Online Interview

Through the wonders of digital technology, I was “interviewed” (via email) on the subject of a story called “Run! Run!”, which is in the Sept. issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Phenomenal magazine — buy many copies. Send them to your friends!

Anyway, the interview is now out. You can read it here.

Bought a New Mac

Bought a new MacBook Pro today. I may be able to warm up to it. You can switch on PC-style tapping of the trackpad in order to click, which is a Really Good Thing. And when I hooked up the big ViewSonic monitor, the OS had no trouble adding a second screen. Yippee!

OS X is a bit too spiffy and glitzy for me. Those tumescent icons in the Dock, swelling up as you slide toward them — urggh. I actually like the clean, professional look and feel of Windows XP. Always have, since it was Windows 95. (That is to say, I use XP exclusively in Classic mode. I would not go near the native graphic design of XP waving an overripe banana.)

My main usage will be for music. So I went through the online video tutorials for GarageBand. They’re much too brief. The reigning spirit of the Mac seems to be, “Look! See how EASY it is?” So as a result, they don’t get into the nitty-gritty in the tutorials, or the Help file either. I guess they don’t want to admit there is any nitty-gritty.

I looked in the Help file for information on how to hook up my M-Audio Ozone (a USB MIDI keyboard), and the Help file made it look like a no-brainer. Just plug it in and GB will see it! (It’s EASY!)

Not true, of course. GB didn’t see it. Since I’m not a complete novice, I jetted off to the M-Audio website and downloaded the latest driver. Installing it was very quick and painless. After a restart, GB saw the Ozone. But I was left with the feeling that Apple are too pleased with themselves by half.

By the way … the Ozone? It’s a perfectly swell little piece of kit, all except for the keyboard. And one or two other little details, such as the way the lettering is molded on the rear panel. I can’t read it with my glasses or without them. But having a lightweight 2-octave MIDI keyboard that doubles as an audio interface is extremely pleasant.

The keyboard, however, totally bites. It is the worst MIDI keyboard I have ever played (and I’ve played a few). Imagine pushing your fingers into spongecake.

I have high hopes for the computer itself, though.

Why I Like Government

The other night a conservative friend asserted more or less baldly that the government has no legitimate function other than national defense. When I said, “The government has many legitimate functions,” my friend snapped, “Name two!”

I can name a lot more than two. For starters, how about inspecting meat-packing plants? You and I are not in a position to go into those plants and make sure that rat droppings are not getting into our sausage. So we authorize a government agency to do the inspections.

I’m not saying the Bush administration’s inspectors are actually doing a credible job of it. I’m just saying, that’s what government is for — to do the things for us that we can’t reasonably do as individuals. To provide for the common good.

How about traffic laws? I asked my friend, “Do you really want to live in a town where there are no speed limits and no traffic lights? Where anybody can drive as fast as they like or up over the sidewalk?”

He said, “I’ll have to think about that.” With a little smirk on his face, as if to say, “Oh, you’re being irrational, but it would take too long to explain it to you. The free market would insure that safe drivers triumphed over reckless ones.” Or perhaps, “Oh, dear, I’m trapped, but I don’t dare admit I’m wrong.”

Come to think of it, the government operates the court system and the prisons, doesn’t it? Does my friend think they should be dismantled? What would we do with murderers? And how would we catch the murderers, if there were no police?

If I remember my high-school history correctly, in the 19th century private fire companies were the norm. If your home caught on fire, several fire companies might arrive on the scene. You would then have to negotiate a deal with one of them before they would start the pump and put out the fire. If you didn’t have your checkbook handy, they would let the house burn down. On occasion the rival companies were too busy fighting with one another even to bid for the job. Again, the house burned down.

Americans quite wisely decided that Free Enterprise wasn’t producing the desired results. So today we have publicly funded fire houses. Socialism, in other words. And it works.

There aren’t so many homes burning down as in the old days. Partly that’s because electric lights replaced candles, kerosene lanterns, and gas lamps — but it’s also because government inspectors (bureaucrats, in other words) have to sign off on the construction of your home before the builder is allowed to sell it to you. If there were no bureaucrats, faulty wiring would start a lot of fires.

How about regulating financial institutions? In the 19th century runs on banks were distressingly common: Depositors’ savings could disappear overnight. Today we have the FDIC, a government agency, which offers you some protection both from panic and from embezzlement.

And how about truth in advertising? Should corporations be allowed to make false claims for their products, so as to sell worthless or harmful items to unsuspecting consumers? You and I as individuals don’t have the resources to be able to investigate the claims made in the dozens of ads we see every day. We rely on government regulations to protect us from liars, thieves, and scoundrels.

At the moment the liars, thieves, and scoundrels are running the government, but that’s a slightly different problem.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I like the government we have. It’s full of incompetence. Our leaders routinely lie to us. But the solution is not to get rid of government!

The Coal Mine

Working for a living is interfering with my lifestyle.

For the past six years I’ve been living with my mother, who is now 86. Her 4-bedroom suburban house is not really big enough for both of us (in several different senses). On the plus side, since I pay no rent, I have the luxury of considering myself semi-retired. I work, but I don’t work very hard.

This week I started looking very seriously for a house to rent. At the same time, I started ramping up my workload. I’m planning to teach a class in music theory, for instance, if I can round up a dozen students at the two studios where I teach cello. I emailed several magazine editors and pitched stories to them, and got a couple of fresh assignments, with more on the way.

If I work like a little beaver, I can probably come close to breaking even on $1,800 in monthly rent. But by the time I do all that work, go to the gym, do the shopping and the chores, and drop in on Mom two or three times a week to make sure she’s okay (or, worse, drop everything and drive over to Mom’s house because she needs something done), I’ll have precious little time left over in which to enjoy life.

The whole point of renting a house, you see, is so I’ll be able to enjoy life.

If I have to go down in the coal mine six days a week, and come up covered with coal dust, and end up with black lung disease … well, the metaphor could be stretched too far, but even without the black lung disease, where’s the fun part?

Conversely, if I stay in my present living situation, that’s not fun either. The whole reason I want to move is because the lack of space and lack of privacy are grinding me down.

If I weren’t a musician, I could rent an apartment. That would still be expensive, but it wouldn’t be quite so steep, which would translate into a little more free time. But I like playing the piano and the cello at home — and also, one of my main income streams is writing about music software. Which means I have speakers in my home office, and I make noise. This is not the sort of thing apartment managers are keen to put up with. Apartments have, in point of fact, rules on the subject of noise. Typically, the rules are rather restrictive.

Today the problem seems quite thoroughly insoluble. It gets filed under the line from an old song by the Tubes: “What do you want from life? Well, you can’t have that….”


Rejection letters — gotta love ’em. In this morning’s mail was a polite, personal rejection from an editor of a major sf/fantasy zine, I’m not going to say which one. This editor has bought my work in the recent past, but today’s letter said:

“Well, this is definitely the wrong market for ‘Into the Gulf.’ I’m looking forward to the next one as long as it’s not a zombie story.” [Italics in original.]

Trying to mind-read an editor is seldom worth the effort, but in this case I don’t think it’s really the zombies that are the problem. The story includes (a) disgusting zombies, (b) casual profanity, because that’s the way these characters talk, (c) cannibalism, and (d) a depressing, downbeat ending. My suspicion is that it’s items (b) and (c) that are causing the problem, not (a) and (d).

I’m pretty sure the editor would acknowledge that if asked. The letter mentioned only the zombies because editors have to dash off one-sentence letters in a hurry.

I’m sure fiction magazines are eager these days not to offend anyone, especially librarians. The fiction market has shriveled, and a few lost sales might well be the tipping point that would cause the parent corporation to shut the doors. We’re lucky there are still any magazines that regularly buy short sf and fantasy!

But is “Into the Gulf” a bad story? No, I don’t think so. I’m not in a position to be objective, but I feel pretty strongly that it’s a great story. It makes an observation about the modern world — in a graphic way, to be sure — that is well worth making. The writing is good, because my writing is always good. The lead character is even likeable.

The problem with this type of rejection (and I’m not blaming the editor in question!) is that it invites the author to engage in self-censorship. The next time I sit down to write a story, I’ll probably steer clear of material that, however emotionally compelling, would be too graphic.

I will, in short, start to water down my stories.

But that’s more or less the way it goes. We’re all zombies on this boat.

Who’s Minding the Store?

After yesterday’s post on how to defeat Calif. Prop. 8, I started wondering why I should hide my bits of alleged wisdom under a bushel basket. Why not share these ideas with others?

So I went hunting for websites where the activists in this campaign hang out. They’re not easy to find. Eventually I spotted Equality For All. But after an email exchange, I’m starting to think the Equality For All site might be a front for a Mormon hit squad who are planning to use the contact information submitted by the unwary in order to round people up and put them in concentration camps.

But maybe that’s insulting to the Mormons, who are nothing if not thorough. Mormons would probably do a better job putting up a thick layer of bullshit.

The site asks for your donations, but gives no indication whatever of any activities that will be funded by the donations. There’s no links page. And there’s no indication of how one might become personally active in the campaign if one were so inclined.

So I sent them an email.

Inter alia, I asked, “Who is writing the scripts for your TV spots? I’m a professional writer. Maybe I could help.” I asked, “Does your site have a page of links that my blog entry could be added to?” I asked, “What’s going on in your organization, if anything?”

Someone named Rebecca (no last name … and hey, there’s no list of the organization’s officers on the site either) responded to my email. She thanked me for my “advice,” and suggested that I check back at their site regularly to see updates. But she entirely failed to address any of my questions.

On closer inspection, Equality For All isn’t actually an organization. It’s a “coalition.” The list of organizations in the coalition is long, but meaningless. Several ACLU chapters, the Billy DeFrank Center, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry Action Network, and so on.

These groups aren’t even called “members” of the coalition. They’re just listed. One is bound to wonder about the precise nature of their involvement in Equality For All. If any. Do they even know their names are being used on this site? I think I may look into that.

Footnote: According to the Unitarians, it’s a legitimate coalition. I’m still wondering where they channel the donations, though.