Worldcon (Part the Fourth)

The pun wars raged behind me. The war was horrific; the puns stank to high heaven. That’s what happens when one of the Guests of Honor at your convention is Spider Robinson and as part of the tribute, Worldcon had set up a working Callahan’s Bar, including hosting some of the events in the books. That’s why there was a pun war. Why did I care? Because the Fanzine Lounge was technically located at the back of Callahan’s Bar.

To be honest, most of the puns were difficult to hear because the sound was rather muddy and muted in our corner, but that was okay. I saw Murray Moore, and there was a moment where we had to remind each other what cons we’d seen each other at before — the San Jose Corflu and the Reno Worldcon to be specific. Murray’s a great guy — he’s always so calm and thoughtful. I always like seeing him.

Shortly thereafter, it also gave me a chance to catch up with John Coxon, who I hadn’t seen since he was the TAFF delegate running around the Worldcon in Reno. We talked about the fact that he’d spent some time in Berkeley and now understood what the script Cal on my ball cap stood for and a bit about the fact that he was going to be in the masquerade that evening. Then there was some laughing remembrance of the day Chris Garcia, James Bacon, and John Coxon dropped by Sacramento on their way to Reno. I left work to meet them for lunch and we all went to an all-you-can-eat pizza place tucked into an obscure corner of Old Sacramento. It’s fun to talk about good memories. A friend of John’s asked him if the pizza was any good, and John basically said, “How should I know? I was hanging out with friends! And it was all-you-can-eat pizza!”

Ah, but the hour approached, and if I was going to catch Kirsten the way I caught Doug, I needed to hoof my way over to panel-land and wait. While I was waiting, I noticed the folks handing out copies of Amazing!, and I noticed that one of them was Steve Davidson. I’ve only known Steve online, but when I was a little more active with my fan writing, he has been supportive of my efforts. It was good to finally meet him in person.

Then I took up my position in front of the door, waiting for the panel to let out, and trying not to lose my place as the hallway became alive with particles bouncing in all sorts of random directions. Most of them stayed in general paths down the center of the room, but it seemed as if many of these particles were getting trapped in accumulations around doors, almost as if the doors themselves were clogged drains. Then, suddenly, there was a burst, and the drain unclogged, and two different flows tried to push against each other! Then, there was me, a still particle in a wild chaos of motion, a spot of calm in the dance…and then my quarry appeared.

After that, I joined the flow as well, with another friend who was happy to see me. Kirsten and I spent some time catching up, and then she said, “I could use a donut.” I paused, and then I said, “That sounds like an excellent plan.”

Folks, these were not ordinary donuts. There’s a few places around the country that make, for lack of a better term, gourmet donuts. The most famous of these places is probably Voodoo Donuts in Portland, OR, but San Jose has Psycho Donuts, and they had set up a table at Worldcon. I never passed by this table without seeing at least a bit of a line. The line was oh so worth it, though, as suddenly, you were confronted by all these amazing donuts — donuts with cereal as a topping, donuts of banana and caramel, donuts with actual strawberries as a topping — all sorts of amazing things.

After a quick perusal, I picked one with a spaceship on the top and a fruit filling for the science fiction part of Worldcon (a Nebula something, I don’t remember), and an amazingly crazy blue frosted donut covered with sparkles and stars and sprinkles and balls of sugar, and another crazy squirt of bright blue line frosting. This wonderful creation was called “Unicorn Farts”, and it stood up to its name in every fashion.

Kirsten has to head off to a convention office — this is the trouble with catching up with Bay Area friends at a Bay Area Worldcon, a lot of them are on staff — so I wandered back to the fanzine lounge to see who I could find there. There’s always somebody interesting there, and if there isn’t, there’s always somebody shortly. I pulled out my donuts to enjoy them and to watch the convention pass by. I’m fond of people-watching and eventually, people will gravitate towards a table where somebody is sitting. That’s sometimes how I’ve gotten into my best conversations at conventions.

This time was no exception. Ranger Craig got some time to sit down and enjoy the fanzine lounge and tell us some great tales. I won’t repeat them here, because they’re his stories to tell, but he’s a great storyteller. I spoke with James Bacon for a moment as he came to drop off a book for the fan fund auction, and I wished him well for his convention next year but told him it’s doubtful I’ll make it. I’ve been inactive in fandom and I don’t feel like I’m in a stable enough place in my life to mount a TAFF bid for next year. That’s about the only way I’m going to make it, bar winning the lottery.

Shortly, Schirm brought something interesting to the table — a portable crank phonograph from the 1920s. Along with it, he had several records, one dating to the time where, in order to record, the singers had to sing into a horn as there were no microphones. He also had several early jazz records, and some other novelty records. It was amazing that this machine, nearly a hundred years old, produced such amazing quality sound with no speaker, no batteries, and no power cord. It had just a crank, a needle, and a case that provided the resonance for us to hear it.

Things like Schirm’s wonderful phonograph are things one wouldn’t necessarily think of as belonging to science fiction and fantasy fandom, but in many ways it is. Not only is it a device that was futuristic for its time, it was retro-futuristic for the fans sitting around that table. Besides that, sometimes fandom is simply fans sharing their passions with one another — just like fanzines could talk about jazz and sports cars and still be fannish.

A friend of mine that I know through local writing circles, Richard Crawford, came up to the table while Schirm was playing the records. It was nice to say hi to him at Worldcon, and I’m glad he was able to enjoy his beer with some music. We didn’t get to talk much, but that was okay. Richard’s a local friend and we’ll get together at some point.

Halfway through the music, I realized that I had one other errand that I needed to run. Another local friend of mine, Michael Gallowglas — who writes under the name M. Todd, and you should buy all his books — just became a wizard, err, a master of fine arts in the field of creative writing, and this was my first chance to congratulate him instead of waiting until November. (I know a lot of my local friends because of NaNoWriMo…) I wandered back over to the dealer’s room to Michael’s table and gave him the congratulations he so heartily deserved. I would have stayed there and talked to him a bit longer, but he was doing paying work, so I just told him I’d see him in November.

I have so many amazing and wonderful friends. Sometimes it takes a convention to see all of them and remind myself of that fact.

Not done yet! I think I can finish it up in a fifth part. See you there!

Series:
Worldcon (Part the First)
Worldcon (Part the Second)
Worldcon (Part the Third)
Worldcon (Part the Fourth)

Worldcon (Part the Third)

Worldcon is a big place.

Okay, so it’s not as big as a Dragoncon or a Comicon, but there’s still several thousand people rattling around a convention center. Sometimes they hole themselves up in rooms to listen to people talk about nearly everything under the sun, some things that orbit it, and yet even more exotic and cosmic ideas. Worldcon is amazing for the diversity of its programming. But when you get there, you’re handed a paperback-sized volume with all the programming for the convention. So how the heck are you supposed to find somebody in that warren of panels?

Well…they could post their location on Facebook.

This is how I caught up with my friend Doug Berry, a guy I’ve known since my alt.callahans/#callahans days. He posted a picture about how he was sharing a room with Joe Haldeman. I consulted my handy paperback program guide, found the room number for the panel in question. I headed for the land of panel space, being held in a different area than I had spent most of my time that day. Since I had not been to this part of the convention before, I wandered in confusion until I could orient myself to the programming space layout and then parked myself in front of the door of the room the panel was being held in.

Sure enough, Doug came out shortly after, and it was good to see him. We talked a little about his new job — captain of the crosswalk, helping students cross safely — before we worked our way out of the crush and Doug had to go cover the protest as a roving reporter for the con newsletter. Before he left, though, he gave me the room number to the panel his wife, Kirsten, was hiding in for the next hour.

Ah, the protest. I didn’t spend any time watching it because, to be honest, I thought it was a bit dumb. Most of it was instigated by a guy trying to make a name for himself in certain political circles, using his ban from Worldcon as a way to howl about how he was being oppressed by the system. Of course, the common smear when you can’t find anything else to use is to call your opponents pedophiles. I suppose that’s because it’s one of the last few groups in society that most people agree is bad — so using it is a way of calling your opponent pure evil. From there, it’s not hard to move to some very dark places for humanity.

Thus, it amused me when I heard later that the protest was basically a dud, with few people protesting or counter-protesting, and the cops standing around being bored as hell in the meantime. It seemed fitting — Worldcon protests ought to be about the lack of flying cars or a colony on Mars or something science fictional, not this mundane stuff. Thus, I’m glad I didn’t give it much of my time.

Instead, I got a turkey sandwich and headed back to the fanzine lounge to have lunch. It was also a way to kill a bit of time before Kirsten’s panel finished. Besides, food is important when you’re attending conventions — keeling over for lack of blood sugar doesn’t do much good for anybody. The turkey sandwich was okay — it was a little dry but acceptable for convention center food.

I’m glad I went to the fanzine lounge to eat lunch, though, because in the middle of my sandwich, I looked up and saw John Hertz. I love John, and he’s been sending me his fanzine in the mail lately. So I told him that I’d been getting his fanzines in the mail, and that, yes, I’d submitted a fanzine to the WOOF distribution this year. Then we had a talk about fanzine fandom, some of the issues I’d had with it, and then he told me that he admired my writing and would like to see more. More than anything, this meant a lot to me.

I haven’t written much lately. Some of it is simply that I haven’t had the mental space with everything going on in my life. Some of it is my own head playing with me — sometimes it’s hard to write when my depression is telling me that nobody cares and my anxiety is telling me that if it isn’t perfect, it’s crap. And some of it is my own lack of attention, both deliberate and non-deliberate.

I’ve done a lot of work in the last year to combat the depression and the anxiety. I still have both, and I probably will always have both. But I can work with them to lessen the effect they have on my life. Sometimes, despite all the techniques I’ve learned, it’s hard to believe that I’m actually good at things. Thus, it helps to hear from others outside of me, people I admire, to tell me that I’m not that bad at the things I do.

One of John’s quirks is that he’s not overly fond of this Internet thing. So he’s probably not going to see this until I convert it to fanzine form and get Rhyme & Paradox #2 out into the world. That said, John, your words meant a whole damn lot to me and were part of the reason this Worldcon was so damn special for me.

Geez, this was just one day! But it was a very eventful day, as you can probably tell. We’ll just have to save the unicorn farts for another post.

Series:
Worldcon (Part the First)
Worldcon (Part the Second)
Worldcon (Part the Third)
Worldcon (Part the Fourth)

A well-placed word can change the world

“And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things.”
–Terry Pratchett

If I learned absolutely nothing else in high school English (disclaimer: I learned a lot in high school English), I DID learn that words have meaning and thus the potential to shape the world. I haven’t always applied this knowledge for good, but it’s always been in the back of my head.

Thus I have to look askance at President Trump’s tweet of June 19th, quoted below:

There is a lot of interesting rhetoric going on in this tweet, but the specific bit I would like to call your attention to is in the second sentence, where he writes the phrase “pour into and infest our Country”. The verb “infest” is commonly used to describe vermin, such as insects and rats. However, Trump is not using it to talk about vermin, he is using it to talk about people. To employ such a verb against people is language that is used to dehumanize people and see them as subhuman. As time goes on, if a certain segment of humanity is seen as subhuman (or not human at all), one may find oneself willing to let them die — or worse, killing them outright.

In short, it is the beginning of a call to genocide. Nazis reduced Jews to vermin, as well, and Hutus reduced Tutsis to ‘trees’ and ‘cockroaches’ in the Rwandan genocide. Both language choices made it easier for the former party to not see the latter party as human when it came time to kill them.

The above is an example of Nazi propaganda. This one is rendered in Polish and aimed at Polish Christians. It reads, very simply: “Jews are lice; they cause typhus.” This is another point to the word ‘infest’. We exterminate vermin because they are a health hazard to human beings. Also, the other verb in that phrase, ‘pour into’ has connotations of things that just keep coming, almost like ants. Hmm.

What the Nazis did, what the Hutus did, and what Trump is doing here is called eliminationist language, and it’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable to turn a human being into a lesser creature or an object, ever. Once you start thinking this way, once you accept this worldview, it’s not hard to leap from one set of humans to another, forgetting their humanity and eventually your own.

I don’t care if you think Donald Trump is the best thing since Sputnik, this sort of language is attempting to create a worldview. We’ve seen what lies at the other end of that worldview — suffering, violence, death, and cold, callous indifference. Don’t ever go there.

[This essay was adapted and expanded from a Facebook post I made earlier this week. Also, if you liked this post — or even if you didn’t — you might like my post “On Patriotism“.]

Image header: CC-BY-20 Steve Johnson; Poster image courtesy United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

On Patriotism

I don’t like to talk much about politics in public places, and none is more public than my blog. Even though I have a disclaimer, I’m searching for a job and there’s some worries that if I disclose my political beliefs, it might cost me a job. But I can’t write about this subject without saying it. I’m left of center and a Democrat. There are reasons for these stances, but I don’t want to get too deep in those weeds right now.

Anyway. I want to say that I’m tired of the insinuation that because I’m on the left side of the political system, I cannot be a patriot. Even more offensive are the ones that say that I’m not a “real American”, when I can trace my roots to the Mayflower or, in another direction, the Bering Land Bridge. I’ve had ancestors on this soil long before this country existed. Telling me I’m not a “real American” because of my political stance simply ticks me off.

I am a patriot. I love this country. I’m proud to be an American, just as I’m proud to be a Californian. I still attempt to hit the high notes in the Star Spangled Banner. I’ll admit I loved poking through the airplanes the Air Force and the Navy would bring to the airshow, and cheer as the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds went through their paces.

From the beginning, we were a beacon of new ideas. The French Revolution — the call of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité — has its roots in the American revolution. A fledgling nation, trying an entirely new way of governing, became an inspiration for people around the world.

Where I depart from those who say that they are patriots is that I am capable of understanding that (gasp) America isn’t perfect. For all the good this country has brought into the world, there are ways in which we have completely failed. The stain of slavery is woven into our founding documents, and the resulting treatment of African-Americans to this day perpetuates that great sin. There’s the internment camps of World War II, taking American citizens and putting them behind barbed wire for no other reason than that they were ethnically Japanese, assuming that none of them were actually American. There is the way we’ve treated Native Americans, the ones that were here first. And last, don’t forget the numerous governments around the world that we’ve destabilized or outright overthrew. We have brought light to the world, but we have also brought hideous darkness.

No nation — no person — stands at the pinnacle of perfection. Even heroes have feet of clay. The United States is no exception in this matter. We’ve done amazing good across the world; we’ve perpetuated some dark deeds. How can I be a patriot and think this way? Very simple:

“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

Senator Carl Schurz ended a speech on the Senate floor in response to Senator Matthew Carpenter’s use of the first half of the phrase. But the phrase has a kernel of truth that connects to something I was taught in therapy. I learned about the juxtaposition of two important thoughts: “I am good enough.” and “I can be better”. While those thoughts seem to be contradictory, there is truth. I am good enough, but I can always strive to be better.

I feel the same about my country. The United States is good enough, even great. But she can strive to be better — we can strive to be better, because the United States is the sum of all of us. Such is the nature of a republic.

I prefer to think of it as a thoughtful and nuanced patriotism, as opposed to simple “Love it or leave it!” rhetoric. But I am just as much a patriot as any right-winger, and I am not going to give ground simply because I happen to be on the lefty side of politics.

What’s in a name?

So…I ponder weird things in the shower.

Today’s thoughts started with the saw I like to use about whether people from Roseville were Rosevillains. (It’s actually Rosevillians, with the i and a transposed, but that got me thinking.

Why is what we call people from a place so weird? For example, I’m a Californian. People that live in the biggest city in the metro area are Sacramentans, and over in the Bay Area, we have San Franciscans and Oaklanders and Berkelians/Berkeleyites. (And also whatever people from San Jose call themselves, which I haven’t figured out.)

People from New York are New Yorkers, people from LA…well, that’s one of the weird ones, as they’re Angelenos. Philadelphians and Washingtonians. Bostonians and Torontonians. Ohioans and Michiganders. (I think the later’s right…)

Expand out a bit more, and it gets really weird if you think about Europe. Europeans, yes, but you have French and Germans and English and Spaniards, Dutch and Danes and Norse and Swedes and Finns and Poles and Greeks. But you also have Italians and Russians and Hungarians and Romanians.

And Asia. Chinese and Japanese and Vietnamese, but also Indians and Laotians and Indonesians and Cambodians. Afghans and Filipinos, Mongolians and Koreans. Then you have Pakistanis and Iraqis and Israelis, but also Syrians and Lebanese and Egyptians, Kurds and Turks and Turkmen.

Even out a bit farther — Earthlings and Martians. Although I admit, I’m fond of Terran as an alternative to Earthlings.

I think we can work out a few rules from this.

Places that end in -ia, like California and Colombia and Russia get an n shoved on the end, thus Californians and Colombians and Russians.

Places that end in -o tend to end -an, and sometimes, but not always get the o chopped off. Sacramento and San Francisco are Sacramentans and San Franciscans, but Idaho and Ohio are Idahoans and Ohioans.

-ing will sometimes get -er tacked on the end. Same with k.

Places ending with the letter n often, but not always, have an -ian tacked on. (Berlin/Berliner is a notable exception, as is Japan/Japanese.)

And some places are just irregular. I’m looking at you, Europe.

Yeah. All this from a stupid thought in the shower.

What do they call people from where you’re from?

(Sign from this wonderful article celebrating Boring, Oregon’s sister city matchup with Dull, Scotland.)

Kicking the dust off the old blog…

So a couple very dear friends of mine, Richard and Jennifer Crawford, do this thing in December where they proceed to blog every day. (They already commit to writing a novel in November — and Richard is my co-herder of Wrimos in the Sacramento area.) They’ve done it the past few years, and I’ve always thought of trying, but December is hard — especially after November. It’s this little thing called Holidailies, and this year they got put in charge of the whole shebang.

Anyway. I signed up this year, and I’m damned well going to do it, even if I’ve been pretty sick this last week and I’m still fighting a three-day old headache, the residuals of a cold, and the shiny new CPAP machine. I’m late to the party, yes, but I’m going to make it up. I missed the first six days of December (and it turns out even if I had been sick, I wouldn’t have been able to blog, thanks to a minor configuration error), so…I figure I need to have six days where I write more than one post.

This is completely doable.

Anyway, to those who don’t know me, my name is Katrina and I live in the Sacramento metro region. For the longest time, I’ve had a signature line that, over the years, has included such things as “writer, dreamer, information herder, part-time philosopher, first baseman, wrangler of computers, Cal Bears fan, gamer, bookworm, science fiction junkie.” I’m currently an out of work system administrator/tech support/systems analyst. I am a diehard fan of the California Golden Bears, the sports teams of my alma mater (twice over), the University of California, Berkeley. My undergrad degree is in history and my master’s degree is in Information Management.

Oh, and I have always existed in a Heisenbergian state somewhere in Northern California — native of Redding, graduate of Berkeley, resident of Sactown. I’ve thought of moving, but I suspect that’s not a possibility now.

People say I’m nice, and I like to think so. My general philosophy in regards to retail employees is that their job is hard enough and they don’t need me to make it harder — so always ask nicely and say please and thank you, and if you’re angry, do your best not to take it out on the poor employee. That’s my general way of handling most things, which seems to surprise folks. I have a very long fuse, but I can get angry. I like the Unitarian Universalist philosophy of ‘the inherent worth and dignity of every person’ — even the bad ones, although that’s hard.

To wrap this up, this blog might gyrate wildly between deadly serious topics and frivolous light-hearted ones. I’m always thinking, and sometimes the thoughts are a bit weird.

If there’s anything you’re curious about, feel free to ask in comments. And sorry about the dust. One of my goals for 2016 is to use the blog more.

The West is Big, y’all

There’s something Kevin Standlee​ said in a File 770 thread (it’s about halfway through the comment) that I wanted to do a little expounding on. Family and folks who know the area I grew up, bear with me, as none of this is going to be all that unusual to you. What I am about to quote came up in a discussion about whether Spokane was close to Seattle.

In my experience, a lot of people who haven’t actually lived on the US west coast think everything here is in the same place. Disneyland is just outside of San Francisco. You can see the Space Needle from Portland. A few minutes you can reach on neuropathyhelp.co and obviously everything in the same state is within a few miles’ of everything else.

Kevin knows what he’s talking about — he and I grew up in the same general geographic area, although that area is about 150 miles in diameter around my hometown. My hometown is a small Western city that has the distinction of being one of six control cities on Interstate 5 (the other five are all major cities you’ve probably heard of).

From my hometown, it is approximately an hour and fifteen minutes to the nearest state university. The next one is about two hours fifteen minutes. The other state university in our third of the state is about three hours away over a mountain pass. And my alma mater, in a major metro region that holds most of the sports teams we root for in my little city, is about three hours away, if you’re pushing it and not stopping.

And we’re big enough to be a control city — that’s the one the signs point to as the next destination — on the major north/south artery of the West Coast.

A couple other thoughts. I live in Sacramento now. A friend and I once drove from Portland to Sacto, getting out of the car once. It took us eight hours. Another time, I had to drive to pick up somebody in Los Angeles — the Hollywood area, to be precise. Mom and I left Sacto at 4:30 AM. We stopped for gas once and breakfast once, but we still didn’t make it to his place until 11:30 AM.

One last thought. California numbers its freeway exits by miles travelled, starting with 1 at the southern end for N/S roads and the western end for E/W roads.

The actual little town I grew up in which had the security services from ADT, just south of the minor city I describe here, is exits 667 and 668 on Interstate 5. At that point, there’s still another hundred odd miles to the Oregon border.

The West Coast is big, y’all.

the letter and the spirit

Wow, aren’t you an absolutely lovely and charming person.

The article in question (via Do Not Link) opens with this quotation:

Situational dominance is contingent on local factors.

For example, a 5’4 female teacher with a firm demeanor is situationally dominant over a classroom full of 5-year-olds. If she raises her voice, she can even be intimidating. Outside the classroom situation, however, she’s a short woman in a low-prestige profession who will have trouble commanding general respect unless there are other mitigating factors. Certainly, she’d have problems bossing around rowdy teenagers.

Obviously, the man who wrote this never met my high school math teacher.

Mrs. Bjerke (that’s pronounced Bur-KEE) was not a very tall woman, and to boot she wore thick glasses. Just looking at her, Mr. Dampier would probably just dismiss her as yet another woman who couldn’t even handle a high school class. But see, that’s where he would be wrong. Because Mrs. Bjerke was the chair of the math department, the AP Calculus teacher, and the sort of woman who took absolutely no shit from anybody, whether said person was an unruly teenager in her class or the principal of the high school. The best part? I don’t recall her ever raising her voice. Just by sheer demeanor and presence, she kept us all in line.

My junior and senior years, I participated on the quiz bowl team at my high school. The participants of the quiz bowl were the teams in our athletic league, eight schools scattered across the central part of extreme Northern California, from Yreka in the north to Red Bluff in the south. My high school quiz team was very good, but our arch-nemesis were the Miners of Yreka. They were also very good, and they played Quiz Bowl by the exact interpretation of the rules — which included challenging every question they could possibly challenge. By doing this, they were able to throw other teams off their game. Just a touch of hesitation on the buzzers could mean the difference between victory and defeat, as we learned in the finals of my junior year. I may have made all-league at Quiz Bowl, but I still sputtered all the way back home about their methods.

And I vowed that when the quiz bowl team became mine that I would make sure my team was prepared for the bloody Miners. I made captain of the team — an expected outcome, but one that I was proud of — and I started to get my team together. They were as ready as I was going to make them. Unfortunately, our advisor, the one who had witnessed Yreka’s tactics the year prior, was out on maternity leave by the time the quiz bowl rolled around.

Luckily, we knew this was coming, and the advisor asked me if I’d be cool with Mrs. Bjerke as a stand-in. Of course I was — words cannot express my regard for her. We ran our last couple practices under Mrs. Bjerke’s watchful eye, and we were ready as we were going to be. This was going to be our year.

With eight schools, we each played four other schools, and the two teams with the highest total of points after four rounds was the winner. The common gathering place for all the teams was the library at the host high school, where they kept a chalkboard with the running tallies. And it was there after our second game, watching results from the various games trickle in, that an odd score went up on the board — Yreka had defeated West Valley by a huge margin, but there was a note added that the score was doubled because they could only play one round and not two.

A moment later, the West Valley team walked in. Now, West Valley was a sister high school to mine — we were the two high schools in our district, and they were usually our bitter rivals in almost every sports competition. But at the same time, they were our sister school. So I pulled the WV captain aside and asked him what happened.

He had that anger in his eye that I knew all too well from the year before. Yreka had challenged nearly every question in the round. That’s how they’d only gotten through one round in the time allotted for two. I nodded, and told him Yreka had pulled a similar gambit the year before on us in the finals of the quiz bowl.

We got through a third game, although I was stewing a bit. It was lunchtime, and our opponent in our last game was the aforementioned Miners of Yreka. So I pulled my team together while we were eating and reminded them of Yreka’s tactics and that we’d had positive confirmation they were doing it again per my conversation with WV’s captain.

That’s when Mrs. Bjerke stepped in. “They did what?” And as we relayed the stories, the look on her face was one I knew. It was the one she used when she was disappointed with somebody. “I’ll bring it up at the coach’s meeting here.”

I wish I had been present at that coach’s meeting. I am told that it was epic, the way Mrs. Bjerke tore the Yreka coach apart on sportsmanship and his tactics, about the difference between the letter vs. the spirit of the rules, and the kind of example he was setting for high school kids.

All I knew then was the coach’s meeting had gone long, and we’d had to start our fourth game without either coach. Yreka played hard — they were still a good team — but there was something missing from their spirit. Maybe it was us, determined to crush their cheating ways. That said, the challenges from them were much less than they usually were. About midway through the first half, the Yreka coach slid in, but he just sat at the back of the room, hardly even looking at his team or seeming to care what was going on. Mrs. Bjerke came in shortly after him, and she had that expression. At the half, I asked her what had happened. She just smiled and said that they had a nice conversation about sportsmanship.

The finals were extremely anti-climactic. We played Yreka again. They did even worse than they had in the game we’d played prior. And at the end of it, the Yreka coach asked me about my college plans — he seemed rather pleased I was going to Berkeley. Whether it was the fact I was graduating and couldn’t torment his quiz bowl team anymore, or if he was truly pleased, I couldn’t tell you. But I do know that was the politest he’d been to me in two years.

What’s the point of this? Well, it’s funny how the Yreka coach was very good at following the letter of the rules without caring a whit about the spirit of them. It reminds me of a certain other situation I’ve been following over the past month, in which the prize — whether it’s the actual trophy or the more nebulous prize of annoying folks who don’t think like they do — has taken on such importance that the spirit of the rules can be discarded.

I just think about what happened to the coach who discarded the spirit of the rules in order to win.

It won’t stop them. Those who are convinced of the rightness of their cause will willfully ignore everything that doesn’t correspond to that cause. But I hope someday they meet up with somebody that won’t take their shit.

My Mind is My Own

Over the last few days, I have been voraciously combing the internet, reading anything and everything I can find on the nominees for the Hugo awards and wrestling with my own conscience. I think I have finally come to a conclusion as to what I am going to do.

I will read all the Hugo nominees as if this were a normal year. I cannot betray my own sense of professionalism and well, I’ve read Glenn Beck and the entire Left Behind series without throwing the books through the window or across the room. I am, as I said in my earlier post, not looking forward to this. I am not reading these because the Sad Puppies demand that I must — I am because I feel an obligation to my own conscience to do so, just as I would any other year.

That said, I will rank all the nominees on either the Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies slates below No Award.

There are some things on the ballot for which it pains me to have to do this. I have loved the Dresden Files ever since my good friend Eileen introduced them to me by giving me the books for Christmas — but Jim Butcher is on the slate. Guardians of the Galaxy was my favorite movie of the year and a work I might have actually nominated if I’d felt well enough to turn in nominations. Nope. The Lego Movie is right behind it in terms of movies I loved last year, and would have been a very close #2 to Guardians. Sorry.

I am especially grieved to make this decision in cases like Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Black Gate, and Annie Bellet. It grieves me because Jen Brozek, a person I know and respect, is on the short form editor ballot and I would love to see her win a Hugo.

But I can’t vote any of these folks above No Award. I am sorry, but this is what my conscience demands of me. I will read your work in my packet. I will consider you for my own nominations in 2016 — and I plan to participate in the nomination round next year. But any ranking you may earn by the quality of your work will go after No Award this year.

I have decided this because I care about the Hugo. I have cared about the Hugo ever since I found out about it in an introduction in one of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels, and I dream of winning it someday. But in order to keep that dream alive, I have to make sure the Hugos survive. If it comes to a slate vs. slate situation, I would have even less chance of ending up on the Hugo ballot than I already did. So the only thing I can do is express my horror and displeasure at slate voting, and use what few tools I have to express that displeasure.

For those who are saying that I am only doing this because I disagree with the political stances of Sad/Rabid Puppies, I would be doing this if it were the John Scalzi/Making Light Slate of Rainbow Joy Kittens.

My mind is my own, and I make my own decisions.

It doesn’t really matter. I am just one person, and my blog is so minuscule that it won’t register. My vote is but a drop in an ocean, but it is mine. My mind, my thoughts, my opinions — they are my own.

Grimly and Without Joy

The 2015 Hugo nominations have come out.

Normally this is a great moment of satisfaction for me. I usually have not read all the nominees on the slate, so it’s like getting a Christmas present from my fellow science fiction geeks. Hugo nominations are generally so broad that what percolates up from the mass hive mind are usually stories that I don’t mind giving a bit of time to read and compare against each other. Most of the time, I find something interesting in this.

This process only works if it’s a true random percolation, though. The last few years, though, there has been a campaign called the Sad Puppies that suggests that the Hugo award is too liberal and too invested in identity politics, thus choosing works that are turgid and uninteresting instead of stories full of spaceships and laser guns with a glock mat and manly men, I suppose.

Now the first year of this slate, it fell under the radar. The second year, they managed to get a few works on the ballot — works I read, and in some cases, enjoyed. Were they truly Hugo-worthy? No, not as much as other things on the ballot, but with one exception, I didn’t mind reading them.

This wasn’t enough, I suppose. This year, the Sad Puppies managed to put together a slate. Not just one or two works in a category — that wasn’t enough. This was enough to disrupt the random percolation of works to the point where whole categories of the Hugo awards are dominated by this slate — and I wonder what I’m missing that would have risen to the level of a Hugo nomination in any other year. (I suppose I’ll find out when the long list comes out — it’ll be harder to dig up the works, but I might have to read them.)

I’ll read the works. I take my duty as a Hugo voter seriously, and I will rate the works as I see fit. I may end up ranking No Award above them all if I don’t feel any of the works nominated rises to the level of a Hugo in my opinion. It’s the best I can do in a situation I am obviously not happy about.

But I feel as if something I enjoyed has become a grim, thankless task. Politics is never far from any human endeavor, but this year, it feels like it’s all politics. Because here’s the part I elided around: part of the reason for this slate is that certain folks thought the Hugo wasn’t conservative enough.

Now I’ll freely admit, I’m not exactly conservative in my politics. I went to Berkeley, after all. But everything I was taught both in my deeply conservative home town and in liberal Berkeley is that you treat people with courtesy and respect, no matter where they’re from or what they look like. Do I always live up to this? I’m a human being, I’d be lying if I said I did. But it’s a good yardstick to work from.

There are people nominated this year that seem, from my vantage point, to go against this yardstick. Their words are, at best, ill-conceived, and at worst, vile hatred of anybody not like themselves. Bigotry and misogyny are rampant. Is this truly the best science fiction has to offer? I don’t think so, but apparently I’m wrong.

There’s a saying that when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. And while I’m not going to just toss every work on the Sad Puppies slate out without actually looking at them first — see the above about treating my duty seriously — I can understand why others would be tempted to do just that.

But it means this year’s reading will be done grimly and without joy.

I’ll probably have more to say about this in the future, as I start to read, but this will do for now.

[sactown] State Capitol Building

So, I’ve promised a friend I would start taking pictures of Sactown to show her. It gets me out of the office at lunch — most of these will be walking distance from work — and it lets me see a bit more of the city I live in. I’ll start the series with this shot, from last Friday, of the State Capitol building here in Sacramento.

I joke Sacramento is a company town. People look at me strange until I point out that the company is the State of California, and when the state hurts, everybody hurts. And it’s been really bad times for the State of California for years. We papered over a lot of it with the housing bubble, but eventually those things come back to haunt you.

That said, I love our state capitol building, and I especially love it this time of year with the Christmas tree in front.

The latest entries in the WTF serving size competition

So I’ve been trying to be more interested in nutrition labels to get a better idea of what calorie counts and other stuff are in my food. This has now become a game, in which I attempt to find the most egregious and/or crazy entries on the nutritional label.

Today brings us two entries in the WTF serving size competition:

1) Apparently, a serving size of Tic Tacs is one Tic Tac, with the extremely precise value of 1.9 calories per serving. (Sorry the picture’s kinda blurry, was trying to take it fast.)

2) I’d like you to try and eat just one-third of a muffin at once. (The whole muffin is 600 calories. OMG.)
Muffin nutritionPhoto by retstak

a light in the darkness

Candles at church, by me

I’ve been doing a lot of wheelspinning lately as I try to figure out something. I haven’t figured out much in the way of conclusions because I haven’t had the time to pursue threads all the way out, but there is one thing that comes to mind.

Ignore all that ‘must co-opt pagan holiday’ stuff that caused the birth of Jesus to be moved to the bleak midwinter as opposed to the more logical late spring that all the trappings of the story hint at, and look at it from a different perspective. As a storyteller, there is no better time of the year. The world is at its darkest in the days around the solstice, so much so that we light our homes with blazing electric lights to chase the darkness away. And metaphorically, isn’t that what the Christchild story is? Bringing light to a dark world?

The story demands the change.

Anyway, that’s one of the threads I’m still trying to follow to its conclusion; I may or may not continue to blog about it.

But for those who celebrate it, Merry Christmas! And if you don’t, may you have a good day today as well.
Don’t let clogged drains stress you, call Sydney emergency plumbing today.

embrace the suck

Success, by Kevin Thoule as found on Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

So I got whacked between the eyes with an epiphany today.

It started yesterday, actually, but it didn’t quite completely come clear until today. I was reading a book on probability and how people are notoriously bad at it (The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow) and his last chapter is a bit about taking risks and why it’s sometimes important to do so — and one of the things he said was, yeah, random chance means you’re going to end up with a lot of failure, but just as streaks happen when you flip a coin, there’s always the random chance you’re going to succeed. If you don’t take the risks, you minimize your chance of failure, but you minimize your chance to succeed as well.

But it didn’t really hit me between the eyes until I was writing an email that I’ll send out to the region tomorrow. And in it, I was talking about the point of NaNoWriMo — it’s not so much about writing a novel as it is about throwing caution to the wind and doing something crazy. It’s about allowing yourself the right to suck and the right to fail, because both are hard. But if we fear failure, how can we find success? If we don’t do something because we’ll suck, how can we transcend to awesomeness?

It is that simple: in failure, we find success. In sucking, we lay the ground for becoming awesome.

I got a piece of this last Sunday when I went to the Night of Writing Dangerously. I said it myself in the post I wrote: I thought to myself that I was going to fail at reaching fifty thousand words that night. And I was going to feel miserable. But then I embraced the fear, embraced the suck, shoved the worry to the back of my mind. And what happened? I got my 50k and I rang that bell and it WAS AWESOME.

So, I’m going to stick my neck out a bit more. I have a final and a project due a week from Tuesday, and I’m going to use the time beyond that to (a) update my resume and start throwing it at jobs, (b) pick up a bit of C# with the goal of being able to contribute (even minimally) to projects at work by 1 Feb, and (c) get that fanzine together that I’ve been talking about.

Now it’s your turn: Tell me what you plan to do to embrace the suck and do something scary.

waiting for taff

One of the amazing things about fandom is the respective fan funds. There’s a triangle of them connecting the three largest concentrates of fandom in the world. (There’s also several minor ones, my favorite of which is CUFF, which sends fans back and forth within Canada.)

The first one, connecting Europe with Australia, is GUFF, which stands for the Going Under/Get Up-and-over Fan Fund, depending on the direction of the trip. As this is the leg of the triangle that I can’t participate in, I don’t know all that much about it. The next trip direction is EU -> AUS, for the Australian Worldcon next year.

The second one, connecting Australia with North America, is DUFF, which stands for the Down Under Fan Fund. This fascinates me, as Australia’s always seemed like a nifty place to visit. (That’s why I was hoping to get there next year, but my plans to be employed full-time by this point have been thwarted by the economic meltdown.) Anyway, this year’s DUFF trip is NA -> AUS for the same reason as GUFF.

And then there’s my favorite fan fund, TAFF, or the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund. Now it might be my favorite because I hang out with Chris Garcia at conventions and thus get the full fury of the manic TAFF delegate. TAFF connects Europe and North America, and got its start in a one-off fund to bring a great fanwriter named Walt Willis from Ireland to the US in 1952, which means the fund is the granddaddy of all the fanfunds and, well, older than my parents. (There’s a lot of things older than my parents in fandom. There are things in fandom that are older than my grandparents, actually. And if that doesn’t make most folks in fandom feel old…)

And TAFF is NA -> EU this year. And they’ve just called for nominations

So, what’s the catch, you ask? Well, if you win, you get to spend two years (or until the next person travelling in the direction you took your trip in goes) managing the fund and raising more money for it. This means talking it up whenever possible. Basically, you’re trading two-four weeks of awesomeness with two years of representing and earning more money for the fund. Thankfully, fandom is generally generous with both items and money to support the fund.

TAFF is the trip I’d like to do, as I seem to have more friends in British fandom than I do in Australian fandom, which is probably partially a function of the APAs I’ve decided to join. This would be the year to do it, too, as the trip is supposed to be attending the Eastercon in 2010, but Corflu’s the weekend before, and it would be fun to attend both and get the general vibe of things.

But after some thought on the matter, I’m going to hold off for a few reasons:

  1. I’m still a newbie, and trying to convince folks to vote for me would probably take some doing. (I could probably find nominators, but again, it helps to be better known.)
  2. Even if I could get past the hurdle of point one, I’m part-time at my job. This means I get no vacation whatsoever. My attendance at Worldcon was sandwiched by two days of eight hours and three days doing my usual time, and I still lost four hours of time I’m allotted every week. It wouldn’t be fair to either myself, the British fans I meet, or the fund in general for me to have to put in work time while I’m on the trip.
  3. Even if I overcame both those hurdles, I’m still dependent on the US Government providing me some small measure of my income, and the draconian asset limits attached to that. (Seriously, to get disability in this country, you are allowed to own a house, a car, and no more than $2000 in assets.) Since the TAFF fund gets put in your name, I blow the asset cap with money that isn’t even mine.

Of course, points two and three could be mitigated by getting a full-time job that offers a benefit like, oh, vacation pay, which is why I’m holding off at the moment — to let the economy warm up a bit and figure out what the future might hold as well as getting more involved and active within fandom. It’s possible I’ll re-evaluate in 2012 and do it then, but 2014’s looking a lot more likely at the moment.

But in the meantime, I just wanted to spread the word of the awesome things that are contained within fandom. And this is one of the most nifty parts, in my opinion.