Sunday, March 27, 2005

Ayelet Waldman's Excellent Adventure

I've been a huge fan of Michael Chabon since I read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh back in the '80s. He went on to write The Wonder Boys and the Pulitzer-Prize winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. A few years back, he came to Pittsburgh to do an informal signing at Jay's Bookstall, and brought along his wife, Ayelet Waldman and their then-youngest daughter.

I was unfamiliar with Ayelet's writing, bought one of her novels, read it, and rather liked it considering that I really don't care for mysteries. Last year, I read Daughter's Keeper, which I generally liked quite a bit more. Today, I found she'd written an essay published by The New York Times on sex and parenthood. It was very honest and fairly funny. I found her (sadly now defunct) blog and her Salon essays. I really like that Ayelet is willing to write about many things that many of us think about but don't quite have the courage to publish!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Dancing Naked Was Nominated for a Hugo!

Phil sent me the good news on Monday night, so other than telling some friends, I haven't been able to say anything here until Interaction announced it officially today. Dancing Naked got a nomination for Best Related Book. Phil's really happy about this, and so am I. We both worked very hard on this book and am glad it has gotten some recognition.

Phil is unable to attend Worldcon due to a problem with his passport, which is a particular shame this year!

cover of Dancing Naked

NESFA Press, an amature press, did something only one professional press did this year - it has two books nominated for Hugos. Peter Weston's With Stars in My Eyes: My Adventures in British Fandom was also nominated. Orbit also had two books nominated for Hugos; other publishers only had one each. Oddly, Tor, which usually publishes the best SF books and generally has at least one book nominated, has no books on the ballot this year.

Full 2005 Hugo Nomination List

Friday, March 18, 2005

Making Terri Schiavo Appear Before Congress Constitutes Abuse of a Corpse

Of all the sad and tragic turns this case has taken, this is about the most appalling of all. Yet another example that it's better to flog the dead than pay attention to the living - this must be the new quote of the Republicans in America.

People frequently use other people as props. This is most common in families - think of the way most parents dress up and show off their kids. This is a fairly innocent use of people as props. It does no harm to the child to dress the cute six month old baby as a Halloween pumpkin, and, meanwhile, the parents get "Oooh isn't she cute?" from their friends and neighbors. This can become more malevolent over time - did little Jon Benet Ramsey really enjoy being made up, gowned, and paraded at baby beauty pagents? We'll never know.

Or think of the way some older men acquire younger girlfriends or trophy wives. The way some women live through their husbands and children. There are times when people use other people for their own needs rather than letting others stand on their own.

But, increasingly, people use others as political props. The "props" tend to be people who cannot stand on their own. It tends to be done most often to women who are unable to speak for themselves. Twenty-five years ago, it was Karen Ann Quinlan. And, today, it's Terri Schiavo.

Terri Schiavo is being used. She became brain dead in 1990. Brain scans show that the portion of her brain that governs consciousness has been nonexistent for years. It is a sick parody to photograph a brain dead person with an autonomic reflex to light and then treat her as if she was conscious. She is being anthropomorphized the way a person talks to a dog and asks "Oh does Fido want a dog biscuit?" when the dog barks.

When people are so quick to jump up and down and talk about honoring the dignity of the individual, they have robbed Terri Schiavo of any "dignity" she may have had. What happened to Terri Schiavo is extemely sad, but no one can bring her back. She'll never talk to her family, get out of bed or do anything. She's being moved around like a puppet, and her family ought to be ashamed of themselves. People are using Terri to reflect their needs. Their need for her to be alive. She may be still breathing, but she isn't really alive.

People die, and it is fascinating to me that people who say they believe in religious teachings seem the most determined to force physical existence long after the brain had died. Terri died in 1990. It's a sad view, but a realistic view. All the tube feeding in the world isn't going to bring her back.

Some day, I don't want to be a breathing husk in a hospital bed. I signed an organ donor card in 1978 and have discussed living will issues with my husband. Today, even though I'm middled aged and in reasonable health, I am filling out a lengthy living will. I absolutely do not want to exist indefinitely in a kind of "Nazgul" state - neither living nor dead. If I'm seriously injured, sure, use the heroic mesures if I have a chance, but don't keep the feeding tube going years after all real chances have gone.

I hope that any disabled people who may be reading this essay aren't reading this essay as an anti-disabled people piece. If you are reading this piece, you are conscious, you are capable of reading and comprehending the world around you. After Christopher Reeve was so tragically injured back in 1995, he was understandably devastated by his condition. But his wife Dana turned to him and said, "You're still you." That acceptance made a huge difference to his acceptance of himself after his accident. He understood precisely what happened to him. Terri Schiavo is incapable of understanding what has happened to her.

Terri Schiavo isn't the person who collapsed in 1990. To make Terri a symbol of all disabled people is just wrong. Simplistic and wrong in every way. To keep Terri breathing does not celebrate or honor life. It means that people cannot comprehend the difference between living and breathing. I don't want to be in a state where I'm merely breathing. And I would hope all adults would make the same point by thinking about and signing a Living Will and giving a trusted friend or family member a durable power of attorney.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

On Writing...

I didn't just tinker yesterday - I wrote over 1,000 words. I haven't written that much fiction at once in a long time. And I've added about another 500 words today, so far.

I've battled writers block for nearly 30 years. As a result, I haven't really submitted very much, and focused on writing at work (which generally went fine) and Web writing (which has generally come pretty easily to me).

Most of the fiction writing I've done since 1973 has been SF/horror, mostly short bits and story outlines. Four years ago, when I was finishing up my long-delayed BA and taking a wonderful writing class with Chuck Kinder at Pitt, I started writing a contemporary novel. I've worked on it a little at a time since then, and, at one point, didn't look at it for a year. A few months ago I looked at it and found it really had possibilities, but, other than a little tinkering, I just wasn't writing then.

A few weeks ago, while sick, I was watching daytime TV and heard Jennifer Weiner talk on the Jane Pauley Show. I remembered seeing her book, Good in Bed, while I was working at Borders and thought it looked amusing. What I didn't realize was that it had a fat protagonist, and she discussed this point in detail. I also started reading her blog that day and enjoyed her writing. But would her book mean I shouldn't even bother to finish my novel, which also featured the humourous/amorous observations of a fat, female protagonist?

So I bought Good in Bed and started reading it. It's, on the whole, very funny and reasonably different from the book I've been writing. Without knowing it, I've been writing a response to her book. And maybe that's been helping me subconsciously - there's a market out there buying books with "nonstandard" heroines.

Monday, March 14, 2005

On Getting a Research Contract!

I've always loved doing research on the Web. Some of the Web sites I've put together, particularly Dead People Server, demonstrate that I'm pretty good at it. At one point a few years ago, I even started a Web page called "Fact Checker" in an effort to get some contract research jobs, but nothing came of it.

Last week, while perusing a site I'd looked at some, I noticed some errors and submitted corrections to the Webmaster. We started to correspond, I offered to lease him some Dead People Server content and do some additional research. Long story short, I've just finished my first research job for BrainyHistory and will continue to do some some jobs for them over the next few months. As I'd had a bad experience with telecommuting a few years ago, he even paid in advance, and I submitted my material on time (today). With a little luck, it might lead to some additional research contracting work.

I've been feeling better for about a week now, so I've been getting caught up on some miscellaneous stuff like taking my laptop to the shop, cleaning the office, doing some work for Interaction, and completing my first research job for money. I'm even starting to think about returning to my novel, something I've been tinkering with for about four years.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Allegheny County "Uncertified" Assessments - Way, Way, WAY OFF!!

Our county administrator, Dan Onorato, says that while initial assessments are available, they probably aren't the "real" assessments. He says, "his plan" would mean that real estate taxes would not rise by more than 4% on any property.

Well, that may be, but the "uncertified" assessment for my house is ludicriously high. How that will translate into taxes is uncertain.

So look at my house. It's a small house on a tiny, hilly lot, on the second busiest street of a suburb with a good school district. This house is not undergoing major renovations. Yet the "uncertified" assessment lept up an additional $41,000 in value IN ONE YEAR. And that was after "only" increasing in value $29,000 over the previous TEN YEARS. How logical is that? This isn't Boston, New York or San Francisco - housing prices increase very gradually.

I guess I'll have to call the tax office to complain tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

More Bad Ideas from Google

I've been a huge fan of Google for years, but given some their current projects, I've got to wonder if going public has been bad for them. Google used to be very ethical, but between gMail and AutoLink, I've got to wonder.

And the problem with both is the same thing - that Google can create links based on content according to what Google has decided upon, not upon what the page's writer has decided upon. This is just unbelievably slimey. As a result, I don't use gMail and never will, no matter how many "free accounts" I've been offered.

AutoLink is simultaneously "better" and "worse" than gMail. Many Google users will never see it. The only ones that will are those who use the GoogleToolbar. But, if you use the toolbar, you'll see links included on Web pages not intended by the Web page's creator.

Sorry, this is wrong. It looks like Google is going down that slippery slope that other search engines have gone down - making advertisers more important than content creators. I'm very disappointed by Google's behavior.

Oddly, I first read about AutoLink in this week's Time magazine. I went in search of scripts to kill AutoLink at my site, and found some at

I guess that's what being out of the country then getting sick will do for you. I am doing a little better - I'm only really sick in the morning. By the afternoon, I start to feel better.