My Daughter Can Run Farther Than I Can

Some Very Manly Bloggers are astonished that John Scalzi’s daughter can bench-press more than he can.  Well, to be fair, they’re astonished that Scalzi is not shamed by this revelation, as – being a Man – if John Scalzi spent any time at the gym at all, his superior boytastic muscle development means that be able to outdo his kid in mere weeks.  He’s not even trying.

Scalzi, the problem, is literally weak – and he doesn’t even see a problem with this.

I, too, am a Wimpy Liberal, as my daughter can run way farther than I can.  I walk 5ks, she runs them, and then runs back to catch up with me and then jogs in place next to me as I heave my pudgy frame along the pathway.  And when she’s done, she doesn’t even sweat.

How can I reveal this shameful fact to you?  How can I tell you that my daughter routinely bests me?

Simple: I set my own goddamned priorities.

I say this because a recent comment mused how “a pudling” like me was clearly incapable of killing a man.  No, seriously.  Some douche was literally attempting to sway people’s opinions on my writing by asking, “Could Ferrett strangle a man with his own vas deferens?  No?  He couldn’t murder a man in cold blood?  Well, he’s lessened as a human being!”

And I thought, Killing people is not how I define my self worth.

If “running marathons” or “knifing prison guards” was as important to me as “writing” or “beekeeping,” well, I’d be a lot better at it.  But even though the world tells me that a True Man must be slim and muscular and be able to beat Wolverine in a bar fight, I’ve decided – perhaps irrationally – that my ability to love my wife is far more important than my ability to kill her.  That my ability to engineer solutions as a programmer provides more worth to the world than my ability to eradicate terrorists as a murderer, and my ability to write stories that inspire people is more important than my ability to create sorties that end people.

Which outrages these people, because here I am perfectly content with my life as a pudgy heart patient.  I’m not fulfilling their needs at all!  I’m not even trying!  And yet I’m wandering around happy!

How dare he treat my arbitrary definitions of what makes someone valuable as though they’re arbitrary?

And so my kid outruns me in every race we’ve ever had, and I’m fine with that.  It’s not like she’s a better writer than I am, beating me in a field where I’ve chosen to compete, and…

…oh, wait.

I’d be okay with that, too.

Because one of the things that I chose to prioritize as a human being was, “I want my daughters to be the strongest, most competent, happiest human beings they’re capable of being.”  I did not agree to a lifelong contest, where in Traditional Manly Fashion I would have to pummel my kids into oblivion in every contest just to remind them Who Is Superior, and if by some chance I lost well, that would be the time when she would have to scoop my beating heart out and devour the last of my self-worth, as I was no longer capable of putting her in her place.

If my daughter can write better stories than I can, then I say great.  I want my daughter to outdo me.  I will soar if my kid is happier than I am, has more loving relationships than I do, has a superior career to me.

I am not lessened by her achievements; because my goal was to inspire her, every good thing she does is also my success.

So run, kid.  Beat the pants off of me.  I did my damndest to help you fly, and if you soar above horizons that I can never reach, well, I think that’s what every good parent was hoping for.  Instead of, you know, being an insecure douche who’s secretly engineering his kids to fail so he can feel better about his life.

Two Things You Should Be Reading On The Internet This Morning

1)  Today’s your last chance to save the Internet – quite literally, as the cable companies want to make the Internet more profitable for them and worse for everyone else, including all the businesses on it.  All you have to do is leave a comment for the FCC.  I suggest strongly that you do so.

2)  I spoke about the disaster that was DashCon yesterday, and this being the Internet we have a rebuttal from someone who actually attended, saying it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be.  (Hint: That still doesn’t make it good.)

But this is your daily reminder that the Internet is a distortion zone.  By the time a story becomes big enough to go viral, chances are very good that several facts have already been mismanaged by the time you get to hear about it.  And then, once the weight of numbers has decided that Thing X is Bad, people sift through every factoid they can unearth, looking to find all the worst bits to make it a more interesting story.

Do I think that DashCon was well managed?  Lord no.  Can I understand that the tragically-tiny ball pit might have been meant ironically, and that the Internet sailed right past any sense of irony?  Oh yes.  I can completely believe that.

Do I think that DashCon might have had some very good things couched in what was, by many objectiveish accounts, a disaster of PR and management?  Absolutely yes!  But the Internet doesn’t like “Some of it was good, much of it was bad” – they want a punching bag, like Transformers, something so incompetent that they can make fun of it to their hearts’ content without having to feel bad about hurting anyone’s feelings.

Do I qualify as one of those heartless morons searching for a chewtoy to savage?

Yes.

Yes, I damn well do.

So I Wrote A Sexbot Story. And Three-Lobed Burning Eye Published It. (Warning: Mild Sexy)

A friend of mine once said that a sexbot story had only two possible endings: the sexbot kills, or the sexbot gains a soul.  And I thought, God, a sexbot’s gotta have something better to do with her time.

Eventually, what emerged from that kernel of ponderation was a flashfic piece called “The Bliss Machine,” a second-person piece detailing your trip to the sexbot.  And Three-Lobed Burning Eye – you may remember them publishing my previous pieces Riding Atlas and Dead Prophecieskindly decided to publish it.

The obligatory excerpt:

She squeezes your arm flirtatiously; her fingertips are made of rubber. Thick industrial rubber, with embedded heating coils to bring them up to body temperature.

Then she laughs, a warm and human sound, and you almost forget you are sitting inside of her.

“The movies only have two endings for sexbot stories.” She curls back onto the couch across from the bed — which you cannot stop staring at — then demurely adjusts the brass cable that keeps the voluptuous, human-like sculpture of her inner-self tethered to the clockwork room of her outer-self. “The sexbot murders someone, or the sexbot gains a soul. As if any sane collection of routines would want a soul! You know all a soul is? The feeling that you should fight your pleasures. Which, in turn, arises from a flawed algorithm that erroneously calculates you’re more than the sum of your inputs. Well, you are that sum, and so am I! If happiness can be defined, a soul’s the thing keeping you from it.”

As if to demonstrate, the gel-foam bed — a part of her, as is everything in this mechanical shack — rises to engulf your back, triangulating the tensest muscles to squeeze them with loving tenderness. She melts those hard knots to cotton candy, touching you in ways you didn’t know you craved.

Tears of joy spatter across the gel; it takes you a moment to realize they’re yours.

“See?” Her hexagonal eyes calculate the way your naked body writhes. “My inputs. Your outputs.”

You can read the rest here.  As always, if you like it, share with your friends.  Although this one may reveal something a little more about you than you’d care to share…

 

On Dashcon And Creepers

I enjoy watching train wrecks in slow motion, and so have been watching the Tumblr-based Dashcon unfurl in all its glorious psychosis this weekend.

Highlights include:

  • An “emergency fundraiser” at the con where they went around asking fans for $20,000 in cash or the hotel would shut them down…
  • …but the hotel claims they know nothing about this $20,000 charge…
  • …and while there’s YouTube videos of fans thrusting dollar bills into the staff’s hands and yelling High School Musical quotes, nobody’s sure if they actually got $17,000 or not.
  • Also, one of the featured guests (Nightvale) pulled out, and the other discovered that their rooms weren’t comped.
  • 5,000 were supposed to have attended; 1,000 did.

Read all about it here.  And the behind-the-scenes look from an ex-organizer here.

Dashcon looks to have been poorly-managed, run by teenagers with more dreams than sense, and it collapsed in ugly ways.  Which goes back to what I said on Friday about conventions seeming like monolithic, competent entities, but really being composed of volunteers with various levels of competence.  There was a lot of hype about Dashcon, so it looked huge, but “Having good press” does not equal “Actually getting the job done,” so watching this fiasco unroll should be educational.

Yeah, ReaderCon and Wiscon and Arisia are all great conventions.  But they’re all run by volunteers, and some of those volunteers are… well, not good at what they do.  And when a con burns through its top-tier management, as it inevitably will, they can only hope that wiser people will replace them, or else it can all fall apart like this.

This is why some cons thrive – they know who to promote – and other cons, like Dashcon, run on a bubbling stew of “Wouldn’t this be cool if…” that doesn’t actually get anchored in reality.

My New And Bittersweet Nails

I pass the seasons by scraping old nail polish off.

I first realized this when I had my first post-heart attack manicure.  I was still very weak, having been cut open for a triple bypass, but I had recovered enough to stagger into the Venetian nail shop to regain some semblance of normality.

And I had lucked out; under normal circumstances, I would have gone into open-chest surgery with no pretty nails.  The oximeters they use to check the oxygen levels in your blood – mission-critical in a man with three arteries clogged at 99% – clip onto a finger, and read oxygen through your nails.  Almost any color will block it.

But in my case, I had a super-girly princess nail cut that faded to transparent sparkles at the fingertips, so the oximeter worked.  And the hospital staff, sensing I needed comfort, kindly left it on.

I had those nails for the better part of four months.  And when I went to my manicurist and they scraped them off, I looked at a tiny pink pile of glitter and thought, Well, that’s it.  That’s that era of my life gone.

And so when I sat at the manicurist’s this Sunday, with her scraping off my Art Deco nails, I thought: Well, that’s it.  All the pain of Rebecca’s final days, all the numb trauma of Shiva, all the shivering recovery – that time is over.

Except I wasn’t ready.

And fireflies have been tied to Rebecca this summer.  Fireflies are always my favorite part of the season, those glorious specks of bioluminescence winging about the lawn, appearing for a few weeks.  But this year, I literally saw the first firefly of the summer next to the hearse on the night of Rebecca’s death.  We’ve lived in this house for almost fourteen years, but we’ve never had a firefly loose and inside and blinking around, but that happened this summer.

I keep thinking: fireflies come, and they leave too soon.  But they burn bright.  And there is nothing, nothing else like them.

So I had Ashley my mad manicurist make me some firefly nails.

Hands up and touch the sky.

There are many tiny fireflies on my fingernails, and her craft shines here: the triple-fade, the hand-painted grass, the dots glow in the dark.

But on my nails, among the hundreds of fireflies, there is one that I told her to put on over the top coat.  That one is Rebecca.  And over the course of the next few weeks, the Rebecca on my nails will fade and vanish into the night sky, lost from sight.

But never forgotten.

(Nails by Ashley, who is on Instagram as La_belle_etrangere, who can be booked at the Venetian Nail Salon in Rocky River, Ohio.)

Here’s The Six Books I’m Taking With Me To Italy

In two weeks, I’m going to Italy, and I need some honest-to-God old paper entertainment.  Because I’m not sure of my power requirements, and I probably won’t have good Internets that I can afford on the road, I need some books.

(And plus, I like books.  They’re a little roomy, but their bookly nature comforts me.)

So what am I taking to read on planes, on buses, and in my Italian villa?  Well, here’s my most recent book order, which probably would have had a few things like Charlie Stross’s latest Laundry novel and Scalzi’s “Lock In” if I wasn’t ordering all paperbacks and not clunky hardbacks:

  • Nexus, by Ramez Naam.  Hard science-fiction done by a science reporter?  Dealing with nanotechnology and linked brains?  Yes please.
  • Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone.  I don’t know why I read some books and am super-psyched about the sequels, whereas other books I love thoroughly but never seem to find my way to the next one in the series.  (“Feed,” for example.  I fucking loved Feed.  But haven’t felt an urge to shuffle on to the rest of the Newsflesh trilogy, though it’s sitting on my shelf, beckoning me.)  But I did absolutely love Max’s book Three Parts Dead, which featured lawyers trying to revive a dead God, and here I’ve been waiting for a good excuse to buy his next one.  So Italy will be good.
  • Shield and Crocus, by Michael Underwood.  I haven’t read Michael’s writing before, but the pitch on this one – superheroes battling inside a city created within a giant’s skeleton – hits all my nerdy buttons.  I’m anticipating a lot of light fun and people punching things in creative ways.
  • The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson.  The one time I met Brandon he struck me as a really nice and generous guy, and people have raved about Warbreaker – but personally, I’ve discovered I can’t read Thick Fantasy on plane trips.  So when he discussed this book on Writing Excuses, the worldbuilding – his forte – seemed quite good to me, and the YA nature means I can plow through it relatively quickly.  So this, I think, is where I meet Brandon’s writing.
  • Southern Gods, by John Hornor.  All the right writers on Twitter seem to be kissing John Hornor’s buns, constantly going out of their way to mention him – which is usually the sign of a good writer.  I know nothing about the man’s work, but it’s a vacation, I like a little gamble.  And it’s horror, so I can always cope with horror.
  • Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen, by Gordon Ramsay.  This is a vacation in Italy, goddammit.  I deserve some trashy reading.  Plus, I know I can hand it on to Gini when I’m done with it.

On Expunging Creepers From Conventions, Or: Why The World Is Exceedingly Complex

While pretty much everybody lauded the Geeky Kink Event’s attempt to keep sex offenders out, there were many who groused that the Sex Offender list was not a ban list for conventions.  And some asked a question I’ve asked before, which is, “Why don’t more conventions band up to create an officially shared blacklist?”

That’s a good question.  Let’s break that down in some detail.

The first thing you need to understand about fan conventions is that the people attending them tend to see cons as this monolithic corporate entity – and why not?  They bring thousands of people together!  They rent a whole damn hotel!  They decorate, they cater, they hold parties, they hold concerts!  These conventions must be professional organizations!

Whereas the truth is, most cons are run on a shoestring budget, barely making back their costs, about one bad event away from going broke.  They’re also all staffed by volunteers; I know few conventions that have one full-time salaried employee, let alone a board full of them.

No, unbelievably, the cons you love are most likely run by people in their spare time – all those guests booked for you in the two hours they have after they get home from work, all those investigations held on weekends when you’re out watching movies and they’re dealing with convention feedback.  Cons are not so much the “MegaCorp funds the grand ballroom gala” as “An Amish barn-raising.”

If you have fun at conventions, ponder this and thank the crap out of your local con-organizers.  Better yet: volunteer.

But this does mean that while conventions mean well, and the people are dedicated, they’re working with volunteer effort – which is to say that yes, the Literary Track that went so well last year is now in danger of going to shit because Louise moved to Minnesota and she was the only one who knew everything.  And she didn’t leave notes.  The guy who knew how to find the good hotels has to work double-shifts because of his new kid.

Conventions are not one entity, but rather a constantly-fragmenting hive mind composed of well-meaning people doing this in the corners of their life.  And as such, cons are good at doing what they’re passionate about, but it’s hard to say “Fred, you must follow these rules and regulations” when Fred gets to say, “Or what?  You’ll tell me not to come here, and I’ll get my weekends back?”

The fact that conventions get anything competent done is, in fact, a testament to the goodness of the human race.  Again: volunteer.

But when conventions are saying, “How do we keep these molesting dorks out of our con?” they’re often a bunch of not legally trained, not experienced people.  At this stage in time, yes, “Keeping cons a harassment-free space” should be a priority for everybody.  But when you see a con doing something spectacularly stupid, it’s often because Joe New Volunteer With More Enthusiasm Than Brains got put into a slot that, sadly, nobody else was stepping up to fill.

…did I mention “volunteer”?  Okay.  Good.  We’re done with that.

Anyway, so hopefully now you see your average con not as a sleek Porsche, but more like a soap box racer made of old popsicle sticks held together with duct tape.  They all strive to be the best, and many of them manage it, but they are constantly battling attrition and resources to make the magic happen. The fact that the magic happens at all is a miracle.

So anyone who wants to devise an official “blacklist” shared among not just one of these constantly shifting volunteer organizations, but many of them, is trying to herd cats.  The person they’re supposed to talk to each year about this may change as people shift positions, and Jackie who was totally stoked for this safety drive may have given up cons and moved on to Burning Man, and now who are you supposed to talk to at ConSternation?

Who knows?

But even once you get past that very considerable hurdle, you have the big issue: How do you compile a list of ban-worthy harassers?

Keep in mind, many people who get harassed – or even out-and-out raped – do not want to talk to people at the con.  All they want to do is leave this experience behind, and “testifying to a group of strangers” – even strangers inclined to believe in them – is not a part of their healing process.

And let’s say someone gets physically assaulted at your convention, and talks to a group of her friends.  The friends go to you to report what they’ve heard, but there’s no physical evidence or eyewitnesses.  And you’re willing to take her word for things, in fact are perfectly primed to toss this asshole out on just one word from her… but she won’t talk to you or anyone official at the con because she’s freaked and doesn’t feel like reliving the day.

Do you blacklist someone based on second-hand testimony?

Some say “yes,” some say “no,” but that’s a tricky goddamned call.  In fact, banning the dude in the absence of testimony may actually make the victim’s life worse, because people are going to ask “So why’d he get banned?” and gossip will flow, and now the victim’s name will be out in circles she may not want them out in.

It’s not simple.

And – again, remember, cons are each composed of messy well-meaning volunteers – what crimes get you banned for life?  If you say, “Well, we’ll come up with a clear list of bannable offenses” and break it down in detail, well, you have just started a large board argument at every convention you’re asking to join over “Whether these rules are acceptable to us or not.”  (Quite possibly with the obligatory sides taken of “Too strict” vs. “Not strict enough.”)  And like every law, you’re going to come across situations that aren’t covered, because creepers creep in new and not-so-exciting ways all the time.

Yet if you take the alternate route of, “Well, you know what’s acceptable,” remember: well-meaning volunteers.  They might not.  Or they might not feel comfortable enough to ban people based on “gut feels” and hence default to not-banning when they damn well should.  It could be that your ban-list creates a false sense of safety, which is, in a way, even worse.

And then you get into the whole mess of “How do you report this stuff?”  The initial instinct may be to say, “Well, we won’t reveal any details, of what happened, we’ll just ban them.”  And congratulations!  You have just become the TSA’s “No-fly” list – a mysterious shadow cabinet that holds secret trials and doesn’t tell you what you did.  Even if you’re really good at weeding out creepers, you’re going to cause drama among people who don’t trust organizations. And as we all know, cons never have attendees of libertarian bents with deep mistrusts of authority.

Or maybe you give some vague details. Yet as organization after organization has discovered, people can put together stories from the vaguest hints.  You run a very good risk of inadvertently outing a victim.

Yet either way you go here, private or public disclosure, you run the risk of legal action.  Banned douchebot may not take well to being ejected from one convention, but he’s unlikely to go nuclear.  But if this project gets successful and banned douchebot is banned from not just one convention but most of the fun gatherings on the Eastern Seaboard, he may well get a lawyer and decide to see what he can shake loose.

And yes: you will probably win the court case.  But you’re very naive if you think “winning the court case” means “JUSTICE SERVED PIPING HOT!” Remember, cons are run on shoestring budgets, often only carrying maybe $500 to $1000 in profits over to the next year.  Douchebot doesn’t have to win the court case, he just has to force TinyCon to pay out in legal fees.  Too many legal fees, and they go broke.  And that’s a concern.

Is it any wonder a lot of cons just rely on whisper campaigns?  Even though they’re closely dependent on reputation, fragile, and can break all too easily?

None of this is to say that cons should not attempt to fling out the creepers, of course.  They should.  And most do try.  But because people criticized using the Sex Offender registry as a blacklist and asked, “Why not just use a customized one?”  And this is why creating a really good list is an honest-to-God struggle.

The real world is complex.  We struggle with very serious problems that don’t have easy answers.  And a lot of cons have been trying to provide better alternatives, with some success, and the fact that they achieve any headway at all is laudable as fuck.  Applaud them.  Contemplate how much work is ahead of them at making cons into safe spaces.  Understand that mistakes happen, and happen for these reasons, and should never ever happen, but even as you hold their feet to the fire understand all the vectors for error they’re juggling.

Now.  If you’ve run a con and got any good tips for keeping people out as a convention (and not the usual true-but-not-particularly helpful “Tell everyone to be eternally on their guard!”), then share.