.

A: It’s not the reindeer, it’s their owners. Laplanders and Canadians have access to the internet too.

Q: So the owners of the reindeer show up with their deer, and then what?

A: Well, the genes for flying in reindeer are recessive, so we have to test for ability.

Q: With a DNA test?

A: With a catapult.

Q: Wait, what?

A: We chuck ‘em into the air and see what happens.

Q: That’s… that’s horrible.

A: Why?

Q: What if they don’t have the flying gene!

A: Then they come down.

Q: And you don’t see a problem with that?

A: It’s just gravity.

Q: There’s that little part at the end! You know, when the reindeer who have been chucked into the air hit the ground at 32 feet per second per second.

A: What? No. We put up nets, dude.

Q: Nets?

A: Nets. To catch them. Jeez, what do you think we are, monsters?

Q: I didn’t know!

A: PETA would be all over us for that.

Q: Maybe you should have mentioned the nets earlier.

A: I would think they would be implied.

Q: Sorry.

A: Anyway.

Q: Okay, so you sorted the ones who can fly from the ones who can’t. What then?

A: Then we take the new reindeer and start training them, using various tests and exercises to see which role they would be best at.

Q: The fabled Reindeer Games.

A: Right. Once we know who is good at what, we slot them into the role.

Q: So how many reindeer are in each position?

A: Roughly a hundred.

Q: That’s… a lot of reindeer.

A: What did you expect?

Q: I don’t know, I thought maybe two or three for each position. Like a football team.

A: That was just an analogy.

Q: No, right, I get that, but even so.

A: Look, these are animals. They get tired. And the sleigh crosses the entire planet. You can’t have a single team of eight physical animals pull a heavy object that entire distance. That’s cruel. You got a swap ‘em out at regular intervals. So the couple of days before Christmas we truck them to various places around the world, and when Santa lands, we make the swap.

Q: Where do these swapouts usually happen?

A: Typically mall parking lots. They swap out and Santa can take a bathroom break. He’s drinking lots of milk that night and eating a metric ton of cookies. He’s gotta make space.

Q: And no one notices Santa landing and swapping out the team.

A: We’re quick about it.

Q: How quick?

A: Let me put it this way: NASCAR pit crews?

Q: Yes?

A: Slackers.

Q: Final question: the reindeer are on the job one night of the year.

A: Correct.

Q: What are they doing the rest of the year?

A: Leipäjuusto.

Q: Gesundheit.

A: I didn’t sneeze, you numbskull. It’s a traditional Scandinavian cheese originally made from reindeer milk.

Q: Santa’s a cheesemaker on the side, is what you’re saying.

A: And a damn fine one. His Leipäjuusto did very well at the International Cheese Awards this year.

Q: Did he say “Merry Curdmas” when he won?

A: No.

Q: Maybe he could make Holy Infant Cheddar, whose selling points would be that it’s tender and mild.

A: Stop.

Q: “Ho Ho Havarti!”

A: I’m going to have Vixen stab you with an antler now.

Seeing The Academy Is

I’ve been a fan of The Academy Is… for a while now, basically since I discovered their last album Fast Times at Barrington High, and over the last couple of years I’ve become friends with William Beckett, the band’s lead singer, who also has a solo career and who many of you know I commissioned to write a theme song for my novel Lock In. The band broke up in 2011, before I could get around to seeing them live, but late this year they announced a one-off reunion tour to coincide with the 10 year anniversary of their second album Almost Here. Well, you didn’t have to tell me twice; I went and bought VIP tickets for me and the family to go see them at Bogart’s in Cincinnati.

Thoughts and observations and whatnot:

1. First, it was a pretty damn good concert, including the opening set by Partybaby, and it was clear that the band has a bunch of fans who were delighted that they got back together, even temporarily, to put up a tour. These kids knew all the words, sang along without prompting and generally had themselves a fine old time, and it was also clear the band was enjoying the fact the audience was just plain happy to see them on the stage again. You could be cynical about this and say this just means the band could have sung random Tweets and the audience would have been just as happy to make the scene, but I think it’s more that everyone in the room remembered why this stuff can be fun for everybody. This makes for a good vibe for a show.

2. I suspect that I may have been one of the five oldest audience members at the show, since most of TAI’s fans were (or at least appear to be) twentysomethings and, unrelated to age, also women. This is a) perfectly fine, b) nevertheless amusing to be a visible outlier at a concert. As I mentioned to Krissy last night, at this point in my life I am well-acclimated to my “dad” status, i.e., undeniably middle-aged dude who is at peace that his cool years are behind him (if he ever had cool years, which, well. I didn’t) and who adjusts accordingly.

For example, as VIP ticket holders, we were allowed to position ourselves early right in front of the stage before the show started, so we could be right there to see the band fling sweat at us as they performed. Did we? Hell no; we went back to the bar area where they had seats and a waiter to bring us drinks as the band played. You crazy kids go ahead and have fun up by the stage; we’re back here not being squished, with earplugs in so we can hear tomorrow. And that’s groovy.

3. Speaking of which, this concert was the first time I had ever done a “VIP” package at a show, in part because I wanted to see what something like that was like, and in part because William is my friend and I wanted to support him and his band a little more than the usual “ticket and t-shirt” level of things. With the exception of the venue making the VIP ticket-holders line up at a very early time and letting us freeze outside for more than a hour before herding us in, it was all right. We got in early, did a grip-and-grin photo moment with the band, and then had about a half hour where the band mingled with the VIP ticket people, chatting and signing photos and other stuff.

Krissy caught me grinning at that part, and this is why: While I make absolutely no claims of being a rock and roll star, I have in fact done the “VIP mix and mingle” thing, in which one works a room specifically for the purpose of circulating among a group of people who are there specifically to see you and/or you and a few other people. In my professional opinion, the band did a pretty good job of it; they were gracious with the fans, made sure to circulate and be available to people coming up to say hello, and seemed like they were having a good time which (whether you are or not) really is key.

That said, I’m not sure the VIP ticket thing is for me in general. This was a special circumstance in that I knew a band member personally, and I wanted to support his band, who I was also excited to see for the first time; I don’t know that many rock and roll stars on a one-on-one basis. I just bought tickets to see Journey next summer (I know, mock me if you want, I don’t care, I like Journey) and skipped over the VIP package. Being a middle-aged relatively successful dude, I could afford it. But honestly I don’t need two minutes with Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain, there are other people who I suspect want it more. I’m happy to let them have it, and to sit in the shed with hoi polloi, croaking out “Stone in Love” at the top of my lungs or whatever.

4. I don’t know many rock and roll stars, but I do now know a fair number of musicians, and the older I get the more I continue to be impressed with the skill and professionalism required to do the job of lighting up a stage. I know musicians as friends and admire their craft as songwriters, but the performance aspect always gets me the most. It’s fascinating to see people I know turn on the performance mode and become this other thing entirely — not a fake version of themselves but a version turned to being in front of a crowd — for the duration of an event.

I recognize it from what I do at events (I call it “performance monkey mode”), but again, to be clear, what I do is different from what musicians do. I dare say what they do requires more than what I do, not in the least because they have to carry a tune and/or play an instrument competently for an hour or more. Performance is hard; some performance modes are harder than others.

This may be another sign of me getting older. When I was young and I was at a concert I would mostly just rock out; now I watch the performance and note what they’re doing and see how hard they’re working and appreciate the effort. I don’t think it means that I enjoy the concert less, mind you, just that I enjoy it in a different way. I like watching people I like and/or admire do their job well, is what I’m saying. The Academy Is did their job very well last night.

5. Finally, here, have a TAI song to listen to. They didn’t play it last night, but it’s right for the season. Enjoy.

Dad Punk Christmas Carols

Yeah, this is about where I am with Christmas this year. And that’s good!

My Non-Spoilery Review of The Force Awakens

Super-short version: It’s not bad! Best since the original trilogy and arguably better than at least one of those. You’ll probably have a whole lot of fun with this film.

Non-super-short version: Star Wars is that friend of yours who you haven’t seen in a while, who was in a long-term relationship where everything was cool for a while and then things just plain went to hell, and the last time you saw them, they’d kind of hit the bottom. Now you’re seeing them again for the first time in years and before they show up you’re humming a little mantra that goes please please please please don’t let this be awkward and weird like it was the last time we saw each other.

And then they show up! And they look great. They sound great. You talk to them and slip into the groove with them, and they catch you up on what’s been going on in their life, including their new relationship with this fab-sounding person who seems to be doing good things for them. And you suddenly realize that for the first time in years your friend actually seems happy. They’re not exactly their old self again — who ever is, after all those years? — but the things you always loved about them are there once more, and you’re so happy to see them happy again that you almost want to cry.

So, yeah: If you’re a Star Wars fan, that’s how you’re going to feel about The Force Awakens.

This is an immense relief, but also, to use the words of a famous Mon Calimarian, it’s a trap. Because it’s Star Wars, and because you’ll have been used to Star Wars films being terrible for so very long, the highly-polished, super-competent and intentionally entertaining film that is The Force Awakens might feel something like a revelation. Finally, a Star Wars film you don’t have to make excuses for! That you don’t have to mumble something like “well, it’s part of a trilogy, you have to wait until the whole thing is done to see the entire structure” to yourself and others in a vain attempt to overlook massive flaws. This is the first Star Wars film in decades that you can relax into, and just sit back and enjoy. It’s not until the tension of having to pre-emptively rationalize your film choices is lifted that you realize what a burden it has been. The absence of that burden might just feel like greatness.

So: is The Force Awakens a great film?

No. It’s not on the level of great cinema. It’s not on the level of the original Star Wars (which I refuse to call A New Hope because fuck you George Lucas you’re not the boss of me) or of The Empire Strikes Back. It’s not the best science fiction film of 2015, or even the best new installment in a long-running science fiction film series (say hello to Fury Road for both, although The Martian and Ex Machina are in the running for the former). It’s not a great film, and you shouldn’t be relieved into thinking it is.

But it is a pretty damn good Star Wars film, which at this point in the series is exactly what it needs to be. This shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

Things to love (or at least really like): The dialogue, by Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams and Michael Arndt, which for the first time since Empire sounds like words that might actually come out of the mouths of actual thinking human beings, and not merely declamatory utterances designed to fill up space. The relationships, of which there are many — more and more believable relationships in this one single film than in the entire run of the series to date. The care with which even minor characters are developed and seem like actual people, rather than toy manufacturing opportunities given a line or two in the film as an excuse to make parents buy the action figure for a stocking stuffer. The fact that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s characters (as well as one other character, who you will know when you see the film) are believably young and act like young people do, ie, make some questionable choices, without doing stupid things entirely for plot convenience.

In short, most of the best things about this movie relate to the characters in it — and the care with which the filmmakers use to make them as real as possible. This is the one thing George Lucas could never manage on his own, partly because he’s a leaden writer (Harrison Ford once famously quipped of Lucas’ dialogue “You can type this shit, George, but you can’t say it”), but primarily because I just don’t think he was that interested in it. He needed characters as chess pieces, not as people. In The Force Awakens, we get characters as people, and their game becomes more interesting.

Things not to like? Basically, the several points where the film has to bow to the tropes of the Star Wars universe mostly for plot convenience and fan service. Yes, yes, lasers and explosions and battles and the cute nods to the previous films, they all have to be in there. I get it (trust me, I get it). But for me all of that was a sideshow to the characters — and think about that! When was the last time you could say that about a Star Wars film? (Empire.) There’s also the fact that almost immediately after I left the theater there were a whole bunch of things about the film that I started to pick apart. Trust me, my friends, if you think the nitpickery of the Star Wars universe was positively Talmudic before, wait until the dust settles with TFA. There will be nitpickery galore.

Here’s the important thing about that last bit: On the drive home, I had things I wanted to nitpick — but the operative part of the phrase is “on the drive home.” When I was watching the film, I was in the film. I wasn’t focused on anything other than where I was. And that, my friends, is the goal. When I was the creative consultant for Stargate: Universe, that was actually my job: To read the scripts early and flag all the things that would throw people out of the story before the end credits rolled. It’s okay for the audience to be nitpicky, just afterwards. Managing that is not as easy as it sounds, and certainly the prequel trilogies never achieved it. TFA does.

Which is a testament to Abrams, his fellow screenwriters and to Disney. When Disney bought Lucasfilm I said that it was “the best thing that could happen, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan.” I said it because Disney, whatever other flaws it has (and it has many) understands better than almost any other studio that the audience must be entertained. You grab the audience, you carry them along for two hours, you keep them busy, and you drop them off at the gift shop when you’re done. Disney is relentless about this, and they’re not stupid about it, either, which is to say, Disney doesn’t treat its audience like marks, to be hustled. It treats them as opportunities for a long-term relationship, involving the transfer of cash to Disney.

Cynical? Well, yes. But, look, if what that means is we get good Star Wars films that aren’t painful to watch and tell a fun story while we’re shoving popcorn into our maws — stories with lightsabers — then I’m okay with that. Especially after having slogged through a Star Wars era where the only thing of interest was the merchandising. We’re getting more out of the Star Wars cinematic universe now than we were with Lucas. I don’t see this as a bad thing. “By the sweet and merry mouse above, you will be entertained,” I wrote, when the Disney deal for Lucasfilm was announced.

I was right. I was entertained. And because of the focus on characters in The Force Awakens — a focus I expect to continue through Episodes VIII and IX, and in the new “anthology” films — I am optimistic I will continue to be entertained in the Star Wars universe for a good while yet. I can’t tell you how giddy that makes me.

I don’t need greatness from Star Wars. I just want to have fun with it. And with The Force Awakens, I did. I’m glad my friend is back, and happy.

 

My World is Awesome

From dream to reality in no time flat!

Perfect. Just, absolutely perfect. I could not be more pleased.

Ironically, as this was going down on Twitter, a bunch of MRAs/bigots/pathetic reactionaries were trying to impugn my manhood over there in various unimpressive ways. I trust my absolute delight at this picture communicates my concern about measuring up to their silly definitions of masculinity.

Update! 

Two more contributions!

Serious, my life is cool.

Cat/Kitten Integration Update

Folks have been asking how Sugar and Spice are getting along these days with Zeus, and vice versa. I’m happy to say at this point it looks like integration is fairly complete. Zeus stopped automatically hissing every time he saw the kitten some time back, and now the kittens go up to him on a regular basis and do the nose bop thing. They are not as chummy with Zeus as they are with Daisy, but then, Daisy feels very maternal toward the kittens and that has an influence. Be that as it may, I think we’re on the downward slope of the acclimation hill. Zeus knows the kittens are here to stay.

Off With Their Comments

The Toronto Star newspaper has decided to nix comments on its Web site. The reason:

We have passionate, opinionated readers who are eager to get involved in conversations about politics, education, municipal issues, sports and more. You’re talking about the news on thestar.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, LinkedIn and more — and we want to be able to capture all of these conversations.

With that goal, we have turned off commenting on thestar.com effective Wednesday and instead we’ll be promoting and showcasing the comments our readers share across social media and in their letters and emails to our editors.

This is a polite and deflect-y way of saying “Our comments are a raging cesspool filled with the worst that humanity has to offer and you all make us look bad by smearing your feculent mindpoops on our property, so do it somewhere else and we’ll pick the ones we like to highlight.”

And you know what? Good for the Star. At this late stage in the evolution of the Internet, it’s become widely apparent that, barring committed moderation, comment threads trend quickly toward awful and vile, and that their ostensible reasons for existing (“free exchange of ideas,” “building community,” “keeping eyeballs on the site” etc) are not just negated but very often undermined by their content. Very few online sites, news, social or otherwise, benefit commercially or reputationally from their comment threads. There’s a very real and obvious reason why “NEVER READ THE COMMENTS” is a phrase that has gained such currency in the online world.

So why not just ax them? This is apparently the question that the Toronto Star folks asked themselves, and equally apparently could not find a sufficient reason to keep them. Again: Good for them. The site will become marginally more readable, and the newspaper won’t have to task some poor sad staffer to moderate the flood of bigots and/or numbskulls and/or spammers who traditionally populate the comment threads of major news sites (and minor ones, and indeed, any site where they are given a chance to thrive). There’s no downside.

But what about the bigots and/or numbskulls and/or spammers? What of them? Where will they go? Won’t their special snowflake voices be silenced? Well, yes, on the Toronto Star site. But there is the whole rest of the Internet, and creating one’s own outpost to fill with one’s own thoughts — and one’s own thoughts on the news media — is trivially easy. Look! I’m filling my own site with my own thoughts right now! Now, the drawback to the bigots/numbskulls/spammers is that their thoughts won’t get the benefit of being a free rider on the traffic the sites they’ve attached themselves to; they will have to attract readers on their own in the marketplace of ideas.

But that’s not fair! Oh, well. That’s life. Also, it is in fact entirely fair. As I noted to someone elsewhere on this topic, no one is owed an audience. The audience I have, as an example, comes from a quarter century of writing, including seventeen years(!) on this very site. You want my audience? The answer is clear: get cracking, folks.

I mentioned on Twitter last night that the world would largely be a better place if all commenting ability were to be vaporized on the Internet, and someone asked me if I would include my own site in that. I said yes, for the general good of humanity, I would be willing to sacrifice my own site’s commenting ability (and also, that for the first five years of the site, it did not allow comments, and yet it did just fine). It would be hard, but I’m pretty sure most of the people who I like would keep in touch. Email would still exist.

This does not mean, I should note, that I plan to get rid of comments here. I do actually moderate my comments, and because I do — and because there is in fact a community of people here who care for the quality of the site, often as much as I do — this site is in my mind one of the exceptions to the general rule that comment threads suck. It also helps that this is a very idiosyncratic sort of site; if it was all politics (or all tech or all anything) all the time I suspect it would attract more people committed to trolling and being douchecanoes on particular subjects, and also garner more fly-by commenters. But the site is about whatever is going on in my brain, and my brain skips around a bit. Variety of topics is useful.

But I’ll also note that especially over the last few years my patience with comments runs thinner and how I approach them is different. There was a period of time not long ago where I began to dread writing about contentious topics here because I knew it would require me to babysit comment threads, and it would take a whole lot of my time and brain cycles — both of which I could better spend on writing — to plink out obnoxious comments and otherwise act as referee. It genuinely began to affect my overall happiness. I had to change the way I thought about commenting here because of it.

Now I do things like turn off comment threads when I go to sleep, which means I don’t wake up dreading coming to my own site to see what some shitty human has posted on it. If I write on a contentious topic but don’t feel like referring comments, I just plain leave the comments off (which, incidentally, has no measurable effect on how widely a piece is read, as far as I can see). And I’m quicker to mallet comments and punt people out of threads if I decide they’re out of line.

Basically, I changed seeing comments as something “of course” and more as “at my pleasure.” If I’m not going to be happy they’re there, then they won’t be.

Which is a point of view I think more people — and more sites — are beginning to take on: What does allowing comments get me? Does it make me happy or not? Will my site be better for them, or not? In the Toronto Star’s case, the answer apparently was that the site wasn’t better for them, so out they went.

Once more: Good call. I hope more people and sites ask themselves the same questions, and ditch the comments if they don’t measure up.

I Was Gonna Write Some Things About Stuff But Then I Didn’t, So: Look! Kitten!

Specificially I was gonna write something about politics, but then a large wave of ennui swept over me and the next thing I knew it was, like, 5pm. So, here, have a kitten. Maybe I’ll write about politics later. If not, there are always more kitten pictures to take.

In My Copious Spare Time I Make Fake Album Covers for My Kittens’ Fake Band

This is the cover to their underrated fourth album. And before anyone asks, their band name predates their “Scamperbeast” nickname. You have to keep the gags consistent, folks.

Admit it. You’d buy this album.

A Personal Top 10 of Things That Are Not Titles to Christmas Songs and/or Lifetime Holiday Movies and Honestly I Don’t Understand Why

10. A Colonoscopy For Christmas

9. If Reindeer Can Fly Then How Did Daddy Hit One With His Truck

8. Christmas on Reddit

7. I’ve Got the “My Family Has Left Me and All I’ve Got to Get Me Through the Holidays is Coors Light and a DVD of Die Hard Set to Repeat” Blues Again, Mama

6. Jingle! Jangle! Gerbils!

5. What Do You Mean I Missed Hanukkah Again, There Are Eight Goddamn Nights of It

4. A Child’s Christmas on XBox

3. Officer I Didn’t Mean to Kick His Teeth In, But He Said “Happy Holidays” Instead of “Merry Christmas”

2. Mama, Why Does Santa Need My Kidney?

1. Mansplaining Christmas to Mary

This is What December 14, 2015 Looks Like in Ohio

My part of Ohio, anyway. And yes, it’s a little ridiculous.

What’s really cool is that I almost never see north-facing rainbows. Much more likely to see them to the east or west generally, and when the sun is low enough in the south to allow them in the north (i.e., in December and January), the weather doesn’t usually cooperate. This may in fact be the first one I’ve seen.

Happy December!

The Best Thing Ever, December 13 2015 Edition

Earlier this month, my daughter and I had the following exchange on Twitter:

Note the last comment from me, it’ll be relevant in a bit.

I was deeply amused by the exchange, and posted it to my private Facebook wall, which precipitated this comment, and my response:

For those of you who don’t know, Tom Warburton is the creator of the animated television series Codename: Kids Next Door, which, among other things, was one of Athena’s favorite TV shows growing up. The shadowy figure with the pipe and the fire exploding behind him is Father, the adult nemesis of the Kids Next Door. Father is voiced by Maurice LaMarche, and he sounds like this (you’ll want to play the 30 seconds after it starts running, not, uh, the whole video. Also, if for some reason it starts at the very beginning, scroll to 9:56):

(You may also know LaMarche as the voice of this big headed, mousy fellow.)

LaMarche is one of my favorite voice actors, thus my remark to Tom above that if I could be voiced by Maurice LaMarche, that would be awesome. Because, let’s face it, all my proclamations, tweeted or otherwise, would sound 1000% better in LaMarche’s voice than my own.

Mind you, on my part, it was merely an observation. Tom, on the other hand, took it as a challenge.

So: Remember that Twitter comment from earlier that I told you to remember? Well:

I’m not gonna lie. I squeed. And then I ran downstairs to play it for Athena, who also agreed that it was officially the best thing ever.

Dear Mr. LaMarche: Thank you. You can speak my words anytime. And, Tom Warburton? You totally rock. Athena and I may get other gifts this December, but I suspect this one will be one that made us smile the widest.

(For those readers with sight/vision problems, a quick recap: I made a smart-ass comment to my daughter, and my friend Tom Warburton had that smart-ass comment read aloud by one of my favorite voice actors. It was awesome.)

A Saturday Evening Blast From the Past

Look, it’s me (in the pink denim shirt) on the first day of second grade. My sister is about the start the fourth grade. My mother, if memory serves, is 27 in this picture, and can be excused for what she is wearing because it was the 70s and everyone alive in that era did things they regret today. Better that ensemble than, say, cocaine.

Anyway: Hey! I was young once. True story.

On the Asking of Special Holiday Favors From Me

Folks: This week I’ve gotten no less than five requests from fans (or family/friends of fans) asking if I could do some particular special thing or another that would mean a lot to the fan for the holidays. Since there are several of these this week, and these sorts of requests are something I’ve had to juggle before, especially during the holidays, I’m posting this as a general note so people know it’s not personal. And that note is:

I really can’t. One, because it’s the holidays for me and my family as well as for everyone else, which means that I’m pretty busy with other things — including work, but also with general holiday stuff. Two, because often the things you’re asking for may seem relatively small or trouble-free for you but often will require some amount of planning and scheduling for me, which again, will probably take place during the holidays, when my time is at a premium. Three, because I couldn’t do all the special requests I’m asked to do and I would feel vaguely guilty at granting some and not others, so easier just to say no and put everyone on the same footing.

Special requests were one reason I started doing the holiday signing books thing at Jay and Mary’s Book Center several years ago. It made better sense from a time management (and from a maximizing access) point of view to schedule through the bookstore than to have people, for example, send their purchases to me at home to sign.

It’s possible in the future I’ll set up something where I do a day of Holiday Special Favors — probably with a charitable aspect tied into it somehow if I do — but for now I just have to say “no.” I do hope you understand.

Thanks.

(P.S.: If you were one of those asking for a special request, please don’t feel bad for doing so. You didn’t do anything wrong, and you weren’t being rude for asking or anything like that. This isn’t an “Oh my God I can’t believe you would ask that what a terrible person you are” post, it’s a “I can totally see why would want this and here’s why I can’t right now” post. There’s a difference.)

New Books and ARCs, 12/11/15

It’s beginning to look a lot like the weekend, so here is this week’s collection of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. What looks good to you? Tell me in the comments!

I Was There. This Is How It Was

A K-Mart in-store holiday music tape from 1974. 

There’s a K-Mart company song at the very beginning and a couple of store announcements along the way; otherwise old old old school commercial Christmas music. Just for verisimilitude! Enjoy.

(Hat tip to Saladin Ahmed for linking to it on Twitter.)

I Didn’t Get My Act Together to Update Earlier Today, So By Way of Compensation Here Are the Scamperbeasts Playing With a Coke Zero Box

I trust this is sufficient. Thank you and see you tomorrow.