Worlds & Time

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Depth of Observation

In my email, I have three emails from myself, sent from my phone about my observations about New York City. The are, in order:

1. Today I saw a man burned so badly that he no longer had eyelids that blinked. He had a laminated cardboard sign with what appeared to be a newspaper article about his story on it. He was panhandling on the subway. I was too scared to make eye contact or give him any money. He had really good sunglasses though, and I can't say that I blame him.

2. Today, while I was walking through Brooklyn, I saw a kid in a camouflage costume. It wasn't the traditional green and brown of my childhood army or the digital prints of today's uniform. It was a ghillie suit; used by snipers to remain invisible in rough terrain by covering themselves with a thickly hairy fabric. Although it was sized for a kid and obviously made as a costume, it was impressive none the less. The only thing that spoiled the effect was its presence in a Brooklyn neighborhood of townhouses.

3. On the way our of my friend's apartment, I passed two kids, maybe thirteen or fourteen, singing "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel. Or maybe the gayer version by Westlife. They weren't even born when the original came out, and there they were, singing away while walking down a New York City sidewalk.

That's all New York to me. Not in the specifics, I guess. You could have seen any of those things in many cities, but these kinds of things are all around you in New York. I saw them in only a few days and I'm sure that there was something even stranger going on every minute that I failed to see. It's a function of the density, and I suspect that New York may be the center of the English speaking weirdness just because of its density.

Comparatively, those observations are very shallow compared to these observations (via Making Light).

I don't know enough about the New Guinea cargo cults to do anything more than superficially agree with the observations made by Mr. Peter Klausler, but I will say that one of the subsections (There will be justice) represents one of the most hateful, virulently horrible forms of Christianity that I've ever come across.

PNH said "The outlined principles divide up alarmingly well into 'stuff I recognize as generally true about the way Americans think' and 'stuff I just now realized I think.'"

Yeah, me too. Now there's a shallow observation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration

I was in that crowd of 2 million people on the mall for the inauguration. I'll add more about it later, but if you want to know where I was in the crowd, I was behind the fourth giant big screen.

Update added 1/28/09:

So, Ben had tickets to the parade. I mentioned that already. But we really wanted to be on the mall. After all, that was the event, from a historical perspective.

I also had a friend that was going to be marching in the parade, Ian, in the first gay/lesbian delegation to ever appear in a presidential inauguration. So the plan was to walk the few blocks up from the mall after the parade.

So we woke up early, about 6 am and trudged down from near M and 12th st. to 7th, where we were led to believe there was going to be an entrance to the mall. There wasn't, so we ended up walking to the 3rd st. tunnel and through it, under the Capitol until we got to the other side. Then we had to walk away from the mall to the first open entrance on 12th st. We got to the mall around 7:30 am.

The crowd was massive. I mean, wall to wall people. We staked out a small claim behind the fourth jumbo tron, maybe 650,000-750,000 people back from the front. The Sunday concert was being replayed on the jumbo trons, but it was hard to hear what was going on. Occasionally something cool would happen. For example, everyone around us would sing when the concert musicians asked us too. "This land is your land" sounds fairly powerful when sung by thousands and thousands of people at a time.

Even from the first moment we got there, we didn't have enough space. I was thinking about sitting down, and I should have, but people would have been tripping over me left and right. People winding their ways through the crowd literally had to push their way through, sometimes so much that I had to hold my breath.

We stood there for hours. The live coverage of the event didn't start until about 10 am, I think. And even then, it was mostly just people being introduced. Ben played "name the congressman/congresswoman" from the big screen, and did a lot better than I did.

Finally we got to the heavy hitters. The Supreme Court, the former presidents, and then the (now former) moron-in-chief.

The music was beautiful. The oath was (as you're heard) bungled a bit. And then there was lots of cheering.

Then we tried to go north to the parade, but it was closed off. Yarg.

So we had to walk back through the tunnel, with a few stops for abortive attempts to get around various barriers and onto the Metro. When we finally got to security for the parade, my feet, which had been bothering me for hours, were killing me. Ben was nearly carrying me around.

So, we stood in line for twenty minutes or so, but due to our false starts and my problems walking, we realized that it was nearly 3:30. We'd probably already missed the majority of the parade, and by the time we got through security, it would probably be over. So we stopped off at a Tapas place to eat, and then headed back the apartment. Via cab, because even after having a chance to sit I could barely walk.

So, we get into the apartment, and what's on television? The parade. It had been postponed because of Kennedy's seizure. Of course, I ended up missing Ian in the parade live, so I don't have any pictures of him, but I do have some pretty cool video. You see, he was being filmed by a camera crew for a reality show that I've never before heard of called "My 1st Time."

His episode is currently available for viewing here.

Awesome! Congrats Ian!

I do have a few pictures of things that I've mentioned above:

The crowd at the fictional 7th St. entrance.

Walking into the 3rd St. tunnel to get to the mall at around 7 am.

Coming out of the tunnel on the far side of the mall from where we'd started.

The crowd behind us at the mall, looking toward the Washington monument.

An extremely zoomed in view of what I could see of the Capitol building behind the jumbo tron.

Zoomed out a bit. Everything that we could see was through the jumbotron.

Our first glimpse of Barack Obama as he comes through the halls of the capitol to approach the steps.

This image contains a live image of the crowd going wild for their first view of Barack Obama.

Obama taking the oath.

The crowd goes wild.

21 gun salute.

A better view of the Capitol, taken as we finally started to leave.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

"Love the sinner, hate the sin" is something that I used to hear all the time when I spent a lot of time on sites like CF or IIDB. After all, there needs to be some way to dismiss Jesus' exhortation to "Love Thy Neighbor."

After all, "judging" people is bad in most Christian traditions. It usurps God's place. However, if what you judge is the intangible sin, then that's just fine. Completely acceptable. Informative even!

Recently, through a link over on Jesurgislac's blog, I came across a link to Renaissance Guy's post To judge or Not to Judge, where Renaissance Guy sort of backhands his way into that argument, arguing that Jesus shows what a great guy he is by telling the prostitute how she's a sinner and damned to hell. Or something to that effect. He thinks that being gay is a sin and he thinks that Christians should say so and speak out about it.

The point is, it got me thinking about that specific idea again; that you can love the sinner while hating the sin.

Then I just found a clip of a 20/20 investigation about same sex couples involved in public displays of affection. The police are called on a male gay couple making out in public in AL, but you don't have to watch the whole thing. The part that I'm concerned about starts at 8:38 and lasts about 10 seconds.

See it here:

20/20 official site

The voice over and the next line that I'm referring to are: "But while some like what they're witnessing, a silent minority can't hide their disapproval. Their faces say it all. 'To me, it's not that appropriate.'"

So, what is a gay person going to feel when they see that? I guarantee that it isn't going to be loved. As a sinner or anything else. All they'll feel is judged, even if the person says nothing at all.

Love the sinner, hate the sin may sound good to various denominations of Christians, but it's not the way that reality works. If you try it, hate of the sin is going to spill over onto the person no matter what.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Want This

My dreams right now are pretty simple. Usually they're pretty fantastic and out there, I write science fiction and fantasy, after all, but for the last month they've been sort of realistic.

That only makes me feel worse when I can't achieve them.

I want a job. The job that I see at the moment is a daytime position, 9 to 5, M-F. I want it to pay for an apartment here in the city, food, and a gym membership. I want to be able to go out occasionally with my friends and visit the guy I'm sort of seeing.

That's it.

That's all I want right now.

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Monday, January 12, 2009


Ben's invited me to the inauguration, and even though I'm on record saying that there is nowhere that I would rather be less than the inauguration, I'm going.

So, I would hope that all 300 million other Americans other than the ones that have to be in D.C. those days (Obama, Michelle, Biden, etc.) will take the hint and not descend like the ravening hordes of hell on our fair capitol city. Please, I know it's a historic moment, but since I'm asking nicely does this mean you won't form the unholy crowds that roil disturbingly in my unconscious mind?


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Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Anti Narnia

A quick short story inspired by Hal Duncan's much more interesting Thoughts on Narnia over at his blog. Yeah, I know he writes long posts, but check them out some time. They're worth it.

It was the quiet and pensive Lori that discovered the door and it was only the dramatic change from her usual shyness that convinced her brothers and sister to go through it into the magic little world that she had found.

Edward struck out on his own almost immediately. He read adventure books and thought of himself as an explorer that didn’t need his siblings to get in the way. So he alone discovered the ruins of the great castle in this frozen world. Most of it had fallen in on itself but there were parts that were still covered, sheltering their contents from the omnipresent white snow that covered the ground.

In the otherwise empty great hall he found the gold coin.

It was about as big as a penny and shiny enough to look newly minted, although the image on it was still hard to discern. He’d always dreamed of finding an old pirate’s treasure and the gold coin represented all this. Wait till the others saw it, he thought.

So he tromped back to the door where Pete, Sarah and Lori all were waiting for him with a giant talking rodent of some sort.

“We’re going to go,” said Pete. “There’s apparently a crazy tiger around here killing people.”

“And Mr. Bumbles here says that we can’t try to take anything back,” piped in Lori. “He says that it’s wrong to go mixing up universes.”

“You haven’t picked something up, have you?” asked Sarah.

In his head, Ed weighed having his own treasure stash with which he could lord it over his siblings for several weeks back home against the wrongness of mixing up universes and came to a snap decision. “Nope. Nothing at all.”

With a roar, a giant red-orange tiger jumped into the snowy clearing in front of the door. It must have been twelve feet from the tip of the nose to the tip of it’s tail, and it looked like it could rip any of them to shreds in an instant with it’s three inch long bloody claws. All the children flinched back, not knowing that they should be running, but Mr. Bumbles scurried away so quickly it was like someone had edited him out of a film.

The tiger didn’t attack though. It turned to Ed and said aloud “Naughty boy.”

Before it could get out another word a huge white swan descended from the sky. All around it glowed a fierce golden light, like the aura from old paintings around the holy family done in gold leaf. “No fear children!” it called in a voice like rolling thunder. “I’ll protect you! Whatever the Tiger corrupts, I, the Swan, am here to defend”

Sarah rounded on Ed. “You did pick something up, didn’t you?”

He squirmed but held out his hand and opened it, revealing the coin. Sarah rolled her eyes, and Lori sighed pitifully. Pete just looked jealous.

Ed turned to the Swan. “So, uh, sorry about that. Look, here’s the coin.” He put in on the ground and scooted it toward the bird when it didn’t move to accept the token.

The Tiger laughed, and the branches shook snow off all around the clearing. “You have done more than steal, you’ve lied to your kin. A betrayal if I’ve ever heard one. You know what the punishment for that is?”

Ed shook his head.

“We’re going to pour boiling lead in your eyes and cut out your tongue. Then, I’m going to bite off your fingers and toes one by one before opening your stomach and knowing out your intestines.” The Tiger scrunched up its face as though it was thinking. “There’s something about rape in there too. I’ve got it written down somewhere. I’ll have to look it up. It’s part of the Great Laws of this land.”

All the children looked positively sick.

“I’m sorry,” Ed said, his eyes filling with tears. The Tiger was now licking its lips and inching closer to him, sniffing the air.

“He’s eleven,” Pete said. “I mean he’s just a kid. That’s ridiculous. This is a fairy tale, right? Surely there must be some quest he can go to make up for this.”

The Swan shook his head. “Nope. No quests. The boiling lead and the eating and the rape sounds about right.”

“What?” demanded Sarah. “Sounds about right? Are you kidding? I thought you said you were here to protect us.”

The Tiger reached out with a huge claw and poked Edmund in his shoulder. A stain of red started to spread slowly under his shirt and the Tiger licked at the blood like it was barbeque sauce.

“I am here to protect you,” the Swan said, apparently offended at Sarah’s insinuation that he wasn’t doing a great job. “But the Great Law is the Great Law and it needs to be enforced. I should know, considering that I wrote it myself back when I created this magical world.”

“Why on earth would you write torture and death into the law?” Pete asked.

“At the time it seemed like an good idea. I always thought that it would involve a grown man condemning his family to death, but it certainly seems like it applies in this situation too.”

“He’s a kid,” Pete said again. “Surely there must be some exception that you can make.”

The Swan shook its graceful neck. “The Great Law doesn’t have exceptions. I created it that way for a reason. It wouldn’t be just, otherwise.”

“You can’t possibly that punishment is fair,” said Sarah, even more upset than before. “We don’t care that he lied. We just don’t want to see him dead.”

“No, it isn’t fair,” said the Swan. “But this is Justice. Justice is rarely fair. It’s part of the Great Laws of this magical land. Ed betrayed his family by lying to them, so now he has to be raped, blinded, and then eaten or this magical land will disappear forever.”

“Oh,” said Lori, where she stood behind Pete. The children all looked at each other.

“I can live with that,” said Pete.

“Ditto,” said Sarah. Behind Pete, Lori nodded.

Now it was time for the Swan to look shocked. “But . . . it will mean the deaths of everyone that lives here! Mr. Bumbles! Me, the Great Swan! The millions of peons that support the few royalty that I pick to live in relative comfort!”

But already he was smaller. Less important. The golden glow that had surrounded him had diminished substantially and he seemed thin, as though he were made of paper.

Pete held out his hands. Lori took one and Edward took the other. Sarah looked at the Tiger. “Are you going to try to attack us if we leave?” she asked.

The Tiger shook his head. “No. I wasn’t ever interested in you. I was just trying to get the Swan in range.”

The Swan didn’t even have time to process what the Tiger had said before the cat was on him.

“Well, good. I will pay the price for the boy,” the Swan said happily. “And I’ll come back from death even stronger.

“You don’t understand,” the Tiger said. “I’m not going to mete out the punishment required. The whole idea of death as a punishment for lying is stupid. Besides, you’ve enforced slavery, murder and degradation on many others for years. Why should I care about a boy lying when there are so many more important crimes that you need to pay for first?” He paused. “After a jury trial, of course.”

It picked up the Swan in its teeth and wandered out of the clearing and out of sight.

Sarah went first to the door and opened it for her three other siblings. They all paused there for a moment, looking back. The trees were hazy now and papery thin now and the snow and mist were impossible to tell apart. The entire magical world was coming apart like erasing words from a sheet of paper.

“I really am sorry about lying to you,” Ed said as they closed the magical door and it began to fade away.

“We know,” said Lori.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Patronage and Publishing

Via Neil Gaiman's blog I discovered this today, which quotes a very small section of this longer interesting piece.

I dutifully read the longer Dewitt piece and have to say that she makes a good point that I agree with: the current publishing model is extremely hard on the author in many respects, when they're delivering the product that is sold.

The best analogy that springs to mind to describe the situation of writers is that of growing drugs (marijuana, I guess) in the United States. Both authors and marijuana growers have to spend a long time producing their product without revealing it to anyone. Then they furtively cast around looking to secure a buyer, who will then go out and deal the product of the authors and the marijuana growers to the people. At most, both the author and the marijuana growers probably make a few dollars on each street level transaction.

I'm sure the first reaction to that analogy is "Growing marijuana is illegal! Writing a book isn't against the law!" That's true but to defend the integrity of my comparison I'll point out that authors like Dewitt fear the interruption of their work for lack of money just as much as marijuana dealers fear interruption by the cops. Both interruptions will shut down operations. Granted, in the case of the writer, that just means going out and getting a job instead of going to jail, but the loss or delay of the product is similar.

No analogy is perfect anyway.

There's a very obvious observation about patronage here that seems to have escaped Gough and Dewitt even though she's the one that brought up Virigina Woolf first. In a discussion of what writers need to write, Woolf is the fundamental source. "Money, and a room of one's own," does not just apply to women any longer.

And patronage, as Dewitt and Gough point out, would solve those issues. It's not like we're lacking in millionaires and multi-millionaries. According to wikipedia, one of every 176 people in the U.S. has a net worth of a million dollars. If a few of the richer ones decided to hire writers to take care of their summer homes in the winter, or lend out a room that they're not using in their town houses during the winter, there would be a lot more good writing from some upcoming authors.

Of course, as the internet has shown, mirco or collective patronage is possible as well, but I doubt that the collective as a total has a lot of summer homes to let out. In this case, it's probably better to approach the millionaires as individuals about it.


While I'm talking about publishing, let me just say that I've been thinking a lot about the future of publishing since most people, even some people in the publishing world, think that book publishing is dead. Or at least in serious need of change.

Publishing isn't going to die like the VHS tape has. Books, even ones that never get opened or read, are still a status symbol in certain parts of our society. To others, they're the ultimate repository of ideas.

But the traditional model of publishing (writing the book, getting an agent, getting accepted for publication, having the book go through the editing process, typesetting it, printing it en masse in quantities of at least 8k and then shipping it all over the U.S. to sell in bookstores) is probably dead.

Traditional models just don't have the alacrity to deal with the ever increasingly digital era. They're unresponsive and they don't know how to market aggressively or find their audience (see the criticisms leveled by Richard Laermer via the link embedded in the word "think" above).

But what is going to replace it? (see the link to the NY Mag embedded in the word "that" for some of their speculation.)

I don't know the answer yet and I'm looking for it, but if I had to point to something right at this very moment as the future of publishing, I would point at Scalzi's Your Hatemail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever 1998-2008.

That book is a collection of his blog entries, things that did not go through the traditional model of publishing. Instead it's almost all available for free, if you want to go through Scalzi's archives. Yet, people will pay for it because now it's gone through a bit of that process and ended up as a book, and that book offers both things that I mentioned that will keep book publishing from dying: it's a status symbol (to certain geeks) and it contains special ideas and memories that are worth having.

If it gets nominated for a Hugo, and I suspect that it might, that will only be further proof that it's probably worth looking at alternative models of publishing fiction in which the traditional model is avoided.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Spam 101

I was just watching Bender's Big Score and something obvious occurred to me.

Here's a prediction about my (probable as per actuarial tables) lifetime. Someday, we're going to have to teach kids, probably in fifth or sixth grade, how to avoid getting suckered into phishing and infected with email based viruses.

Considering the amount of personal data that will be available electronically to the average sixth grader, they're going to have to be able to protect themselves. And if there's one thing going to a public school has taught me it's that there are a large numbers of people that need to be taught the basics, be it sex or defense against protection.

So, for the good of society, we're going to have give those classes in public schools, basically giving people anti-Turing test lessons to teach them how to avoid getting suckered.

The spammers will get better, of course, as will the swindlers and the scammers but perhaps once the lessons are common enough there will be enough people out there that can recognize a scam getting played on them that spamming, phishing, and scamming won't be nearly as profitable as it is now.