Monday, August 31, 2009

Nipple Song

Nothing better to start your day than a fine jumpin' Bollywood video--- this time with handy English subtitles!



In response to Ron's post on "Putting it Simply," below, I dug up a statistics on government-run health care. Since most of you probably don't read this blog for the comments on the comments, I thought I'd put them here.

In countries with government-run health care, there isn't a man with a gun telling you that you can't get a second opinion. Or a third.

Likewise, most countries with government health care also have private insurance, so there would be nothing against your private insurance company paying for a Mayo Clinic visit if the government did not.

You're much more likely to see private insurance refuse to cover an expensive procedure than, say, Medicare.

Your cancer survival rate depends strongly on which cancer and which country. White Americans have the highest survival rate for prostate and breast cancers, in large part because it's normal for Americans to be regularly scanned for these potential problems. (Black Americans don't fare nearly so well. Nor do white Americans in poor, rual parts of the country.)

But Evil Socialist Japan does better than the US with men's colorectal cancers, and Evil Socialist France did better among women. For the stats, see:, or

The UK doesn't do nearly so well as other First World countries with cancer, but that has less to do with government-run health care than with British medical culture. British MDs just don't seem to consider cancer worth fighting--- or a lot of anything else.

I had a Brit doctor once, and it was amazing how many things he wouldn't treat me for. "They're normal," he said. "Not for me," I said, and got a new doctor (which was difficult, by the way, because I live in poor, rural New Mexico, and doctors were abandoning the state in droves, all for good capitalist reasons).

Cancer aside, longetivity statistics show that other countries--- =all= of them with government-run health are--- are doing better by their citizens than we are. See (This leaves out very small countries like Andorra, Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore, all of which also have higher longevity stats than the US. Statistically speaking, if you want a long life, you want to get born in a city-state.)

Likewise, if you're a baby who wants to survive to see your first birthday, it's better to be born in Portugal, Anguilla, Slovenia, or Cuba than in the USA. See

For a lot of dope on where the disinformation against government-run care is generated, Melinda Snodgrass pointed me to this article on a health-insurance executive whose job was to craft the message against Evil Socialized Medicine, but who changed his mind when he saw poor people being treated in animal stalls. (Yes, in the USA.)


Friday, August 28, 2009

At This Rate, My Plan for World Domination Will Come to Fruition Even More Quickly!

Mark W. Tiedemann has said some awesomely nice things about This Is Not a Game over on

When Williams is good, he is very good—and this is one of his best. He dances across the lines that blur real world and gameplaying with elegance and an acerbic sense of consequences that denies the artificial separation between the two worlds. When games grow large and complex enough, he suggests, they become the real world. The more factors added in to "flesh it out," the more a game takes on all the unanticipated aspects of real life. In this case, greed, jealousy, murder—and, as an added wrinkle, international politics.

People get drawn in from the various and unexpected touch points of the game world and get mangled in the course of discovering they have crossed a line somewhere and now, This Is Not A Game. In many ways, it never was, as Dagmar learns.

On another level, Williams is exploring the parameters of so-called social networking in a sphere of global communication that separates people by nanoseconds through myriad links that often bypass the comfortable and comprehensible channels through which we expect events to transpire. The connections made with communities that have utterly divergent, yet occasionally sympathetic, interests demonstrate the potential for cause and consequence unmediated by "authorized" intercessors.

Glowing praise like this should only motivate you to purchase a copy.



I'm off this weekend for Bubonicon.

And if I miss you there, I'll hope to catch you next week at Dragoncon.

Birthday Greetings

Happy 93rd,
Jack Vance!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Putting it Simply

A pleasingly elementary cartoon about why we need government-run health care.

[thanks to Louy]

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We had a power outage last night, and I couldn't do the stuff I usually do, and it was getting too dark to read. So I headed out to see Quentin Tarantino's latest, Inglourious Basterds.

The short review: this is Tarantino's least successful film. But because it's Tarantino, it's most likely better than most of the movies you've probably seen this summer.

There are several quite wonderful scenes, and some standout performances, mainly Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, the weirdly fey SS-Officer-From-Another-Planet, and Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna, the young Jewish survivor who hatches a plan to kill all the German top brass during a film premiere in Paris.

If Tarantino had just stuck with the Shoshanna story, he would have made a successful if not spectacular film. There would have been plenty of tension, Shoshanna and Landa could have exchanged geek trivia about prewar German cinema while subtly maneuvering toward their respective goals, and then there would have been a blazing and satisfactory finale.

Unfortunately Tarantino also decided to remake The Dirty Dozen, and therefore we meet the Basterds, a group of Jewish-American guerillas parachuted into Nazi-occupied France with the avowed intention of scalping 100 German soldiers apiece. The Basterds are led by Brad Pitt, who is given a bizarre accent that undercuts his character, and who is apparently told to spend much of his time making strange frowny faces.

The odd thing is that Tarantino really couldn't think of anything to do with the Basterds. He already had his wiping-out-the-German-brass story, so by the time the Basterds come along with their completely independent plot to kill all the Germans, they're redundant. Shoshanna's plan is sufficiently comprehensive that the Basterds aren't necessary to its execution.

Many of the scenes in the film are excruciatingly overlong, especially the one in the cellar, which went on so long it threatened to become a movie of its own. The structural function of this scene in terms of plot is to take three Basterds out of the picture, which means Tarantino has three fewer people for whom to find things to do--- which by that point must have relieved him considerably. (The actual Dirty Dozen film found something important for each of the dozen to do during the course of the movie. Tarantino couldn't manage that.)

The Basterd plot is, basically, ludicrous. A real group so constituted wouldn't have survived 48 hours in occupied France. This isn't a fatal flaw, because the Basterds live in a very cartoony world, which isn't about the real Second World War but about a lot of cheesy movies about the Second World War. Tarantino's films are geek-fests about other films. If you didn't know 1970s chop-sockey films, you missed half the point of Kill Bill.

The main problem with the Basterds is that they spend most of the movie stumbling around accomplishing nothing. Shoshanna's story doesn't need them--- Shoshanna and Pitt never even meet. The Basterds contribute nothing to the outcome except to add a little comedy and a little extra mayhem.

And there were some moments that disturbed me.

It's been obvious for a while that Tarantino likes to bruise, batter, bloody, torture, and kill attractive young women in his movies. (Kill Bill. Death Proof. QED.) Basterds is no different. The sadism quotient in this film is pretty high.

Which brings us to my big problem, which is that in this movie, the terrorists are the good guys.

The Basterds are explicitly terrorists. They exist for the sole purpose of terrorizing Germans. They torture, beat, and brutally kill their prisoners, and they enjoy it when they do. They say they are killing "Nazis," but their prisoners could have been Ukrainian conscripts for all they notice or care.

(Yes, real-life American soldiers killed prisoners. Yes, the Basterds are a guerilla outfit and can't walk around the maquis with a bunch of captives. But executing prisoners is a little different when you torture them first, isn't it? A bullet in the back of the head is different from being beaten to death with a baseball bat, isn't it?)

Torturing and murdering prisoners is an essential part of Basterd cool. We're meant to admire them for it. This is a film that states explicitly that American soldiers are terrorists and then congratulates them.

And no, I didn't see any irony in there. I didn't see any pseudo-profound pseudo-political statement that "we're just like the Nazis" or any other similar message that some brainless Hollywood liberal might think to attach to a movie.

The sadism is what it is. It's Sadism Chic.

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Standing On Her Head

Saturday night we joined Gene Bostwick for dinner and the Santa Fe Opera.

Dinner was at Espiritu, a hole-in-the-wall Italian joint next to K-Mart. Let's just say that chipotle Alfredo sauce doesn't sound like a good idea, but it tastes like a great idea. It's lucky that I don't live within 90 miles of Espiritu, otherwise I'd eat there all the time and blow up like a blimp.

The opera was La Traviata, with Natalie Dessay as Violetta.

Oh . . . my . . . God.

The first glimpse of the stage was not promising. Large oblong boxes made up the whole of the scenery. Apparently the story took place in a Second Empire that decorated primarily with packing crates.

Then Dessay turned up, skipping along the top of the boxes, and I felt sure that she'd lose her footing, fall, and break an ankle. Except that she didn't.

The jumping around was only part of it. Dessay disdains "park and bark," where the singer stands motionless and sings to the audience--- acting, she thinks, means moving around. So she sang wonderfully while lying down, she sang wonderfully while jumping about the set, she sang with transcendent wonderfulness while curled up in a corner. She did everything but stand on her head--- and I had the impression that if she had in fact stood on her head, she'd sound just fine.

I mean, she'd start singing and the whole audience would gasp. She was that freaking good.

She's a tiny woman--- the rest of the cast towered over her--- and how she could create those glorious noises in such a weeny frame, let alone a weeny frame scrunched up between a couple of packing crates, is beyond my imagination.

Personally, I suspect a Deal with the Devil.

Up till this week, she'd sung opposite her husband Laurent Naouri as Germont, but this week he was replaced by Anthony Michaels-Moore, who was just splendid, and really held his own in every scene with the star.

Even more astounding: this was the first time she's played Violetta.

I'm not sure I've ever had a musical experience quite like this one. Three days later, I can still hear bits of Dessay rattling around in my head.

If the one remaining performance hadn't been sold out, I'd have driven up to Santa Fe to see the whole thing all over again.

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I tried to take a picture of tonight's dinner, but the colors came out weird, and the photo seemed the opposite of appetizing. A pity, because it was one of those lingering-on-the-palate type dinners.

In honor perhaps of Shah Akbar, I made Mughlai-style chicken, a dish that hails from Andhra Pradesh, renowned for spicy food. This dish, however, is not picante at all, but beautifully seasoned with cream, yogurt, ground almonds, ginger, garlic, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and some of the Persian saffron I bought in Turkey.

I'm still floating away on a river of dairy products. My arteries will not thank me, but my palate does.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

I'm Marvel/I'm DC

You all probably saw this last summer. I didn't, so I'm making you watch it again.


Sadness in Space

A gallery in the New Scientist of unsuccessful or canceled NASA programs.

A continuing refrain:

With work progressing and the factory mostly completed, Congress refused further funding due to spiralling costs and a slipping schedule.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Canadian Scientists Prepare for Zombie Attack

The Canadians remain far ahead of us in the realm of public health. They're preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Professor Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his surname and not a typographical mistake) and colleagues wrote: "We model a zombie attack using biological assumptions based on popular zombie movies.

"We introduce a basic model for zombie infection and illustrate the outcome with numerical solutions."

To give the living a fighting chance, the researchers chose "classic" slow-moving zombies as our opponents rather than the nimble, intelligent creatures portrayed in some recent films.

"While we are trying to be as broad as possible in modelling zombies - especially as there are many variables - we have decided not to consider these individuals," the researchers said . . .

In their scientific paper, the authors conclude that humanity's only hope is to "hit them [the undead] hard and hit them often".

They added: "It's imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly or else... we are all in a great deal of trouble."

{from Deborah P Kolodji}

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Bias in the News

Even the Weather Channel!

(From Oz)

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Happy 119th!

Happy Birthday, Howard!!!


More Childhood Nightmates

Another insane cartoon from the Fleischer Studios!

Betty Boop kidnaped by cannibals! Bimbo sweats away! KoKo menaced by Giant Floating Louis Armstrong Head! Exploding volcanos! Inappropriate racial stereotypes!

The question isn't whether this sort of thing warped me for life. The question is: How did people grow up watching this kind of thing and turn out normal?

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Privacy Violations

Five California Facebook users are suing Facebook, claiming that Facebook violated their privacy by allowing them to use Facebook.

The list of offenses against the aggrieved is truly egregious. Take the plight of “accomplished actress” [redacted]. After posting her photos to Facebook, [redacted] was quite surprised to discover her photos had been posted to Facebook. Outraged, she’s charging the social network for disseminating her “digital images… without her consent, knowledge, or compensation.”

. . . "This suit is in no way a publicity stunt to get my client’s image in front of millions of hormone-crazed geeks who otherwise would never have heard of her,” [redacted's] manager, [also redacted], did not actually say.

Also among the plaintiffs is 11-year-old Xavier [redacted]., whose parents are suing Facebook for violating the boy’s medical privacy by allowing him to post “I have swine flu” on his wall. They removed the posting and now demand to know what Facebook has done with it. (It’s not clear whether Xavier had swine flu, but his mother and father apparently did contract a severe case of parentus stupidococcus.) . . .

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reviews Too Late: Jodhaa Akbar

Jodhaa Akbar (2008) is an epic Bollywood film dealing with the relationship between the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (former child star Hrithik Roshan) and his wife Jodhaa Bai (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, known to her fans as The Most Beautiful Woman in the World).
What we have here is a chick flick, albeit one with sword fights and enormous battle scenes.
We open with a lengthy genealogy of the main characters, which proves necessary because everyone is related by marriage or blood to everyone else. The Young Akbar has to fight for the Mughal throne from the age of 13, which allows the filmmakers to create an enormous battle scene with masses of ranked elephants. Meanwhile, the young Jodhaa is raised as a Rajput warrior, with considerable martial skill. She's betrothed as a child to a Rajput prince, and has a close relationship with her brother Sujamal.
Sujumal, who has reasonable expectations of inheriting a chunk of the principality of Amer (now Jaipur), is disinherited by his uncle the Raja. Sujamal then rides off to conspire with various other local rulers to regain his position, which alarms the Raja such that he gallops straightaway to the Emperor Akbar, to suggest a marriage between his majesty and Jodhaa, thus providing himself with an enormously powerful ally in the event of trouble.
The Raja arrives at the court just as Akbar is taming a wild elephant. It's an unlikely scene, but it gives Hrithik Roshan a chance to do at least some of his own stunts--- he leaps, bounds off wall, and lands on the back of the elephant. Very impressive.
When the Raja gets around to proposing the marriage idea, Akbar, who would like to ally with the ferocious Rajputs, is taken with the notion.
The sticking point: Akbar is Muslim, and Jodhaa is Hindu, with a special affection for the blue-skinned flutist Krishna. But Akbar is liberal-minded as ferocious Timurid Muslim conquerors go, and doesn't see a problem (unlike everyone else in the film). (The real-life Akbar set traditional Islam aside later in life, and founded his own religion, which did not long survive him.)
Akbar meets Jodhaa, and she surprises everyone by refusing marriage unless she is allowed to bring Krishna to Agra and set up her own temple in the palace. Akbar is taken aback, but agrees, much to the scandal of his court.
Akbar is even more taken aback when, after a double Hindu/Muslim wedding ceremony, Jodhaa refuses to sleep with him. "You must win my heart," she says.
As ferocious conquering Timurid Muslim rulers go, Akbar is a gentleman. He agrees to this.

Startling as this is, this is actually a fairly astute idea on the part of the screenwriters. In a political marriage, the courtship (if there is one) takes place after the couple say "I do." This also permits the filmmakers to create literally hours of sexual tension. We see all the typical Bollywood courtship scenes--- flirtation, music, misunderstandings, heartfelt conversation, symbolism, no kissing or touching--- all set in scenes of spectacular beauty.
But all is not well in the Red Fort. Akbar's politically powerful wet nurse, Maham Anga, loathes the idea of another woman getting between her and the emperor, and (along with her wild, thieving son) sets in train a complicated harem conspiracy to make Jodhaa seem guilty of treason. (It's hard to have a harem conspiracy when there's only one person in the harem, but Maham Anga manages it.)
Meanwhile Jodhaa's brother Sujamal is off conspiring with various evil cousins-by-marriage of everybody, and the realm is getting shaky. A clash of religion threatens India. Assassins are on the way. We're going to get more than one spectacular sword fight before this is over.
Jodhaa Akbar is an incredibly lush, gorgeous movie, full of color and spectacle. All the scenes in palaces are set in real palaces, not movie sets. The scenes in the Red Fort are shot in the actual Red Fort. Huge armies march across spectacular landscapes. The costumes are brilliantly colored and detailed.
There is plenty of music, but the principals don't spend their time breaking into song. Instead they gaze soulfully at one another while love songs play on the sound track. They only actually sing to one another in the scene where they finally have sex, except of course they don't actually have sex. Or even kiss. Or even kiss the same apple, as the Bollywood cliche goes.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan may not, as her fans claim, be the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, but she's gorgeous and talented. Hrithik Roshaan makes a fine studly hero whose muscular torso is celebrated in many scenes. Action, romance, spectacle, conspiracy, danger--- all the good stuff. I wish I'd seen it on the big screen.
Historical note: It's a lovely movie, but it never happened. Jodhaa's name wasn't really Jodhaa, she was born Rajkumari Hira Kunwari, and becameMariam uz-Zamani Begum Sahiba after marriage. She didn't set up Krishna's temple in the Red Fort; she converted to Islam. She wasn't Akbar's first wife, or even his first Rajput wife. She gave birth to Akbar's heir, Jahangir.
Akbar was, as ferocious Timurid Muslim conquerers go, very liberal in matters of religion, and he did end the pilgrimage tax on Hindus, though he later reimposed it when he needed the money. He was extremely cultured and a fine theologian who started his own cult, though he never learned to read or write.
Akbar the Great also has one of the great redundant names of history: since Akbar means "great," he's Great the Great.
But as someone who lives by the Rio Grande River, I don't find this at all unusual.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bimbo's Initiation

"Bimbo's Initiation" scared the dickens out of me when I was little. Maybe it was the spanking. Maybe it was the sex. Maybe it was Betty Boop with spaniel ears.

Or maybe it was the notion that Mickey Mouse might push me down a sewer.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Revisiting the Classics: The Invisible Man

I hadn't ever read The Invisible Man, so I thought I'd give the audio book a try. I had two initial impressions: (1) American audio book readers really shouldn't try to read an entire book in a British accent (the reverse also being true, I'm sure), and (2) I hadn't expected all the slapstick.

The Invisible Man is a book with a cast of stupid people, for all that one of them is a scientific genius. It opens well enough, with the bandaged, goggled, false-whiskered title character appearing in a West Sussex village. But then it stalls, and then we get a lot of low comedy, after which there's a brutal Naturalist ending.

The novel was written for serialization in a magazine, and my theory is that Wells was writing so fast he really didn't have time to think his idea through. He'd done his research well enough to come up with a reasonably convincing pseudo-scienctific explanation for what happened to his protagonist, and he had some fine opening scenes, but after that he was winging it.

Wells was winging it no less than Griffin, his scientific antihero. Griffin had dedicated years of his life to pursuing his invisibility formula without once thinking what he wanted to be invisible for. The result is a series of ridiculous slapstick scenes in which Griffin discovers the disadvantages of being invisible, and in which he tries to steal enough money and food to avoid becoming the Invisible Freezing Starving Man.

Were I writing about an invisible man, I would at least give him a more interesting job than petty thief. He could be a spy, a master criminal, a mysterious romantic masked and caped figure inhabiting the lower catacombs of the Opera (whoops, sorry, that was last month's classic). Griffin, sadly, comes to megalomania too late in the story to be very interesting.

Until the very end, when Griffin's troubles have unhinged him and he kills a couple people, Griffin's worst crime is to rob a clergyman. (Though we could observe that Wells might not have considered this a crime.) There is a lot of slapstick as people try to uncover Griffin's secret, and are punished for their temerity by being hit by floating chairs, tripped down stairs, and having their noses pinched by invisible hands. There's a jolly music-hall comic-relief tramp, who is coerced into being an accomplice to Griffin's crimes. There is a bearded music-hall oily Jew who exists to demand money from the protagonist. But basically, once the authorities realize that they're dealing with an invisible man, the word goes out and Griffin is cornered and beaten to death by a mob of navvies in remarkably short order.

I hate to criticize Wells for lack of imagination--- I mean, he did come up with an absolutely sensational idea to build his book around--- but I really think this could use a second draft, possibly by Gaston Leroux.

I think I'll go re-read War of the Worlds.

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Eddie Izzard Explains Imperialism

. . . with Legos.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

The Chart of Fantasy Art

Well, the most commonly seen element appearing on fantasy books published last year was, it seems, the sword. Closely followed by glowy magic, castles, and dragons. I suspect a few covers contained all these elements. Meanwhile, fans of unicorns, maps, and stilettos had a disappointing year, and perhaps were lost to other genres.

Tim Holman posts some of his market research.

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Serious: the New Black?

One of the things I sensed about Worldcon was a longing on the part of the fans for seriousness.

The program items featuring Paul Krugman were packed. Panels on political subjects were well-attended. A panel on the Drake Equation did well. Panels on social media were full--- but then you'd expect that, with everyone networked and urging their Twitter-friends to show up.

But even the philosophy panels were full!

Is high seriousness the hidden secret of the Montreal Worldcon? I suspect that it is.

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Return of the Swedish Sea-Vikings!

The freighter Arctic Sea is missing, after allegedly having been boarded by a mysterious group of armed Swedes. The Russian Navy has been called in, and is looking for the ship with submarines. (I'd try a pair of binoculars first.)

This article sums up many of the current conspiracy theories, though they seem to have left out UFOs. UFOs are always brought into conspiracy theory sooner rather than later.
They also seem to have left out the notion that the ship simply vanished into the Skummelovstrand Triangle, which seems to be an unconscionable omission.
To me, however, the answer seems clear: the Vikings are back!
If I were looking for malefactors, I'd start by rousting all the tall blonds with shields and chainmail suits.

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Nine Votes

The stats released from the Hugo voting at Worldcon have shown that Implied Spaces came just nine votes short of getting a Hugo nomination. Of course that also means that Implied Spaces came but nine votes short of being turned into an asphalt angel by Neil Gaiman's Invincible Award-Winning Steamroller--- but then if that happened, I'd find myself in pretty good company.

I would like to offer sincere thanks for any of you who voted for Implied Spaces. And if you didn't, there's a copy of This Is Not a Game I'd like to sell you.

It was George RR Martin who told me about falling short in the Hugo voting, and he immediately suggested a remedy that would get me on next year's Hugo ballot.

"You've got to go out and seduce nine women," he said. "Preferably Australian, preferably members of the 2010 Aussie Worldcon."

"Of course," said Gardner Dozois, who was kibitzing. "Strictly speaking, it doesn't have to be women."

"Yes," I said firmly, "it does."

Leaving aside the moral and family questions of which Kathy will doubtless remind me some time in the next 24 hours, George's plan seems problematic. Since female Australian fans presumably talk to each other, and since some might object to my pursuit of others while I pursue them, they might get angry and vote against me. Which means that I have to acquire a safety margin, and seduce more than nine women. Say, 20. And do it all before next March or so, when the ballots are distributed.

That would mean I'd be pretty busy for the next six months, and my expenses would include tickets to Australia as well as lodging.

I think George's plan is getting overcomplicated. Maybe I should try something simpler.

Ballot-box stuffing? It has a stirring history, even in fandom.

Getting the Hugo committee drunk and tampering with the results while they're not looking? Considering that they're Aussies, the cost in booze would probably equal the cost of flying Down Under and seducing 20 women.

Campaigning for the Hugo?

No, I couldn't do that. Campaigning is unethical, whereas outright cheating is just fun.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

First New Rule from Worldcon

So here's my first new rule from the Worldcon:

No more Utilikilts.

This is strikingly similar to my first observation from last year's Worldcon, but it's obvious that people weren't listening last year.

Please note that I am not opposed to Scottish dress. When a Scot puts on a kilt he is stylin'. Just check this picture. The outfit is not just about the kilt. It's also about the velvet jacket with the silver buttons, it's about the ruffled shirt, it's about the weskit, it's about long stockings, it's about the garters, it's about the unusual footwear. It's about tassels and sprigs of greenery and the glass of champagne. It's about elegance.
If you're going to put on an unusual item of clothing--- and trust me, I have some experience in this department--- it should be part of an ensemble, the whole of which is to make you look like a iconoclastic man of fashion, not a total mope. If you decide to wear a kilt, it should not be worn with that tatty Firefly tee that you thought was cool back when you were 15. Especially if there are now rolls of fat hanging out between the bottom of the tee and the top of the kilt.
The legs of most men are not suitable to be shown to the public. (Mine are probably different from yours. Mine are legs of majesty sculpted by countless hours of exercise and bronzed by the sun. Yours probably aren't.)
((It should be admitted in all fairness that not all my parts are quite so well-proportioned, or so suitable to be viewed by the average passer-by. And those I put clothing on.))
If your legs aren't like mine, you should wear something between the lower hem of the kilt and the cheap plastic flip-flops, something to disguise the fact that your legs are thin and pale and hairy or fat and pale and hairy. Those long stockings that Scots wear are there for a reason.
And the flip-flops? These are for the beach, or the shower. Nowhere else, savvy?
Not everyone has it in them to become stylish fashion plates. But we should at least make an effort not to make hideous mistakes that offend the eye and cause the sensitive among us to faint dead away.
That's all I'm sayin'.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

High Class

I'm off to Worldcon in Montreal for the next week, so I thought I'd leave you with something to chew on.

I was talking with genius New Mexico writer Daniel Abraham the other day, and once again he demonstrated why we all think he's going to rule the world before he's fifty. (And if not him, his kid.)

He announced that he'd figured out the difference between genre and literary fiction.

Which is really tough to do, if you think about it. It's not subject matter any more, not with Philip Roth writing an alternate-worlds novel and urban fantasy/magical realist novels winning the Pulitzer Prize. It's not the quality of the writing, because we can all name genre writers whose writing blows away most literary writers.

"Literary fiction," sez Daniel, "is fiction written to be read by the upper class."

Oh wow. I think he's totally right.


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Nag Time

Have I nagged you lately to buy This Is Not a Game?
I thought not.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Sold Out!

The Subterranean Press edition of Songs of the Dying Earth has sold out! They won't be printing any more.
But look what Uncle Walter has found for you! A handful of copies remain in an obscure, hard-to-find online venue.
If you don't buy a copy now, you'll have to wait a year or more for the Tor edition.


Reviews Too Late: Banlieue 13

"Banlieue" literally translates as "suburb," but colloquially means "the hood"--- the French have saved their inner cities, but at the cost of moving the Projects out into the country. In this French film produced by Luc Besson, Banlieu 13 has been walled off from the rest of France, and given over to the gangs.

Well, it's no sillier an idea than Escape from New York.

And, like Escape from New York, the scientifictional premise is little more than an excuse for a whole lot of action scenes. Except that the action scenes in this one are really, really nifty.

The film stars David Belle, considered the inventor of le parkour, and martial artist/action choreographer Cyril Raffaelli. Neither are actors exactly, but they turned out to be much better than I would have expected, and more credible than most American action stars, if only because they do their own stunts. (And most excellent stunts they are.)

I won't bother to explain the plot, because the plot really doesn't matter. But the model who plays David Belle's sister is fun, if underutilized, and the various gangsters are amusing. (All the minor characters, in fact, are exceptionally well drawn, possibly because Besson's co-writer is character actor Bibi Nessari, who also plays one of the minor characters.)
But the real star of the film are the stunts. Raffaelli worked on the action choreography for three months prior to commencing principal photography, and it shows.
If you're tired of waiting for the next Tony Jaa film, or are deeply nostalgic for the sorts of movies Jackie Chan was making in the 80's, then this is a perfectly acceptable substitute.

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Worldcon Schedule

My schedule for Anticipation, the Montreal Worldcon:

When: Thu 14:00
Location: P-513B
Title: Twitter, Facebook, My Space: Social Media and Writing
Session ID: 766
All Participants: James Strauss, Jenny Rae Rappaport, Mary Robinette
Kowal, Walter Jon Williams, John Picacio
Moderator: Mary Robinette Kowal
Description: What’s all the buzz about the new social media? Writing
short-short-short stories on Twitter??? Good grief! Is this networking
or a new way to write? Can tweets and Facebook updates be about more
than what you ate?
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
Language: English
Track: Creative Writing

When: Fri 10:00
Location: P-512AE
Title: Author Reading
Session ID: 232
All Participants: Nancy Kress, Walter Jon Williams
Description: Nancy Kress, Walter Jon Williams.
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
Language: English
Track: Reading

(Note that Nancy and I will be reading in the same room at the same time. Maybe we'll be reading alternate sections from one another's works. Who knows?)

When: Fri 21:00
Location: P-522B
Title: Advice for New Writers: Experienced Professionals Tell the
Secrets of Getting Published
Session ID: 764
All Participants: Jenny Rae Rappaport, Lou Anders, Walter Jon
Williams, Stanley Schmidt
Moderator: Yourself
Description: How to get published (not). In a liar’s panel, these
professional writers, editor and agent give a lot of advice. But maybe
new writers should be careful about taking it literally.
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
Language: English
Track: Creative Writing

(If you want to learn the secret handshake that will automatically get your work published, this is the panel for you.)

When: Sat 12:30
Location: P-521B
Title: Walter Jon Williams
Session ID: 1084
All Participants: Walter Jon Williams
Description: A chance to ask one of your favourite authors those
burning questions.
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
Language: English
Track: Kaffeeklatsch

(Hey, I love these! Come and drink caffeinated beverages with me!)

When: Sun 12:30
Location: Other
Title: Walter Jon Williams Signing
Session ID: 1537
All Participants: Walter Jon Williams
Description: Walter Jon Williams Signing
Duration: 0:30 hrs:min
Language: English
Track: Autographs

When: Sun 14:00

Location: P-517D
Title: Martial Arts Primer for Writers
Session ID: 928
All Participants: Erick R. Buchanan, Sean McMullen, Walter Jon
Description: A martial arts primer for writers and anyone else;
demonstrations of styles and movement; introduction to words and
Duration: 1:30 hrs:min
Language: English
Track: Creative Writing

When: Sun 15:30
Location: P-512CG
Title: The Napoleonic War from Both Sides
Session ID: 932
All Participants: Ben Jeapes, Melinda Snodgrass, Walter Jon Williams
Moderator: Yourself
Description: One of the most important, worldshaping conflicts. A
rich source for both fantasy and science fiction. Our panellists try
to explain it to you.
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
Language: English
Track: Human Culture

(The Napoleonic Wars? Yeah, sure, what the hell. If you can't tell Davout from d'Enghien without a score card, check this one out!)

Title: The New Space Opera 2
Session ID: 1702
All Participants: Bill Willingham, Cory Doctorow, James Patrick
Kelly, Jay Lake, John C. Wright, Jonathan Strahan, Mike Resnick,
Robert Charles Wilson, Robert Silverberg, Walter Jon Williams, Tom
Clegg, John Scalzi, Peter Watts, Gardner Dozois
Description: Meet the editors and authors of both the first and
second The New
Space Opera anthologies. Jonathan Strahan, Gardner Dozois and Tom
Clegg will attend the entire event and will be available for
autographing. Other New Space Opera writers may drop by
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
Language: Bilingual
Track: Event

(Note: I'll probably be at this one only for a few minutes, as I have a meeting at 5:30)

Superheroes With Chemistry

Saturday, August 01, 2009

West of Java

Some really gorgeous pictures of Krakatoa during its current eruption.

With an explosive force 13,000 times the power of the atomic bomb that annihilated Hiroshima, the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa killed more than 36,000 people and radically altered global weather and temperatures for years afterwards.

The eruption was so violent and catastrophic that no active volcano in modern times has come close to rivalling it, not even the spectacular eruption of Mount St Helens in the U.S. in 1980. Now, almost a century-and-a-half on, are we about to experience the horrors of Krakatoa once again?

The answer, of course, is "nobody knows," but that doesn't stop them from spectulating in the most lurid manner possible.