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In the Spring of 1993, I moved from the San Diego area to Southern LA County to take a new job.

I didn’t know many people in LA, so I followed one of my life-long rules:

  1. Figure out what type of person you want as a friend
  2. Figure out where people like that are likely to hang out
  3. Go there

Unsurprisingly for that era, where #3 put me was at Los Angeles Macintosh Group (LAMG) meetings.

Over the next few months, I tried to volunteer a few times for LAMG events, but no one ever took me up on it. I finally complained to LAMG’s Executive Director, Suzy, that someone should be in charge of organizing people who wanted to volunteer and putting them to work. She agreed—and then named me Volunteer Coordinator.

I took on the role, and a few months went by where (IMO) I did a pretty good job of it. In the Spring of 1994, I was asked if I was interested in being on the LAMG Board—there was an opening, and enough of the Board liked the work I was doing that they’d appoint me to fill the position. I said, “Sure!”

So, on the evening of April 14, I went to my first LAMG Board meeting.

The Board sat in a circle at tables in front of the room, and guests sat in the folding chairs at the back. I came in, and given that I wasn’t on the Board (yet) I sat in a guest chair.

LAMG’s VP was sitting at the table in front of me; he turned around and said that I should sit up with the Board. I said that as I wasn’t actually on the Board yet, I’d wait till I was promoted.

He said, “Fair enough. By the way, I don’t think we’ve officially met. My name’s Tom.”

“Hi, Tom, nice to meet you. My name’s Dori.”

Yesterday around dinnertime, there was a knock at my door. It was one of the neighbor ladies, and she was holding a clipboard.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m circulating a petition for a ballot proposition for the City of Healdsburg.”

“OK,” says I. “What’s it about?”

“It would put water fluoridation in the City up for a vote.”

“But isn’t the water here already fluoridated?”

“Yes, it has been since the Sixties.”

“So what’s the problem? Fifty years is long enough for bad effects to show up.”

Here’s where she palms her card. “I’m not for fluoridation, or against fluoridation. I just want people to have a choice. I’m sure you do, too. Will you sign the petition?”

“No, I think water fluoridation is a good thing.”

“So you’re against choice?”

“In this case, I guess I am. Bye.” I could tell she was flummoxed, as her line had obviously been working just fine up to then.

Here in Sonoma County, one of the liberal bastions of the US, being “pro-choice” is almost a given. And really, who doesn’t want choices? But at the intersection of science and public policy, I’d say that choice often works against the rational voters. There always seem to be more ignorant, fear-driven voters, especially in off-year elections.

The people who push these public policy propositions are usually working from an unscientific, fear-based position. A ballot campaign about fluoridation is waged by the anti-fluoridation crowd using scare tactics, selective reading of scientific studies, and emotional calls for “clean water,” and “saving the children.” This was borne out by the anti-fluoridation campaign in Portland, OR last year, which succeeded in drowning out the science-based message. “They’re going to put chemicals in our water!” howled the anti-fluoridation scaremongers. Ooooo, “chemicals.” Apparently, they’ve never looked into what occurs in a water treatment plant. And in the meantime, people who aren’t driven by fear, who know that fluoridation poses no significant risk, aren’t motivated to get out and vote; voilá, another victory for ignorance over science, all in the name of “choice.”

Locally, wackos who imagine they can feel and are injured by WiFi signals managed a few years ago to prevent the Sebastopol City Council from accepting an offer from an ISP of free WiFi coverage in their downtown. The same clowns think they can feel the radio signals given off by their gas meters. They moan that radio waves are “radiation,” though they wouldn’t know a beam of ionizing radiation if it bit them on the ass. And because they are loud and insistent, they get attention from officials and waste endless amounts of time and energy, even though they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Just south of here, the anti-science, ignorant, hysterical, (and in my view, criminal) anti-vaxxers have made Marin County a hotbed of whooping cough, a disease that had been largely eradicated for half a century.

So no, when “choice” means “turning science-based public policy over to a mob,” you can count me out. The best way to win a vote against a group of anti-science fools is to avoid the vote in the first place.

 

 

Remembering my mom

On this day, twenty-four years ago, my mother died. I miss her. She was killed by pancreatic cancer. Not the kind that ultimately killed Steve Jobs; that was the “good” kind, the one that, if you have the best of medical care and a bunch of luck, you can live with for another few years. It’ll still get you, but you’ll have the time to come to grips with your mortality, and to say your goodbyes properly. But that sort of pancreatic cancer is rare, about 5% of all cases. The common kind is a ruthless and efficient killer. Most of the time, it’s a silent monster growing inside the victim, and doesn’t cause any symptoms. Even when, by chance, it is caught early, the 5-year survival rate is only 5%. In my mom’s case, it wasn’t caught early; she had surgery for an unrelated purpose, and as soon as the doctors saw what was inside, they cancelled the procedure and closed her back up. She died only six weeks later.

I wrote about my mom in 2009, on the 20th anniversary of her death. At the time, I hadn’t had my own experience with cancer; that came the next year, when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I’m better now; there was no spread of my cancer, they cut it out of me, and followup CT scans are clean. But now that I’ve taken my own ride on the cancer roller coaster, I know better than ever how much it sucks.

Mom-1946Last month, we took a visit to see my dad, who is 89 and ailing. A couple of years ago, he also had kidney cancer, and had a very extensive surgery to try to get rid of it. But it’s back, spread to one of his lungs, and he has entered home hospice care. While I was there at his place, I brought my scanner, so I could capture the big box of family photos. I came upon this picture of my mother, taken in Massachusetts in 1946, three years before she married my dad. It’s a lovely picture of a pretty, carefree woman who, though she didn’t yet know it, was entering the most fulfilling time of her life. Ahead of her, she had a happy marriage, four children, and a move across the country from New York City to a whole new beginning in California.

I never knew this particular woman. But I’m happy and proud to remember her as the woman she became. She was a good woman, who deserves to be remembered. She was my mom.

I’m an unhappy customer after reading The Human Division in its serialized run. It was clear by around episode 8 that Scalzi would not be able to wrap up all the threads of the story, but (no spoilers) the book ends with an epic battle and no resolution of the main plot, and with smoking guns littering the stage. The day of the final episode’s release, Scalzi announced that there was going to be a sequel (or perhaps sequels, given how he’s likening The Human Division to a TV series), which he’d just been signed to write, and which therefore may be more than a year away.

I’m a big fan of Scalzi’s work; I just gifted a friend with paperbacks of Old Man’s War (OMW) and Redshirts. But this time around, the work, and the process of getting the work to his readers, disappoints.

The Human Division is the latest novel in the OMW universe, and for the most part it is enjoyable. I felt that Scalzi has turned up his trademarked Banter-O-Meter a bit too high this time, to the point where many of the characters tended to talk too much alike. For example, if you take lines of dialog from two characters, say Harry Wilson and Hart Schmidt, and place them on a page by themselves, it would often be difficult to know which character was speaking, because they use the same snappy banter style. I like the banter, but banter isn’t quite the same as characterization.

In terms of plot, there’s plenty of it, and clearly there was too much for one book to contain. The book slams to a halt after a huge, masterfully written battle, then ends with a brief coda, with all the major plot threads hanging. Since I didn’t know in advance it was going to be a multi-parter, I felt as though I only got half a book for my $13.

The Human Division was first available as a buck-a-week serial, and the book suffers from it. Scalzi says its his longest book by word count, yet it felt much shorter; some of the individual episodes could be read in 10 minutes. I think being chopped into so many pieces hurt the overall feel of the book. The book felt smaller than OMW.

I’ve crystallized the big issue I have with the serialization format. I’m fine reading series, either serializations a la Analog magazine in the 70s, where I read a lot of great novels split up into three or four chunks, or current book series, like James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse. I was happy to read Leviathan Wakes knowing that it was the first in a series, and the book kicks so much ass it is effectively stand-alone.

The difference between the serializations of the 70s and today is that now we have Internet reviews, which would have alerted me that The Human Division was not a complete novel. Had I known that, I would not have bought it now; I would have waited until the second volume was released. I just did that with the Benford/Niven book from last year. Because of the nature of this experiment in serialization, Tor/Scalzi (I’m not saying maliciously) withheld reader information that I for one have come to rely on. As a result, I ended up as an annoyed customer, rather than a happy one. I look forward to reading the next installment of The Human Division, but I won’t buy it serialized, and I won’t buy it if reviewers say it doesn’t wrap up the plot lines. I signed up to read a novel, not watch Lost (I did watch that, and you see where that got me).

Note: also published on Goodreads and Amazon.

After her bigoted anti-gay diatribe produced a backlash she didn’t expect, Michelle Shocked thinks she’s the victim. It’s a typical cycle for right-wingers and reactionaries: they spew hate speech, they receive pushback, then they whine about how they are being so terribly repressed. Color me unimpressed.

Michelle Shocked staged a sit in outside a Santa Cruz nightclub that canceled her show because she made an anti-gay slur at a San Francisco club earlier this month.

The tape across her mouth said “Silenced By Fear.”

What a crock. The message on that piece of tape indicates she believes that people are afraid of her message, and so she’s been censored. But club owners didn’t cancel her shows because they were scared of what she believes; the show were cancelled because people are disgusted by her fundamentalist religious beliefs. I listened to the tape of her SF show that started this; she was clear she believes that homosexuality will bring on the end of the world. That’s nutty and bigoted.

She hasn’t been silenced at all. She can still speak. This is what freedom of speech is all about; you have the right and ability to speak, and other people have the right and ability to be repulsed by what you say and not give you their money anymore. Actions have consequences. Artists have the opportunity to find an audience, and have an equal opportunity to drive that audience away. Nobody has a right to keep being paid when they alienate their audience.

Singer Michelle Shocked sits in at canceled Moe’s Alley show

 

Welcome to the twelfth annual Oscar™ blogging!

Multiple Oscar winners:

  • Life of Pi: 4
  • Argo: 3
  • Les Misérables: 3
  • Django Unchained: 2
  • Lincoln: 2

For those who are unfamiliar with me doing this, you can find previous year’s Oscarblogging at:

Updates will be (mostly) placed at the end, so scroll down.

I think that Seth MacFarlane is wicked talented, so I’ve been looking forward to him as host. His opening bits range from the ridiculous (anything with Captain Kirk) to the sublime (soft shoe with Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt).

The awards start off with Best Supporting Actor, with the Oscar going to Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained. Not quite who I would have picked, but he’s an intense actor.

Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy come out to give the award for Best Animated Short Film. Their bits together fall flat, and it’s a relief when they get to the nominees. The award goes to John Kahrs for Paperman. Tom exclaims about how they appear to have the nominees for the lesser awards in a box near the stage so that they don’t have to run up from the nosebleed seats. Next up is the Best Animated Film, and I’m expecting it to go to Pixar as usual—Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman for Brave. Huzzah for kilts!

Reese Witherspoon (in a so-so dress) introduces a few of the best picture nominees: Les Misérables, Life of Pi, and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

The guys from The Avengers come out to give the award for Best Cinematography. It goes to Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi, and Tom complains about the choice—given that most of the movie was CGI, why is he getting an award for lighting done by the computer artists? Next up is Best Visual Effects, again to Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott for Life of Pi.

Wow, they’re vicious this year about cutting people off when their time is up. Playing the theme from Jaws is a little over the top.

Channing Tatum and Jennifer Aniston give the award for Best Costumn Design to Jacqueline Durran for Anna Karenina. I’m surprised; I thought this might go to Les Misérables. The award for Best Makeup and Hair goes to Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell for Les Misérables; no surprise there, as it has to be hard work to make Anne Hathaway look that bad.

Halle Berry comes out to celebrate fifty years of James Bond. A montage of film clips are shown, which (to my surprise) got all the Bonds, including Lazenby and Dalton. Shirley Bassey comes out to sing “Goldfinger” and gets a standing ovation.

Kerrie Washington and Jamie Foxx come out to give the award for Best Live Action Short Film, which goes to Shawn Christensen for Curfew. The Best Documentary Short Subject award goes to Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine for Inocente.

Liam Neeson introduces further Best Picture nominees. Sadly, he’s wearing a tie, not a bow tie. Is it too much to ask that gentlemen wear a proper tuxedo? He presents Argo, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty.

“The actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wiles Booth”. Groan.

Ben Affleck gives the Best Documentary, which goes to Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn for Searching for Sugar Man.

Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain come out to present the Best Foreign Language award. Tom objects to the former’s butt bow, but I disagree. The award goes to Austria for Amour.

John Travolta comes out to present a celebration of movie musicals. Catherine Zeta Jones sings “All That Jazz” from Chicago, Jennifer Hudson does “I Am Telling You I Am Not Going” from Dreamgirls, and the entire cast of Les Misérables sings a medley of songs from the show.

Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana cover the Sci Tech awards.

Mark Whalberg and Ted give the Best Sound Mixing award, which goes to Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes for Les Misérables. Best Sound Editing is a rarity: a tie! One goes to Paul N.J. Ottosson for Zero Dark Thirty and one goes to Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers for Skyfall.

Christopher Plummer gives the Best Supporting Actress award to, as widely-expected, Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables.

Sandra Bullock gives the award for Best Editing to William Goldenberg for Argo.

Jennifer Lawrence, wearing an amazing dress, introduces Adele, singing “Skyfall”.

Nicole Kidman introduces the next batch of Best Picture nominees, including Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, and Amour. Tom notes that her forehead never quite seems to move.

Daniel Radcliffe and Kristen Stewart (limping) give the award for Best Production Design, which goes to Rick Carter and Jim Erickson for Lincoln.

Selma Hayek gives the Governor’s awards (i.e., honorary Oscars).

George Clooney gives the In Memoriam tribute, which ends with Barbra Streisand singing “The Way We Were”.

The main cast of Chicago gives the music awards. The Oscar for Best Original Score goes to Mychael Danna for Life of Pi, and for Best Original Song goes to “Skyfall,” Music and lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth for Skyfall. Huh, never knew her last name before.

The writing awards are given out by Dustin Hoffman and Charlize Theron. The Best Adapted Screenplay award goes to Chris Terrio for Argo, and the Best Original Screenplay award goes to Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained.

Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas present the Best Director award to Ang Lee for Life of Pi.

Jean Dujardin awards the Best Actress Oscar to Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook. That amazing dress got away from her and she tripped on the way up and that just makes her more lovable to the Academy. Tom notes that she appeared to have forgotten to thank the director—whoops!

Seth MacFarlane announces that the next presenter needs to introduction and leaves the stage. Meryl Streep comes out to give the Best Actor award. It goes to Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln, to no one’s surprise.

Jack Nicholson introduces Michelle Obama live from the White House, who gives a short speech and then turns it back to Nicholson to announce the nominees. He passes it back to Michelle, who annouces that the winner is Argo.

All in all, I think that MacFarlane did a great job. I’ll be interested to see what the general buzz is tomorrow about how well he hosted. Although Life of Pi won more Oscars, I think that the big winner tonight was Argo, which I did not expect to win Best Picture.

I’ve seen a fair amount of convention wisdom chatterers (Morning Joe today, among others) complaining that Obama demanding a vote for actions on gun safety and other things “is too small,” and acting incredulous: “That’s all he’s asking for? A vote?” They’re inside the Beltway and pay total attention to politics. They forget most people outside of Washington don’t pay much attention to politics, and have no idea the Republicans have blocked so much stuff and kept it from coming to a vote. Most folks just know things aren’t happening. Obama was reminding people directly, without the “balanced” filter of the media, that the Republicans in Congress these days are all about obstruction and petty politics, and not about governing.

As usual, Obama is playing a different game than most of the Beltway pundits think he’s playing. I’m not one of those people who think Obama is forever playing eleven-dimensional chess and out-thinking his opponents; he’s obviously made plenty of mistakes. But after four years, it’s clear that he knows how to think a few moves ahead of the average Congresscritter or Beltway pundit. Obama has always understood the long game, and has been willing to sacrifice pawns or rooks to eventually sweep the board. Sometimes his willingness to do so has pissed me off; he dealt away the public option with the Affordable Care Act, which I think was a mistake then and now from a policy standpoint. But he did get the law passed, and it did survive the Supreme Court. After 50 years of trying, that’s no small achievement.

The Republican response today was strangely muted and entirely predictable. No to increasing the minimum wage, with a repeat of the disproved talking point that increased wages slow economic growth.  Bluster about how “America has a spending problem” and painting the federal deficit as the biggest challenge we face, with no understanding that the deficit is actually shrinking at the fastest pace in recent history.

I was going to talk about Marco Rubio’s official response, but it’s awfully difficult, because he didn’t really say anything at all. As I said on Twitter,

Rubio’s speech was a perfect example of the sclerotic thinking of the GOP’s ideology. No consistency, no new ideas.

This analysis of Rubio’s speech is as good as any other I’ve seen. It’s obvious that the Republican Party is such a prisoner of its ideology that it can’t come up with anything new at this point. Any new ideas draw primary challenges from the multiple right-wing groups competing to be the most reactionary. I suspect they will have to lose another few elections to get to the point where they can rethink things. Or perhaps Dori is right, and the GOP will simply cease to exist over the next decade, as they become ever more trapped and unable to change.

I’m not surprised that the President’s speech got a good poll response. It showed that he wanted to get things done. His opponents think keeping Obama from getting credit for good things (or for anything) is more important than anything else, including the health and prosperity of the country.

Enough, already

I’m fed up with the Aaron Swartz hagiography and subsequent bullshit garment-rending from people who didn’t know him well, or at all. I’m still reading fresh examples of anguished wailing and blogging and Twittering about the guy. But to me, he seems unworthy of the sainthood that’s being thrust onto his corpse.

I don’t think I ever met him (I might have, at an O’Reilly conference in San Jose years ago); I may or may not have ever corresponded with him many years ago, and I can’t be bothered to look through my email archives to check. I know I read a bunch of his words at one point, possibly on a mailing list or on his blog. But I had no personal connection with him, as far as I can remember.

I knew of him, but mainly because of his well-known, well-honed talent for being an arrogant jerk to many people, often to people who had extended a helping hand to him at one time or another. I’ve been hanging around the geekosphere long enough to have heard of one or another of the many spats Swartz triggered when he viciously turned on somebody.

I knew he was a smart kid. So did he. Boy, did he know it. And he loved to share that knowledge, via his palpable contempt for, well, just about everyone who didn’t agree with him (read this account by his partner, who denies Swartz killed himself due to depression, to get a feel for just how arrogant and contemptuous he was about most people).

Because I’d read his words, and seen how he lashed out at people, I had him pegged in my mind as “Really smart but asshole kid who might grow up someday and learn to be a smart adult, but for now, ignorable.” But even years ago, I thought he was special, and didn’t really expect that to happen. I expected him to turn out like Eric Raymond or Richard Stallman, get a sinecure from some open-source group, and live out his days haranguing the rest of us about how disappointed he was that we didn’t live up to his lofty standards.

I wasn’t the only one who felt that way; after learning of his death, I said to Dori, “Hey, remember that Aaron Swartz kid?” She replied, “Yeah, what stupid thing has he done now?” I said, “Well, it looks like he killed himself.” Dori doesn’t lack compassion, and of course she had no idea that something bad had occurred. The point I’m making is that Dori, who pays way more attention to geek society than I do, was also primed to think that he was likely to do something foolhardy or attention-seeking. Because to the casual observer, that was the way he lived his life.

I’d heard of his caper with PACER, when he released a significant portion of US case law to the public, because he was morally offended that it was behind a paywall. It’s speculation, but that was most likely the same stunt he was trying to pull again when he got busted after downloading a large amount of academic journal articles from JSTOR, another paywall. (Aside: I agree with Swartz that this data should be publicly available; I disagree with his methods).

He knew that what he was doing with the JSTOR data was criminal, or at best unauthorized; he tried to hide his identity while doing it.  But Swartz was offended, so even though he had previously been around the block with the law after the PACER caper (he was investigated then, but no charges filed), he decided his moral outrage trumped the petty laws of the stupid. So he took what he wanted, because he wanted to, and because he could. This is the moral calculus of a child or a criminal, not an adult.

Then he got caught. And this time he drew a prosecutor who clearly decided to make an example of this arrogant kid. I completely agree with those who think Swartz got a raw, unfair deal. The prosecutors abused their discretion. Prosecutors who want to impose harsher penalties for Swartz’s alleged crimes than for murderers or rapists have lost their own moral bearings.

From reports, Swartz didn’t think he had done anything wrong or criminal, and more or less expected to be let off the hook for his actions. In his experience, people had always recognized his brilliance and let him off the hook before. When that didn’t happen, he was bewildered and defiant. It’s possible this was the first time he was faced with the real possibility of serious consequences for his choices. According to Wikipedia, the prosecutors were seeking a plea bargain that would result in a six month jail sentence.

Swartz’s many apologists are, if effect, arguing that his actions should be completely excused because he was morally in the right. I’ve seen the more fevered comparing his actions to Martin Luther King. This is a nearly obscene comparison. King repeatedly risked his life for the civil rights of his people, proudly stood as the leader of his movement, and took responsibility for his actions. Swartz surreptitiously downloaded a bunch of data from a closet, tried to hide his face when he slipped away with the loot, and wasn’t willing to pay any penalty.

I remember many of the civil rights activists in the Sixties breaking unjust laws for their moral convictions. The ones we revere today didn’t say, “I’ll do the right thing as long as I get no punishment.” They knew the risks, took them, and stood tall when they faced the consequences. Those were acts of true courage.

Swartz’s defenders say the prosecutors killed him, but that’s not what happened. He was not killed by the state. Swartz hanged himself before his consequences had even been decided. The woman who lived with him, who knew his mental state better than any of the rest of us, says he was not chronically depressed, and she does not believe he suffered from mental illness. We’ll never know the exact reason for his suicide, but it seems more likely than anything else that he killed himself to avoid going to jail for six months, and therefore he was too cowardly to face the harsh results of his actions.

My personal view is that killing yourself and leaving your body to be found by your lover is a profoundly horrible, selfish, and unforgivable action, and one that deserves our disgust, not our compassion. I’ll reserve my compassion for the woman whom he presumably loved, but he knew would find his corpse.

The Saint Aaron bandwagon so many people have piled onto nauseates me.

He wasn’t a saint.

His moral judgments were not superior to everyone else’s.

He did not die for anyone’s sins.

He wasn’t depressed and mentally ill. His death has no lessons for us in that area.

He was a very smart kid who got himself in over his head, was overcome by fear, and killed himself. That’s a shitty thing. But his death, though regrettable, is meaningless for the rest of us. When you hear differently, you are being sold somebody’s agenda. Beware.

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