A Moment of Really Lame Introspection

Look, it’s me being all, like, pensive and grown up and crap like that. Don’t worry, it won’t last.

I was going to write some massive retrospective of my life to date here, being that 35 is the Biblical midpoint of life, but I’ve tried starting it three times now, and even I can’t swallow the crap I was writing, which means I certainly can’t inflict it on you. So let’s just pretend I said something funny and insightful and full of wisdom about being a grown-up and living life and being glad for a span of years that actually lets you appreciate more about the world than just yourself. Because I guarantee you what you’re imagining I wrote is a damn sight better than what I actually was writing. Restraint. That’s a key to a writer’s success.

Frankly, I have no wisdom to impart. But I’ll have you know I’m both gratified and somewhat relieved to have made it to age 35 only to discover that I have the coolest wife in the history of wives, the greatest kid yet spawned, and a career that a) is actually what I wanted to do when I grew up and b) has yet to show signs of stalling out from under me. There may in fact be ways that my life could be better. But off the top of my head it’s difficult to think of how without coming across as entirely selfish and ungrateful. So I won’t try. I’ve been unfathomably lucky in this life, and I think I’ll spend the rest of this life working to earn out the karmic credit I’ve been advanced to date. That’s fair.

In short: Life is good. To those of you who have been part of it, I thank you. Now, let’s keep going. Lots to do. Lots to see.


A German reader who was appalled at my suggestion last December that we make Saddam Hussein spend of the rest of his life in a box into which videotaped depositions of the victims of his regime were streamed endlessly (he thought it would be torture, whereas I would be more inclined to call it karmic justice), wanted to know what I thought about the US treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

Well, in no uncertain terms: It is shameful. But more than that, it very simply marks the moment at which I believe the United States has unequivocally lost the larger war for the future of Iraq and of the Middle East, the war, if you will, of the hearts and minds of the Iraqis and of those of good will in the region. Whether one believes that deposing Saddam was a good thing or not, our armed forces have given the enemies of the United States the evidence they need to posit a moral equivalency between us and him, regardless of whether it is true. We have no one to blame for this but ourselves: If one does not wish to be compared to a brutal dictator who crushed and tortured the Iraqi people, one should not, in fact, crush and torture Iraqis in that brutal dictator’s most infamous prison.

We tortured Iraqis, and the impassioned appeals that such treatment is not representative of our nation’s ideals is utterly aside the point. Those people writing about how noble it was for us to quickly own up to our failings gloss over the salient fact that we have something we need to own up to. Everyone who wants credit for everything we’ve done right in Iraq fails to appreciate that you can’t get credit for doing a bunch of little things right if the things you get wrong are so goddamned spectacular. It’s nice that people are sending toys and school supplies to Iraq. But plush toys and pencils are no match for pictures of US soldiers setting dogs upon naked, cowering Iraqis. It’s not even close.

There’s a word for this sort of thing: Incompetence, and that word sticks to just about everything this current administration has done in Iraq from the moment our forces stabbed into Baghdad. The military offensive was bold and brilliantly done; the occupation of the country has been utterly abysmal, and everything about it seems to have been designed to squander what good will we accrued by freeing the country from Saddam’s grip. This could have been a “good war” — not an easy war — had our administration showed some indication that it actually cared what happened to Iraq and the people within it once Saddam was kicked out of power. But it didn’t, and to a large extent still doesn’t — which is not entirely surprising to me since I personally never believed that George Bush had any interest in invading Iraq except to avenge his father. I had hoped that those around him might show some evidence of long-term thinking once Dubya’s limited objective had been accomplished, but I guess I was wrong about that.

I’m still not sorry we went in and got rid of Saddam — it was an action too long in coming. But everything since then has been nothing short of a disaster; Abu Ghraib is not an exception but the end result of systematic incompetence that plagues the entire enterprise. The abuse and torture the Iraqi prisoners suffered is the fruit of lack of forethought, lack of planning, lack of intent, and lack of care. To put it bluntly, this simply wouldn’t have happened if those at the top of the food chain actually gave a shit about Iraq. But they don’t. Dubya stopped caring the instant they flushed Saddam out of his bug hole; everything since then as been (literally) killing time until we can bug out and claim some sort of moral victory. Well, Abu Ghraib robbed us of that.

Who is responsible? Well, there certainly seems to be enough blame to go around, doesn’t there. Those at the top didn’t care or didn’t want to know or at the very least seem more annoyed that truth is out there than they are of the fact of the torture itself. Depending on who you believe, those at the bottom were either untrained to serve as prison guards and left without real supervision or instruction, or they were following orders from above which explicitly condoned torture. One is malignant neglect, the other is simply evil. It all stinks, from head to tail, and it seems unlikely to me that anyone is going to come away clean.

Personally, what I wish were that it were November so I could cast my vote and register my disgust with this current administration, which in this as in nearly every other thing it has done has shown little but contempt for anyone and anything that is not of its own narrow ilk. Bush and his people are staggeringly bad at their jobs — they are so bad that even their good ideas rot and fester as soon as they are taken out of the bag. This is what you get when the President of the United States is a man who has a level of self-introspection that is best described as canine, and whose cadre of cronies appear outraged at the idea that they can and should be held accountable for their actions (or lack thereof).

This is the worst president and administration since I’ve been alive — yes, even worse than Nixon, because as paranoid and bad as he was, some of his administrative policies did more good than harm. Nixon was criminal, but he wasn’t an incompetent. It’s rather terrifying to say that I’d prefer a competent criminal in the Oval Office than the contemptuous incompetent who is in there now. But there it is. As I’ve said before, Bush isn’t the worst president ever — Buchanan, Harding and (probably) Grant are ahead of him in the queue — but if someone else wants to be the worst president of the 21st century, he or she is really going to have to work at it.

Abu Ghraib is a defining image of the incompetence, contemptuousness and stupidity of this administration; if it eventually helps boot Bush from office, then some good may come from it. I’m sure that the more agitated Bush supporters will try to find a way to make a parallel between Abu Ghraib and the Madrid Bombing; i.e., that it was an example of terrorists gaming the system to get rid of an adversary. But Abu Ghraib is a self-inflicted wound. Al Qaeda didn’t make US servicemen and women torture Iraqis.

I’m sure my German correspondent would want to know how I can declare what happened at Abu Ghraib shameful and yet be perfectly content to inflict what he feels is torture on Saddam Hussein. The answer is simple: I am not my government or my military. It’s one thing for me to concoct what I feel are karmically appropriate punishments against mass murdering dictators in the privacy of my own mind; it’s another thing for my government and military to condone torture or through incompetence or inaction allow torture to occur. As a private individual I’m allowed my fantasies, but my government and my military exist in the real world. I’m not going to be allowed to mete punishment on Saddam, so I am free to creative imaginative sentences. My government and my military are meting out punishment, however, on actual people, none of whom approach the high stinkin’ evil of Saddam. So I would that their creativeness be somewhat less terrible than my own.

Shocking the Shockable Classes

Over at Electrolite, Patrick Nielsen Hayden is more than a little frustrated that the general discussion he wished to have about the utility of shocking the bourgeois has become a specific discussion of Ted Rall’s recent attempts to shock the said class, through the Pat Tillman cartoon and a column this week, which begins: “Now it’s official: American troops occupying Iraq have become virtually indistinguishable from the SS.” Well, that’s the nature of allowing just anyone to step up to the mike (in the form of blog comments): It makes you aware of the schism between what you want to present and what the readers take away.

However, I am interested in the question of the utility of shocking the masses, and I find myself largely in agreement with Patrick in wondering what the point of it is. In my particular case, it’s because a) given the ubiquity of extreme views in our culture, and the enthusiasm of (at least the appearance of) deep ideological divisions in our country, the rhetorical value of shock is somewhat less today than it might have been at other times, and b) people of opposing viewpoints are, I suggest, less than genuinely shocked when someone comes out and says something “shocking,” and indeed crave the outrageous statements from the other side. This is particularly the case in the blogoverse.

Not to nitpick on the various right-ish bloggers who spun themselves up into a tizzy about this week’s Rall cartoon and column, but to be bleakly cynical about it, I have rather large doubts that all of them were so terribly upset that Ted went off on another one of his flights of outrage, since the reaction was exactly as it ever was:

1. Look! Ted Rall’s Gone Insane Again!
2. He’s Just Another Example of the Depravity of the Left!
3. We Should Boycott Everyone Who Has Anything To Do With Him, Ever!
4. And, We Should Ignore Him Forever From This Point Forward! That’ll Teach Him!

But they can’t do that last one — they won’t — because he’s too useful an example of #2. Which is why in six months or whenever, when Ted does another cartoon or column that seems especially cracked, they’ll all get the vapors and declare how disgusting Ted is and post their links to his stuff so all their readers can share in the outrage. Replace “Ted Rall” with “Ann Coulter” for the opposing team, and everyone’s as happy as punch through the election.

I’m not saying these people aren’t actually disgusted or appalled or whatever. Some of them probably are. But their moral disgust is far outstripped by that part of their brain that suggests that this would be an excellent thing to blog about; they are, in effect, rather more opportunistic than outraged. A blog is its own gaping maw: It must be filled. And it must be filled in ways that readers expect. Or so I suspect most bloggers believe and have internalized; outside of the Livejournal ramblings of teenagers describing their day at school, I think vast swaths of bloggers have either consciously or unconsciously tailored their output to what they think will sell – “sell” meaning to encourage others to link and/or retain what readers they’ve already accrued.

So, yes, allow me to suggest that if folks like Ted Rall and/or Ann Coulter (or Michael Savage and Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh and Janeane Garafalo, blah blah blah) didn’t exist, the blog world would be bereft and inconsolable and filled with more pitures of cats than it already is. Which is not the same thing as being shocked. We are opportunists when it comes to selling our viewpoints, and cheap and easy extreme opposite opinions attract us like a brightly colored and scented lure attracts a rainbow trout. The difference is we know what we’re biting on and we bite on it anyway.

(Ted, by the way, is posting some of the more colorful of his hate mail in his own blog. If you scroll down from there, you’ll also see some further comments he has on the Tillman thing.)

It’s not the blog world alone, of course — in the larger universe, the blogverse is still an inbred and slightly mangy playpen in which geeks play. All media outlets get play out of this stuff. The blogs didn’t invent the appropriation of shock for feigned moral outrage; they learned it from other media. Someone wondered if more than five of Ted’s usual clients would run the Pat Tillman piece, but when you consider that Ted got newspaper editorials and radio interviews and an appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s television show out of it, honestly, what does it matter? Criticize Ted if you will for making the cartoon (and for capitalizing on the ensuing controversy), but save at least a share of your outrage for folks like Bill O’Reilly, who see Ted as a useful tool for their own agenda. And all that manufactured outrage from the right in turn gets made into useful fodder for the left-leaning folks. It’s the circle of shock, and it moves us all.

I’m not personally shocked by much of what people write or say anymore, and I think generally speaking I don’t pretend to be. At best I’m irritated, which I think comes through when I rant about something here, but I don’t see much value in suggesting that I’m more worked up about something than I really am. Like any bloviating writer, I can get myself worked up if I really want to. But to be genuinely shocked about something, it would have to run deeply counter to my expectations of humans in the real world. There’s not much that does that.

What would be nice is to have some way of knowing what is actually shocking to people. Sometimes you can tell: For example, I think the Iraqi prison story is genuinely shocking: Our image of what our country is runs deeply counter to the pictures and news, which is why by and large there has been unanimity nationwide in the revulsion we feel that some of “our” people have done that. But it’s not trivial to note that this is not a shock manufactured by a writer or artist — it’s a shock that comes from real life.

It’s interesting — and a good thing — to note that our thrill at providing ourselves fake outrage to play with has not blunted our ability to feel genuine shock when it’s warranted. At least, it hasn’t blunted it yet.

Another Internet Milestone

I always wondered when the day would come when someone would auction off one of my book on eBay. It looks like today is that day. Actually, yesterday was — this auction’s already on its second day. Even so.

The guy who’s selling it says of the book: “If you like the stupid criminals on Jay Leno’s headlines, this is the book for you! A quick read, hilarious, and will make you shake your head in disbelief!” To which I say, yeah? If you like the book so much, why are you selling it?

I kid, I kid.

New Bathroom Reader

If you’re still looking for a gift for mom this Mother’s Day, allow me to suggest the Mom’s Bathtub Reader. This particular book was mostly written by Sue Steiner (which is why it’s her name on the cover), but I pitched in a few pieces on mom-related movies and music, and aside from that it’s got the usual Uncle John’s-type panoply of subjects, all at least tangentially related to motherhood. Krissy is already threatening to swipe my contributor copy to give to her mom on Sunday, so you could consider than an endorsement on her end. This book is out in bookstores, so, you know, look for it there.

I’ll also be contributing to a couple other Uncle John’s books this year (in addition to Book of the Dumb 2, currently in process) and of course I’ll let you know when those pop out of the oven as well.

Rant: Collected Ventings 1999 – 2004

I’ve been muttering for some time about collecting up some of my most memorable rant-like Whatever entries into convenient book form, and since I won’t have another book out this year until at least September, now seems an excellent time to do it.

So behold! Rant: Collected Ventings 1999 – 2004 — Five years and 284 pages of lightly-edited online bile, now on sale through my CafePress shop, for the outrageous vanity press cost of $16.95 ($15.28 of which goes directly to CafePress. This is the peril of the Publish-on-Demand cost structure).

The book is loaded with most of my most famous rantings, including the following classics:

* I Hate Your Politics
* How to Write Hate Mail
* Leviticans
* Even More Long-Winded (But Practical) Writing Advice

As well as my various bashings of creationists, Confederates, the childfree, conservatives, squishy Salon-reading liberals and anyone else who has aroused my wrath and ire over the last half decade. What it doesn’t feature are my various nice and light Whatevers — no, this is all about outgassing. Which is what I titled it Rant. I figure truth in advertising counts for something.

Why go the CafePress vanity publishing route? Well, because — and not to put too fine a point on it — it’s not a very commercial book. The people who are going to be interested in owning it are the people who know me and/or the people who already read the site. There are several thousand of the latter, which is nice, but it’s probably not enough to convince a publishing house to bother. My non-fiction agent informs me that basically the only books of columns and essays that actually make any money are written by Dave Barry, so a collection of entries by a mostly-unknown fellow venting on the Web is likely to do dramatically less business.

Fair enough. As I’m fond of saying, I’m in the fortunate position of not having to do everything strictly for the money. And in any event, I’ve sold six books already, so I don’t have to worry about whether it’s a “real” book or not. This is entirely a vanity sort of thing — low-volume but also low-risk, since I’m not required to lay out any cash to make it happen. I’ve not violated the holiest dictum of professional writing, which is “money flows to the writer.” Should any money flow here, it’ll flow in my direction. And that’s the important thing.

I should note that putting these Whatevers into book form doesn’t mean I’m taking them down off the site. No, everything in the book is on the site and will likely remain so. As I said, this isn’t a fantastically commerical endeavor — it’s mostly a way to let interested folk read me away from their computer screens.

So if you’ve ever wanted my rantings in book form, here you go. Enjoy! It also makes a lovely gift for dads and grads (or if you go the one-day shipping route, for moms, too). I’ll be interested to see how it does.

Ted at it Again, Again, Again

For some reason I appear to be the guy online who gets to be Ted Rall’s Keeper, since any time he writes something outrageously controversial I get e-mail going “See what your friend has done now? What do you think about that? Huh? huh? huh?” This time around it’s the cartoon about Pat Tillman that’s got everyone worked up, and people want to know what I think about it and about Ted doing it. Fine.

Cartoon first: It’s not my thing. I differ from Ted on my opinion of the morality and the goals of the war in Afghanistan, so this is not terribly surprising. However, even if I did agree with Ted about the morals of that particular war, I’d suggest that even those who fight in a war of dubious morality can fight well and with honor — and indeed be heroes. This is why, for example, that even though I continually note how evil the Confederacy was, I can also note that many of those who fought for the Confederacy did so honorably. I don’t equate the recent occupation of Afghanistan with the Confederacy, and Pat Tillman, from what I understand, died trying to save his squadmates under attack, for which he received a posthumous Silver Star. For that action alone, “hero” is not a bad description of Tillman. So for my money Ted’s wrong here.

Ted next: People, look. I don’t know why any of you are surprised at this point that Ted’s going to take a whack at sensitive areas. He’s been doing it for well over a decade now; he’s going to keep on doing it until he keels over at his desk, pen in hand. He’s a superlefty who is not shy in his opinions and certainly doesn’t mind antagonizing people. This isn’t a defense of Ted; I’m merely noting a fact. This is his business, and he’s good at it. By all means, rail against him and support boycotts of outlets that syndicate his work if you believe it is going to have some sort of effect. If I were you, however, I wouldn’t labor under the illusion that you’re going to shame him into silence, directly or indirectly. It’s a big country. There are too many media outlets, even if you just count the ones on the left. And on either side of the political spectrum there’s no lack of opportunity for those with extreme views. I mean, hell. Ann Coulter keeps managing to scrape up enough dough to eat and hang clothes on her frame. You think Ted’s not going to be able to do the same?

Also, I’d note that before he was a cartoonist, Ted worked in investment banking. So conservatives may want to ask whether it’s worth it to drive him out of cartooning. He just might end up handling your investments.

I do have a couple of comments to make to all the people who call Ted a coward and declare that they’d fight him if they saw him. On the latter, Ted’s not a small fellow, nor does he run from things in my experience. And he’s extraordinarily litigious. If you’re thinking of throwing a punch, don’t expect Ted to fold like a liberal sissy man; he’s likely to fight back. And after he does, he’ll be happy to sue your ass for damages and keep the suit going until the very heat death of the universe. So if you’re going to make that punch, make sure you can take the hit.

On the former, unlike most of the rest of us, Ted’s actually been to Afghanistan, both before this recent war and during it. He didn’t have to go to Afghanistan, and not a few of us who knew him told him that he was insane to go. But he felt that he needed to go and be a witness to what was happening there. At one point in his most recent stay he came one doorknob turn from being shot and likely killed. There are many things Ted may be, negative and positive, but I guarantee you that “coward” is not one of them.

Pragmatic Idealist

I was doing one of my daily Technorati ego surfs when I noticed this new blog, which says that it will match up bloggers of various political stripes and have them debate, Iron Chef style, for the edification of the masses. After which they’ll be judged by whomever the judges are on their style and delivery and whatnot. No word on whether there will be fabulous prizes, although I somehow doubt there will be.

What interests me is not the “Iron Blog” concept, which I think is a little shaky; one has to wonder what the advantage of going to someone else’s blog to snipe and argue is when one can just as easily do it on one’s own site, without the artificial restrictions imposed by rules — i.e., freeform venting which is what makes blogging so much fun in the first place. Especially if there are, in fact, no prizes involved.

No, what interests me is that whomever it is running the site has created two blogrolls, one for lefties and one for righties, and I am located on the right side of the blogroll. Anyone who reads the site on a regular basis should find this amusing, given my open disdain of the GOP and my kneejerk (and not entirely fair) mental classification of conservatives of any stripe as people who primarily wish to rationalize their own fear and greed. The reason I suspect I’m on the right side of this fellow’s toteboard is that that he lumps libertarians with conservatives, which is a correct pairing, to the extent that functionally speaking your average libertarian’s goal of being left alone dovetails into the conservative’s goal of dismantling government so no one can stop their nefarious plans for global domination.

A lot of my personal opinions dovetail with libertarians — I too wish to be left alone and encourage others to leave other people alone as well — so I suspect this is why I’m on the right side of that blogroll. But this is not the same as saying that I am a libertarian. Without getting too much into detail about it, the reason I’m not a libertarian is that it’s a political philosophy that can function only if the average person wants to let other people do their thing, and the fact is most people don’t. That’s because most people don’t trust other people to be smart/honest/noble/whatever enough not to screw things up for the rest of us.

The reason for that, alas, is that most people aren’t smart/honest/noble/whatever enough not to mess things up. People are often dumb, greedy short-term thinkers who don’t give a crap about you as long as they get theirs, or they’ve got their eye on a long-term plan for global domination for their god and/or ideology. Frequently they’re both, which is a lot of fun to deal with. Now, I’d like to think most people will do the best thing given time, education and the opportunity to look at things long-term. But simply as a matter of experience, it’s nice to be able to rein them in from time to time. I’m not an optimist when it comes to people and their behaviors. So no libertarian cookie for me, I’m afraid.

My politics are neither left nor right in any consistent fashion; I’m not conservative, or liberal, or libertarian, or whatever. Chart me on a traditional political map and the only real conclusion you’ll come to is that I need medication for my multiple personalities. I like to think my politics are on the “z” axis, which is defined by idealism — what we’d like to believe people would do — and pragmatism — what we need to have people to do so that the country is a reasonable place to live. The real world is rather more in need of the pragmatic approach at the moment, and I’m fine with that. I’m an idealistic pragmatic (and on my good days, a pragmatic idealist). No wonder I write science fiction.

30 Minutes

A quick note that doesn’t have anything to do with anything: Back in the day (which you can read as 1998/1999, when I started babbling through the Whatever), I always tried to impose a 30-minute time limit on whatever I was writing here, partly as a writing exercise but also because, you know, I have work to do. Now, as anyone who spends time reading here knows, my actual success in sticking with a 30-minute writing session has never been entirely good — I do tend to run on — but for the month of May, I’m going to try incorporating it back in. It’s very busy month, and the alternative is to take one of my famous mercurial hiatuses while I bust through other writing. But I don’t really want to do that; I’ve been enjoying the Whatever quite a bit recently. So we’ll try the 30-minute thing instead for May and see how it goes.

And now I’ve wasted five minutes explaining the 30-minute plan to you. Tick, tick, tick.


Please understand that I realize this is almost unforgivable spoilage on my part, but I’ve given up the ghost in the form of my Yamaha keyboard and have transported it from my desk, where it’s collected dust for the last nine months, to my daughter’s room. Athena is always wanting to play it, and most of the time it’s inaccessible under piles of papers and books; now she can play it any time she wants to, without bothering me.

I feel mildly hypocritical in handing over a keyboard worth a few hundred dollars to my kid, not in the least because just yesterday I wrote over at By the Way about how amused she was by a $2 maraca, and used that as an example of how stressing about buying “the best” toys and such for your kids is a little pointless since kids amuse themselves with whatever’s at hand, no matter how much or how little it costs. I didn’t buy this for Athena, or with her at all in mind, but it’s still not a cheap little bauble to pass over to her.

But I look at it this way: It’s a question of use vs non-use. Fact is, I’m not using it, and am not that likely to use it again in any meaningful way (nearly all the music creation I do at this point is with my sequencer in the computer). Athena will use it, and as a nice bonus, might actually learn to use the damn thing over the course of time. It can be a massive paperweight on my desk or something that’s played with on hers. In that light, it’s worth a bit of spoilage.

Athena’s reaction to the news I was giving her the keyboard, incidentally: “Cool, daddy! Can I have your guitar, too?” The answer to that was no. But if I don’t play the guitar again over the next year, I may have to change my mind.

Note to April: Good Riddance

Don’t tell April I said this, but it was without much doubt one of the most aggravating months I’ve had in a very long time. Parts of it were good, particularly with By The Way, which has become a lot more flexible and fun now that AOL Journal entries have an expanded character limit; this lets me do a lot of more interesting stuff. And I have a few other projects that are simmering along, some of which should pop soon. I will of course keep you informed.

But other parts were less than fabulous, in no small part due to both physical and technological screw-ups. The allergy season this year has really knocked me for a loop and has caused be to become unmoored from time, space and emotional constancy, which is alas a self-defeating cycle: Being tired and cranky and off my schedule makes me work less and less effectively, which in turn makes me crankier. Repeat for about 30 days. I’m emerging out of the allergy tunnel in no small part due to finally accepting the obvious (dude, you got allergies), and cracking open a box of the over-the-counter version of Claritin and taking one of the pills a day.

The technology aspect of it is tricker. Aside from April showers bringing horribly inconvenient satellite Internet outages, I’ve come to the conclusion that e-mail is finally and completely screwed. Thanks to spam, and the resulting needed-but-capricious spam filters that have risen in their wake, I am no longer in the slightest bit confident that the mail I’m sending is getting received. or if it’s loitering in a spam box somewhere among the viruses and the ads for erection boosters and anti-depressants. Likewise I’m almost certain that people attempting to reach me are sending e-mail I’m not getting.

I guess in one sense it’s nice: “Your e-mail was in my spam filter” is now to e-mail what “I’m going into a tunnel” is to cel phones — a convenient excuse to not talk to someone. But damn it, I want to talk to people. Earlier this month it took about four tries to get a single document to one of my book editors, and even through I know he finally got that e-mail, I’m not at all sure he got the e-mail immediately after it, in which I sent him three book ideas. I want to be sure he got it but at the same time I don’t want to look unduly pathetic and neurotic. If I’m to look pathetic and neurotic, I want it to be for something I’m actually pathetic and neurotic about, not over whether a friggin’ e-mail has arrived. Curse spam for making me look more emotionally needy than I really am.

(I’m solving my problem here, incidentally, because I know this particular editor and/or his spouse read the Whatever. Yes, it’s pathetic and neurotic to do it this way, too. But what are you going to do.)

Long story short: Some geek better build me better e-mail and fast, because I literally can’t work if e-mail gets any more screwed up than it is. It’s bad enough some jerk-off wants to make money splotzing ads for bestiality photos into my e-mail box; when the consequence of doing so is that my business gets harmed because I can’t reach people through e-mail and they can’t reach me, well, that’s when I entertain notions of setting up a collection for hitmen to visit the spammers in their dank Florida doublewides. Honestly. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already.

These two factors (among others with which I won’t bore you) made April horribly frustrating; every time I felt like I had a bit of momentum going, it’s like my legs got poleaxed from under me. The good news is that I did get most of everything I needed to get done, done; the bad news is I can’t say that this was accomplished by any agency other than sheer chaotic thrashing. Earlier this month, someone sent me an e-mail asking me how I managed to find the time to do everything I do. This last month I was very much wondering that myself.

May. May shall be different, in no small part because I don’t have much choice in the matter at this point. I burned off all my margin time in April by sneezing and try to keep a satellite connection open; as a consequence May does not offer me time to dick about. I will be organized out of necessity, which is frequently the only organization I manage. But, whatever works.

This means, of course, that I now have just over four hours to screw around. I better get to it.

Aw, Go Fly a Kite!

Well, okay.

This is one of the nice things about working from home. You can take a kite break when necessary (and it is necessary).

Athena’s home because of a dental appointment today; she had to have a tooth extracted because an adult tooth was coming up in back of it. So she’s having a day of Jell-O, ice cream and distractions like this. Let’s hope she doesn’t get used to it. We don’t want her voluntarily losing any more teeth.

Athena’s Mix CD

I think that one of a parent’s more minor but nevertheless important responsibilities is to make sure his or children grow up with a love of music that doesn’t totally suck, and that while allowing for a child’s own emerging musical tastes, one can work within those tastes to present that child songs that are worth listening to. Just as one doesn’t one’s child to go to kindergarten unprepared to read and write, one also doesn’t want to send her off to school at be at the mercy of the cheesebag Nick-bands of the third graders like Play or Dream Street (actually, Dream Street is waaaay dead. Yet Play somehow survives. Terrifying), or — worst of all — the Geneva-Conventions-flaunting Kidz Bop CDs. Not my child. Not this day.

With that in mind, allow me to present the Athena Mix CD. This CD Mix features songs selected after general observation of music she already likes, a wide selection of tunage that nevertheless has some things in common. For example, she prefers cheerful to not, she prefers a driving beat to ballads, she (slightly) prefers women’s voices to men’s, and perhaps not atypically for a five year old, she prefers songs that have damn catchy choruses that she can pick up in a snap. So here’s what we have:

1. That Ain’t Bad — Ratcat: Athena shows an affinity for punky pop, so this underrated early 90s gem from an equally underrated Aussie punk band fits the bill just fine.

2. Believe — Cher: It’s got a nice beat, and you can dance to it. And if you’re going to expose your kid to a dance diva, why not the one that’s survived over four decades. A positive role model, just not in the “plastic surgery” sense.

3. Come Give Me Love — Sparkledrive: Obscure band, but insanely catchy girl-fronted pop rock.

4. The Whole of the Moon — Mandy Moore: Off of Moore’s Coverage album, on which she also covers XTC, Joe Jackson, Blondie, and Joan Armatrading, and doesn’t do a horrible job of it. Anyway, it’s doubtful Athena would dig the original version of the song, and rather more likely she would dig this version, and the song is fabulous, so why not?

5. Take a Chance on Me — Erasure: Exactly the sort bubbly pop she’ll dig, and I prefer that if she must be exposed to ABBA, why not by way of Erasure, whose bright techo-pop flavorings are already part of her musical vocabulary?

6. When I Grow Up — Garbage: Athena already likes Garbage, and I think she’ll enjoy singing along to the chorus. What fun it will be when she sings the chorus (“When I grow up, I’ll be stable”) to all her new friends at kindergarten!

7. It’s the End of the World as We Know It — REM: Like everyone else in the known universe, she’ll flub the verses and shout out the chorus.

8. All Star — Smashmouth: Old Reliable. The first song she danced to as an infant; she’d just wiggle back and forth. It was cute you might bleed from the eyeballs.

9. Why Does the Sun Shine? — They Might Be Giants: A fun song, but also scientifically correct! Well, mostly; it seems to suggest the sun undergoes a CNO fusion cycle when in fact the sun is not nearly massive enough for that, But I quibble. I’m pretty sure that Athena’s already the only kid going into her kindergarten who will be able to name most of the planets in the solar system, but I’d bet money she’s the only one that will be able to tell you that the sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a giant nuclear furnace, where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees.

10. Walla Walla — Offspring: Offspring is another one of Athena’s favorite bands (she digs “Why Don’t You Get a Job” and “What in the World Happened to You?”), so this is more of what we know she likes. I acknowledge Offspring is a controversial choice for a five year old (the band is not shy about profanity), but Athena is smart enough to know which words not to say and also I think it’s not a bad sign to signal to your kid that you trust her to enjoy music without worrying that she’s going to spout profanities afterwards. Be that as it may, the band’s song “Bad Habit” is not going to be on any playlist of Athena’s anytime soon. Also, of course, if Athena brings any little friends home and chooses to listen to tunage, Offspring mysteriously disappears from the playlist. This is the advantage of having all the music in the house streaming off my computer.

11. Our Lips are Sealed — Go-Gos: Do I really need to explain this choice? I didn’t think so.

12. Kid — The Pretenders: Athena adores “Stop Your Sobbing,” so I figure she’d also dig this.

13. Connection — Elastica: Short, fast, and that fast-descending bass note is going to go over really big.

14. Perfect — Fairground Attraction: One of Athena’s more surprising favorites is a version of “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” so I’m taking a chance that Athena will dig on this, which has a similar jazzy feel. Also, the earlier she learns to adore Edie Reader, the happier I’ll be.

15. I Want You to Want Me — Letters to Cleo: Athena really enjoys this band’s cover of “Cruel to Be Kind,” but the original Nick Lowe version not so much. I figure the same dynamic would be in play with this Cheap Trick nugget.

16. All the Small Things — Blink-182: Athena likes the band already. I thought about putting on “The Rock Show” which I know she would dig, but even with my somewhat relaxed attitude, the line “We don’t owe anyone a fucking explanation” is not one I want coming past my daughter’s lips. Not just for the F-word, but because she’s already wondering why she needs to explain herself to us, her parents. We’ll wait until she’s six.

17. Spiderwebs — No Doubt: A song we already know she likes, so I just put it on the CD. It’s the chorus, of course.

18. Adonis Blue — Voice of the Beehive: A mildly obscure 90s band, and I wonder why, since they’re so perfectly poppy it kills you. This is their best song, in my opinion.

19. Everlasting Love — U2: A last-minute addition, and I’m not entirely convinced Athena is going to enjoy it as much as the others. But if she does, it’ll certainly open up more music options; we can start reaching back to 60s pop and Motown. Not to mention, you know, Elvis.

20. Road to Nowhere — Talking Heads: Another risky choice for a five year old (perhaps “Stay Up Late” would have been a better choice), but I think she’ll like the beat, and I don’t mind exposing Athena to a little American Pop Existentialism. Better she get it from David Byrne and friends than someone shady.

Will Athena like all of these songs? Probably not — does anyone ever like all the songs someone else chooses for them? But she’ll like some of them, that’s for sure. I’ll tell you what I’m looking forward to: The day Athena makes a mix for me.


They’re adding local channels to my Satellite service, which apparently means I need a second satellite dish in my yard (it has to do with the fact I have satellite Internet. It’s all very complicated). As it has become my understanding of the world that anything that can go wrong with satellite installation will go wrong, I expect to lose my satellite modem connectivity sometime in the next ten minutes. In other words, this is probably all you get today. The good news is, if everything goes well, for the first time since I moved to Ohio, I’ll be able to watch The Simpsons on broadcast TV. It’s worth the aggravation.


Well, isn’t this groovy: Go to Google, type in the word “Whatever” and then hit the “I’m feeling lucky” button. Go on, I’ll be here when you’re done.

Hello again!

Yes, for reasons passing understanding, this is the top listing for the word “Whatever” on the whole Web. This site in general has been the top draw for the word “Scalzi” for years (probably since Google first started indexing), which is entirely understandable as there’s not a whole lot of competition. But I’ve never been the Web King of an entire common pronoun (or adjective, or interjection, depending on context) before. It’s kind of a tingly feeling. I suppose it helps that Whatever.com forwards to a site shilling teddy bears. But I’ll take it! For as long as it lasts, anyway.

I promise to use this power only for good, or in whatever manner amuses me fitfully. One or the other. You never know.

Update: 4/28/04 — My reign of terror is over: Whatever.com is back on top. It was fun while it lasted.

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