Speaking of Losers

Apparently some “Southern Heritage” site linked to one of my “The Confederates Were Losers” screeds, which is precipitating another wave of good ol’ boys to trot out their victimized wailings and send them to me in poorly spell-checked form. To forestall having the same argument over and over again, this would be a good time to trot out the various screeds I have on the subject in my archives and link to them, so they can read them all before sending their verbiage. So here they are.

Southern Heritage is a Crock

The Confederacy is Evil

Confederate Flags are Racist Symbols of Evil (Scroll down a bit)

State Flags Based on Confederate Flags are Also Racist and Evil

And Even Good Ol’ Boys Know This (To a Point)

And I Don’t Care That You Think I’m Being Unfair to the Confederacy.

I hope this clears up any confusion.

Update: I’ve had cause to add a new installment: The “States’ Rights” Argument is Just Plain Stupid. Enjoy!

Fans of Losers

As is my capricious right, I’m going to go ahead and elevate this out of the comment thread for “Dear Cubs Fans.” It comes from “Bowler” who writes:

This is the one point where I think I lose interest in your writing. I realize you write for a national audience, but let me tell you something:

Cubs fans don’t need you telling us what a great lovable bunch of losers we have/are over here, and let’s face it, you addressed this one to us (Dear Cubs Fans). We don’t need you telling us how they need to keep on losing, or how we’re better fans than any other fans on the planet. Pointing this out to us is like telling a leper who’s about to die that he looks bad. All you’ve done is simply repeat the obvious.

All we want, more than anything in the world, is to get just one trip to the World Series. We don’t even need to win it. We just wanted to get to the final five (or seven) games. Even if after that we didn’t make it back for another forty five years, that’s O.K. We would have had the memories to keep us warm and to tell the grandkids about. All we wanted was one, and I don’t think it was too much to ask, really.

But please, I know you’re done and all with this, but in the future, it’s not a good thing to point your finger and call a bunch of people (some of which are also fans of yours) losers. Lovable or not. You can try and spin it however you want to (and I do see the glint of respect in this piece, so there’s no need to go over it), but really, in the end, that’s how it feels on this end of the finger.

So I can call the majority of California voters losers, but not Cubs fans? Interesting.

Anyway, I don’t recall calling Cubs fans losers. Certainly I called the Cubs losers, because, quite obviously, that’s what they are. But it does not necessarily follow that Cubs fans are in themselves losers for rooting for their team. Or Red Sox fans, or White Sox fans, or fans of any team with a history of total ignominy.

Most obviously, aside from your exceptionally occasional Steve Bartman type, fans have nothing to do with what goes on in the game — otherwise how could the Marlins, with their weak-ass fan base, have done anything? (Not to mention the Angels last year; speaking as a native southern Californian, for years the Angels didn’t so much have fans as spillover from the Magic Kingdom.) As I mentioned yesterday, Cubs fans appear fated to feel implicated in their team’s failures. But it doesn’t often mean that they are.

Fans aren’t losers for rooting on losers, unless they’re rooting for those losers to keep on losing (in which case, they’re not really fans). I certainly don’t expect Cubs fans to cheer the team toward futility. Aside sullen existentialists, that’s just not in the human psyche to do something like that (and even the sullen existentialists secretly want the teams they love to win, win, WIN!!!). Yes, I wanted the Cubs and Red Sox to lose, but as it should be amply clear by now, I’m not a fan of either of these teams.

I’m not much of a fan of any team. Well, no. For the record, I’m nominally a Dodgers’ fan, for the same reason I’m nominally Italian; it’s about where my ancestors are. But I don’t get emotionally involved in the manner of a true fan. I’m sort of mildly irritated that the Dodgers seem to rent the second through fourth places in their division year after year, but that’s really the extent of it. I’m not the “fan” sort.

But his doesn’t mean that fans are wrong for being fans — I mean, why not? Everyone needs something to believe in and identify with, and with the exception of soccer hooligans most people seem to handle the quasi-tribal emotional qualities that sports fandom evokes admirably well. You want to be a fan of a sports team, then by all means, go right ahead. Have a ball. But remember that neither I nor anyone else is obligated to affirm your feelings, hopes and dreams concerning your team. That’s your own baggage, especially in the case of the Cubs and Red Sox, who load their fans up with so much baggage to begin with.

Cubs and Red Sox fans are fans of losers, but let’s have a reality check here. Given the competitive structure of sports, ultimately most fans are going to end up being fans of losers. To quote the philosophical motherlode that is the movie Highlander: “There can be only one.” One World Series winner, one Super Bowl winner, one World Cup winner, and so on and so on. The Yankees have won the World Series 26 times since the Red Sox last won theirs (I think), but that only means that roughly 70% of the time, their fans ultimately rooted for losers — high-achieving losers, naturally. But even so. This is why they’ve got all those silly divisions and leagues and such: To ladle out consolation prizes to cushion the blow of loserosoity (well, and to string along the fan pathology for additional commercial gain. But the former is just an iteration of the latter). So in this regard, on a year-to-year basis, Cubs and Red Sox fans are no different than fans of every other team but one: All rooting on losers.

The difference, of course, is in the span of decades, which is where mythology and legends and talk of curses arise. These are far more interesting than mere winning to someone like me, who is an observer of the game but who is not a hardcore fan of a particular team. Let’s be honest here: The even distribution of success in sports is incredibly boring. It’s why people these days watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. Major League Baseball is far more interesting because the Yankees are evil and have more money than God, because the Braves keep winning their division and choking in the postseason, and because the Cubs and the Red Sox find new and exciting ways to lose, than it would be if the championship rotated more or less evenly through the ranks. We crave dynasties, of both the winning and losing sort, so we can have the drama of their respective downfalls and ascensions.

I think it’s more interesting that the Cubs and Red Sox keep losing, and losing in innovative and heartbreaking ways. I mean, really: That’s entertainment. And I think it’s more interesting to be a fan of such a team than a fan of one without such a fascinating history. I don’t mind having that bias, nor do I feel uncomfortable with continuing to hope the Cubs and Red Sox keep their fabulous losing ways going — or telling you all that it’s better this way. Globally speaking, I think it’s more fun. Everyone’s got their way of enjoying baseball; this is mine. You don’t have to like it.

The fans Cubs and Red Sox root for losers — as year to year, so does nearly everyone else. That’s the nature of competition. Doesn’t make the fans losers. It just makes them fans.

Hit It, Sadly Enough.

I mentioned earlier this week that I expected I would get more than 2000 pieces of spam this week, in which I’m tracking my spam rather than deleteing it outright. I just want to note that as of 8:05am (Eastern) friday morning, I am in the possession of 2190 pieces of spam, and still have more than two and a half days before I stop counting.

Dear Red Sox Fans:

What I wrote yesterday largely applies to you, too, except, of course, the part about Steve Bartman, and that the Yankess are not a speck, a bug, a straw man propped up by the baseball gods. They are baseball gods’ favorite children.

No, it’s not fair. You’re in the wrong universe for fair.

Dear Cubs Fans:

I told you. You didn’t believe me. But you believe me now, don’t you.

And, my God, it was perfect. Yes, yes, you’re in pain, I know. But, honestly, now. If you had to lose — and you did — isn’t it better this way? Not just to lose, but to lose big, to lose historically, to lose epically, yea, verily, to implode. Think of the stories you’ll have. Let’s just trot this dog right out and shake its shaggy paw: The Cubs had a collapse of biblical proportions. Biblical. This is the Book of Cubs, which reads rather suspiciously like the Book of Job, except, of course, that after God tests Job’s faith, Job is rewarded.

Cubs fans, on the other hand, are precisely personified by the unfortunate Steve Bartman: Hopeful and groping towards history, yet destined to be personally implicated in, and to feel personally responsible for, the Cubbies’ failures. Do not blame Steve Bartman, Cubs fans (and certainly don’t kill him). He is a 200-proof distillation of everything it’s been to be a Cubs fan for the last nine decades, the eye-watering, throat-desiccating, head-spinning Everclear of Wrigleyville. Pointing your angry, shaking finger at him is merely pointing back at your own disappointed self. He is you, with a better seat.

This is not gloating. I know it looks like it. I know it sounds like it. I fully admit you could package this as I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gloating! and stock it in the refrigerated aisle. But, follow: Gloating implies I wanted the other team to win, and really, who cares about the Marlins? I mean this literally, by the way. The Marlins averaged 16,000 spectators a game in 2003, and a single Cubs fan has more frothing team love than all of those Marlin spectators put together. Being a Marlins fan today is like licking a block of aspartamine: You have the sweetness but you also have that unnatural metallic aftertaste you get from something not quite real. (Cubs love, on the other hand, is pure cane sugar — it’s just too bad about that sugar crash at the end). In all, the Marlins are a speck, a bug, a straw man propped up by the baseball gods. Aside from the small, cheap irony that the Cubs were whomped by a fundamentally ahistorical wild-card collection of nobodies and cast-offs, the Marlins are entirely incidental to this whole thing you’ve got going.

Nor is it to the point to ask me if I’m happy the Cubs lost. That’s like asking me if I’m happy the sun rose today. When the sun comes up, I’m happy to the extent that it means the fundamental laws of physics and reality continue to apply, and that as a consequence, we’re not all flung into space by Earth’s hard braking maneuver, and our planet sent looping towards doom in the immense gravity well of our star. I’m happy not for the sunrise, but for the well-ordered universe it represents.

Quite obviously you won’t see it this way now, Cubs fans. I understand. Hell, I even sympathize. But in your heart, Cubs fans, you know the place of the Cubs and the role they play in the world. You’ve always known, just like you know what your role is, as the fans of The Team That Can’t Close the Deal. You know, it’s just that every once in a while you don’t want to believe. That’s why the baseball gods let you get close to the promised land every once in a while. To remind you.

In any event, it’s almost over now. There’s just one thing left to do: Root for those damn Yankees. Even if the baseball gods mean for the Cubs to lose and Cubs fans to suffer, they don’t mean for you to suffer alone. Maybe that’s comforting for you. Probably not so much for Red Sox fans.


I, like all right-thinking men should, love Dahlia Lithwick. What’s more, I’ve loved her for a long time. I have no special reason for pointing this out at this particular moment, excepting that her comments regarding the word “no” as it relates to sexual activity are exactly right and stand in stark contrast to the beef-witted promulgations of others on the subject. Fact is, were I not already married to the perfect woman for me (and she were not otherwise available to be married), and I was given a choice of women to bond myself to forever, it’d probably be a toss-up between Lithwick and Emma Thompson. This no doubt to the surprise of their respective spouses/significant others. But let’s not go into that now.

While we are on the subject of “no” and sex, why is it apparently so hard to understand the concept of “no means no”? As Ms. Lithwick rightly points out, it’s not as if we’re confused in other situations what “no” means. Yes, sex is a complicated mesh of desire, guilt and trying to decide if that thing we saw once in a porn film might actually work on someone who is not a professional porn actress. However, were I ever confronted with a situation in which a sex partner said “no,” I would stop. Seductive ambiguity is all very nice, but I think “no” is the ultimate “safe word,” and if you don’t want me to stop, you very simply should not say no. Call me parochial and square, but I like positive reinforcement with my sexual attempts. You could say it’s one of my kinks.

And for that matter, every time someone suggests that men can’t understand what no means in a sexual context, I get insulted. I’m a man; I have no problem with the concept. I’m willing to entertain the idea I might be somewhere on the right side of the intelligence bell curve when it comes to men, but it doesn’t take that many brains to encompass the concept of “no means no.” I’d like to believe that the vast majority of those with Y chromosomes are intellectually capable of handling such a minor tautology. Guys who can remember every single set list of every single concert of an entire Metallica World Tour, or can tell you the batting average of every person who ever wore a Rex Sox uniform, have the intellectual wherewithal to process the word “no.” To suggest otherwise offends the entire gender. Which is why I have no problem tossing guys who persist in attempting sex after the word “no” into the slammer. They know better.

Signal to Noise

I get a lot of spam, which is the result of having my e-mail address out there on the Internet. And I was wondering just exactly how much spam I get, and how it compares to actual e-mail (that is e-mail from real people and/or companies with which I do legitimate business). So for fun I’ve decided to do a little experiment. At 12:03 am this morning I cleared my e-mail of random crap; between now and next Sunday at 11:59 pm I will store rather than instantly delete every piece of junk mail I get. We’ll see just how much actually piles up in a week. My guess will be somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 pieces of spam.

(this little observation will not include the AOL addresses I have, which at this point are used strictly for business relating to the By The Way AOL Journal)

As a point of reference, between 12:03 and 6:38 am today, I’ve already accrued 117 pieces of spam — and two legitimate e-mails, which means I get one piece of “real” e-mail for every 58 pieces of spam. This ratio, I’m willing to bet, will drop somewhat over the week, but it’s still going to remain rather high. I used to get more e-mail from people, relative to spam, but three things have happened over the last several months: One, the amount of spam has increased somewhat. Two, I’ve added comments to the Whatever, so much of what would come to me as e-mail is now left as comments. Three, I’ve noticed that many of the people I know appear to be e-mailing less. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, although I do assume it’s not just that I’ve suddenly become personally unpopular. I’m wondering how many people are simply just giving up on trying to fight through all the spam to reach people by e-mail.

The one bit of good news here is that dealing with spam has become slightly easier recently; the e-mail program I use has a reasonably good spam filter which catches 98% of the crap and 98% of the rest of the time I can tell from the subject header whether it’s spam or not. So the time I spend clearing out spam has gone down rather a bit in the last few months. I suspect at least a couple of e-mails from real people have gone down the spam trap tube; I check addresses and subject lines before I delete, but you never know.

I think this will become a convenient excuse for people who choose not to answer e-mails; I think “it must have gone into my spam trap” will become the e-mail version of “my answering machine must be broken” or “I’m entering a tunnel” on the phone. I don’t use it that way, however. Honest.

Interview Mania!

If you really have an itchin’ and burnin’ to hear me on the radio, you’ll have four — count them, four — chances to do so next week: Three on Monday and once on Tuesday. Here are the dates, times and stations:

Monday, October 13, 7:40 AM EST
Ft. Myers, FL

Monday, October 13, 9:10 AM EST
Davenport, IA

Monday, October 13, 4:00 PM EST
Huntington, WV (Tri-state region of OH, KY, and WV)

Tuesday, October 14, 8:45 AM EST
Houston, TX

The bad news is, alas, none of these stations appears to Webcast, so unless you live in their broadcast area, no Scalzi for you.

The occasion of this media blitz is Book of the Dumb, which is supposed to be in stores this very next week. Whether it will be is another matter, since the book was only sent to the publishers on Friday. So if you see it on the shelves somewhere next week, color me hella impressed. But if not this week, then next week. No matter how you slice it: Soon. Very soon.


Longtime Whatever reader Ed Thibodeau has started his own blog, Nonplussed. Go over and say hello.

Interestingly, one of this current entries starts off “John Scalzi has apparently gone off his meds.” I somehow suspect that’ll be reason enough for some of you to drop by for a visit.

I didn’t even know I had meds. Which, I guess, is part of the problem right there, isn’t it.

Somewhat Rambling Follow-Up

Another widely distributed post, another influx of new readers, another orientation session with John Scalzi. As I’ve noted before, new commentors are often taken aback with me, since I tend to respond to attempts at condescending invective with even more condescending invective, and attempts at flamage with pure mockery and derision. Honestly I don’t see how that can be too surprising, given the general rantful nature of the posts of mine that seem to get wide blogosphere distribution, but there it is. I do believe it’s further confusing that I tend to respond to serious posts in a reasonably normal tone of voice. Since both kinds of posts are equally interspersed in the comments, I guess it’s disorienting.

Here’s the deal: With comments, I generally respond to what I’m given. If someone decides to be snippy and condescending, I don’t have a problem taking a swat at them. I mean, why not? It’s my experience that people who leave snippy and condescending comments tend to whine like Bill O’Reilly on NPR when you hit them back instead of collapsing into a pile of milquetoast quasi-reasonableness like you’re supposed to. And of course I enjoy watching that happen. It’s fun.

And then one of three things happen: They retreat like kicked dogs, which is good, they spin towards flamage, which is okay too, though inherently self-limiting, or they realize that I do smug and condescending just as well as they do, and settle down and talk like a normal person. In which case, I do too. And obviously this is the best option of all. At least a couple of people in yesterday’s comments went from troll-like to normal human over the course of the thread. I’m pleased with that, as it allowed me to do the same.

So the lesson, I suppose: I have a low tolerance (or depending how you want to look at it, a high avidity) for certain types of comments. Engage in rhetorical silliness at your own peril.

I do wonder what those who have never read me before think of me on the basis of a rant like yesterday, which, however fun it may be, is not exactly an accurate representation of my overall personality, either in real life or even here in the Whatever. I do imagine I come across as something of a nutbag. And I do know people tend to project their own assumptions on me. If I had a dollar for every time someone assumed I was a partisan Democrat yesterday, in the comments and on other sites, I could buy loaded pizzas for a week. One site had me listed with a set of links to Democrats whining about the recall, which included links to Terry McAuliffe and Jesse Jackson. It was mildly terrifying to be in such company.

Another interesting side effect is that a growing number of people (primarily AOL Journalers) know me only from By The Way, where as I’ve discussed before, my persona is rather more, uh, controlled than it is here. So when one of them stumbles on to this site (which I don’t link to from my AOL site), it can be a little surprising. But as I’ve mentioned before, one incarnation is not the “real me” more than the other — the helpful, mostly nice John Scalzi of By the Way, and the occasionally screedy rantmeister John Scalzi of the Whatever are part of the same whole. One can want to help millions of AOLers integrate peacefully with the blogosphere and call millions of California voters total morons. Yes, it’s a fun time in my head. You should visit.

I did get calls from Californians yesterday, incidentally. “It sounds like you hate ALL of us,” one — who also happens to be one of my dearest friends — said to me. Well, to be clear, I don’t hate any Californians (well, except the ones who were already on my enemies list — and they know who they are). And, rantyness aside, I don’t especially believe they’re all morons and losers. I do worry about the long-term implications of the recall, and I do wonder whether people looked past venting at Davis (and alternately, past the idea of Ah-nold as governor) to hazard a guess at what the implications of the vote are.

Having just completed a book on stupidity, I can tell you stupidity is not lack of intelligence, it’s the lack of appreciation of the consequences of one’s actions (this is why very smart people can do very stupid things). I suspect that not enough Californians were looking at the long-term picture, and that’s not smart.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been as much fun if I said it like that, all nice and reasonable and stuff. Which goes back to why I write rants: I enjoy them, and, given the number of comments, apparently people enjoy reading them. I don’t suppose I want to end up being known as the online world’s go-to “ranter” on things, since I can do other things too (what I really want to do is direct). But I guess I do have a talent for it. I expect I’ll do it again.

California Schemin’

Yesterday I wrote a brief and somewhat snarky entry about the California election over at By The Way, which occasioned an e-mail from a frequent reader chastising me about my shallow observations and willingness to swallow the Democratic line on the matter. I sort of snapped off his head in an e-mail, which was not very nice, essentially telling him that the observations were shallow because that’s what this election deserved. While still agreeing with this, now that the election is over, let me provide more detailed thoughts on the matter.

First: Californians, boy, did you ever get played, you dumb-ass losers. This was, at its root, one of the most flagrantly un-democratic (small “d”) elections in the history of the United States, and you followed the script as if you were giggling, squealing paid extras. The recall was bought and paid for by one guy and orchestrated by a few zealots with an extremely narrow agenda, and both these parties were more than happy to push your emotional buttons to get you to do what they wanted you to do, which was boot the current and conventionally-elected office-holder for a chance to install someone more amenable to their own interests. Florida 2000 paranoids aside, this is the closest thing to a coup we’ve had in the country, and you swallowed it like it was a tasty treat. It’s sickening, really.

Note, please, that I have not once made reference to the political parties involved. As it happens, at this moment my interests and the interests of the Democratic party coincide on the matter, but I would be equally opposed to the recall if the sitting governor were a conservative Republican and the moneybags who paid to unseat him, and the partisans rounding up the signatures, were flaming Democrats. From my point of view this isn’t about political positions, per se, it’s about an unwillingness to respect the election process.

Admittedly, at this moment conservative Republicans are the people who are apparently the most inclined to piss on the election process, which is a culmination of a couple of decades of incestuous intellectual fermentation resulting in an insensate desire for power at nearly any cost. But in their time, Democrats have been more than happy to pull equally undemocratic tricks for their advantage. This recall election is a kissing cousin to a poll tax: Both ostensibly legal (in their time and place), but both designed to skew and corrupt the election process for a select group over others.

Yes, you say, but what about the voting percentages? More Californians voted in this special election than in the regular election! My response to this, of course, is: This is supposed to make me feel better? Californians are too damn apathetic to vote when they’re supposed to and should have, but are more than happy to get off the friggin’ couch for a stage-managed monkey show? I want to be clear, so there is no misunderstanding here: Every single person who voted in this election who did not vote in the actual gubernatorial election in 2002 is a complete and total fucking tool. You could not have been any more used if you were a spent condom.

You are certainly not the same as, say, the folks in Minnesota who got out of the La-Z-Boy to vote Jesse Ventura into office: Ventura was voted in during an election not bought and paid for by political extremists. And while we’re at it, every single person who voted in this California gubernatorial election who does not vote in the next one should very simply be taken out and beaten to death with a pipe, as it will be obvious you have no actual interest in the democratic process, you’re just a tourist looking for a thrill ride.

Yes, Gray Davis was unpopular. That’s what you get when you don’t vote, people. You want your leaders to reflect your interests, haul your whiny asses to the polls on a regular basis.

The very worst thing about this recall election is that it solidifies the concept of the permanent political campaign, with the focus on running for a position rather than the running of the government. Every vote for the recall was a vote for office-holders needing even more money to run their political organizations, money which will inevitably come from special interests and corporations, making the political process even more opaque to the needs of citizens than it already is. Every vote for the recall is a vote that signals that politicians can’t vote their consciences, on the rare occasion they have one, for fear of some excitable group deciding that it just can’t wait for the normal election cycle to boot their asses out. Every vote for the recall is a vote for short-attention-span government, one that inevitably trends towards the “bread-and-circuses” aspect of the political discourse, rather than the aspect that deals with long-term issues in a serious way.

So, to wrap things up: If you voted for the recall, you might have thought you were voting to boot Gray Davis out of office. But that’s because you’re a moron, easily distracted by sparkly lights and shiny objects. You were really voting to let small, inherently undemocratic groups run your state all the time, forever. The fact that you thought you were doing the former when in fact you were doing the latter suggests that you would have been more helpful in the governance of your state by hurling yourself off the Golden Gate Bridge and smacking into the bay below with a nice, bone-powdering swack. In addition to clearing out four million bottom-feeders from an already-overpopulated state, California might still have a government still nominally beholden to voters, instead of through special-interest control by mob rule proxy. Good job.

Second, and having said that: All things considered, you could have done much worse than Schwarzenegger, and yes, I really mean it. Look: He’s pro-choice, pro-education, (mostly) pro-environment and otherwise a reasonably moderate Republican. Given what your recall coup planners were aiming for, i.e., some far right-wing nutbag to squeak in with 15% of the popular vote thanks to the utterly friggin’ insane California recall process, this is a much better result. I know Democratic strategists wouldn’t think so; they would have preferred a nutbag so that voters would have stampeded back into the safe arms of the Democratic party come 2006. But a) I’m not a Democrat, so ask me if I care about their strategy, and b) this is exactly what’s wrong with the political process these days — it’s about running, not governing. Present me with a pro-choice, pro-education (mostly) pro-environment Republican versus your average Democratic hack (say, Bustamante) and you’ve got yourself a real interesting time at the ballot box.

I noted in my By The Way journal that while I would have voted against the recall, I would have also voted for Schwarzenegger for governor just to see what would happen next. It would be easy to infer that I meant I expected it to be insanity and chaos — i.e., entertainment. But I really don’t vote like that — I’m kind of humorless when it comes to the whole voting thing, and I tend to want my politicians to be useful rather than amusing. This is why my favorite personal elected representative of all time was Frank “fabulous roads” Wolf, who was my representative in Virginia (and who I will note is also a conservative Republican — but an ethical one, I thought, whose votes came from sober thought and reflection rather than the marching orders of Gingrich and/or DeLay).

Rather, I’m genuinely interested in seeing what happens now. I don’t think Schwarzenegger can do any real damage, since the legislature is still overwhelmingly Democratically controlled, and I think he could do some actual good. I’m a little nutty this way, but I have a tendency to believe that if one must have a two-party system (and for some unfathomable reason, apparently we in the US must), the best scenario is when the executive and legislative branches are controlled by the opposing parties. That way neither party gets everything they want and by and large the public is served by their need to compromise to get anything done. Thus, while the Cal lege will be able to make sure Schwarzenegger doesn’t suddenly give away the state to his rich conservative cronies, if for some reason he feels compelled to do so, by the same token Schwarzenegger will be able to keep the nuttier excesses of the legislature in line.

So: Presumably moderate pro-choice, pro-education, (mostly) pro-environment Republican (as opposed to scary frothing nutbag conservative) as governor, Democrats in the legislature, and everyone suddenly forced to compromise and on notice to actually get something done, at least until the public is distracted by other shiny bits of foil. As I said, for the average Californian, there are worse things that could have happened out of the unholy and inherently un-democratic clusterfuck that was this election. It is the equivalent of intentionally ramming your car into a tree, blasting through your windshield and yet landing relatively undamaged.

Of course, you’d still need X-rays. Along that line, and as I said, now we get to see what comes next — whether the Schwarzenegger administration can get things done, or whether there is long, deep, sustained damage to the democratic process in California. I genuinely hope for the former and rather darkly suspect the latter.

I will say this, California: If you get the former, boy, did you get lucky. If you get the latter, well, you got what you asked for.


I spent my weekend away from the keyboard in Chicago, where Krissy and I had tickets to see Eddie Izzard on Saturday night. That would only occupy a couple hours of time there, so we had to find other things to do. Fortunately, Chicago is not without alternate entertainment activities, and we kept ourselves suitably amused for the weekend in ways that are probably not entirely interesting to anyone who is not us. So rather than bore you with the details, I’ll just trot out a couple of pictures.

This is a rather large statue which we encountered at the Shedd Aquarium, and which I find interesting. It seems to ask — “What is so wrong about the love of a man for a large fish?” — and on the basis of this particular statue, I am hard-pressed to offer up an objection. Why, that fish is so happy, it’s spurting. Normally that’s not something I’d want for the kids, but you know. It’s an aquarium. You have to accept a little bit of Troy McClure-ness in an environment like that.

For all of you who saw that picture of me in total hick mode will not doubt be relieved to see this picture, which has me more or less back to normal. Well, let’s not lie: This is me rather more satorially together than usual. Krissy, of course, always looks this fabulous. What can I say? She’s just that way. This is the two of us on our way out the door to see the Eddie Izzard concert. I know several of you out there have tickets to a later show, so I won’t re-enact his comedy stylings here. But I will say we got our money’s worth, and those of you still waiting to see him should enjoy yourselves quite adequately.

The only bad thing I can say about the show is that Izzard has reached a point where he’s something of an icon to excitable young gay males everywhere, some of which were sitting directly behind Krissy and me and squealing like 13-year-old girls in 1963 confronted with the prospect of five minutes alone with Paul McCartney. I’m all for people being young gay males if that’s what they are, but really: Keep it together, people. Have some dignity. Although Izzard did look smashing in that slit-skirt number. So I guess I can’t judge the boys too harshly.

Anyway: Chicago. It’s a toddlin’ town. No doubt we’ll be back.


I’ve promised Krissy she can break my fingers if I use the computer this weekend. So, you know. Don’t expect anything new until Monday, either because I’m not using the computer or because I’ve been reduced to typing with my nose.

Have a great weekend.

National Novel Writing Month

I’ve had a reader request about my thoughts on the National Novel Writing Month thing, the annual event in which aspiring novelists from all over the country decide to bang out 50,000 words in the space of November. November has 30 days, so that’s about 1,700 words a day for each participant — a nice clip, if you can keep it up.

In a general sense, I like the idea. Generally speaking the most difficult thing about writing a novel is the actual writing — which is to say the process of sitting down and going type type type type until you’re done. I’m a big believer that anything that can help you enforce personal discipline is a good thing, and if it’s the idea of a “National Novel Writing Month,” well, why not. I also think that the idea of simply ploughing through 50,000 words in a month helps to demystify the writing process, and that’s a good thing. Once you realize that writing to a great extent is simply about getting the words out, it makes writing the next novel that much easier.

I don’t expect many of these novels to be particularly good, but I think that writing these novels to be good is secondary to the idea of writing the novel at all. One of the things I talked about at Torcon when I was on a panel for first-time novelists was the idea of writing a “practice novel” — a novel which you write simply to see if you can write a novel, and for which you have no other ambitions except for getting the damn thing out. I did it — Agent to the Stars is my practice novel, which I wrote just to try my hand at the form (I think it went pretty well). I learned a lot while writing it, and I think what I learned helped to make my second novel (that’d be Old Man’s War) salable. I think what people are doing with National Novel Writing Month is working on their practice novels, and that’s all to the good.

The one quibble I have with the event is that technically speaking, the word requirement is too short. In the real world, “novels” are considered to be works of 60,000 words or above. A 50,000 word piece of writing is a hefty novella but not a novel; in the real world, unless what you wrote was mindbogglingly brilliant, you wouldn’t have much chance of selling a 50,000-word “novel.” And possibly not even then, since book publishing is a business, and the business model of novels is predicated on 60,000 words or greater; I would imagine if a publisher really loved your 50,000 word piece, they’d ask you to bulk it up.

That being the case, writing 50,000 words, while substantially more useful than not writing anything, is still 20% shy of the full novel writing experience. If you really want a true National Novel Writing Month experience, you’re going to have to average 2,000 words a day, not 1,700.

But this is a relatively minor quibble. I like idea, because I like the idea of people writing and the idea that people are trying their hand at the novel format, if only to see if they can do it. If you are thinking of taking part in National Novel Writing Month, I say, have fun with it. If you grind out a novel in a month, good on you. If you fall short, that’s okay too. There are worse things than not writing 50,000 (or 60,000) words in a month.

Unless you’re on a real deadline, of course. No, I don’t want to talk about it.

Country Boy

Living in the country has not affected me one bit.

Now, now, stop with the screaming. I’m just playing with you. I’m still the vaguely liberal high-tech geek with a degree in philosophy. Hell, I’m even wearing sandals at the moment. But I bet I had you going there for a minute.

Although for the record, people in these here parts are no more dumb than the folks you meet anywhere else. They do tend to have quantitatively and qualitatively less schooling than the people in, say, the Washington DC area, where I lived prior to coming out here. But as I’m fond of noting, just because you’re educated doesn’t mean you’re smart, and the converse is equally true as well. The folks around here are the same mix of people you get anywhere in terms of intelligence and common sense. Of course, I don’t blame people who think other people are stupid for how they look. I feel much the same way every time I see grownups dressing like they’re taking their fashion tips from the Bratz line of dolls. Which is, alas, happening with increasing and distressing frequency.

I’ve been a rural American for two and a half years now but I don’t feel especially changed by the experience, probably because my professional life is still deeply immersed in a techy and (yes) urban experience. My primary work contacts are in New York, DC and San Francisco, so when you spend eight hours a day communicating with people in those areas and on their pace, the slowpoke rural life is somewhat leavened. I do like the contrast, though. Occasionally when I have a phone meeting I’ll take my notes and sit on the porch and watch the tractors go by as I discuss marketing or financial brochures or whatever. It’s not a bad balance.

Pro Blogs and Editing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


If this isn’t the most-linked article at Blogdex by this time tomorrow, I suspect I’ll have to eat my hat: It’s an alternate history of the Iraq conflict, culled from various proclamations of Bush administration members (I wish it had been annotated). From a purely rhetorical point of view it’s monstrously unfair, but frankly it feels right on target regarding the Bushies’ modus operandi, not simply about the war, but regarding everything.

The Bush administration is really the first presidential administration to wholeheartedly embrace the talk radio concept that truth should not get in the way of the larger picture of absolute victory, however that victory may be defined. Other presidential administrations have lied, of course. They all lie. And some lie really, really big — look at Nixon. But at the very least Nixon and his cronies lied because the alternative was jail time. Members of the Bush administration appear to lie because it doesn’t occur to them that they might simply tell the truth. Or to put it another way, they don’t appear to affirmatively decide to lie; rather they appear to have to affirmatively decide not to lie.

The difference between those two states is both rhetorically and cognitively massive — so massive that one reflexively shies away from considering that one’s leaders actually process information in this way. We assume rhetorical good will in our leaders, even the ones we don’t like. We accept that they are going to spin the truth — that is, find a version of facts which best support their claims and goals — but fundamentally we assume they are starting from a ground state of honesty.

If eventually we decide they are not coming from that ground state, our first assumption is that we are in error — there is information we are lacking or that we are not processing information correctly or at the very least someone has been provided bad information, and they’ll eventually rectify the mistake. We cut our leaders a tremendous amount of slack, because we want to believe them, we want to believe we are being told the truth and we want to believe those we entrust to lead us have enough respect for us as a body politic to default to truth (and don’t think they don’t know it).

But none of this works with the Bushies. They lie so consistently and so often about so many things that eventually you just have to accept the fact that telling the truth is not in their gameplan. Who knows why. Perhaps it is because this is the first president provided his position by the Supreme Court rather than definitively elected by the traditional process. Perhaps knowing that the majority of Americans intended the other guy to be in the White House has freed this administration of a sense of responsibility to all Americans, and allows it to pursue the interests of a distinct minority among us: The wealthy and the evangelically Christian. Perhaps the goal here is simply to grab as much as humanly possible and to hobble the system as completely as possible so that the next administration, one which actually feels obligated to the people and their long-term welfare, has to spend all its time on damage control rather than pursuing the goals which Americans have elected it to perform.

Such is the Bush administration’s alienation from the truth that my first inclination on hearing anything from it regarding policy is that it’s a lie unless specifically proven otherwise. This doesn’t mean I believe that everything that Bush and his administration does is wrong — I’ve consistently said that invading Iraq was the right thing to do, for example. I still believe it, and there are a few other points of policy in which my point of view lines up with the Bush administration (not many, but a few). But even on those goals with which I agree, I assume that the public reasons this administration gives for pursuing them, or the facts it provides to outline its case, are suspect or simply false. At this point, it doesn’t occur to me to assume the Bush people are telling the truth.

This is the fundamental problem with this Bush administration. I dislike a number of its policies, some more intensely than others — but I disliked a number of the policies of the senior Bush administration and still felt, on balance, that the administration members were tolerably honest. You can live with an administration whose goals you oppose if you believe you’re working from the same baseline reality, because then at the very least you can believe it means well — that at the end of the day it honestly believes it’s making a better America for all of us.

This administration is not working from the same baseline reality as I am, or which I suspect most of us are. As a consequence, not only don’t I think this administration believes what its doing is best for most Americans, I sincerely doubt it cares about most Americans at all. This isn’t a Republican or Democrat thing, a Liberal or Conservative thing. It is a truth or lie thing. This administration doesn’t care to default to the truth. Therefore I cannot believe it is telling the truth. Therefore I cannot trust its motives or its goals.

And I hate that. I don’t mind that I disagree with my government. But I hate that I don’t trust it. I hate the fact that whenever I see my president (because he is my president) I immediately brace myself for a lie. I hate that whenever I see a member of my president’s administration open his or her mouth, I assume what comes out is prevarication. I hate that when I see this administration promote any program or action I happen to agree with, my first inclination is to wince and wonder how its going to be twisted to benefit of a select few and a select few goals, at the expense of the rest of us. I hate that for the first time in my adult life, I believe that my government looks at me — and too many of my fellow citizens — with something akin to contempt, and the intimation that our job is not to be partners in the stewardship of our country but to be ruled.

This is why Bush and his administration has got to go. Replace them with an administration with exactly the same policies if you must — but give that administration a basic sense of accountability to the people of this country and a desire to start from, to begin with, the truth. Before anything else, that’s what I want from my leaders. Without it, the rest of it simply doesn’t matter.

Small Note

Two, actually.

1. I have subscriptions to both Electronic Gaming Monthly and Smithsonian Magazine, which I suggest puts me well in the running for the hotly-contested Most Cultural Distance Between Two Magazine Subscriptions Award. Feel free to discuss this or challenge me with your own subscription quirks. I dare yas!

2. Speaking of EGM, the article in the November issue, in which they give 11-year olds Atari games to play, is an instant classic in Making You Feel Old. Money quote from 10-year-old Brian, on the Mattel Handheld Football game, which was the accessory of the fourth grade:

Brian: What’s this supposed to be?
EGM: Football. It’s one of the first great portable games.
Brian: I thought it was Run Away From the Dots.

Also, this line on Space Invaders: “You can get this game on a cell phone. Why would you want to pay for it in an arcade?”

Kids these days.

%d bloggers like this: