The E-Thing

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Sep 172011

Seanan McGuire, author of One Salt Sea, has an excellent post about the “print is dead” handwaving. (I was initially going to use a more accurate and less polite term than “handwaving” but had a rare burst of restraint. You’re welcome.)

This isn’t a unique problem. It’s just one more of the usual ooh-shiny geek reaction too many people have when a New Thing comes out: the old thing is dead! Onward, comrades, into the glorious future where we will leave behind all those uncool, outdated people with their buggywhips! Like brick-and-mortar stores. Remember ten years or so ago, when “e-” everything was going to totally replace brick-and-mortar stores, and you’d be able use the Web to do everything from ordering groceries to having people run errands for you?

Well. You still can order groceries online, and all kinds of other good things, and some of those stores have gone away. But Safeway and Target still have physical stores, and companies that promised to run around the city for you are out of business. Just as television didn’t kill radio, online availability didn’t kill brick-and-mortar stores or real-life grocery shopping. Turns out there are things it’s not always easy to do online, and that there are people who can’t just hop on their trusty computer to have organic grass-fed steaks shipped to their door, perhaps because the entire world is not upper-middle-class and residents of hip urban neighborhoods.

And so it is with books. E-readers and electronic books are a fabulous thing. They’re especially helpful for books that need updating frequently (textbooks) or to handle accessibility issues (larger type). They are encouraging publishers to re-issue out-of-print materials, and they allow authors to release older and shorter pieces quickly.

But: they require a reader, which costs money, and has to be kept charged, and stores the books in a format selected by a vendor. The books themselves can go into the memory hole. It’s not easy to lend e-books, because they have to be controlled with DRM. They’re not “green” (perhaps the stupidest argument made in their favor), and not just because they require electricity to use; they are not spun out of recycled pop bottles and repurposed copper wire, but are manufactured under pretty crappy (and sometimes deadly) working conditions, and let’s not even get into what happens after their life cycle is over. They also, as McGuire pointed out, are largely out of the reach of anyone other than the sort of person with a spare couple of hundred bucks to spend on a new reading medium.

The sales figures waved around to suggest that e-books are “overtaking” print books are also misleading. Amazon, whose motives are not exactly pure,  reports figures for any kind of e-book sold at all, from badly-formatted copies of public-domain works to actual books that someone chose to buy instead of a print copy. Those figures don’t reflect sales from Wal-Mart, or independent bookstores, or second-hand bookstores; they tell us very little reliably that would suggest people hate paper books and are eager to entire the Glorious Kindle Future.

Print books are going nowhere except in the minds of people who have a progress fetish. And those people need to check their privilege.

Jun 122011

Apparently figuring that “gay man against gays” is a man-bites-dog article no editor can resist, Jonathan Soroff writes a facile article about why there shouldn’t be same-sex marriage. If you’d rather not wade through this tripe, the arguments boil down this:

1) My family won’t stop nagging me to marry my boyfriend!

2) Marriage is a man and a woman. It just is, all right? Plus, babies.

3) Let’s just not use the M-word, and then straights will give us all the exact same rights and everything will be wine and roses. We can even call it something stupid, like “floogle”.  Then we will totally fly under the radar!

4) Did I mention that my family won’t stop nagging me to get married? I hope you’re reading this, Mr. Would-Be-Father-In-Law.

I trust I don’t have to explain why points 1 and 4 are stupid.

Point 2 is a tautology: marriage has always been a man and a woman because marriage has always been a man and a woman. It’s also, until quite recently (less than half a century) been an institution where the wife was largely the husband’s property, in law and in fact, and one where childbearing was central and the lack thereof a reason to forbid or end a marriage. Funnily, Soroff, like his straight counterparts on the anti-same-sex marriage reservation, seem to skip over that part.  (Not that they are all opposed to the traditional model, of course. But it isn’t good PR to suggest that America should return to the good old days where a woman couldn’t hold property in her own name without her husband’s consent.)

Point 3 is one Soroff doesn’t argue much, probably because he has some inkling of how ignorant he is of the fact that marriage is, like, laws and stuff. And in the law, words have meaning. Laws are also very complicated, being a confusing overlay of federal and individual state laws. It is literally impossible for the President to issue a proclamation saying “From now on, every law everywhere that says ‘marriage’ also includes civil unions.”  Individual states might have a little issue with that, and they would be in the right to do so. And anyone could challenge this proclamation by saying that a particular law contemplated, and depends on, the ‘traditional’ view of marriage and can’t possible be extended to anything else.

The easiest, and obvious, way to expand the rights and responsibilities of marriage is to allow same-sex couples to marry, too. But I guess that allowing same-sex couples to have full civil rights is not nearly as important as getting Soroff’s family to stop nagging him about the wedding.

Jun 052011

Twitter is afire with the #YAsaves hashtag and various young-adult fiction authors (and readers) angry about the latest old-fogey rant to fill a few lonely column inches before a deadline; this time, a Wall Street Journal book reviewer is determined to prove that the boys on the editorial page don’t hold that newspaper’s monopoly on stupid.

Meghan Cox Gurdon, a former conservative columnist for the National Review and the Washington Examiner, somehow managed to slither her way into a berth reviewing children’s books for the WSJ.  Predictably, her complaint is that YA fiction these days is just awful and ugly and brutal, not like the gentle, sun-touched fiction for teenagers of our own youth.

Which, setting aside the pearl-clutching, is really where I stopped. Our youth? Yes, you heard that right; as with everything else worthy in life, children’s literature was destroyed by those awful 1960s, and children’s literature turned to the Dark Side forty years ago. Apparently Gurdon’s outrage has affected her math skills; the “46-year-old mother of three” she fusses over in her opening paragraph would have barely been in kindergarten in 1967, and would have been exposed to that “dark” YA literature in her own teenage years. As would all, if not most, of Generation X. You know, the people who are now getting middle-aged and raising kids and thus supposedly having to worry about the terrible YA literature that awaits our young’uns, and the same people who grew up with that “dark” fiction of the terrible post-1960s lurking in the bookstores.

If Gurdon’s column were factual, it would be trivial to point out that there is plenty of YA fiction that isn’t “dark”, and is a hell of a lot better than some of the stuff we had available as kids; I’d have loved to have Leviathan or Zoe’s Tale or White Cat to read when I was a teenager, and none of those are exactly on the level of Go Ask Alice as far as “dark” fiction went.

But it’s not. She’s simply regurgitating a pearl-clutching rant about Kids These Days and how much better things were in the innocent days of our own youth, and throwing on a steaming sprinkle of conservative ranting about how the culture imploded once those goddamn hippies showed up. Which is a pity, because it seems like even the Twilight books would be a refreshing breath of air for kids otherwise stuck listening to their mom rant about the culture wars.

Nov 142010

John Scalzi links to a New York Times online feature called “You Fix the Budget“, which purports to let you eliminate various categories of spending and raise various categories of income to come up with a ‘projected’ budget. Of course, despite the impressive credentials, this is an online exercise put together by journalists, which means it has one moderate problem and one extremely serious problem:

The moderate problem is that the descriptions of each category are oversimplified, in some cases are policy statements having not much to do with reality (such as medical malpractice ‘reform’) or are laughably vague (what are those ‘other’ cuts going to look like, exactly?), and considers nothing but the net effect on the deficit – ignoring externalities, societal costs and, really, anything except ‘deficit, plus/minus’.

The serious problem is that, as you can see from comments not only at Whatever but elsewhere on the Internet, people are completely oblivious to the existence of the moderate problem. “Why, that was easy,” they say. “Why can’t our lawmakers figure this out? It’s not hard!”

Indeed, it’s not hard to push numbers around and come up with a surplus, when you’re working with extremely limited information and don’t have to care one way or the other about anything other than whether the “projected” result helps the deficit. It’s quite a bit harder in the real world, where things like public safety and unemployment are also important considerations.

It’s an economics version of  “My kid could paint that!”

Sep 142009

I’m really too tired to go around punching people in the mouth today. So: if you find yourself tempted to post one of the following things to the Internet, or God forbid saying one of them sincerely in conversation, would you kindly punch yourself in the mouth? Thanks.

  • “IANAL, but….”
  • Anything describing how when you were a kid, [commonly accepted safety requirement] either didn’t exist or wasn’t used, and WE all turned out fine.
  • Pretty much any sentence ending in “….and WE all turned out fine.”
  • Support of tort-reform measures, unless you are a defense attorney or in some capacity employed by the Chamber of Commerce, PHRMA or the Republican Party, because at least then you’re getting paid for it.
  • Any argument suggesting that matters of taste are actually matters of absolute truth. (“How can you not like strawberry ice cream? Strawberry ice cream is yummy!”)
  • Statements about “religion” which make clear that you think “religion” is a synonym for “those annoying fundamentalist Christians who I had to deal with in the small town I grew up in”.
  • A belief that any sexually explicit material, behavior or conversation is perfectly reasonable to have, display or wave around anywhere, anytime, because The Human Body Is Beautiful And Sex Is Natural. If you apply this standard to behavior that normal people would agree is sexual harassment, punch yourself in the mouth twice.
  • Huffily stomping out of a discussion with a promise never to return. Yeah, that ever happens on the Internet.

I’m sure there’s more but your knuckles are probably split and bleeding as it is. We can pick up where we left off tomorrow.

Sep 042009

Because Obama is going to indoctrinate America’s schoolchildren with the socialist, Marx-hugging message that they should stay in school, work hard and take responsibility for their learning!

And I absolutely want people who are stupid enough to believe that to keep their kids out of school that day. For every Wingnut, Jr. who doesn’t have the “work hard and do well” message reinforced, and who’s taught that education is a Commie plot, my kids have that much more of an edge. Rock on, wingnuts!

Jun 042009

Ursula LeGuin has a funny essay cautioning against actually meeting the writer behind the breathtaking works of genuis that you love to read, because you might find out that the creative genius is kind of a weirdo who mumbles and has bizarre theories about tungsten poisoning.

Well, Jonathan Tweet just managed to prove LeGuin right. Robin Laws tries to moderate the dumbth of this post a little, but good grid, I thought the “but girls just don’t naturally WANT to play D&D cuz they’re girls!” thing was something most gamers got out of their system after, oh, losing their virginity or so. I didn’t realize there was a kind of middle-aged Saturn Return on this one.

I already commented on Tweet’s blog, but for the slow or LJ-averse: “they just don’t want to” is a convenient excuse. It means never having to think about whether something about, I don’t know, behavior puts females off gaming; much less stressful to pretend instead that was fixed in our genes for all time hundreds of thousands of years ago, as Early Man strode across the savannah with his spear in a Museum of Natural History-approved manner, hunting for wildebeest. (No doubt these thrifty hunters carved primitive 20-siders from animal bone.)

I’m old enough to remember when gaming-store owners gave me funny looks, instead of helping me find the latest Trail of Cthulhu supplement; when I literally had guys crowd around my gaming table at a con staring at me, not because I had a nice rack or killer boots, but because I was a female DM and such a thing had never before been heard of. I rather like not being the only girl in the room. I just wish clueless dorks would quit fucking that up with their half-assed evo-psych intellectual masturbation.

Apr 052009

Samwise is kind of avoiding me today because I am stalking around muttering under my breath about how the fucking Baby Boomer generation needs to grow the fuck up, after reading an article that exemplifies everything about the stereotype of the ivory-tower policy wonk you can imagine.

Frank Micciche writes about how the recession is hitting over-50s, and he’s right; it’s hard to compete for jobs against people half your age who are willing to work for peanuts, it’s difficult to face retirement when your nest egg got flushed to pay for executive ‘retention bonuses’ at AIG. His solution to this? Screw the next generation, of course. That’s what we’re for.

. . . .Restoring Medicare as the primary payer for all seniors would reverse this calculus.

. . .Elimination of all payroll taxes for those over 60 would not only leave more money in their weekly paychecks but also make them cheaper to employ for businesses, which would be spared their share of the payroll tax on these workers.

…On the savings side, policymakers could temporarily quadruple the amount of savings that households headed by individuals 50 or older are allowed to put into retirement savings tax-free.

Huh. And what are we going to do to cover that extra Medicare and those payroll and retirement-savings taxes? It’s as if Micciche thinks that we can just have the Summer of Finance, where if we all hold hands and think love of money at the world, the recession will go away, like, by the power of our minds alone!

Because the alternative is that he knows, but isn’t saying, that the lost tax income and the increased Medicare expenditures have to come from cutting services to and/or raising taxes on existing taxpayers.  Apparently Micciche doesn’t think or care about how that will affect Generation X and own down, since those are the people largely starting, raising and supporting families of their own – and often, their aging parents.

Hey, that’s what everybody else is for, right? Keeping the Boomers happy?


Mar 122009

So in the wake of RaceFail 2009, John Scalzi rethinks his reflexive “no way am I putting my hand in THAT blender” position, and invites Mary Anne Mohanraj to write a guest blog post. Which she does in a thoughtful, kind, non-blaming, We Can Work It Out sort of way full of linky goodness.

And damn if the thread doesn’t immediately get clunked on by people who amaze you only by their ability to type with fingers jammed firmly in their ears, going OMFG U CALLED ME AN OPPRESSOR!! and “Racism? That’s so twentieth century, darling” and “But shouldn’t we wait for people of color to come to us before we acknowledge they have a role in SF?”

Oh Internets, just once, I would love you to surprise me.