Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Blattbergs... in Texas!

I've just survived (wokka wokka) a short visit from several family members, who came to San Angelo, Texas to see how we live here; but as all strange dislocations do, this visit did shake me out of my old habits. So instead of seeing what my regular life is like, they got to see quite a few things that I probably hadn't seen before.

So I may, in the future, tell you about chatting with the director of the Fort Concho museum; or about watching a college baseball game; or about our experience getting Texas license and license plates; or other things that we did in Texas (including watching the Oscars--short version: snore).

But for now I'm just going to relax and rest.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Super Short Review (and programming note): An Affair to Remember

Sarah and I started An Affair to Remember around Valentine's Day and we just finished it recently. That should be a clear indication that it's not exactly riveting, which is interesting because the plot is straightforward and doesn't meander at all: playboy meets girl on boat, they fall in love, they break up with their respective s.o.'s, some obstacle gets in the way of their happiness, the obstacle is resolved. It's such a clean plot. And yet, very boring.

Maybe it's one of those cases of success breeding failure: An Affair to Remember may have been so big that we've absorbed it in different forms. It's like the problem of seeing Tolkien as just ripping off D&D and other fantasies.

The best parts of the movie were those authentically weird historical moments--Deborah Kerr gets a job as a chorus teacher and, after being thanked by a mug for helping his son not be such a mug, she leads her kids in a song about listening to your conscience. The song is punctuated by a little tap dancing from the black kids in the chorus.

(Also, there's one great moment, though it's dragged on too long, where Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are making eyes at each other and at their s.o.'s when they dock; all we get is medium close-ups on them until we pull out and get a shot of all the other travelers watching this byplay as well. It's the most interesting sequence about who sees whom.)

Lastly, a programming note: I've got some family coming this weekend, so updating may be unreliable.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Super Short Review: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a hilarious and gory farce about college kids being terrorized by hillbillies--except the hillbillies are really nice and almost all the deaths are accidental (hence the farce aspect).

I would unhesitatingly recommend it as entertainment.

But is there something serious going on here? I can't help but think that there's something interesting about the class war of the typical slasher film inverted, so that it's not the poor po-dunk workers/hillbillies/servants who are the monsters, but the preppy college kids. Suffice to say, the movie was largely financed by Canadians.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"The Way We Live Now": in debt and loving it

I recently watched the complete BBC adaptation of Trollope's The Way We Live Now, which was the novel he wrote in 1875 that scolds British society for being so greedy.

In this novel and mini-series, a foreign-born financier comes to London; and while he wants a way in to the upper class (which isn't about money but breeding), they all want to get on his good side since he's got all the money and the plans to make more money. As typical in Trollope (I can say, having read one novel and this TV Tropes article on him), there are several plotlines, lots of stories of love that is blocked for some reason (religious difference, previous engagement, lack of money).

It's almost a shame that this mini-series isn't being made now (perhaps as a counterpoint to Downton Abbey?), since the issues of financial crime seem newly pertinent. It's no surprise that things don't turn out well in the novel--Trollope likes rewarding his heroes and punishing his victims. What's surprising is that the scheming financier Augustus Melmotte evokes any pity from us at all: unlike the greedy British peers who he's trying to join, Melmotte actually seems to understand the violence and sacrifice underpinning his money.

So when Melmotte loses everything and is punished, well, on one hand, this is no more than the game he played and the chance he took; but at least he's punished, while many of the British peers go on about their narrow lives, unpunished and unenlightened.

But then I might be thinking of this mini-series wistfully since the cruel bankers are crushed instead of receiving bailouts that they don't even acknowledge. (For more on that, listen to this interview of bankers saying that they're smarter and that's why they're employed and wealthy.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Why do conservatives position themselves as victims?

Many commenters over the last few years have noted that conservative talking points are incoherent: Obama is a ruthless tyrant AND a spineless wimp AND an idiot who can't speak without a teleprompter AND an elite snob; climate change is a hoax AND it's a natural process; Obama is an atheist AND a radical Muslim AND belongs to a black supremacist church. Some of this might qualify as double-think, where the person holds two opposing ideas at the same time, but mostly I think this is just a smorgasbord approach to political belief: take whatever you need at a particular time.

My personal favorite incoherency is their self-view: Republicans/conservatives are the only tough guys who can deal with America's enemies BUT they are also victims suffering mainstream calumny who can't fight back against the Democratic machine.

I originally thought that the self-positioning of conservatives as victims had to do with America's love of the underdog, of the myth of the average man pushed too far (constantly on display during Tea Party conversations). They see themselves as intrepid rebels who are courageously speaking truth to power, saying what other people are too scared to say (even though everyone else is saying it).

But recently, Scott Eric Kaufman nicely pointed out something that helps flesh out this rhetorical positioning (even if he misreads for comedic effect). That is, the rhetorical positioning of conservatives as victims places them as defending the natural.

When I studied the 19th century, I would find these sort of things all the time, for instance, in the Ron Paul-esque debate on gold vs. paper money: Gold is the only natural money, therefore we have to enact laws saying that Gold is the only natural money. Or in discussions of race: Blacks are clearly inferior by nature, so we have to enact laws saying that Blacks are clearly inferior.

So with our current debate about gay marriage: Marriage is always between one man and one woman, therefore we need a law. There is something sweetly sad about the way they give up the game as they try to win it; after all, if X was truly X, we wouldn't need a law about it.

The other benefit to this rhetorical positioning (we are defending what should need no defense) is that the enemies of conservatism are always outsiders: they are Northern abolitionists stirring up the happy black slaves, or they are Jewish financiers undermining the economy, or they are simply demonic violators of natural law.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Finding joy in a group project

Before I left Chicago, a bunch of my friends from the improv program at Second City decided that we wanted to continue working together. But what would we do? Improv, sketch, something else? We discussed some ideas loosely one day, and then we decided on a particular project: Yard Times, the misadventures of a scraggly group of lawn work laborers.

Except I wasn't there the day that decision was made; and I wasn't too interested in that premise. So how has it gone, working on something that I wouldn't have chosen?

OK, I'm going to say: like any group project, there are differences in taste and interest. For instance, when we broke the story for this season's episodes, there was one episode involving a "slambook," a concept I'm only dimly familiar with thanks to Mean Girls. And I got to write that episode. I wouldn't have thought of using a slambook on my own; but since I was doing the first draft of the episode, I got to make it my own.

(In this case, my own means it turns into its opposite: a book of praise, an encomiumbook instead of a slambook.)

So here's an ongoing lesson I've learned and am still learning from group writing projects: take what's offered and find your own joy in the idea, without losing sight of the group's shared goal.

Which in our case is money.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What makes a good podcast?

Honestly, I don't know. I guess the basics are necessary: you need to be speaking clearly, without too much dead air, and you need to be interesting.

I'll add another which isn't necessary, but helps: you need to sound friendly. Listening to podcasts is a pretty intimate experience usually; while I've certainly put podcasts on speakers while painting an apartment with my girlfriend, the usual way to listen is by yourself, with your earbuds, where your only friend there is the podcaster(s).

And this is going to be more tentative, but I think one aspect of quality podcasts (or even radio shows) is that they are not one-man shows. That is, almost all of my favorite podcasts include multiple people having a conversation or asking questions: WTF with Marc Maron has fine opening rants by Maron, but we're there for the conversation with the other person.

Similarly, Planet Money and RadioLab are often framed as an explanation from one member of the team to the others there; and when you have two people already engaged in conversation, it seems more natural to bring in an expert guest into the conversation.

Are there other general issues that make a podcast good or not so good?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Self-aggrandizement masquerading as self-reproach: the rhetorics of memes

Preface: I have Farah Mendlesohn's excellent and intriguing Rhetorics of Fantasy on my desk, so I'm overusing the phrase "Rhetoric of X"; as further proof, I just started a fantasy story and not knowing what else to call it, I titled it "Rhetoric of Flame." If it had been an sf story, it probably would've been "Rhetoric of X," which strikes me as a little more self-conscious. But that said, don't take too seriously the promise of "the rhetorics of memes."

Body: I'm shocked--shocked--to find that my recent contribution to the "What People Think I Do" meme has not utterly destroyed that meme; apparently, people didn't get the memo and are still making and posting that meme.

For the curious, here's the one I made:
I confess to liking this contribution for 2 main reasons: it doesn't have to do with a particular niche of person (and my other idea for this would be to take photos of me); and it collapses the internal fantasy with the external reality. That is, for Cthulhu, its dreams of what it does and what everyone else thinks of it are the same as what it actually does.

But I don't dislike this meme because it points out the difference between the interior fantasy life, the exterior fantasy life (that is, the life others exterior to you imagine), and the reality. I dislike it because it seems to be self-reproach ("I'm a writer, but all I do is play solitaire"), but with a wink and a nod ("but I'm really still a writer!").

If what you do with your free time is play solitaire, then maybe you're not a writer, but just an amateur solitaire player.

Afterword: But am I right? It's possible that the people posting and responding to this particular meme are enjoying the graphics because it allows them to acknowledge the difference between what they wish and what they actually have in life. They get to say out loud, in a joke, something very painful that they couldn't otherwise acknowledge. Could this meme's structure be therapeutic in some ways?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Memes, tropes, and sonnets; or, What we talk about when we talk about shit people say.

Neuroscience and poetry agree: people do better with limited options and structure. So, if you go into a fruit store, you'll probably be happier if you start with some limitation, even an arbitrary one. (Just listen to this Radiolab episode to see anecdotal evidence of that exact situation.)

I'm trying to remember this when I see some meme waves sweep over Facebook:
  1. there was the invasion of the xtranormal "so you want to be an X" videos, where professionals (teachers in various fields/journalists) tried to talk novices out of following their life choices, such as So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities;
  2. there was the infestation of "Shit People Say," starting with "Shit Girls Say", moving on to every little niche of people;
  3. and now there's the "What People Think I Do" series, where some profession/category of person goes through a series of misconceptions--I'm a writer, so people think I do blah blah blah, when really I do blah.
So, part of the joy of memes is the same joy as genres and tropes: to see something familiar get a little tweak. In other words, memes are useful structures to engender creativity in certain avenues, much like sonnets: a little structure can be a great thing for developing new material.

That's all I'm going to say about this today but I'll say it again: I like memes in the same way I like tropes and sonnets--as structures of possibility.

And tomorrow I'll tell you why I hate these memes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Economist and mealy-mouthed press

I've said before that it seems to me like the current conservative/Republican party movement is an unstable conglomerate, full of people who wouldn't share any structure together other than a big tent: there are

  1. the Romney-supporting moderate/realists (or closet nuts); 
  2. the Santorum-supporting religious right; 
  3. the Paul-supporting libertarian right (i.e., financially libertarians, socially conservative); and 
  4. the Gingrich-supporting haters-of-liberals. (You can tell them because they're the ones who say that you should do something because it annoys a liberal. Heck, Sarah Palin said that almost exactly: vote for Gingrich to annoy a liberal.)
I hope for a conservative fracture in part because it bothers me that people who have such diverse views feel the need to vote together. (I hate libertarians and I think most are essentially conservative; but there is some liberal-libertarian overlap that could be reached if not for Paul's figurehead leadership.) Also, I wouldn't mind if these single-issue voters fractured since it would cede power to the Democrats.

But more importantly this conglomerate mess bothers me because you end up arguing with a moderate who disavows some extreme view--but then both the moderate and the extremist go into a booth and vote the same way.

(Some political bloggers I follow argue that moderate Republicans tend to vote the same as the more extreme Republicans--that their moderation is more an electoral strategy than a policy conviction. Judging by the last few years, it's hard to argue with that; though I think it's probable that more extreme politicians start more extreme policy and the moderates in the Republican Party just go along. For what it's worth, Democratic moderates seem more interested in fighting other Democrats, cf. Manchin in WV.)

So for a few years now, some hopeful political bloggers have argued that moderate Republicans would some day take back their party.

But moderate Republicans will never be in charge as long as they're coddled by a mealy-mouthed, "both sides do it"horse-race press.

And one big example of that is  The Economist, which is a realpolitick, conservative magazine with a nasty inability to tell the truth. That is, The Economist would be happiest with a globalized, laissez-faire, tax-the-poor world (more or less), but they're not global-warming-denying, dinosaurs-missed-the-ark crazies.

And yet whenever The Economist podcast discusses American politics, it always comes out with mealy-mouthed narratives about how partisan gridlock is paralyzing the nation--without ever noting how the Republican Party is blocking nominations and legislation at an unprecedented rate.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Jesus Didn't Tap" and Muscular Christianity

I was confused about a bumper sticker in my apartment complex parking lot (say that five times fast) that says, in red text, "Jesus Didn't Tap." Luckily, Google provides the answer:
"Jesus is the only one that truly didn't tap. They say, 'Oh, he was nailed to the cross so he couldn't tap.' Well, you can verbally tap, you can verbally cry, 'I quit! I give up!' That's not what he did. He got crucified for all our sins."
That's Jason Frank, who used to be a Power Ranger but now found God. Well, a particular aspect of a particular God: as the article on this movement puts it, this is Jesus the ultimate fighter.

Now, I was tempted to say that this is an aberrant reading of Christianity, a very Texas reading of Jesus; but it's not so new. And, to be fair, I've only seen the one bumper sticker here, so it may not be all that popular--or overt, at least--in Texas.

(And I'm also tempted to say that this is a fun new/old way to get people to spend money on clothes with logos.)

To put this in its proper context, I think we need to look back the Victorian notion of "Muscular Christianity," which was a movement/mode of thought arguing that Christians needed to get buff for God.

No, that's a terribly facile way to describe it; in fact, one positive way would be to say that Muscular Christianity was about re-thinking the physical as a field of spirituality--that the world wasn't just a honeytrap to lead us to sin but could be about joy and pleasure.

(The negative flipside of this would be the terrible social Darwinism of the time: if you're spiritually saved, you're not materially poor; and if you're poor, just go and die already.)

I'm not an expert on Muscular Christianity, but I do think it's somewhat telling that many of the Victorian and Edwardian followers focused on team sports and non-winnable sports (calisthenics), whereas today people like Frank focus on individual sports, like MMA fighting and boxing.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Confession: I listen to podcasts. Did you know?

Of course you did, since I mention them frequently (and even have a "podcastmania" tag). But do you know how many I listen to?

  1. Comedy podcasts
    1. Improv Nerd with Jimmy Carane
    2. Improv Resource Center
    3. Improv4Humans
    4. Judge John Hodgman
    5. WTF with Marc Maron
  2. Science podcasts
    1. Astronomy Cast
    2. Science Friday
    3. RadioLab
  3. Literature podcasts
    1. New York Times Book Review podcast
    2. KCRW's Bookworm
  4. Writing podcasts
    1. Creative Screenwriting Magazine
    2. Grammar Girl
    3. Script Magazine
    4. Scriptnotes
    5. Writing Excuses
  5. History podcasts
    1. Dan Carlin's Hardcore History
    2. BBC History Magazine/History Extra
    3. A History of the World in 100 Objects
  6. Contemporary/news/economics podcasts
    1. The Economist
    2. On the Media
    3. Fresh Air
    4. Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me
    5. Planet Money
    6. This American Life
  7. Short story podcasts
    1. Escape Pod
    2. New Yorker Fiction
    3. Podcastle
    4. Pseudopod
    5. Strange Tales (Old time radio rebroadcasts)
  8. Miscellaneous educational
    1. On Being
    2. Ideas (CBC)
      1. The Origins of the Modern Public (an Ideas mini-series)
    3. In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg (BBC)
    4. Stuff To Blow Your Mind
    5. Stuff You Should Know
  9. Music podcasts
    1. All Songs Considered
    2. Sound Opinions
I break them down like that so that you can find some podcasts that speak to your interest; though my inclusion of any podcasts here should not be read as recommendation--some of these podcasts are just legacies, kept around after the initial interest cooled (e.g., On Being) or subscribed to on recommendation but not yet really listened to (e.g., Hardcore History).

More on good podcasts later.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Penultimate (I hope!) on sketch-writing: don't be so clever

I had hoped to have a video to show you by now, but I think it's still being edited/paid for/sent to me. See, we decided to have our final show taped by a professional videographer.

And wouldn't you know it, my main sketch in the final show didn't come off perfectly. It would be easy to say that this was all the actors' fault, but...

Honestly, I wrote a sketch that was hard to remember because (a) actors have a lot of stuff to remember, including other people's sketches and (b) my sketch has a lot of similar moments.

So if an actor skips one line and says another line because it is very similar, it's partly my fault. That's one last lesson to learn about writing pieces for other people to perform live:

Don't be so clever and complicated.

And here's the sketch:

“Law and Disorder”
Ver. 6 / 10-29-2011
COLIN WELLER, law school professor
SARAH, applicant
(COLIN seated, SARAH just entering the room with a briefcase)
Have a seat, Sarah. We only have a few minutes, so I’d like to dive right into the interview.

Absolutely, Professor Weller. I’m really excited about Northwestern Law School.

Really? Because according to your personal statement, you want to go to law school to become a screenwriter of legal dramas.

And legal drama-comedies--or “dramedies.”

Northwestern only admits people who are interested in the law.

But I am interested in the law. Ever since I saw James Spader in Boston Legal as Alan Shore, Esquire defend a man from murder charges, even though he loved the man’s wife--

Stop. How should I put this? Do you know what frivolous litigation is?

Totally: in Ally McBeal season 2 episode 13, “Angels and Blimps,” Ally explains to a boy with leukemia that suing God--

Sarah, we can’t admit you to law school so that you can become a screenwriter.

               (Getting scripts out of her briefcase)
I have some screenplays that might change your mind. Ipse dixit.

That’s not the right way to use that phrase.

Here’s a screenplay about a lawyer who’s a cop and a ghost at the same time. I’ll play Lance Manspear, Esquire and would you play Judge Candy, the reformed prostitute?




“I’m just a simple country ghost-cop-lawyer, but--“

Sarah, you’re not going to get into law school with a script.

But my agent says--

You’re not going to get into law school with a script because every lawyer I know hates legal dramas. We waste so much of our time dealing with people who think that courtrooms should be more like Law & Order.

               (Makes Law & Order ba-ba-bum sound)

I care about the law, Sarah. You clearly don’t.

               (Getting out last script)
I care about the law--I even… love the law. There, I said it: love. And I can change your mind by performing this climactic courtroom scene. I’ll play Jack Goodheart, Esquire, and if you could play Salazarinovich, Esquire, the lawyer for the Columbian-Russian mob, which my agent tells me is very timely.

I think we’re done here.

(Gets up, gets in character)
Ladies and gents of the jury, Mr. Salazarinovich, Esquire here wants you to think that law is a thing of rules.


                               SARAH (IC)
He doesn’t want you to know that law is an affair of the heart. It's about how people feel--isn’t that so, Salazarinovich?

               (Flips through script, reads)
It’s true that I’ve been--

Could you do an accent?

                               COLIN (IC)
--I’ve been hiding the truth from the jury for years.

                               SARAH (IC)
Judge Velvet, permission to treat the opposing counsel as a hostile witness.
               (moves over to play Judge)
Unorthodox, but I’ll allow it.

                               COLIN (IC)
I don’t have to stay here. I recuse myself from this room!

                               SARAH (IC)
               (As if casting a spell)
Obiter dictum!

                               COLIN (IC)
Curse you, Jack Goodheart, your legal spell has paralyzed me.

                               SARAH (IC)
Salazarinovich, has the Columbian-Russian mob been funding legal dramas?

                               COLIN (IC)
Ahhhh! Your spell compels me--we have been funding legal dramas, such as The Good Wife. And all just to manipulate juries.

                               SARAH (IC)
               (As Judge Velvet)
Amazing, Jack, you truly are the best magic lawyer ever, even if you are haunted by your alcoholism.
               (As Jack Goodheart)
I’m just a simple country magic lawyer, Judge Doctor Velvet.

                               COLIN (IC)
I confess: law is an affair of the heart.

                               SARAH (IC)
Ipso facto. We need legal TV shows and movies.

                               COLIN (IC)
Jack, now that I have confessed my sin, I can pass on to the afterlife… since I was a zombie all along!

                               SARAH (IC)
Salazarinovich! Don’t die! Not on my watch! Nooooo!!!
               (Out of character)
And… scene.

My character was a zombie?

A gay zombie--pretty powerful stuff, right?

No, it’s terrible.

But my agent says--

But you have an interesting idea there. Maybe we do need more screenwriters who are trained as lawyers.

So you’ll approve my application for law school?

No. I’m quitting my job as a professor to become a screenwriter of legal dramas. Can you get me in touch with your agent?


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sockpuppets and being nice on twitter, part 2

In Part 1, I went over the urge to create a sockpuppet account to support your product (because we take consumption cues from peers and sometimes it's just you trying to flog your product by pretending to be a peer).

In Part 2, I want to talk about more honest ways to get your name out there in a positive way, largely focusing on being a nice person in public.

How often have conversations about Neil Gaiman included the info that he's a really nice guy? I'm guessing it approaches 100% because he's a real nice guy. (I once saw him give a talk in a small room and someone's cellphone went off and she took the call and he didn't like it but he didn't make a deal about it at all.)

We could probably make a pretty good list of artists who are nice vs. artists who are jerks: Scalzi, Saladin Ahmed, Brandon Sanderson--all nice people who engage with their public, in blogs (Scalzi), on Twitter (Ahmed), through podcasts (Sanderson). 

(By contrast, a friend went to a Robyn Hitchcock show; and the next day ran into him (at a White Stripes concert) and said what a great show it was and Robyn's response was "I know, I was there." Which might be fair, but isn't particularly nice.)

God knows I don't want a world where everyone is nice. But it is a pretty good method for getting your product consumed in some way. So, instead of sockpuppets pushing your work, you make sure that your target audience thinks of you in a fuzzy, warm way.


Give them something free and show them that you're interested in them: blog, Twitter, podcast, even a webcomic. (I just bought Kate Beaton's book and I've bought from Dorothy Gambrell before because I love their comics and I wanted to give back.)

That last might be the most surprising: if you give away your product, you may be able to get something back. 

I wish we had some data on this, but for now, anecdata will have to do, so... have you ever been inclined to buy a product because the producer was nice?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sockpuppets and being nice on twitter, part 1

As promised, here is a post on sockpuppets and being nice on Twitter--or on podcasts or at book fairs, etc.

Problem: how do you get people to consume your product? 

People usually (and used to) want to be like their idols and socially higher-ups; so if you have a beer that needs drinking, put it in the hands of a king (UK) or a movie star (USA), and some people will drink it as easily as that. (Or for the historical view: peasants dress up like merchants, merchants dress up like nobles--and nobles enact sumptuary laws to keep the lower orders from dressing/consuming like them.)

But what about if people start taking their cues from their equals and peers? 

Then you need to your target to be surrounded by people who consume your product. This is the world of buzz and viral marketing, where you (the PR company) hires an actor or actress to order a particular beer at a bar, and do so in a way that ensures that other people see you buying that beer (or talking up that movie or whatever the whatever). And then those people who saw the original consumer start consuming that way and then other people see those consumers, et al.

But let's say that you don't have a company--you're just one person with a book that you've self-published.

(I like beer as an example, but let's be honest: we're talking about books.) You could try to get your book noticed by juicing the sale numbers--getting all your friends and family to buy lots of copies so that the book was in the Top 10 bestsellers. (Because, believe me, being in the top 10 will lead to more purchases. Nothing succeeds like success.)

But that's expensive; maybe we can juice your numbers through some free method, like positive reviews. But what if you're the only person who likes (or has read) your book?


Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game does a nice job portraying the Internets and forums, and how unscrupulous little monsters could use the anonymity of the web to juice the numbers/take over the world. That is, two super-bright kids start up important pseudonyms to get some ideas out there; but they set up alternate accounts/names to support those primary accounts.

And people do this in real life, especially on Amazon, where writers can feel free to post positive reviews under alternative names. It's not always easy to identify these false positive reviews, though I recently read a book for review which seems to have some sockpuppet-written reviews both on Amazon and Goodreads. My clues?

  1. Verbal similarity: the reviews sound very similar to each other and the book.
  2. No other reviews: on Amazon, these positive reviews were written by accounts that had no other reviews.
  3. Private accounts with unlikely average ratings: on Goodreads, there are positive reviews written by people who have a) hidden their accounts and b) have average review ratings of 5 stars--so these look like accounts that are used mostly to talk up books.
  4. Hyperbole: these reviews can't say enough good about this book that, to put it succinctly, no editor liked enough to publish.
The underdog needs sympathy

There's something I like about self-published authors--they are plucky and self-confident. (Note: Yeah, there's condescension mixed in there, but if it weren't for condescension, I wouldn't have any descension at all.) But when these self-published underdogs try to trick readers into reading their stuff, you run the real risk of losing sympathy and goodwill--which are arguably more important than good reviews.

Have you run into instances of sockpuppetry?

More tomorrow. Or as the book I finished ended: "to be continued."
Cite: Sockpuppets (TV Tropes); Sockpuppets (Wiki)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A day arguing with conservatives

For some reason, I've been in a nostalgic mood this week. You know the type of the mood, where you go searching out old blog posts, reading old emails from exes, revisiting conservative websites that you used to haunt. You know how it is.

The inciting incident for me visiting this conservative website this week was the Komen-Planned Parenthood dust-up, which got a lot of good news out there eventually: a) Komen's not a great charity; b) Planned Parenthood offers lots of services (check out this collection of stories from people who PP helped out); and c) immediate pushback gets things done.

So maybe I was feeling a little self-satisfied with Komen's reversal of the bad policy that would preclude PP from getting grants. And so I visited this website that specializes in combatting liberal bias in the media to see what they would have to say.

And that was part of my Friday down the drain, replaying Twain's "Sixth-Century Political Economy" from Connecticut Yankee: just arguing the same things over and over.

The weird thing for me was that it took a while for people to come out and just say that they were opposed to abortions in all circumstances and that no good services (like STD testing or breast cancer exams) would make up for that sin.

I don't know whether to be hopeful that I could at least engage in an argument about statistics; or sad that people would engage in an argument about statistics when no numbers could ever satisfy their philosophical/theological conditions.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Politics every day is bad for your health.

I have no data to back this up; but it seems clear to me that paying attention every day to the doings of idiots, sociopaths, and idiotic sociopaths must be bad for the heart. (Both in the "blood pressure" sense and in the "hope for humanity" sense.)

What's really aggravating about political news for close watchers is that things happen every day, but very few things turn out to be important. Now, it's easy to imagine bad laws being adopted in the middle of the night when no one is looking; and that's stuff we should pay attention to.

And the whole Komen-Planned Parenthood kerfuffle is another example of something that's worth paying attention to. (In the same way that Netflix's split was worth paying attention to: it's a bad decision and some pushback from clients and donors might be enough to reverse the decision.)

But Ann Coulter saying something mean and dumb? Not news. Number-free essays on how the unemployment numbers have changed? Need data--and a grain of salt.. Endless pontificating about which Republican will win which state? Just wait and see.

So, as with all things, I'd recommend moderation when paying attention to politics daily.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chicago II: This Time It's Personal

Rather than go through every day of my recent trip to Chicago--which I could, because I took crazy detailed notes--I want to talk about the broad outlines and some thoughts about the difference between Chicago and San Angelo.

I spent most of my time in Chicago eating, filling up at restaurants that don't exist down in SA: Thai, artisanal, vegan. I went to almost all my old favorite places, which was fun. But a lot of my memory of those places is going with Sarah. So, I was glad to hit up Lula with a friend, but that used to be a place where Sarah and I could sneak a Monday brunch before she went to work.

Can you go home again? About half-way, I'd say.

Hilariously or painfully, I stayed with two friends who were deep in the throes of academic preparation, which was a blast from the past for me. I offered to read one's paper, but I don't know how helpful I was. At the same time, I had work of my own: the second book I got to review for Kirkus. (More on that later, when I discuss "Sock puppets and being nice on twitter.")

So, trying to stay warm while reading--that's about 95% of my years in Chicago. So I miss the food of Chicago, but this winter weather here is pretty unbeatable. Well, that may not be true: when Sarah and I went to Austin for New Year's, the weather there was even better. Let's wait until we survive a summer here before we celebrate.

Besides eating and reading/working, I spent most of my time talking to people and watching things: Flight of the Conchords standup, the first episode of Luther, Hugo in 3D, and Trollhunter. (Maybe I'll do a roundup of those.) And drinking after my show at a nearby divey bar.

Judging from that, not only can I go home again, but I'm home wherever I go, as long as I have Netflix.

The best part of my trip was catching up with friends. I know a few people here in SA, but it's not quite the same; on top of that, an old friend of mine recently got back in touch (years after our friendship exploded messily--and that's all I'll probably say about that), so I've been thinking about friends and social networks a lot. Basically, it boils down to this: I'd like to live in a place where there are lots of people to hug.

Unfortunately (and fortunately), a lot of my Chicago friends have leads on jobs that will take them out of Chicago. So how will we see each other then?

The worst part of my trip was probably when my flight from Chicago to Dallas was delayed, so I just barely missed my flight to San Angelo--which was the last flight of the day. Luckily, my schedule was flexible enough for me to spend the night there; though I wish I had a car or some way to get to the fun parts of Dallas. I've been assured they exist.

January blogging recap

I made a deal with my friend Adrianne to blog every other day in January, partly to keep myself writing, partly to get her to write. (No pressure, Adrianne, but I enjoy your writing very much.) So, how did I do--and what did I write about?

Out of 31 days, 18 posts.

Of 18 posts, posts on:

  • Sketch comedy: 6
  • Politics: 4
  • Texas: 2
  • Meta: 2
  • Writing: 2
  • Podcasts: 1
  • Movies: 1
Of those posts, posted on:

  • Sunday: 4/5
  • Monday: 1/5
  • Tuesday: 5/5
  • Wednesday: 2/4
  • Thursday: 2/4
  • Friday: 4/4
  • Saturday: 0/4
So I really took advantage of my sketch show to pad out my count this January. (Though, to be fair, it was also on my mind; and part of me wonders if day-to-day political watching is actually counter-productive. More on that later.)

It's also curious to me that the best days for blogging are Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday. I don't know what I was doing on Saturdays that kept me from blogging, but I clearly felt bad about it on Sunday. (Or, more likely, I wrote out some of a post on Saturday night and then posted it on Sunday.)

The real mystery isn't Sunday or Tuesday--it seems clear that I missed Sunday and Monday, thus making me feel like I should post on Sunday and Tuesday. But what's with Friday? Anticipatory guilt?

Anyway, now that we're in February, I hope to write less about sketch comedy and more about other things, like politics (feh) and hobbies (meh) and secret personal histories (weh). What will you be up to in February?