Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Life's tough for bookstores

The New York Times has a fascinating article by David Streitfeld about how the Internet is killing off traditional bookstores and hurting book publishers. It's not so much sales of new books by Amazon that's hurting so much as the ability of readers to buy used books very cheaply. There's little incentive to buy a book new unless you're an "early adopter" who has to have it right away when it's published.

Streitfeld emphasizes the sale of used books on the Internet, but my wife and I most often obtain our used books from trading sites such as PaperbackSwap.com and BookMooch. I still have to buy books when I want something that's brand new, such as the expensive new Dilbert hardcover I got for Christmas, or something from a hard-to-find cult author such as Robert Anton Wilson, but for most books the book-swapping sites work just fine.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Listening on the cheap

I seem to have acquired a new hobby -- buying very cheap MP3 players.

A couple of months ago, my current favorite electronics outlet, Ollie's Bargain Outlet, had a sale on remaindered MP3 players and I picked up a half-gig Coby MP3 player for $10. It also has an FM tuner, it has a screen giving information on the track, it can record....it has everything you need.

Evidently I 0verpaid, though, because some weeks later I noticed that Ollie's was selling MP3 players for $5. The package included cord allowing the user to connect it to a radio or stereo. One bummer: Only 256 MB of space, although if you can find one, you can add half-gig SD card. In any event, if you get tired of the 3 albums it can hold, you can change it out quickly -- like all of the other cheapo players these days, you plug it into your computer and it's recognized as another drive.

My wife's nephew left his iPod on a bus a few weeks ago and it was stolen. My $1o player works fine, and if it's stolen, well, it's not the end of the world. The important this is the music. The bulk of my MP3 collection is backed up, online at ADrive and on backup CDs.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

For the Jane Austen fan, i.e. any literate reader

"Pride and Prejudice" is one of my favorite novels. You've read the book, you've seen the movies, what's left? Why, the Facebook edition. (Via Supergee and Jo Walton's blog.)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Paul isn't dead, man

Over at my newspaper blog, I bring up some surprising news: 66-year-old Paul McCartney has released a good album.
Two bloggers for the price of one!

Favorite blog post in the last couple of days: Duke prof Michael Munger explains what's wrong with bailing out bad home mortgages. Second favorite: the other blogger at Kids Prefer Cheese, University of Oklahoma Prof Kevin Blaine Greer, asks, "They can't really want Al Franken in the Senate can they? Isn't that eerily close to Caligula making his horse a Senator?" Don't forget to read the comments about the post.

Nice to see a good blog from someone at my alma mater.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lots of books at the Times

The New York Times books section has posted its "100 Notable Books of 2008," with links to the original reviews. I'm afraid the fiction list does nothing for me, but the nonfiction reviews pointed me to several interesting-sounding books that I'd missed.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Who's our man (or woman) in 2012?

The Libertarian Party desperately needs a good candidate in four years, so perhaps it isn't too early to start talking about who that person should be.

Over at Reason's Hit and Run blog, Nick Gillespie has tried to get the discussion rolling by mentioning two people: Michael Munger, a Duke University political science professor who ran for governor of North Carolina this year, and Angela Keaton, identified as a Libertarian Party activist. Both seem initially more attractive to me than Wayne Allyn Root, who already is running for the nomination.

At first blush, Keaton seems to be kind of a performance artist candidate. I haven't seen any sign of a real organization. Then again, she works for the folks at Antiwar.com, so she seems likely to be strong on the peace issue, which will likely be an asset in four years, when the antiwar crowd has had time to become disillusioned with Barack Obama. It's really too early to express an opinion, but I've "friended" her on Facebook. A campaign Web site or blog would be a nice sign of seriousness.

As for Munger, I followed Nick's link to a Reason article about him and found that Munger said he was aiming for a final result of 3 percent to 4 percent of the statewide vote. He finished at 2.85 percent.

This is a big deal, because it bespeaks a Libertarian candidate who actually understands politics -- a 3 percent showing is GOOD for a Libertarian. He's also intelligent and well spoken.

Munger is currently planning to run for the North Carolina state senate in 2010, but his blog seems to refute the idea that he's running for president; in this post, he mentions the Reason post but says Gillespie is "having a little fun." I wrote to Munger, and he confirmed that he's not a candidate for president until at least 2016, and maybe not then. Still, he bears watching.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Libertarian vote up for grabs?

Before I forgot, I wanted to link to this post a few days ago by Cato's David Boaz, which posits (among other interesting points) that the libertarian vote is up for grabs between the two major parties: "A candidate in either party who presented himself as a product of the social freedom of the Sixties and the economic freedom of the Eighties would be tapping into a market that both parties have yet to nail down." (Given the Libertarian Party's latest failure to attract a significant number of votes, I wonder if some libertarians might be searching for an alterative.)

I also like this comment about the Republicans and educated voters: "If conservative Republicans continue to respond to the loss of educated voters by declaring themselves proud to be 'real Americans' who don't care much for book learning and Darwinism and elite stuff, they will only accelerate the process."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

We're in Reason!

I joined the Libertarian Futurist Society a little less than a year ago, entitling me to vote for the Prometheus Award and the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award (I've been reading SF like a fiend for months as a result, particularly because, to my surprise, I was allowed to join two different committees, which come up with the nominees for the two awards.)

Reason magazine has just published a rather good article by Katherine Mangu-Ward on Tor books, the five nominees for the Prometheus Award this year (all were Tor books), the LFS and the Prometheus.

Of the five nominees this year, I loved two: Jo Walton's "Ha'Penny" and Ken MacLeod's "The Execution Channel." Harry Turtledove's "The Gladiator" is also very good. "Fleet of Worlds" by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner is a quite readable "Analog" novel. The only one I really didn't like was "Ragamuffin" by Tobias Buckell. Very violent, but little of literary or ideological interest. Obviously, I must have some kind of blind spot, as other LFS members must have really liked it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another blog on the roll

I've added a link on the blogroll list for Wirkman Netizen, a particularly interesting blog I intend to pay closer attention to from now on. This guy is a left-leaning libertarian AND he loves Stravinsky. I mean, come on, does this guy have perfect taste or what?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Read science fiction, win a Nobel Prize

Want to know how economist Paul Krugman began his march toward fame and a Nobel Prize for economics? Krugman says Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" novel explain "how I got into economics: I wanted to be a psychohistorian when I grew up, and economics was as close as I could get." (Via the November issue of Ansible.)

Friday, October 31, 2008

A case for McCain?

Over at the Vokokh Conspiracy, blogger and law professor David Bernstein tries to make a libertarian case for John McCain. His arguments fail to sway me -- how anyone who cares about foreign policy or civil liberties can vote Republican this year is beyond me -- but he had one paragraph I loved, so I'll quote it here:

"I think there are two great moral issues in American politics today, the disastrous War on Drugs, and free trade. The War on Drugs, for now, is hopeless. Free trade though, is not. Over the past couple of decades, a (statistical) billion people, more or less, have moved from poverty to the local middle-class because of globalization and free trade, far more people than have been aided by all the liberal do-goodism Obama, or any else, has or can muster. McCain is the candidate of free trade; Obama is the candidate of "fair trade," which in practice means protectionism. McCain's policies have the potential to rescue tens of millions of additional people from poverty, who will stay mired there under Obama. (And I always had at least one soft spot for Bill Clinton, for standing up to the unions and the know nothing wing of his party in favor of free trade and NAFTA)."

At the same blog, Ilya Somin makes an interesting case for divided government, but not enough to overcome the nausea the McCain/Palin ticket induces in me.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Yes, Barack is better

I don't want my last posting to be misunderstood. I voted for Bob Barr in the current election, but I do think the Obama-Palin ticket is clearly superior to the McCain-Palin ticket. (I cast an early absentee ballot, like many voters in Ohio. I tried to arrange a vote swap, promising to vote for Obama in Ohio if a Democrat in a "safe" Democratic state would vote for Barr, but I got no takers and gave up.)

My big issues in the current election are foreign policy and civil liberties, and Obama is clearly preferable on both to John McCain, who in these two areas seems determined to follow in President Bush's footsteps.

That said, please spare me the rhetoric about how Obama is going to set a new tone in Washington or practice a new kind of politics. Here in Ohio, a key swing state, Obama supporters are engaging in vote fraud. His acolytes in the Strickland Administration are ransacking state databases to dig up dirt on Obama's opponents. Nationwide, the campaign that broke its promise to use public financing is engaging in campaign finance fraud. If anything, this time around the Democrats are dirtier than the Republicans.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Look what you're getting, Obama fans

Leftist writer Alexander Cockburn uncorks a fine rant, insisting that it doesn't make much difference whether McCain or Obama gets elected. I can't totally agree with him, but I think he's a lot closer to being accurate than my old friend Steve Browne, who insists unconvincingly that Obama's apparent impending election is "Russia, 1917, or the end of the Weimar Republic."

A couple of Cockburn's best points deserve amplification. Cockburn writes that Obama "stood against warrantless wiretapping" and then voted in favor of it. To be more precise, Obama promised he would filibuster against any bill that granted amnesty to telecommunications companies that broke the law. Then he voted for the bill without making any effort to block it. That's a hell of a reversal.

Cockburn also writes, "Obama wants to enlarge the armed services by 90,000." I didn't think Cockburn made that up, exactly, but it seemed kind of hard to believe. Maybe Cockburn is putting a negative spin on something a little more benign.

Well, here's the link to the official Obama Web site, which says, "Barack Obama and Joe Biden support plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marines by 27,000 troops." The page is headlined, "The change we need." A guy who is even more determined than the Republican Party to turn the U.S. into an armed camp does not represent "change."

Cockburn also tells his readers to "read the portions of Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr's platform on foreign policy and constitutional rights." Exactly right. There's one political party left that has a decent platform on civil liberties and militarism — and it's not the Democrats.

Friday, October 24, 2008

My Bob Barr interview

I interviewed the Libertarian candidate for president, Bob Barr, along with two other reporters, when he spoke at Oberlin College last week. For anyone who is interested, large excerpts from the interview are here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Selling libertarianism

The new issue of Reason magazine has a David Weigel interview with Bob Barr (not online yet, as far as I can tell) which includes a great Barr quote on how Libertarians should talk to the unconverted:

"Every citizen in this country, I believe, has some area of their lives — whether it's their personal behavior within their homes, whether it's how to educate and discipline their children, whether it's about how to run their business, their political thought, their religious practices — where they want to be left alone. The Libertarian Party, I think, needs to recognize that and appeal to that and draw that out from the American public and the American voters, rather than talk just generally about great philosophical principles."

Friday, October 03, 2008

Well, that didn't take long

The New York Times reports that the British publisher of "The Jewel of Medina," a historical novel about one of the Prophet Muhammad's wives, has survived a firebomb attack on his house.

The attack apparently was incited by inflammatory statements by Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of book burning and incitement at the University of Texas at Austin. The attacks apparently will continue until infidels stop saying that Islam promotes hatred and terrorism.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chabon wins Hugo

Michael Chabon has won the Hugo Award for best novel for THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION. (I haven't read it, but it also nabbed a Nebula, a good sign.) Details on the other Hugos here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Music criticism hits new low

Here's a technique for critiquing performances that Alex Ross probably never thought of: Bring a claw hammer with you and use it to bang out a bad review for musicians you don't like.

The Sandusky Register reported that a Baldwin-Wallace College music graduate and music teacher named Richard Rice armed himself with a hammer before taking on a rock concert in his neighborhood in the small city of Huron, Ohio. "The band was out of tune and loud," Rice explained.

Accounts differ on whether Rice swung the hammer at music equipment and a spectator, depending on whether you believe other people at the scene or the allegedly drunk music critic. Witnesses says he did, although Rice said the hammer was just a prop.

"I had a hammer in my hand," he concedes.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Jimmy Carter: A fine libertarian president?

Jim Henley's claim that President Jimmy Carter could be termed a good "libertarian president" seems too interesting to be buried in a comment thread, so I'm pointing to it here.

Henley, who blogs at Unqualified Offerings, claimed in a Reason Hit and Run comment thread that Carter was "the greatest libertarian president in living memory."

Challenged on that assertion, Henley wrote, "I'm at least half serious. Carter deregulated trucking and air travel, two moves which have had more lasting economic benefit than just about anything else that happened in the last quarter of the 20th Century - except possibly allowing Paul Volcker, at enormous political cost to the incumbent president, to tighten money enough to kill core inflation until Dubya began his LBJ imitation (running phony wars on phony money). Of course, that was Carter too. Plus, to coin a phrase, He Kept Us Out of War. Not a bad record for a guy who had the bad fortune to become President when the bills for Johnsonism and Nixonism couldn't be stretched out any longer.

"On the other hand, Carter made a speech once wearing a sweater, and Nick Gillespie vaguely remembers hating him, so it totally makes sense to discount the massive good he did the country in trying circumstances."

I take it that under this formulation, Carter gave the country the Paul Volcker medicine, and Reagan reaped the reward. Reagan was not a libertarian in many ways, but he did cut taxes and help created Individual Retirement Accounts.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Walton reacts to her Prometheus

Author Jo Walton, author of the Prometheus Award winning novel "Ha'Penny," has reacted to the victory on her blog.

"I'm delighted, amused and honoured to announce that Ha'Penny has won the Prometheus Award -- actually, it's better than that, because it's co-won with Harry Turtledove's The Gladiator and you can't imagine how lovely it is to co-win something with a splendid book by an author you've loved for years," she writes.

She adds, "I'm amused because of all my online arguments with Libertarians. I am so not a Libertarian. Ask [info]zsero. But I am anti-authoritarian and I suppose I have written a book about the moral corruption of an authoritarian society, and if they think that's good enough to give me an ounce of gold (an ounce of gold, how cool is that?) then good for them. As they've given it to Ken MacLeod and Charlie Stross before, they're obviously looking at the book, not the author."

The insistence that she's not a Libertarian (she also noted that when she was nominated) seems odd; as she herself notes, the award lately has gone to other non-Libertarians such as MacLeod and Stross.

Perhaps people haven't noticed yet that the nature of the award has changed a bit over the years. If you look at the list of winners posted by the Libertarian Futurist Society, the earlier awards tended to go to doctrinaire libertarian writers such as L. Neil Smith, J. Neil Schulman and Victor Milan. That seems to occur less often in the last few years. I can't comment on whether there has been shift in the quality of the award-winners, as I haven't read enough of them; one of my reading projects this year will be to read as many past Prometheus Award winners as possible.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Walton, Turtledove win Prometheus

For the first time since the award was created, the Prometheus Award for best novel is a tie. Jo Walton's "Ha'Penny" and Harry Turtledove's "The Gladiator" will share the award at the Worldcon in Denver. Members of the Libertarian Futurist Society just got the announcement via e-mail, so this is breaking news.

"A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess won the Hall of Fame Awards.

I'm really pleased by the news. I voted Walton to win, MacLeod in second place and Turtledove in third. (See this posting.) I thought "Ha'Penny" was brilliant. My review of it will appear soon in the Prometheus Society's fanzine.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Obama: The Libertarian case weakens

Back on March 10, I noted that more than one Libertarian had been arguing that Sen. Obama is worth supporting this fall. More specifically, I paraphrased four points made by Scott Flanders, the CEO for Freedom Newspapers (a libertarian newspaper chain.) As quoted by Reason magazine from a dispatch in the Orange County Register, Flanders said Obama supports four key libertarian reforms (1) getting out of Iraq, (2) restoring the separation of church and state , (3) easing enforcement of victimless crime laws, such as the laws against illegal drugs and (4) curtailing the Patriot Act.

Two of the four points Flanders cited aren't looking so good these days. Obama's support for civil liberties doesn't seem very firm after he promised to filbuster against telecom immunity and then reversed course to support the FISA bill.

Church and state separation doesn't look like such a firm plank in the libertarians-for-Obama program, either. Obama has announced he supports actually expanding the practice of giving tax money to "faith-based" organizations. Given that the Democrats have a more diverse religious base than the Republicans, look for an Obama administration to shovel out tax money to a mosque and Scientology center near you, as well as to churches.

As the weeks pass, a vote for Bob Barr is looking better and better.

Friday, July 11, 2008

An argument for Bob Barr

Over at Unqualified Offerings, the fellow who posts as "Thoreau" has been doing a series of fine,
angry rants over Obama's sellout on the FISA bill. (If you haven't kept up, Obama promised to filibuster the bill if it included amnesty for the telecoms that broke the law, then broke his promise by supporting a bill that does include amnesty.)

In his latest post, Thoreau asks, referring to Obama "So, can somebody make a case for him, on his merits, that doesn’t involve “Look! Over there! John McCain!”? I’m not looking for libertarian or civil libertarian purity tests here. I’m looking for basic stuff: Evidence that he will support habeas corpus, oppose torture, oppose warrantless wiretaps, and end the war. You can say that these are unrealistically high hurdles to cross, but that’s f**king pathetic. If we are in a situation where even those very basic items are too much to ask for then I’m sitting it out. You can tell me that I’m only making it worse by doing so, but I maintain that once you reach that point the thing is basically on autopilot. It might not be at the bottom yet, but it’s heading there, and there’s no way to apply the brakes."

Isn't this an argument to support Bob Barr? I know there's a lot not to like about Barr: His immigration stance, his grab for Southern conservative votes by issuing a statement praising Jesse Helms, his claim that global warming is just a "hoax." But on the two issues that matter to me — civil liberties and the war — he seems to be solid.

Monday, July 07, 2008

RIP Tom Disch

I seem to be losing a lot of my favorite writers this year -- first Arthur C. Clark, now Tom Disch, who died, as a suicide, on July 4. A good blog entry by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, with comments from various SF writers, is available here.

I only read a couple of Disch's novels (I liked ON WINGS OF SONG, didn't care for 334 very much), but I read a couple of his short story collections and also had some of his books of poetry.

I only met Disch once, at a SF convention in Norman, Oklahoma. (Disch was the toastmaster, and Gene Wolfe was the guest of honor. How's that for a small convention in Oklahoma in the 1980s?) I told him that I liked his poems, referring to several by name. He seemed to be pleased to hear about his poetry being read (probably not a common experience at SF conventions) and invited my friends and I up to his room for a drink. I remember that he had a partially-read paperback copy of NEUROMANCER laying by his bed.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Censorship alert

Google has been shutting down anti-Obama blogs. So far, Blogger has not explained what's going on.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Glenn Reynolds, liar

Have you ever noticed that the biggest liars are the people who are eager to insist that everyone else is a liar?

On his blog this morning, the Instapundit complains about a a MoveOn ad in which a woman holds up a baby and says, "So, John McCain, when you said you would stay in Iraq for 100 years, were you counting on Alex? Because, if you were, you can’t have him.”

So what is Reynolds complaining about? It's McCain's statement in which the candidate envisions, um, staying in Iraq for 100 years.

Here's what the New York Times article says, the one Reynolds avoids actually quoting, although the blog post he links to references it: "The quotation Democrats most commonly refer to was from a town-hall-style meeting on Jan. 3 in Derry, N.H., when a voter mentioned that President Bush had spoken of 'staying in Iraq for 50 years.' Mr. McCain interrupted to say, 'Maybe 100.' "

We seem to have reached a stage in our political discourse in which you can't accurately quote what someone says without being accused of being a liar. You're supposed to add a disclaimer explaining that the guy didn't really mean it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Prometheus ballot

I joined the Libertarian Futurist Society this year so I could vote for the Prometheus Award. I still making my way through all of the "Hall of Fame" entries, so I won't send my ballot in for a couple of weeks, but I've read the five novels on the ballot and made up my mind about them. Here's how I intend to vote:

1. Ha'Penny, Jo Walton.
2. The Execution Channel, Ken MacLeod.
3. The Gladiator, Harry Turtledove.
4. No award.
5. Fleet of Worlds, Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner.
6. Ragamuffin, Tobias Buckell.

The first two books are particularly good and would add luster to the award.

My favorite, Ha'penny, is an alternate world novel about a Great Britain which made peace with Hitler rather than fighting on. It's also a mystery novel about a gay, deeply-conflicted Scotland Yard detective who loathes the fascist regime but can't help doing his professional best as he battles a terrorist cell plotting to kill Hitler. I'm describing the book in terms of genre conventions, although it's so well-written it transcends genre.

There's no doubt Walton is on the side of freedom in this subtle, fascinating book, but the book is loaded with dramatic irony and complexity. Many of the people who support loathesome ideologies in the book are more sympathetic in the way they treat people than the folks who are working to oppose Hitler.

"Ha'Penny" is a sequel to the author's "Farthing," which I'm now eager to read. "Ha'Penny" works fine as a stand-alone. The author, by the way, is a native of Wales who has trouble getting her books published in Great Britain. That would seem to reflect badly on British publishers.

The MacLeod is a political thriller with nice touches of science fiction (including a nod to James Blish). The plot is so fast-moving you might not notice MacLeod is wrestling seriously with issues such as civil liberties vs. terrorism and how fear pressures us to give in to impulses of fascism.

The Turtledove reads like young adult novel although it apparently is not marketed that way. It has teenage protagonists and a narrative with little sex or violence and and a pleasing story about a Communist-dominated alternate world in which a few people are rediscovering the virtues of capitalism and free speech.

The other two books aren't bad but aren't good enough to merit an award. The Niven (and Lerner) reads as if it was written in the 1970s and sat in a drawer for three decades. It's quite readable, but recommended only for Niven completists. The Buckell has lots of glowing blurbs on the cover, so I expected it to be better. It is particularly violent, but not particularly interesting or plausible.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My other blog

The Sandusky Register has let me launch a blog on the newspaper's Web site. You can read it here.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Connie's mad at me

My column in the Sandusky Register on Barack Obama apparently has annoyed at least one reader. After I mentioned a recent column by Connie Schultz, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, she sent me an angry e-mail accusing me of misrepresenting what she wrote.

Well, one of the virtues of the Internet is that often you can see for yourself. Here is my column; here is the Schultz column I referenced, and here is the speech by Obama I urged everyone to read.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

George Washington, traitor

When you read debates about the Iraq war, it's striking to see which opinions are considered respectable and which are considered beyond the pale.

Here's a quote from an isolationist kook who sounds like Ron Paul: "The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible." Here's another from the same guy: "It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them."

As you can guess from my headline, both quotes are from George Washington (the 1796 farewell address.)

Megan McArdle knows what to do with people who oppose roaming the world looking for wars to get into -- dismiss them. On her blog, she concedes that the people who opposed the war turned out to be right, but then warns that many such weren't the right kind of people: "Other peoples' opposition was animated by principles that may be right, but aren't really very helpful: the pacifists, the isolationists, the reflexive opponents of Republicans or the US military. Within the limits on foreign policy in a hegemonic power, these just aren't particularly useful, again, regardless of whether you are metaphysically correct."

Note the presumption that if you have doubts about the wisdom of hegemonic power, you aren't useful. As Thoreau writes at Unqualified Offerings, "If the most thoughtful critics of a disaster, the ones with the best track record of predictions, are also the ones with ideas that fall well outside the status quo, well, maybe that means something!"

Meanwhile, over at Instapundit, Charles Martin weighs in on a depressing choice: Who is more libertarian, McCain or the two Democratic front runners? Martin writes, "I can see a libertarian case against McCain, but you go to an election with the candidates you've got. Does Matt [Matt Welch] really think McCain would be *more* of a libertarian disaster than "It takes a village"/"We're doing it for your own good" Clinton or the "it would be a mandate, but it's a *voluntary* mandate" Messiah of Change?"

Well, Charles, it's arguable that McCain is the biggest disaster of all, because he's the least likely to do anything about the war machine and the ongoing slide into a National Security State.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Prometheus Award nominees listed

The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced the following nominees for the Prometheus Award:

RAGAMUFFIN, Tobias S. Buckell


FLEET OF WORLDS, Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner;

THE GLADIATOR, Harry Turtledove, and

HA'PENNY, Jo Walton.

Winners will be announced at Denvention 3 in August.

The Hall of Fame nominees this year are A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Anthony Burgess; "As Easy as A.B.C.," Rudyard Kipling; THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, C. S. Lewis; THE LORD OF THE RINGS, J.R. Tolkien, and THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, T. H. White. (Kipling rendered differently here because it's a short story, not a novel.) The latter award may cause me considerable soul-searching; I love the Tolkien, but I'm not convinced yet of its Libertarian bona fides.

The Hugo nominees came out recently too; you can keep up with all this stuff at the Science Fiction Awards Watch blog.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Five years in Iraq

At the five-year anniversary of America's invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Cato Institute's Justin Logan, associate director of foreign policy studies, has posted a tough, well-worded comment on the disaster that deserves to be quoted here:

"Five years ago, few predicted that the Iraq war would turn out this way. (My Cato colleagues were notable exceptions.) The war's supporters, like Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, issued endless false assurances to the American people before the war that 'we can win an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time.' Senator Hillary Clinton could not be bothered to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq before voting to send U.S. troops into battle. The bipartisan foreign policy community in Washington that urged the American people to support this war has studiously avoided introspection over its consequences. Al Qaeda has been strengthened, Iran's regional stature has grown, our allies have been alienated, and our adversaries have rejoiced.

"Today, Senator McCain chortles about staying in Iraq for 100 years. The American people shrug their way to the next Britney Spears story. The sad fact is that until the American people demand more from their political leadership, there is no hope for a meaningful change in policy. In all likelihood the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war will come with U.S. troops patrolling Iraq. Perhaps that anniversary will precipitate a genuine change in policy."

More on Iraq from Cato, at the organization's home page, located here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, RIP

When I was a student at the University of Oklahoma, the school would bring in noted scholars for intensive, several-day seminars.

I desperately wanted to be admitted to the Arthur C. Clarke seminar. I was just a freshman or a sophomore, though (I can't remember which anymore) and upperclassmen were preferred, so I didn't make the cut.

A couple of days before the seminar, though, someone dropped out, and I was allowed in. I skipped all of my classes the day before, and spent all day in the library, reading Clarke's just-issued brand new novel, IMPERIAL EARTH. It was a very interesting seminar.

Clarke, still one of my favorite people, died yesterday, as I'm sure you've heard by now. NY Times obit is here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How much does it cost?

The Eliot Spitzer scandal has provoked the reactions you would expect: Republicans are attacking the guy, Democrats are defending him and the news media is following the circus.

Best observation comes from blogger Tim Ferris: "It's part prurient interest on my part, part an inquiry into the value 'proposition' of the service, but what makes it possible for this sort of traffic to demand $5,500 an hour?"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke Award finalists

The finalists for the Arthur C. Clarke Award have been announced; list here (via Instapundit).

I've read none of these books, but when I read the all-British Hugo ballot for best novel about three years ago, thereby discovering how great Iain M. Banks is, I was startled by how much better it was than the average American-dominated Hugo ballot.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Libertarians for Obama

I've noticed quite a few Libertarians lately expressing sympathy for Barack Obama.

A couple of examples: Over at Antiwar.com, Justin Raimondo argues that the peace issue outweighs all others:

"In an emergency, it is necessary to focus on the immediate issue at hand: if your car is parked on the railroad tracks, and the train is barreling toward you, everything else must be put aside in the interest of survival. There's no time to think of the fate of the car, which you still owe money on, or whether your insurance will cover the damage. There's certainly no time to make a phone call, or to finish listening to your favorite song on the car radio. You must instead focus on the immediate priority, which is hightailing it to safety.

"That is the situation we face today."

It wouldn't be a Justin Raimondo post if it didn't have a moment of looniness; this time, he claims, apparently with a straight face, that if Hillary Clinton is elected president, "the Internet will be reined in." Still, his column is mostly reasonable and well-argued and worth reading in full.

Reason magazine's blog recently ran a post about Freedom Newspapers CEO Scott Flanders endorsing Obama: "Flanders reasoned that Obama is the best candidate to work on four top libertarian reforms: 1) Iraq withdrawal, 2) restoring the separation of church and state; 3) easing off victimless crimes such as drug use; 4) curtailing the Patriot Act."

Not a bad argument. I'd like to see the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, win this fall, although I also hope the Libertarian Party will come up with a reasonable candidate.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

New 'Firefly' novel available

SF author Steven Brust has released a "Firefly" novel. It's available on Brust's web site.

Thanks to Interrociter for the scoop.

Friday, March 07, 2008

New Neal Stephenson novel!

Amazon is listing a new Neal Stephenson novel, ANATHEM, which the site says will be released on Sept. 9, 2008. The list price is $29.95, but Amazon is accepting pre-orders for $19.77.

A bit of hunting around turns up this Sept. 22, 2007, blog entry from Gretta Cook, which reveals the following details about ANATHEM, gleaned from Stephenson's visit to Google's Seattle-area offices: "He's writing a science fiction novel unrelated to Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle. It's set on another planet and has aliens and so on. It's really about Platonic mathematics, but he needed the aliens and space opera-ish elements to spice it up a little bit, just like the pirates kept people engaged in the Baroque books. He's nearly finished writing it, and if he doesn't finish by the end of the calendar year he'll have to give some money back. If everything proceeds according to schedule, it should be available in stores in about a year."

Apparently if you work at Google, cool science fiction authors drop by every once in awhile to keep the employees happy. Miss Cook also has a Charles Stross entry. Her excellent list of favorite SF novels is here; she lists THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS as her favorite Heinlein novel. Nice call.

So....a new science fiction novel this year from Iain M. Banks, and a new SF novel from Neal Stephenson! Looks like a pretty good year.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

World's best science fiction author?

I've read a lot of science fiction in my time and I've voted many times for the fiction categories on the Hugo Awards ballot. And lately, I've become convinced that one of the best science fiction novelists is a Scottish writer who doesn't have much of a following in the United States, Iain M. Banks.

Although I consider myself fairly well-read in the SF genre, I had never read anything by Banks until THE ALGEBRAIST appeared on the Hugo ballot for the 2005 Worldcon in Scotland. The book wasn't even available in the U.S. yet, and I had to order my copy from Canada's Amazon.com to be able to read it in time.

THE ALBEBRAIST turned to be wonderful, literate space opera, somewhat in the vein of Vernor Vinge's longer novels but (this will sound like heresy) even better.

Most of Banks' science fiction novels are part of a loosely-connected future history called The Culture, although THE ALGEBRAIST is not a Culture novel. Culture novels I've read so far, all of them brilliant, include LOOK TO WINDWARD, EXCESSION and INVERSIONS.

There's a brand new Culture novel, MATTER, that I will begin reading this weekend.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Cleveland writer on Nebula ballot

Mary Turzillo, a Cleveland-area science fiction writer who won a Nebula Award for her story "Mars is No Place for Children," is on the Nebula ballot again this year, for her short story, "Pride." There's a link so you can read the story, and most of the other works on the ballot seem to come with links, too. (Via Instapundit.)

Friday, February 29, 2008

William F. Buckley, RIP

I've been terribly busy, so I had no chance until now to remark on the passing of William F. Buckley, my favorite conservative (and everyone else's, too, I guess.) As a longtime newspaper reporter, I was delighted by the title of Mr. Buckley's latest book, CANCEL YOUR OWN GODDAM SUBSCRIPTION. My wife, the librarian, who apparently doesn't take very many angry calls from readers, could not make out why the title amused me so much.

Reason's Hit and Run blog posts many interesting notices on Buckley, including this interview with the magazine. Interview on NPR's "Fresh Air" is here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

From Sandusky to the stars

One of the fringe benefits of working for the Sandusky Register is that I get to cover NASA Plum Brook Station, a nearby NASA facility that tests spacecraft. Here I offer two views of the Space Power Facility. Inside, workers are installing a noise and vibration testing equipment that will be used to test spacecraft for Project Constellation, NASA's project to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars. The dome is above the SPF's world's largest thermal vacuum chamber, which replicates the cold and airlessness of space and was used to make sure the Mars rovers would land safely.

Here's my Register article.
The little-known Serbian voting bloc

I'm at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University, covering the Obama-Clinton debate for my newspaper, the Sandusky Register.

Biggest initial surprise: I heard demonstrators, so I walked over to hear who was making the most noise -- Obama followers or Clinton folk. The answer was neither -- it turned out almost all of the noise was coming from Serbian nationalists protesting the Bush administration's decision to recognize Kosovo as an independent country.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Latest political news

Republican candidate in Sandusky: I DID NOT snub my dog ("Now how do you give a dog the silent treatment?")

Sen. Barack Obama: Ready to lead, an inspirational man, but I can't think of anything he's actually done.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My birthday dinner

This weekend was my birthday, so my wife took me out to dinner to one of my favorite Chinese restaurants, Bo Loong, which is a little bit east of downtown Cleveland, near the Chinat0wn area. It's the kind of place where you often see Chinese people dining and which has items on the menu which you'd never see in an Americanized Chinese restaurant.

I took a couple of photographs at the place, one of which shows Ann at our table. I had the salt baked shrimp, which come in their shells, with two little black eyes like beads on one end. When my wife tried the dish at an earlier visit, she carefully decapitated each shrimp, and the waiter admonished her she was supposed to eat the whole thing. I took his advice and discovered that biting off the head was delicious.

We each had an entree and we each ordered soup. The waiter first brought my entree, then brought our soup, then brought our rice, then finally brought Ann's entree. He seemed puzzled when we pointed out he didn't bring us the soup first. I have no idea if this was bad service or the way genuinely authentic Chinese restaurants do things.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You said it, Chuck

Let us make of day a delirium
And of the night a theatre of desire

-- "Epigrams," Charles Henri Ford

Monday, January 28, 2008

Carlos Ruiz Zafon's THE SHADOW OF THE WIND

I generally try to concentrate on one book at a time, but as I am reading the Katha Pollitt book I am making my way through THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, loaned to me by a co-worker.

There's a section close to the beginning of the book in which a colleague takes the protagonist, then a young boy, to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a Barcelona library. His father, a bookstore owner, tells him, "In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day they will reach a new reader's hands. In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here have been somebody's best friend."

While I have tried to thin down my library at home to manageable levels, I keep some of them around because they feel like old friends. And I worry, perhaps irrationally, perhaps not, that some of them might be forgotten, just like the books in that mysterious library. After I read the passage in the book, I pulled down my copy of THE BOOK OF BRIAN ALDISS. It's an old 1970s paperback anthology of short stories by a science fiction writer. I read it when I was in college and I've kept the book over the years because I liked it so much. Does anyone else remember it?

Sunday, January 27, 2008


I've just started Katha Pollitt's book of essays, LEARNING TO DRIVE. (I fell in love with her writing years ago, reading "The Nation" magazine. Here is her weird blog, where she refers to herself in the third person and links to recent "Nation" columns, which seem to be just as good as ever.) Here's a passage that captures her style, from the first essay in the book (the title essay):

Observation is my weakness. I did not realize that my mother is a secret drinker. I did not realize that the man I lived with, my soul mate, made for me in Marxist heaven, was a dedicated philanderer, that the drab colleague he insinuated into our social life was his long-standing secret girlfriend, or that the young art critic he mocked as silly and second-rate was being groomed as my replacement. I noticed that our apartment was becoming a grunge palace, with books and papers collecting dust on every surface and kitty litter crunching underfoot. I observed ... that I was spending many hours in my study, engaged in arcane e-mail debates with strangers, that I had gained twenty-five pounds in our seven years together and could not fit into many of my clothes. I realized it was not likely that the unfamiliar pink and black-striped bikini panties in the clean clothes basket were the result, as he claimed, of a simply laundry mix-up. But all this awareness was like the impending danger in one of those slow-motion dreams of paralysis, information that could be processed. It was like seeing the man with the suitcase step off the curb and driving forward anyway.

The reference to her philandering ex-boyfriend is one of the major themes of the book -- do we really know the people we think we know? -- but it's typical of Pollitt that she makes the point so vividly, with the tell-tale bikini panties. I also love the sly way she slips the knife into her rivals -- the "drab" ex-colleague, the younger woman who was mocked behind her back.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Robert Shea's SHAMAN

Robert Shea's SHAMAN is a historical novel about the Black Hawk War and the days when the state of Illinois was a frontier. It's very different from the ILLUMINATUS! trilogy Shea wrote with Robert Anton Wilson. Written in straighforward prose, the book details the adventures of a man who is half Native American, half white and who has a foot in both camps. (I knew I was nearing the end when he finally had to choose between his white wife and his Indian wife.) Allowing for lots of writerly invention, the book does have accurate details on the war, and it's also a really good read, although I suspect the exploits of one sharpshooter in the book have to be taken with a grain of salt. I'm curious whether some of the other books bear a closer relation to ILLUMINATUS.

The official Robert Shea site is here. For my interview with his son, Mike Shea, who maintains the site, see here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ron Paul link removed

I've taken down my link to the Ron Paul campaign. That's what you get for supporting an anti-war politician, I suppose. You can probably guess why the link is gone, but if you've missed the news look here.

Also here.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Books read 2007

1. 9-11 Commission Report.
2. Virtual Music, William Duckworth.
3. Rules for Old Men Waiting, Peter Pouncey.
4. Talking Music, William Duckworth.
5. Thermopylae, Paul Cartledge.
6. Joe College, Tom Perrotta.
7. Play by Play, Neal Conan.
8. The Burglar in the Library, Lawrence Block.
9. Look to Windward, Iain M. Banks.
10. 20/20: 20 News Sounds of the 20th Century, William Duckworth.
11. The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer.
12. Radicals for Capitalism, Brian Doherty.
13. A Thousand Deaths, George Alec Effinger.
14. Hot Ticket, Janice Weber.
15. Justinian's Flea, William Rosen.
16. The Beatles in Cleveland, Dave Schwensen.
17. The Day of the Barbarians, Alessandro Barbaro.
18. Email to the Universe, Robert Anton Wilson.
19. The Peculiar Exploits of Brigadier Ffelowes, Sterling Lanier.
20. Searoad, Ursula K. LeGuin.
21. The Malacia Tapestry, Brian Aldiss.
22. The Blue World, Jack Vance (re-read).
23. The Hellenistic Age, Peter Green.
24. The Eye in the Pyramid, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (re-read).
25. The Golden Apple, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (re-read).
26. Leviathan, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (re-read).
27. Tales, H.P. Lovecraft (Library of America).
28. The Stonehenge Gate, Jack Williamson (audiobook).
29. A Greek Roman Empire, Fergus Millar.
30. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, Elinor Lipman (audiobook).
31. The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross.
32. The Abstinence Teacher, Tom Perrotta.
33. Overblown, John Muellar.