Lineup Change

Not that anyone cares, but I swapped out Romensko on my “Other” links with Penny Arcade! The online comic strip about video games. Why? Because I like it! Also, today’s cartoon is yet another classic.

I have no illusions that I’ll be, you know, boosting their visibility, since on the average day they get roughly 75 times the visitors I do. But it’s not about that. It’s about Penny Arcade! being damn funny.

Murder in a Small Town

I live in bucolic splendor, but that doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen:

Two found dead of gunshot wounds at farmhouse

By Ben Sutherly
Miami County Bureau

ADAMS TWP., Darke County | Deputies found two people dead of gunshot wounds in a farmhouse bedroom Thursday after a 4-year-old boy showed up at a church a mile away with blood on him and said something was wrong with his grandparents.

The church the little boy showed up at is a couple miles down my street; I pass by it when I go shopping in Greenville. The dead appear to be the grandparents of the boy — it looks like it might have been one of those murder-suicide things. Very sad.

The Confederate State of Iraq

“The attacks we’re seeing are bizarre — technical vehicles [pickups] with .50 calibers and every kind of weapon charging tanks and Bradleys,” Wallace added, referring to the M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles used by the Army. “It’s disturbing to think that someone can be that brutal.” — “General: A Longer War Likely,” Washington Post, 3/28/2003

Well, that’s true, if one is actually trying to win a war.

But I suspect the Iraqi forces aren’t trying to win, exactly. They’re trying to do two interrelated things:

a) Cause the Americans and British delays to allow diplomatic outrage and political maneuvering, which will presumably work in Saddam’s favor;

b) Set themselves up as valiant martyrs against the evil aggressors (that’d be us).

The first of these is pitched to the world at large, since there are apparently still people and nations who are under the impression that a ceasefire is possible. I think this belief is charming and sweet, but as I doubt that, short of an actual religious conversion, Dubya has ever changed his mind about anything, so the first point here is moot.

However, the second point is pitched to Muslim and/or Arab states and people, and I suspect that it’s likely to have some appeal. A mindset that sees suicide bombing as a legitimate tactic is more likely to see three Iraqis in Toyota attacking an M1 as gutsy rather than just plain stupid. In the short term, such admiration is of questionable value, but in the long term, mythologizing the Iraqi resistance is one way to build an antagonistic identity among Arabs and Muslims across borders. And of course that’ll be no good for the US, especially if we have it in our mind to go all imperial across the Middle East (which would be a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s not being considered).

If you think fighting a losing battle with style doesn’t have an enduring, long-term appeal that will lead a people to do stupid, self-defeating things decades and even centuries later, head to the American South sometime and listen to some its more ignit citizens give you a mouthful about the glory of the Confederacy and how awful that War of Northern Aggression was, and watch them pretzel up into wrathful, foaming anger when you suggest the Confederacy was a hateful, evil thing that’s well put into the ground, stake through its heart.

Make no mistake, Saddam, in his way, is attempting to make the Iraq the Confederate South of the Middle East. If it takes stupidly sacrificing thousands of his people to do it, well, of course, he doesn’t mind.

The Romulan Ambassador to TV

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of Richard Perle that isn’t like this: Gob open, eyebrows arched, looking vaguely irritated that those at whom he is pontificiating can’t understand the fundamental rightness of whatever bit of horrifying spew he’s masticating on before spitting it up onto the desk of whichever Sunday morning talk show he’s visiting. He’s like the Romulan ambassador to broadcast television.

One wishes it were possible to travel back in time, not to wrap the infant Richard Perle’s face in Saran Wrap before he could grow up into a soulless yammering neocon talking head, as you might suppose, but to provide him with a nice fuzzy stuffed animal or maybe a hug or two; Perle strikes me as one of those poor kids who came from a family where they believed emotional interaction was for pansies and Communists. I could be wrong — it’s entirely possible Perle is a quite amiable person to know — but since Perle’s inside-the-beltway knickname is “The Prince of Darkness,” I’m pretty sure I’m on to something.

I don’t know nearly enough about Perle as I should, considering he’s one of the godfathers of the Dubya administration’s foreign policy (which, boiled down to its mealy bones, seems to be “Screw you if you don’t speaka the English”), but I know enough to know that I’m glad he appears to be on his way down the power slide — he’s had to resign his position as head an influential Pentagon advisory panel, apparently just ahead of the hounds, although Donald Rumsfeld (another candidate for time-traveling plush toys) is keeping him on the panel just the same. Be that as it may, he’s taken a hit, and it’s likely that in the short run at least he’ll have to find something else to do with his Sundays than get miked by Tim Russert’s pretty production assistants. One can hope, at least.

The reason I’d be pleased to see Perle tumble into oblivion is that he’s the personification of what is so dislikable about the current crew in Washington: Yet another unelected yet influential career seether with undiguised disdain for people and viewpoints not grown like mushrooms in the dank feculence of a conservative think tank. I have a natural aversion to people who want to fiddle with the real world without actually having lived in it, and I have a deep suspicion that Richard Perle hasn’t spent much time in the real world. A spell in it, or at least a whack from it, might do him some good.

Technology Report

The more I fiddle with Movable Type, the more I realize how stupid easy it is to use (which is, I suspect, why so many people use it). I am having to roll my own coding whenever I want to insert a picture or other non-trivial HTML thing, but so far that’s not a real problem, since I don’t do anything particularly complicated. Anyway, it’s sort of like going back to 1994, when the Web editor was notepad, and if you wanted to upload your Web page, you had to know UNIX commands. Chmod this, pal.

One thing I’ve definitely noticed about Movable Type, however, is that it’s not exactly compact in terms of the information it serves up. A full day of people access the MT version of this page sends means my servers sends out roughly twice as much data as when I was posting in pure HTML. Part of this may be due simply to the fact that for the moment I’m writing slightly more, but even on a “per unique visit” basis it’s much more data. I’m unlikely to bump up against my bandwidth limit (it’s at 15GB a month, and even at double the data throughput, I’d get nowhere near that), but now I understand why some of the more popular sites get hit hard.

And because all the updates are handled through the Web, it’s wreaking havoc on my ease of reading referrer logs, since everytime I update there’s a huge plug of my own information in there. I used to walk lightly through my own referrer logs. Now I’m splayed everywhere. This isn’t something anyone but me needs to worry about, but since I enjoy combing through the referrer logs to see what horrible things people are saying about me on their own sites, it’s now slightly more of a slog.

I’ve also started fiddling with an RSS newsreader, which is interesting although I’m not quite sure what the utility is. I get the idea that it pulls down information for you so you don’t have to wade through someone’s Web site, but I like wading through people’s Web sites. Maybe I’m missing something.

Thanks also to the people who have posted comments or sent me e-mail about installable spellcheckers; I do appreciate it.

One final minor quibble about MT is that it’s easiest to use and update (in Windows, anyway) through IE — if for no other reason than that through IE, you have the little buttons that in the HTML code for bolding, italics and underlining as well as URL codes. Trying as I am to swear off Microsoft products whenever possible, this means I dip back into Bill’s Browser everytime I want to update. It’s no big thing, as I said, but I’ll look forward to an update that allows full functionality on Mozilla.

No, I don’t expect you to care about any of this. This is why the page is called “Whatever,” you know.

The PETA-ization of Protest

I endorse and applaud Americans who want to protest the war, since even though I don’t agree with their point of view on the matter, it’s always nice to see people exercising their First Amendment rights so they don’t get flabby and weak. Having said that, walking out into the middle of a Manhattan intersection to play dead strikes me as a very effective way to actually get dead, when some Teamster with a kid in the 3rd Infantry decides to protest your protest by parking his truck directly atop your spleen, and everyone around him gives him a great big cheer for doing so.

It also bothers me as someone who sees civil disobedience as something that can be transformative if used effectively and rarely, and thus should be used so. Being black and asking to be served at a lunch counter in 1960s Alabama takes guts of steel; being a overprivledged yuppie spawn parking your ass in the box at 50th street and 5th Avenue to snarl traffic is merely irritating to others. It’s the PETA-ization of protest; the vain hope that if you piss people off enough, they’ll finally come around to your point of view. I can’t speak for anyone else, but all PETA makes me do is think about having another hot dog. It’s not that I really want another hot dog, but I know it’ll just piss off some humorless PETAn to no end. Live by the sword, die by the sword, or, in this case, tube of rolled-up pork snouts and beef rectums.

(Bear in mind that this is not specifically a left-wing sort of thing, as the jerkoffs lunging at scared women in front of abortion clinics make amply clear.)

“Nothing else gets attention,” protester Johannah Westmacott told The Associated Press, explaining the civil disobedience. “It’s not news when people voice their opinions.”

Well, of course it’s not, Johannah-with-too-many-“h”s. We do happen to live in a country where everyone can voice their opinion. It is a thankfully and delightfully common occurance. The implication Ms. Westmacott is making is that her particular opinion is so important it deserves to snarl traffic. In fact she doesn’t rate. Right down the street I’ve got a couple dozen Amish whose anti-war opinions I respect a great deal more than I do hers. They’re not collapsed into the road, daring someone to hit them. They’re simply living their beliefs.

I do wonder how many people blocking traffic this afternoon are registered to vote. Now, there’s a protest that matters.

Another Thought on Comments

Here’s my going line on comments v. e-mail:

If you post a comment, I’m going to feel free to comment on it publicly, since, after all, it’s a public comment. I’ll either respond in the thread or if it’s especially interesting to me, make an entry out of it.

If you send me an e-mail about something I’ve written, I’m going to assume it’s private communication and will respond in e-mail only unless you’ve specifically noted it’s available for public comment and/or I’ve asked you to allow me to mention it and you’ve agreed.

So: Comments — public. E-mail — private. Either way, it’ll divert me from work. Mmmm… short attention sp– look! A pony!

How Long How Many

Ooooh, I like the comments feature. It’s so immediate feedback-rific!

From the comments in “What You Don’t Want to Hear,” this comment:

“Your post begs the following questions:

“If our war planners underestimated Iraqi resistance, have they also been overconfident about how easy it will be to occupy Iraq after the war?

“How many American troops will have to remain in Iraq to keep the peace, and how safe will they be?

“I’ve been more worried about that than the actual war.”

Both of these are excellent questions, and quite obviously, the best answer I can give is that I have absolutely no idea to both. I think it’s well possible that our military may have indeed initially underestimated what will be required after the hostilities cease, but unless the people in charge of the military are learning-impared (which I don’t suspect), they’re revising their initial estimates and that right quick. Our military is many things, but stupid is not one of them.

We have an obligation to rebuild Iraq, so we shouldn’t be in such a rush to leave, but at the same time I don’t think he need to be lingering on for years and years, because I think the longer we stay, the more resentful Iraqis are going to be; it appears a lot of them are already resentful as it is. Some people might wish for this to be the beginning of some American empire, but I’m not one of them, since if you haven’t noticed, all empires end pretty badly.

I’m not in a position in one way or another to guess on timetables and numbers, in terms of how much time we should be there and how many soldiers should remain, since I’m just some schmoe in Ohio. But “As little time and as few soldiers as possible” always sounds good to me. We help them rebuild, we help them get a working government they’re happy with, and then we say bye-bye. You don’t build allies and functional governments by hanging around longer than necessary.

Dear God, Save Me From Your Followers

I don’t know how we managed it, but we’re on the call list for the National Coalition for Prayer, a group which, as you may imagine, is comprised of people who think prayer is pretty neat and that everyone should do it, although it’s unclear whether they care whether you want to do it or not.

We’ve asked to be taken off their call list before, but they are somewhat persistent, Ohio is one of the states that doesn’t happen to have a “Do Not Call” law, and they’re a non-profit organization, which is one of those little gray areas in the whole “Don’t Call Me” legal landscape. I suppose it’s nice to know that they haven’t given up on me yet; they seem to believe that I might yet pray. And I might, but only for a nice lightning strike on their call center.

I don’t have a thing against prayer, but as with so much relating to religion, I find that some of the people who do the praying stick in my craw. Especially the ones with a real sense of religious entitlement, and get snooty about it when you want to point out you have just as much entitlement not to have religion. As in this particular case, when the telemarketer got huffy because I asked to have my number removed from her calling list.

“Why?” She wanted to know. “We’re just a non-profit organization committed to restoring our nation to God.”

“Well, aside from the whole Constitutional ‘Separation of Church and State’ thing,” I said, “I just don’t want to be on your list.” They never know what to do with the people who are sticklers for the Constitution, you know. It’s such a vexing document that way.

I doubt seriously that I’ll be removed from the list, of course. They haven’t done it yet, no matter how politely we ask. The next time I’ll just burble on happily how much I love prayer; why just the other night, at the meeting of my coven, I was praying to Beazelbub himself to smite those nasty meek little Baptists down the street. And then we sodomized some goats, because, really, what’s prayer without a little goat sodomizing? And of course I would love if more people prayed with me. So many goats, so little time.

I figure that’ll work.

What You Don’t Want to Hear

“Overhanging all developments in the war this week is the unsettling realization that thousands of Iraqis are willing to fight vigorously. During planning for the invasion, worst-case scenarios sometimes predicated stiff resistance, but ‘no one took that very seriously,’ an officer said.” — “War Could Last Months, Officers Say,” Washington Post 3/27/2003

I’m not at all surprised that the war could last months, because I just tend to be naturally pessimistic about these things; I’m a big proponent of believing anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and it’s best to factor in things going wrong. However, I do find it mildly troubling that I called the matter of Iraqi resistance better than the military planners have; as I said about a week ago:

“One of the great temptations with overwhelming superiority, however, is to belittle and underestimate the enemy. An analogy to use here is a kid cornering a frightened hamster in a Habitrail. There’s not a doubt that the kid will have his way with the hamster, but the hamster still has teeth, is still frightened, and is liable to make the kid regret forgetting those two important points with a well-placed and painful bite between the thumb and the forefinger.”

At the time I made the assumption that the military had well factored this, but now I’m wondering if they really had. In particular, I wonder why they assumed there would be a huge popular uprising against Saddam; the last time we encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam, we rather inconveniently left the man in power and offered them no help, which means the man slaughtered those who rose up by the tens of thousands. When you’ve been clobbered by sticking your head in a hole, you don’t stick your head in a hole a second time.

Mind you, it’s not a question of whether we win the war; time and material are on our side, as Saddam and his people are not exactly in a position to resupply or call in new troops. And our military is both capable and adaptable and will reconfigure to deal with these issues as they arise.

But would that the people who planned this war had been slightly more pessimistic in their assumptions. It’s not a coincidence that the acronyms “SNAFU” and “FUBAR” both come from the military, after all — it’s institutionally well aware of how even the best-laid plans run afoul. The question worth asking is if the plans we had going even had the advantage of being “best-laid.”

Anonymous Comments

As a quick FYI — I’ve set the preferences to allow anonymous comments. I do of course prefer that people let me know who they are, but I’ll try it this way and see how it goes. As a fair warning, however, anonymous postings are fair game for deletion if they annoy me. I don’t suspect I’ll delete critical comments if they’re signed, since I can totally respect people who say what they want to say and don’t worry who knows they’re saying it. But hit-and-run anonymous slaggings don’t deserve the same standard of respect. Anonymous praise, of course, will stand. Because I’m just like that.

That God Moment

Athena finally got around to asking about God yesterday, and it was Krissy who fielded the question. She and Athena were talking about something else entirely when Athena asked why some people went to church. Krissy told her that people go to church to pray to God. To which Athena asked, naturally, who God was. Krissy said that some people believed that God was someone who made everything, including trees and the sky and people.

To which Athena said, “Well, I thought people made people.” Which is, of course, exactly right, at least in the immediate, material production sense.

So I think the moment went well, both in Krissy’s response and Athena’s logically skeptical reaction to an assertion that flies in the face of existing evidence. She’s using her own little noggin, and of course that pleases me to no end. I’ve no problems with believing in itself (it’s what people believe that usually causes me irritation), but I think thinking is a better default setting all the way around, even (and especially) for a four-year-old.

Contracts

Almost exactly three months after the agreement in principle, I’m looking at my contract with Tor books. The delay, incidentially, was not really due to slothfulness on the part of Tor; when I went out to New York at the tail end of January there was a contract ready, but I had a few clarifications I wanted to have made, and the company was pleasingly obliging. Overall, the contract negotiations were quick and painless; heck, they didn’t even ask for my first born (which is well and good, since she’s already been lent out to Rough Guides).

Typically speaking, authors shouldn’t be handling contract negotiations for the same reasons barbers shouldn’t try to repair toasters; it’s not really in the job’s skill sets. This is why one has an agent, after all. However, in this particular case my agent doesn’t handle fiction, and the sums of cash involved were modest enough (it’s that first novel thing) that I felt comfortable that I couldn’t screw myself too badly. It helped that I have walked through book contracts before with my agent; those contracts were for non-fiction books, and this one was for fiction, but many of the nitty gritty details are the same sort of stuff. (Mind you, I’m currently in the process of getting an agent for fiction; like many things, walking through a contract is one of those things that’s interesting exactly once, and I have no interest in becoming expert enough to do it on a regular basis.)

In addition to the big stuff (like, how much you get paid for your advance and when), contracts cover a lot of smaller details as well: How many free copies you get, for example, to foist on friends and loved ones, and how much you’ll have to pay for copies after that; the various rights you’re letting the publisher have, which include several media, such as microfilm and cartoon strips, that you’d probably never think about on your own; and even boilerplate that covers what should happen if the publisher really wants to print your book but can’t because an unfortunate tsunami has washed away the corporate headquarters. Clearly some of these clauses can border on the ridiculous. But on the other hand, no one expects a tsunami, and yet they happen nonetheless. Be prepared, say the Boy Scouts, as well as the lawyers they grow up to be.

(Incidentally, those of you who paid to get a download copy of Old Man’s War, those things are officially collector’s items, since the contract makes me agree to cease all electronic publication. Enjoy!)

I’m personally excited to sign the contract, although not because I’m looking forward to the advance money. I mean, I am, don’t get me wrong (baby needs new shoes. And a pony. And graduate school). But mostly I’m itchin’ to sign the contract so that I can finally join SFWA — Science Fiction (and Fantasy) Writers of America. To be entirely honest, I have no compelling practical reason to want to join, since I can’t imagine what I would want SFWA to do for me; I’m unlikely to use its emergency medical or legal fund or its other services, and while it’d be swell to vote on the Nebula Awards, it’s not something I stay up nights dreaming about.

I just want to be in it because in its own incredibly geeky way, it’s just a very cool idea. If you’re the sort of dreamy shut-in who writes science fiction in the first place, what not to like about consorting with your own kind? At least you know they won’t laugh at you (at least, not for writing science fiction). Really, I can’t wait. I’ve already got the application downloaded. All I have to do is sign the contract, and I’ll be eligible. Hold on a sec —

There. Signed. Now I’m official. Somebody get me a Nebula ballot, already.

Link Notes

Long time readers of the Whatever will note that for the first time in a very long time, I’m including links on the page (links that are not part of an entry, that is). I’m intentionally keeping the number of links very low, for a couple of reasons. First, creating a list of links is a real pain in the ass, and secondly, I want to reflect the blog/journals/whatevers I actually visit on a more or less daily basis, rather than an orgy of links. Many other people do that (and include my own site in their copious lists, for which I say: Thanks!), but I prefer to keep things short and simple.

For fun, here’s a quick explanation of the categories.

Daily Blog Hit List — Quite clearly, the blogs I visit every day. There are some very popular blogs here, InstaPundit being the most obvious; maybe someone else would post more obscure blogs to boost their hip quotient, but the fact is that while most sites I’ll hit maybe once or twice a week, these are the ones I actually visit every day, often more than once. I’d advise against trying to guess my politics from this line-up, incidentally, since they don’t track. In the case of James Lileks and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, they’re there because they’re people I know personally; Steven Den Beste is there because I find his posts fascinating to read on several levels, and Metafilter is there because it’s so darn random. Glenn Reynolds is at this point all but unavoidable, but that’s because he does a fine job being the top ganglion in the Blog Brain, so more power to him.

Old School Journallers — These people were writing online before the term “blog” hit the mainstream; all of them go back to the stone age (i.e., 1998) if not earlier. I know almost all of these people personally; they’re either friends in real life, or I have known them online for quite some time.

WebbBlogs — Blogs and journals of people who went to the Webb School of California (or, in the case of Katie Granju, the Webb School of Bell Buckle, TN). With the exception of Ms. Granju, I know all these people personally; Josh Marshall and I graduated in the same year (1987, in case you were wondering).

Other — Catchall category, pretty clearly. glenn macdonald runs a music review site I greatly admire, while Rick McGinnis writes several intermittent blogs on movies, Canadian culture and life in general. Romanesko is a hangout for journalists, and BlogCritics I include because, aside from it being an interesting site, I also happen to own one of the domain names that connects to it. I don’t know Chad Orzel, but I like his site, so why not.

There you have it, my links in full. If you’re not linked to, please don’t take it as a slight. I love your blog, honest. And I’m open to bribery.

The New Whatever, Part II

Okay, here’s why I changed over to Movable Type.

1) It’s free. Although I suspect strongly I’ll be sending along some money to the people who created it, because why not.

2) My pal Bill offered to install it for me, thus allowing me to avoid (mostly) a show of my own total and irredeemable stupidity when it comes to all things software. I make no bones that I’m barely qualified to change the color values on the Movable Type CSS scripts; if I try to do more, something is sure to explode (probably a vein in my head).

3) It posts and archives simultaneously, which is one less thing for me to do.

4) Finally, it does various things (like set up comments and RSS feeds and what have you) that I wouldn’t particularly care about if I had to set them up myself, but which I think are kind of cool if I don’t have to bother with the heavy lifting.

The major drawbacks to MT that I can see at this point are that the software lacks a spellcheck (which means my spelling is about to become a whole lot more awful around here), and that if my Web site should ever collapse, there goes a whole bunch of writing. I could take preventative measures in both cases, but if you’ve noticed a running thread in this entry, it’s that I am dispairingly lazy. So more misspellings and a reliance on Google’s cache are sure to be in order. I don’t know what I’ll do if Google stop caching. I assume it will be because the apocalypse is upon us. In which case, cached Web pages, or lack thereof, will be the least of my problems.

Someone has already been kind enough to formally welcome me to the Blogosphere (if you use blogging software, you are by implication at least blogger-esque). I appreciate the thought, and I do expect I will probably start posting some more shorter, blog-like posts now, simply because it’s no longer a pain in the ass to do so. But I imagine I will still largely write the longer-style inteminable ramblings you’ve all come to expect from my fevered brain, if for no other reason than that’s what I’ve been doing for five years now. I’m old! I’m cranky! I’m set in my ways!

Anyway, enjoy the new look and surroundings, and feel free to use the comments section and whatever else. However, don’t get any smudges on the wall. I want this place to look new for at least a couple of days. Okay? Okay.

The New Whatever

Hi there. Yes, I’ve made an executive site-editing decision to go with Movable Type. I’ll explain more in just a little while. But for now — welcome to the new digs. Adjust your bookmarks accordingly, and tell everyone you know to do the same.

Update: Arrgh — as I am a complete incompetent, I’ve managed to erase most of my previous March 2003 entries (this was a parting shot from the evil Front Page software, I assure you). Rest assured I will track them down and reconstitute the missing articles; in the meantime, here are the Google cached versions. All hail Google, the kindler, gentler Total Information Awareness.

3/12/2003 — More Software Thoughts
3/14/2003 — Book on Stupidity
3/17/2003 — House Rules
3/19/2003 — Antebellum
3/21/2003 — Oscars, Feh

That should do it for now.

Update Update: The Google Cache entries have disappeared. It’s a conspiracy!

Book is Here; Oscar Wrap-Up

First, a personal note: I got my advance copy of The Rough Guide to the Universe yesterday; you can see it modeled by my beautiful assistant just to the right of this text. Notwithstanding one minor flaw (there are a couple of places where metric units should be alongside more familiar imperial units like miles and degrees Fahrenheit and aren’t — not that it’ll matter to those of you here in the US), it looks really nice. If you’re in the UK, you’ll have it on your shelves in a couple of weeks, while here in the US we’ll have to wait until May. Hopefully the universe won’t change too drastically by then.

In case you’re wondering what it’s like to hold a book that’s actually written by you, let me tell you: It’s very cool, similar to (but, I’ll be the first to admit, on a substantially lower level) the feeling you get when you hold your child for the first time — that whole I can’t believe it’s actually here thing combined with the wow, I made this thing. The major difference, of course, is that one’s actually a child, and the other is actually a book, and someone who gets as wrapped up in the latter as much as the former needs to get out more. Also, you won’t have to pay for your book to go to college, or worry that it’s going to marry a jerk one day. Even so, it’s neat.

***

I went 4 for 6 for my Oscar predictions, which is slightly worse than I usually do, but slightly better than I expected this year, because I haven’t been paying attention. Moreover, I don’t feel at all bad about the two I missed — Adrien Brody as Best Actor and Roman Polanski as Best Director — since no one expected either of them to walk away with the hardware. Especially Polanski, of course. However, in this particular case, it probably didn’t hurt Polanski that the woman he had raped with when she was a girl wrote an article in the LA Times saying she thought the Academy should just go ahead and give Polanski the Oscar. As they say, you just can’t buy that sort of publicity. One wonders now if Polanski will be allowed back into the States; when even the rape victim has publicly backed Polanski, the position of the LA District Attorney that the man should go to the big house might appear to be churlish. Not incorrect, mind you, just churlish.

Also, of course, I pegged the Bowling for Columbine win and Spirited Away; the former was not a surprise, but the latter was, at least to a number of media, who assumed that it would go to Lilo & Stitch because it’s Disney, and it was a big hit. But this is one time when Academy members differentiated between fun and competent (L&S) and an actual work of art (Spirited Away). Also, it’s the highest grossing film in the history of Japan, and 100 million anime fans can’t be wrong. The Spirited Away win is also good news for the Best Animated Film Oscar, since the choice of art over popularity (in the US, at least) legitimizes the award as something other than an opportunity for Disney and Dreamworks to pad their Oscar tallies on alternate years.

As for Columbine, as I said, I don’t know why anyone’s surprised about its win. Aside from its worth as a film (which is not inconsiderable, although it’s not really accurate to call it a straight-up documentary), it was a prime opportunity for Academy voters to make sure a political statement was made on Oscar night without jeopardizing the image of Hollywood at large — after all, it would have been surprising if Moore hadn’t have gone off on Bush. And it’s just the Documentary award. It’s not like Nicole Kidman went up and said “shame on you, Mr. Bush.” It’s like inviting the proverbial bull into the china shop. You know something’s going to get smashed. And maybe that’s what you want to have happen.

Music Plug; HTML Editor Update

A couple of random notes, which may or may not be of interest to you.

* My pal Joe Rybicki has a band called Johnny High Ground, and he’s written a tune that’s well likely to become the rock anthem for the “no war” crowd, called “Trigger-Happy Texan.” You can guess who it’s about. Putting on my music critic hat, I think it’s both tuneful and thoughtful, and doesn’t let its message get in the way of being a song you’d want to listen to. So I recommend it to everyone, even if you’re under the impression Bush actually knows he’s doing (or, alternately, if you think Bush hasn’t a clue what he’s doing, but don’t mind popping Saddam).

It’s here — scroll down to the bottom of the page for the streaming audio (there’s a hi-fi and lo-fi version).Then hop up and down and make your own mosh pit right there at work. Your boss will love you!

* A couple of weeks ago, I declared the end of my use of Microsoft products, when/if there was a viable alternative product — the cause for this being a ham-handed maneuver by MS to block me from using my copy of Front Page 2000 (it wasn’t personal; they’d block anyone in my position apparently). The sort-of boycott is still in effect, although it’s not without its difficulties. For example, the simple matter of finding a viable alternative HTML editor has been something of a headache.

The fact is that I don’t need a particularly sophisticated editor — the code on this site is kept intentionally clean and minimal, because I’m not the sort of person to geek out for hours on it, and because on occasion I like to change the look of the site. Front Page was in fact much more editor than I needed (I got it specifically for its ease in putting in headers, so I wouldn’t have to create a new one for every Web page I created).

This means that it doesn’t make much sense for me to spend hundreds of bucks to shell out for another massively full-featured Web design product, of whose features I will end up not using 99%. But the flip side problem of this is that most really basic WYSIWYG editors are kind of crappy and kludgy — really no fun to work in.

This was surprisingly the case with Mozilla’s built-in HTML editor, which is, sad to say, truly poorly designed. For example, Mozilla’s html editor doesn’t let you select something as simple as a font, and that’s just really stupid (alternately, it may, but the point of fact is you can’t do it easily, with a drop down menu or whatever. If a feature is not immediately obvious, one can argue it’s not really a useful feature). For another, it doesn’t have a spellcheck. I may write for a living, but my spelling stinks, and I’d prefer not to make that any more obvious than I have to.

My immediate solution is to go back to an HTML editor I know has the features I want without the headaches I don’t — the “Composer” feature on the Netscape 4.6 client. I think it’s a little sad that I have to reach back three years to find a suitable HTML editor, but I don’t know if it’s sad because there’s no decent basic WYSIWYG html editor available today, or because I’m so pathetic in my Web design that I have to use a clunky old editor in order to feel comfortable.

Some people have suggested that I get with the 21st century and use one of the Blog generators, such as Blogger or Moveable Type, but I’m fairly unmoved by the ones I’ve seen. As I understand them, both those (and other similar products/services) would route my content through an unrelated site in order to be updated, and that’s never any good. Also, I’ve used the Movable Type interface for Blogcritics, and I just don’t like it. That’s the problem with being picky. The benefit of doing that stuff is then I could take advantage of the latest stuff like RSS and XML and blah blah blah, but as you can guess I pretty much fundamentally don’t give a crap about anything like that. People find the site just fine, even with basic HTML.

Fact is, I just want something I can type into, upload, and then forget about. The whole point of doing this stuff is that it’s easy to do. If it’s not, then why bother?

Mr. Nice Guy

There’s no pleasing some people. I spent yesterday’s Whatever slagging Dubya, and the mail I get pounds on me for a throwaway comment I make about Dubya probably being a nice man (I specifically wrote: “I don’t doubt Dubya’s a nice man and not traditionally what one describes as stupid, but his thought processes are shallow and stagnant, like week-old water in a unused kiddie pool.”). Apparently calling the sitting President the most incompetent resident of the White House since Warren Harding, and doing so in an interesting and creative way, isn’t enough. One has to maintain he’s soul-warpingly evil as well, just the sort of guy who takes welfare babies, strangles them with wire, runs their tiny corpses through a deli slicer, pan fries the cold cuts and then feeds them to his Rottweilers, which he’s kicked for three hours a day since they were puppies in order to make them extra vicious when he sics them on poor, wrinkled Helen Thomas at the next White House press conference.

Sorry. Can’t do it, because I don’t think Dubya is that guy. I would suspect that on a day-to-day basis and in his personal encounters the man is normal enough, which makes him, like most people, a generally nice person to be around. I’m also sure that, like most people, he has his moments of irritability, neuroses, and supreme dickheadedness, which unfortunately for him are played out on the world stage and make for good news, while the rest of us get to have our moments of incivil stupidity in relative obscurity. One correspondent, in listing Dubya’s not-nice crimes against humanity, noted to me that the man is reportedly given to irrational bouts of rage. Well, maybe he is. On the other hand, yesterday I beat a malfunctioning phone to death with a hammer. So maybe I’m not the best person to judge someone for their irrational bouts of rage. And anyway, hammering my phone to death does not make me any less nice (except, in a very narrow sense, to malfunctioning phones). Yes, yes, where I hammer a phone in a fit of pique, Dubya can bomb a country. But I’m reasonably sure they’d bring in Colin Powell to hose him down first.

Dubya’s nice. Bill Clinton was nice, too. All of our recent Presidents have been nice enough people, in the generally accepted sense of the term; you have to go back 30 years to Nixon before you find a genuinely unpleasant occupant of the Oval Office (Johnson was apparently no prize, either, but at least he was a principled son of a bitch rather than fetidly paranoid, as Nixon was). Our Presidents are at least superficially pleasant people because as a nation we are at least superficially pleasant as well; people who are actively unpleasant generally make us uncomfortable. While unpleasantness may work on a small scale (note the number of truly feculent members of the House of Representatives), at a national level, gross non-niceness is a serious liability.

Dubya-haters want him to be evil because they perceive his policies to be evil: A nice guy wouldn’t invade Iraq or deprive children of school lunch money or take a weed-whacker to the Constitution and so on. The problem with that formulation is that it’s totally wrong; nice people do these sorts of things all the time. On the extreme end of it, you have Arendt’s banality of evil or Milgram’s zappers: Otherwise normal, nice people doing horrific things to other people because they either don’t see or choose to ignore the far-reaching consequences — or they don’t see the consequences as being wrong.

Most of us don’t take things that far, but the principle is the same: Fundamentally, there’s no connection between whether someone is personally nice, and whether they pursue an agenda inimical to what you perceive as desirable. On a day-to-day basis, evangelical Christians are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and yet the bland, theocratic, prayer-at-Friday-football-games and stadium-church-on-Sunday America many of them want to foist on the rest of us is something I know I’ll wearily spend the rest of life fighting against. By the same token, I’m sure that most evangelicals would find me genuinely pleasant to be around, since like most people I’m friendly enough, and I prefer people to be comfortable in my presence. But that’s not to say they won’t recoil in horror against my position that gay people should be able to marry, evolution is scientific fact while creationism is a fairy tale and both should be taught as such, and that a woman should get to evict an unwanted occupant of her womb if that’s what she wants. We’re all nice people. We just disagree vehemently about details.

Fact is, I have very little tolerance for the “If you disagree with me, you’re evil/sick/just not nice” line of thinking. Rhetorically, it’s boring. There simply aren’t that many people walking around the US being evil on a daily basis, evilly buying groceries, evilly watching Friends, evilly having routine but pleasant married sex, and evilly putting their head on a pillow to dream of evil, evil, evil. As a society, we’re not nearly that dysfunctional. But more importantly, it dehumanizes those whom you disagree with, and that’s a dangerous thing. The process of dehumanization is subject to Newton’s Third Law — you can’t dehumanize someone else without dehumanizing yourself in the bargain.

I’m not in that much of a rush to dehumanize myself, thank you all the same. Anyway I’m perfectly capable of holding the thoughts of “You believe things I don’t” and “You’re not a bad guy” in my head without the fear of doublethink because they’re not in fact automatically mutually opposing statements. I would suggest that if you believe otherwise you’re probably rather intellectually lazy and you prefer to idealize those who oppose you as flat, uninteresting cardboard representations of evil rather than as interesting, capable, nice human beings who must be considered as such if you wish to overcome their positions or find some sort agreeable accommodation so you can both keep living your life with some reasonable measure of felicity. Which means you’ll always be at the disadvantage. And that’s just kind of stupid.

You’re free to disagree with me, of course. I’m sure you’re otherwise very nice.

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