rainbow

Political Crazyiness

So yesterday's primaries were bizarre, with Hilary Clinton's three wins in RI, TX and OH keeping her in the race. Personally, that upsets me, because I would really like to get down to the business of starting to rub away the shiny war hero veneer of McCain instead of having Hilary and Barrack go at each other.

Of course, this wouldn't be America if there weren't bizarre non-story news stories up on the media. Hilary won those three states, but I wish that some station had made it clear that this isn't the landslide victory that they are implying. She's still about 80 delegates behind, according to several news agencies, and she's likely to remain there.

Anyway, here are three of the strangest stories I saw today:

If gender or race mattered to primary voters, it helped Clinton.
Clinton and Obama to share the ticket?
Satire: Bush doesn't like to be ignored, plays with legos.

Update: Pardon, but Barack Obama won TX. "Win" in this sense meaning "got the most delegates."

Really, I don't think there should be another definition.
rainbow

A Call For Reservations

So I just got a phone call as part of my job. This is what I have to deal with, day after day. Presented in psuedo-play format.

Her: I'd like to book a room for [Summer month, days, 2008].

Me: Are you with a group or a conference?

Her: Yes, I'm with [Conference]. I must have a room with 2 beds.

Me: Okay, one moment. (I look up the conference.) Alright, ma'am? I'm afraid that I don't have any more rooms available at the conference rate with 2 beds. Let me check to see if I have any outside of the conference block. (I check.) Ma'am, I do have deluxe rooms with 2 queen size beds available for the nights of the conference.

Her: Do any of those rooms face away from the street? I know that you're in downtown Santa Fe.

Me: No.

Her: No?

Me: I'm familiar with all of the rooms of that type, I know where they are in the hotel. All of them face out toward the street.

Her: Well, that's unacceptable. I want a room that doesn't face the street.

Me: Well, ma'am, (I check out the hotel. All of our deluxe rooms, suites with 2 beds, and concierge rooms with 2 beds face toward a street. We are in the middle of a city block, after all. The majority of our rooms do.) I'm sorry ma'am, but the only rooms that we have with two beds have been booked up with the conference. (This is true, all of our "traditional," i.e. cheapest rooms, have been added to the conference block. The conference block is sold out of these types of rooms. Thus, we have no more.) The only rooms that we have available have one bed in them.

Her: What do you mean? You just told me that you have rooms with two beds available? Why would the ones with 2 beds facing inside be booked for the conference?

Me: Because these rooms are deluxe rooms, they're a different type. And all of them face outward.

Her: Well, I want one of the ones that face inward.

Me: Uh, well, all of those are already sold with the conference. I don't have any more. Look, ma'am, we're downtown. It's pretty quiet at night here because there isn't much traffic. I don't think that you would have much trouble with the noise.

Her: Well, what if I wanted to take a nap in the afternoon, huh? I bet it wouldn't be quiet then!

Me: Uh, well, actually . . .

Her: What floor is that room on anyway?

Me: (I check.) They're on the second floor.

Her: Oh no, that's definitely not acceptable. I'm very sensitive to noise.

Me: Ah, okay. Well, let me check. (I do.) Well, ma'am, I don't have any rooms left with 2 beds that aren't going to be facing the street.

Her: You just told me that you did.

Me: No . . . all of those rooms have been booked up by the conference, there aren't any more left.

Her: Well, you just told me that there were rooms with 2 beds that face away from the street. And you said that you have rooms with 2 beds still.

Me: Those are different kinds of rooms, ma'am.

Her: Well, that's ridiculous.

Me: Ma'am, if you need 2 beds . . .

Her: (Interrupting.) I do. We're old friends, but we can't sleep in the same bed together.

Me: . . . Well, you could reserve two rooms, each with one bed in it.

Her: How much would that be?

Me: Well, I have the group rate available for those rooms, so they would be $230 per night . . .

Her: EACH?

Me: . . . Yes. Plus tax.

Her: I thought your rooms were $140.

Me: . . . No . . .

Her: I checked you website, and I wrote it down. Give me a second. (Papers rustle in the background.) Here it is. $160.

Me: We do sometimes have those rates during the winter, based on availability, but the nights that you are looking for are in the summer, our high season, and happen to also fall over our second busiest weekend of the year.

Her: Well, why is it so much?

Me: (Ignoring her question, sort of.) Ma'am, our rooms typically start off at around $320 per night that time of year.

Her: That's just silly. I've stayed all around Santa Fe, and I've never paid that much for a room. How big are those rooms?

Me: I don't know the answer to that question. (I probably should, but it isn't among our material. I've seen our rooms, but I'm not knowledgeable enough about square-footage to make a reasonable sounding guess.)

Her: Jesus. Are you even a real reservations person?

Me: Yes. . . . Well, ma'am, there is one other option. I just checked, and I do have one suite available that would be facing inward. That would have one king size bed and one double size sleeper sofa in the sitting room. That would be . . .

Her: No, I can't sleep on a sofa bed. They're uncomfortable.

Me: Oh. Okay.

Her: How much would that be?

Me: Suites start about $390 per night . . . (She interrupts before I can say that I could offer her the room at $330.)

Her: Well, forget it then. Well, let's just book a room for me, first. You said you have rooms with one bed facing inside, right?

Me: Yes, I could certainly put in a request for that.

Her: How much would that be?

Me: Well, that would still be at the conference rate, so that would be $230 per night, plus tax.

Her: Does that include breakfast?

Me: No, although we do have a full restaurant that serves breakfast in the morning.

Her: Well, that sucks. Do you have a pool?

Me: Yes we do. It's outdoors but it is heated and open year-round.

Her: How big is it?

Me: . . . uh . . . not that big. Not lap sized, if that's your question.

Her: Well, obviously. How big is it, say, compared to the pool at the [Other Hotel].

Me: I've never seen the pool at the [Other Hotel], so I don't know for sure. If I had to guess, I'd probably say that the pool at the [Other Hotel] is slightly bigger (based on their number of rooms compared to ours. I've since been informed that ours is bigger).

Her: You know, none of you ever have enough rooms with 2 beds in them. I'm not just talking about you, I'm talking about [local Hotel], [local Hotel], and [local Hotel] too.

Me: Well, ma'am, we have about fifty rooms with 2 beds in them. That's more than enough for tourist season.

Her: And you don't have one for me?

Me: Ma'am, this group booked 120 rooms. I currently have 93 reservations for it. That means that there are only 27 rooms left, and all of them have one bed.

Her: Well, I'll take one. And I want it to be facing inward, and I want it to be on a high floor.

Me: I'll certainly put a request in for an interior view and for a high floor.

Her: No. If all those other people could guarantee rooms with 2 beds facing in, then I want you to guarantee me a room on an upper floor facing in.

Me: Ma'am, that's not how it works . . .

Her: Obviously it is, because all those other people got promised rooms. What I want to know is why everyone else gets promised this and that, and yet you can't do the same thing for me!

Me: . . . (Waits for her to finish.) Did you want to book that room, ma'am?

Her: You know what, I'm going to have to talk with my friend. I'll call you back.

Me: Alright.

Her: . . . can't believe it, incompetent . . .

[click]

Total time: 12:36 on the phone with a crazy lady and no sale. Uhg.
rainbow

Random Thoughts And Things I'm Reading

Here is my perfect question to be asked of Senator John McCain, in public, on film:

Senator McCain, which is more important to you, protecting the people of the United States from terrorism or upholding the ideals of the United States Constitution?

He'd have to equivocate because if he accidentally responded with a real answer to the question, either way he responded would be a huge misstep for a Republican.

Democrats have it easy. The answer is the latter, duh. Of course the ideals of the United States Constitution are more important than a few temporary minutes of security.

Republicans, however, have tried to shift away from protecting constitutional rights because after George W., that's not an argument that they can win. So McCain has repeatedly said that the most important duty of the president is to protect American citizens. ("The most important obligation of the next President is to protect Americans from the threat posed by violent extremists who despise us, our values and modernity itself. " Link) Thus, he can't give the correct answer because that undermines the argument that he himself is trying to make: that the presidency is not about upholding the constitution, it is about protecting Americans.

However, if he was to remain consistent to his previous comments and say that he'll protect Americans above upholding the Constitution, it would mean a PR disaster of truly epic proportions. Granted, some news agencies, notably Fox News, would probably ignore the answer, but you'd at least get a special comment from Keith Olbermann about how McCain has thrown out the very principles upon which our government is based.

I'd love to see someone hold him to the question though.

The best that he could do is say that he doesn't see a conflict between the two, but a real reporter should point out the obvious: McCain has deliberately created a dichotomy between safety and rights with his support of the FISA legislation and Bush Administration's wiretapping activities. And thus, that isn't an answer to the question.

There are also two more brilliant slacktivist posts that I really think are amazing: The Barrel of a Gun and The Imaginary Liberal. The second one is long, but it describes how I sometimes think I'm perceived by Christians.

Update: Also see Kevin Kelly's 1,000 True Fans, which is really interesting.
rainbow

Recent Thoughts From Online Chats

First, before I get into the rest of this post, I would like to point out that my absolutely hilarious little brother gave me permission to post a few of his communications from his travels and from his time in Iraq. I've created a whole separate little sub blog here:

Pocket Lint Communications

There are about 40 letters and other works up, and if he ever sends me more then I'll let you know when I update it.

Unlike me, he is brilliant and hilarious. If I could figure out how to get him to write a book, he'd make millions, or at least thousands. We joke about how both my father and I are aspiring writers, and since my brother isn't, he stands the best chance of being published and making a lot of money.

Okay, I've been having some long chats online recently, and I have some things that I want to share from them. The rest of this post is sort of not safe for the more sensitive members of my family. Just to warn you.

First, I discovered a bizarre series of videos on YouTube. They're the "behind the scenes" videos from an amateur gay porn studio. They're all safe for work, contain no sex or nudity, but it's sort of interesting to watch the guys laugh and joke around with each other.

Or just eat chips. There's one video that's just a porn star eating chips. Fifteen seconds of it. I think they're Lays, if that makes it funnier.

Yeah.

The general feeling of these clips reminds me of "America's Next Top Model" or "Make me a Super Model." There's lights, cameras, and the guys are taking direction. If you couldn't see what the pictures were being taken of, and the director wasn't offering explicit direction to the models, I sort of suspect that it would be hard to differentiate the amateur porn video from the high fashion photo shoot.

Anyway, I mentioned these videos to a straight friend online, and he had a few comments. First, I mentioned that the behind the scenes clips are funny, but the actual videos rarely are. For some, I said, reason gay folk rarely like comedy while watching hot guys going at it.

On the other hand, I do like to see some personality. Yeah, I would be attracted to them physically anyway, but seeing them laugh and joke makes them more than just a pretty face, or behind, or whatever.

After some discussion, I realized that I'd been incorrect in my original opinion that gay guys don't like comedy porn. Two of the big winners of GayVN awards recently have been comedies, "The Hole" a spoof of the horror movie the "The Ring" and "The Intern" which is a spoof of the "The Office" television show. There have even been straight comedy porns, although the only one that I can think of off the top of my head will probably get this blog listed as adult content if I mention the name.

After that, we talked about straight gay porn actors. He seemed surprised that I thought that many of the guys seen in the behind the scenes videos are probably straight. I pointed out that this particular studio (although it's certainly not unique in this regard) features a lot of presumably straight guys to appeal to a certain demographic of gay guys (that includes me, incidentally).

I pointed out that in some situations, even if these guys were actually gay, they'd have to pretend to be straight in order to maintain fan interest in them. After all, if they're gay, then watching them isn't nearly as titillating as it would be if they're really interested in women and just convinced to have sex in front of the camera for money. It sort of implies to all of the gay guys out there that all those hot straight guys would be gay, if the right circumstances came up. (Link is slightly NSFW, a few pages in.)

This creates an interesting paradox in which gay people have to pretend to be straight in order to do well in gay porn, essentially forcing them back into the closet. You'd think that this industry would be relatively gay friendly, but what does it say when stars in gay porn have to pretend to be straight to do well in the industry (or at least, in this part of it)?

My friend noticed that one of the photo shoots played on a fairly menial masculine theme: a painter on a ladder. He wanted to know if masculine themes were the norm in gay porn, and I responded that they are.

Mainstream gay porn actors are muscular straight-acting men. The stuff featuring stereotypically feminine, thin, or overweight guys is about as popular in gay porn as masculine, rail thin, and overweight women are in straight porn. It sells, it just doesn't sell the same way the mainstream stuff does.

Personally, I think this sort of skews the perspective on the gay community you get from porn more than it does even for straight porn. You get a serious distortion in physicality and body type in both, and also a serious distortion on how easy it is to have sex with a random stranger, but on the gay side you also get a serious distortion involving a sort of personal characterization. You won't see a lot of lisping men with floppy wrists in gay porn, even if the actors have lisps and floppy wrists in their normal, everyday, homo lives.

The problem is, I don't necessarily think that we need more effeminate men in porn. There isn't something that we can change on the production side that will suddenly change gay people's taste in porn. As Dan Savage often points out, we like what we like. Suppressing it doesn't make it go away, it just makes it more valuable as demand far outstrips supply.

My final thought about porn was this: there is never any truth in it. No model uses their real name, they're often filmed in ubiquitous rented houses and hotels, they use Viagra to induce erections, and the use makeup to minimize any skin problems, and they use men that are better looking than 99% of the population.

So, perhaps that's why I like to see a glimpse of the behind-the-scene truth to the movies. Seeing some sliver of truth to what glossy image is portrayed by the (other) camera is interesting, and strangely exciting by way of its unusual and forbidden nature. You aren't normally asked to connect with the stars, you're asked to objectify and fetishize them.

There's a link between this conversation and the next one, which has to do with self-image.

The stereotypical feminist, whether a real person or not, apparently argues against the internalization of societal values of beauty, especially when you find yourself looking bad by comparison. To accept that all women should be blond size 2s with size DD boobs can seriously impact a woman's self worth if you don't fit those measurements for beauty.

Thus, the argument is that pornography (and pop culture in general) promotes unrealistic views of women and should cease to do so. The problem with this is something that I mentioned in passing above about gay porn: when realistic people are utilized, the interest in the final product decreases. So, despite the best efforts of our theoretical feminists, selling sexuality through highly idealized body types continues to be mass produced and marketed. And it sells very well.

Only a few years ago, back when I was in my first college, I can remember feeling bad about the kind of men that I was attracted to (Tall, blond, with the body of a greek god, see any Abercrombie and Fitch quarterly) because I thought that it was wrong of me to be attracted to someone purely due to their physical appearance. After all, that sort of attraction is very shallow, and I've always been told that it's the mind and personality that should matter most.

In a conversation with a gay friend he said something similar to this, about how his physical self-esteem was low and that he puts a greater premium on personality than on physical attraction.

Over the last few years, I've come to disagree with that. I don't think that it's fair to discount physical attraction.

Switching back to our feminists arguments, I agree that women shouldn't be held to the same physical standards as models, actresses, and porn stars, but I don't think that gutting the porn industry is the answer. Just like kids playing video games don't think that they're actually vital soldiers invading Normandy in 1945, men who watch porn understand that their enjoyment is based on a fictional and fantastic portrayal.

They don't necessarily loose interest in their wives and girlfriends after watching porn, you know.

Now, if they're exhorting those same women to put themselves through the pain of looking like that when they don't want to, that's a problem. In my book, it's just a form of emotional abuse, and that should be stopped. But there's a deep division between portrayal and demanding that women (and men) live up to the same standards as the most common porn shoot.

Thinking back about my three and a half relationships, none of the guys involved looked like porn stars. None of them had a six pack. All of them have been Hispanic or Latino. However, despite the fact my taste in porn runs to white men with six packs that never stopped me from being interested in the guys that I'm dating.

Yeah, real relationships are based on personality and connection and I can't deny that, but you shouldn't deny physical attraction just because it isn't based on the higher minded connection of personality.

I suspect that this is part of the puritan values left over from the foundation of the United States. There's a certain fear of physical, lustful attraction that I think is silly. It might not be the highest form of connection that you can reach with someone else, but as someone whose connections with other people tend to be on the tenuous side already, I don't think that the solace that a meaningless, shallow, lurid relationship can provide is without merit.

In fact, I'm not willing to discount any relationship or encounter that offers something, however small. Just because sex with someone offers a few fleeting moments of chemical induced happiness, it can still be a positive experience. It's when two people have differing understandings of what a particular act conveys that problems arise.

Of course, that's a separate conversation altogether.

Update: It turns out that a few of us had the same idea. Aside from Jesse Santana, the gay porn star who posted about not being a rent boy, Mason Wyler, one of my porn star crushes has a really interesting post that addresses some of the points made in the first part of this post.
rainbow

A Happy Valentine's Day

So, yesterday was a very long, very complicated day which demands a very long , very complicated post followed by a movie review. I think I'm going to divide it into blocks of time, just so that it's easier for me to manage my thoughts about it.

First, I woke up in Albuquerque at my brother's house at 6:30 a.m. and went to a mediation with my lawyers over the whole broken neck thing.

7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mediation: So, I learned something today that I didn't know. The woman that ran the red light and hit me (and broke my neck) is a former Buddhist nun. She's been having horrible problems since the accident because she was absolutely devastated by what she's done. She told me that she had nightmares and wasn't able to drive for about a year after the accident.

She asked to be able to speak with me alone, to apologize, and I agreed. She was crying, and told me how upset that she'd been about disrupting my life, and basically broke down. I couldn't think of anything to say at first, but I finally told her that she had to promise me that that she would work at forgiving herself. I said "everything is going to work out," but I'd slipped into lawyer mode and I just couldn't come up with something comforting that didn't sound like admitting fault.

I can't hate her anymore though. I just can't. She suffered too.

And then there was that conversation that we had, alone in that room. Heaven help me if I ever forget that conversation. It made everything that happened at IIDB feel like a win.

I brought four books. Over the seven hours that I was there I probably could have finished two of them, but I only finished off Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven. It's odd because that's a book that I really hadn't heard anyone talk about, but I think that it's definitely one of her best works. I did manage to start Charles Stross's The Atrocity Archives though, so I got some good horrors of the deep laughs from that.

And then, around 2:15, we finally settled. Yes, I covered my medical bills, and I'm glad it's over. Finally, finally, finally. I'm still worried that I made the wrong decision, even though my lawyers and my mother agree that it was the right one.

I didn't think it would be over, but it is.

Let me just point out how wrenching negotiating for this money was. I'm not a good negotiator, but the guy on the other side was just jerking us around. He was good, but the mediator wasn't really conveying what my lawyers wanted to convey from him. My lawyer was giving her cues about how to say x-y-z, but she was just ignoring him. The opposing (i.e. insurance) lawyer was jerking us around, and it probably would have been better for us if we'd allowed our numbers to do the talking instead of the mediator.

I think that the reason that I'm mostly worried/convinced that I made the wrong decision is because I feel that my side didn't negotiate well. When you're on the side that has the edge, you need to push the other side out of their comfort zone. They had one up card and one reserve card, and they played really conservatively, inch by inch, in a style that allowed them to walk away without a clear victory, but without the huge losses that the opposing lawyer was there to prevent.

Perhaps if I'd sent the mediator along with one of my shoes and instructions to hit it on the desk we would have done better.

Hindsight, you know? It'll kill you every time, and it was potentially enough money to change my life. I still hope that it will, even though it's a lot less that I think we could have played for.

2:30-5:00 Hanging out with Jeff and his roommate recovering and trying not to cry: His roommate is really cute, and he's good at Halo & Call of Duty 4 as well. He was totally beating down on both of those games. Yeah, I'm not much of a first person shooter person, but those games on the XBox 360 look amazing. During this time I recovered from some of the shock that I felt about finally having settled my case.

5:30-7:30 Dinner with Pam and Jeff at Flying Star: Pam drove down all the way from Colorado to come to Jumper, which is based on a book that Steven Gould, one of our instructors at Viable Paradise, wrote. I've been promoting the movie to almost everyone I meet, and I've been looking forward to it for a weeks.

The even more cool thing is that Steven lives in Albuquerque, so he was going to the opening night showing of the movie as well with a huge group of friends and acquaintances. To be able to say that you went to the movie with the guy that wrote the book is a fairly respectable bragging point, and both Pam and I jumped at the chance to represent at the premiere.

I knew that he and a slew of others were going to go to Tuscanos, a Brazilian restaurant, after the movie, but because of the Mediation I hadn't eaten anything of substance all day so I already knew that I wanted to eat prior to the movie. Thus, I ended up with a very good Cobb salad. Hooray.

Pam has kept in much closer contact with the other VPXI alumni, so it was nice to hear what's been going on. I thought that I missed a bit because I was sick, but there seemed to be a lot more that I had either forgotten or missed out on, and I have to wonder about the way my head works some times. Pam is basically the preeminent Anne McCaffrey fan in existence, which is something that I did not have the faintest clue about from Viable Paradise. I mean, I suspect that it was mentioned, but I had no idea of the awesome depths to which her fandom goes. By comparison, my deep commitment to some of my favorite authors is purely dabbling.

If I ever have a fan like her, I will know that I've made it.

7:30-9:00 Jumper: I liked it. I really honestly did, and that's not because I'm going to send Steve a link to the review blog when I post it.

9:00-11ish Dinner at Tuscanos: So, just before the movie started, I saw a gentleman with salt and pepper hair sitting down with his wife. I'm not very good with names and faces, and I'd already been confused once, so I decided that I very much needed to make sure that it was in fact S.M. Stirling that was sitting there in the theater. I went down to talk with Laura, sidled up to her, and in a near whisper I asked her if that was S.M. Stirling, and laughingly said "I've confused him with George R. R. Martin before."

She looked at me and said, "You don't know George?" Then she looked up about four rows from where we were standing and says "Hey George! This is Ben, he'll meet you later!"

I'm not religious, but the best description that my generation uses to describe how I felt at that moment was: O.M.G. In all of the mindless valley girl splendor that phrase implies.

Absolutely extreme fandom alert. My copy of A Game of Thrones was left in Iraq with the marines by my little brother and I haven't yet replaced it, preventing me from rereading the series recently, but it's still the fantasy series at the moment.

After the show, I was trying to figure out the logistics of the situation. Jeff, Nick, and er . . . Nick's girlfriend (darn it, I'm doing really badly with names today) had driven up with me, but I had decided that I was now massively interested in staying for dinner. They volunteered to go back to school by bus, thus allowing me to indulge in a little bit of serial fan worship of a few of my favorite authors. Thank you all so much. I freaking owe you.

Pam and I wandered into Tuscanos. Since both of us had anticipated eating early, neither of us had really anticipated eating after the movie as well, and we weren't part of the 60 person reservation that Steven made at the restaurant. We mutually decided that we should hang around and see if there were any seats left before diving in.

At around this time I was standing near a table where it looked like Laura and Steve might sit, and a woman is looking up at us. She stands up from her seat and starts making conversation with us. I don't remember what the conversation started out as, but my first thought was that she was probably Laura's mother.

Then she introduced herself as Joan . . . Saberhagen.

No offense to Mr. Martin or Mr. Stirling, but of the local New Mexico authors, Fred Saberhagen is probably my favorite. I've got an entire little section of my shelf that contains all eightvolumes of The Lost Swords, The Complete Book of Swords, An Armory of Swords (merely edited by him), Merlin's Bones, and the "Saberhagen: My Best" collection of short stories. And that doesn't even scratch the surface of what he's written. He is awesome.

My eyes just absolutely lit up for a moment, and I pumped Joan Saberhagen's hand, and I gushed for just long enough that it suddenly hit me that he'd recently died.

Darn it.

Darn it, darn it, darn it.

I offered my condolences, but it must be hard to be put in a position where your connection to someone is your recently deceased husband. I can't even imagine. She looked sad for a moment, but she must have the will of a saint because it was only in her face for the briefest second.

I think it was Joan and Steve himself that suggested to us that it was eventually time to get seats, and that we should go for the seats that we wanted, and I did. The table next to George R. R. Martin was partially empty, and so I drew on my reserve of "You already regret one thing that you've done today, just suck it up and remember that if you don't do this you'll regret it tomorrow" motivation and asked George if we could pull the tables together.

Thus, it came to be that I sat across the table from George R. R. Martin for dinner at Tuscanos. I should have offered to pay, and if I wasn't worried that my debit card would be declined if I tried, I would have.

Next to George sat Pam, and between us was a hilarious friend of Steve's named Gary. On my other side was Parris, a gentleman whose name I immediately lost, and a gentleman whose name I think was Hank.

I, of course, made a complete fool of myself, which I do not for a moment regret. It was blissfully, painfully, embarrassingly funny, and I got to tell my "Are you George R. R. Martin?" "No, he's S. M. Stirling" story to George himself. Yes, I may not have made another meaningful comment for the rest of the night, but that little itsy-bitsy anecdote was worth it.

You have to take pleasure in the small things.

It's odd, I tried to listen to the conversation shooting around across the table for the rest of the evening, but the one thing that really caught my attention was when George said that he had always loved the insanely complicated rescue plans, and that one day he'd have to set up a huge one where one person dresses as the king, another as a knight, and then they swing into the feast on a rope.

This being George R. R. Martin though, he pointed out that everything would have to go wrong. I pseudo-countered, pointing out that if he was the writer, the author would expect everything to go pear shaped. It seems so obvious now, and I wish I'd come up with the obvious conclusion to that line of reasoning: If it was in one of his books, in order to subvert the reader expectations the intricate, complex, and convoluted rescue plan would have to succeed from top to bottom, and then go completely wrong once they thought they were safe.

The guy sitting between Pam and me, Gary, is unbelievably funny though. He was the most interesting dinner companion. He works with GPS systems, although I swear that we made it through dinner without touching on that subject once. It wasn't until later that I found that out.

A note about Tuscano's itself: They have cute waiters. Really cute waiters. With those pale blue eyes and short hair, and everything. Oh, and I find their premise interesting. They've got a salad bar (and it was a good one), but then the waiters traipse around the restaurant carrying kebabs of meat. Bacon wrapped veal, tri-tip steak with various glazes, roasted chicken, spicy sausages, and everything else. If you want some, you get a bit. It wasn't phenomenal, but it was still on the good side. Pam's chocolate hockey puck thing was excellent, for example, and I couldn't get enough of their spicy sausage.

At some point around 11 p.m. I realized that I'd missed a call from my mother. She told me that due to weather I was to "Stay with my brother" and two sentences later "drive right home so that you don't get caught in the storm." As of the time of this writing, a day later, there still ain't no storm, and I don't think she ever managed to fully clarify which of those two orders she actually wanted me to follow.

11ish to 12:30 Champagne at Steve and Laura's: Now, you have to understand that I'm not much of a champagne person. It think it tastes bad, but I think that about nearly everything with alcohol in it, and it apparently was a really expensive bottle of champagne, so I had half a glass, and it was the best that I've ever had, which means that I got it down and I managed to make it stay down.

Upon arrival at Steve and Laura's (and I used to live in the same part of town, actually), I realized that they have more books than I do. Way more books. Way, way more books. I mean, wowsers. I wish I had shelves like that.

We sat around, talked for a while. I told my story about the neck, and for the first time it was a story that is in the past tense. It is something that happened to me and is not still happening to me. It was a really happy evening for me.

I got to see the office, which I now know is famous. I don't get it, I thought I knew the author's online domains, but I was quite wrong about this one. Steve has a blog, and it will be going up on the side bar when I get a chance to move things around. (Note: Ta-dah!)

I did get some pictures though, by the machinations and manipulations of those around me. Two of me, one with George and one with Pam and Steve, are visible at Pam's blog here. There's also one involving the chocolate hockey puck taken of Pam by me.

12:30-2:00 a.m. Driving home: Yes, I finally did drive home, stopping to get gas and use the restroom. It wasn't the drowsiest that I've ever been on the way home, but it isn't an experiment that I'd likely repeat soon.

I just remembered something that I'd forgotten, so I'll mention it here: I was carrying around my (second) copy of Jumper, and got Steve to autograph it. He wrote something really awesome in it: "To [ST], who will write others as good." Awwwwww . . .

And that was my Valentine's day.

Note:  You can see my review of Jumper here.
rainbow

Science Fiction Psychiatry

I've been reading a few books recently that take an extremely optimistic view of where psychiatry and psychology were going to lead the human race, and I just wanted to point this out. The few top ones are Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat, A. E. van Vogt's The World of Null-A, Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man and to a lesser extent Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven.

Right, there are some spoilers below for those books.

In Vogt's world, instruction in Null-A (non-Aristotelianism) leads to nearly perfect super men running society. This is sort of a personal problem for me, because I am myself an ethical subjectivist of sorts and while this is sort of the premise of Vogt's Null-A world I don't think that if the entire world embraced my beliefs that we would suddenly fall into a huge peaceful co-existence with each other. Humanity just doesn't work that way.

Vogt's book suggests that once people understand the multifaceted states of gray that exist in even the most clearcut black and white ethics questions they won't have the internal conflicts that characterize humanity today. Thus, properly Null-A people are patently unbiased, non-bigoted, and willing to work together to reach consensus.

The plot revolves around people that have "imperfectly" accepted the null-A philosophy and are thus violent and determined to overthrow the null-A based government to seize power.

In the far future world of Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat, society has progressed to the point where most people are content to live on their planet, do their jobs, and not rock the boat. The Stainless Steel Rat character, James Bolivar diGriz, is an exception to this pacifism and is basically an adrenaline junky that gets off on robbing banks and being one step ahead of the police on any planet he happens to be on.

The first book of the series revolves around his recruitment by law enforcement and then his battle of wits with a brilliant criminal woman and murderer. diGriz is a criminal himself, but he considers anyone who would murder someone else to have a mental problem. At the end of the book he captures her and they "heal" her murderous tendency leaving the "brilliant criminal" part. diGriz then promptly marries her.

Similarly, in Alfred Bester's classic The Demolished Man, one of the main characters spends the entire text attempting to get away with murder in a world with telepathic police. In the end he is finally outwitted by the police, charged and sentenced. Instead of the death sentence, or even prison he is "demolished," his psyche is carefully dismantled, reorganized, and reassembled without the drive to kill. As the book ends one police officer comments to another how sad it would be for society to lose someone intelligent and driven enough to have almost gotten away with murder.

There's also a hint of this in The Lathe of Heaven, in which psychiatry rewrites existence several times over while avoiding the cure to a man's problems. At several points it is implied that the doctor probably could cure the main character, but doesn't. After all, if he doesn't, he gets to control reality for a little longer. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and all that.

The common thread that I'm grasping at in these books is the optimistic view toward understanding our minds that these stories hold. Just like there was optimism about sentient computer systems with emotion and flying cars, these stories looked at psychiatry and psychology and assumed that some day we would be able to fix nearly any mental issue that we would have.

We haven't gotten there, and the more we learn about the function of the mind, the more hopeless it seems that we'll be able to create miracle cures for mental illnesses and societal problems. We'll probably never be able to reach a perfect state of rationality as described in The World of Null-A, the ability to completely remove bloodlust as per The Stainless Steel Rat and The Demolished Man, and we'll probably never have the ability to solve serious psychiatric difficulties with hypnotism as portrayed in The Lathe of Heaven.

Update: I just thought of another example as well: This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman. In those books, mental illness is mostly a thing of the past. Only one world has retained any mental issues, and instead of castigating the mentally ill, the differences in brain function are embraced and eventually lead to nearly supernatural abilities and specialized positions, such as the ability to pilot FTL spaceships across the galaxy and break complex codes.
rainbow

A (Long) Fun Questionnaire

This is how bored I am today, I'm taking multiple online questionnaires and editing them together. Sources: (One, Two, Three)

Where do you live? Currently I live in Santa Fe, NM.

What color is your hair? Coppery brown.

What color are your eyes? They change. Seriously. They're usually blue or green, but I've seen them gray and light brown too.

How tall are you? 5'11" or 1.8 meters.

What's your sign? Taurus.

Do you have any siblings? Yes, Pocket Lint, who is a U.S. Marine Reservist.

Do you have any pets? We have two dogs, Rosie the bimbo and Luther the warrior.

Do you have any phobias? I'm not a big fan of insects.

What makes you happy? Praise, sex, interesting conversation, and beautiful things.

What really irritates you?
Incompetence.

What makes you sad? Those commercials about almost helping people, homeless people, loosing old friends.

What makes you angry? People that don't care about doing a good job, people that that are self-absorbed to the point of injury to others, and people that run red lights.

Who is your best friend? At the moment, it's Jeff.

Ever broken a bone? Yes. I had a double fracture of my C-2 Vertebrae when I was 24.

What's the best advice you've ever received? Every character that you write about should want something, even if it's just a glass of water. - Vonnegut

What's the best thing you've ever bought? My current laptop.

What's the worst thing you've ever bought? The laptop just before that one.

What's the best thing you've ever been given? Books.

What's the worst thing you've ever been given? Something given thoughtlessly, probably. Perhaps the Starbucks gift card I got for Christmas from the Marriott when I worked there, as I don't drink coffee.

What are your future goals? I'd like to have a book published.

Who do you consider the most beautiful woman in the world? Angelina Jolie.

Who do you consider the most handsome man in the world? Brad Pitt. I know, its cliche to have them together, but they are an amazingly cute couple.

What is your favorite thing to do on a hot summer day? Lay on the beach with a good book, non-runny sunscreen, and a cold drink.

What is your favorite thing to do on a snowy winter day? Sit inside watching the snow next to a roaring fire with Swiss Miss apple cider mix.

If you were granted 3 wishes, what would they be? Hmmm . . . First I'd wish for the intent of my wishes to be fulfilled without any unanticipated twists or catches. Secondly I'd wish for the ability to alter and change reality (and if necessary change it back to the way it was). Then I'd probably save the last wish for an emergency.

If you could go back in time to see or change something, when would it be and what would you do? Those are two different things. If I could go back in time to see something, I would visit Jerusalem in the late twenties and early thirties, A.D. If I could go back and change something, I would probably go back and inform the Native Americans what was about to happen to them when the Europeans arrived in the Americas.

Do you believe in the after-life? No.

Do you believe in God? Not in the way that he is commonly personified and characterized by the majority of Christians (as I understand them). If you dilute the term to mean "the naturalistic universe" then I do believe in that, but I don't believe that it's cognizant and aware of us, nor that something metaphysical necessarily exists beyond it other than Branes or some other metanaturalistic system.

Do you believe in ghosts and magic? No, but I don't deny that there can be things in this universe beyond my understanding.

What was your last job? Night Auditor for a Marriott hotel.

What is your current job? Reservations for a local hotel.

What is your dream job? Writing full time, but until that happens, probably managing my own hotel.

What book are you currently reading? Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

What do you think about it? It's really good. I regret not having picked it up earlier.

What is your favorite book? I dunno. Issola by Steven Brust, The Riven Shield by Michelle West, or The Return of Endymion by Dan Simmons are all at the top of the list.

What is your favorite magazine? XY.

Never heard of it. What is it about? It's a gay (male) youth magazine. I don't read it any more, but it was good with glossy pictures of hot guys and interesting articles that made me feel a little more connected with the larger gay community.

What is last movie that you saw? I am Legend.

What did you think of it? It was okay. I saw it on my list of the 50 most important science fiction/fantasy novels of the last 50 years, and so I'll probably get around to reading it eventually.

What is your favorite movie? Contact.

Really? Yes, really.

You didn't think that was sort of a boring movie? Boring? It was a fantastic movie with real drama and meaningful tension. I don't think it was boring at all.

What is your favorite band/singer? I'm a fan of Linkin Park. The last CD I bought was "Minutes to Midnight" by them.

Now you're just joking with me, aren't you? No. I like their music. It's modern with a strong drum line, it pushes through a lot of power and feeling without resorting to screaming, and they manage to harmonize subtly and interestingly.

Only angsty teenagers listen to them. Are you an angsty teenager? No, but I listen to them, which proves that not only angsty teenagers listen to them. Although I guess you could consider me an angsty twenty-something.

Well, whatever. What's your favorite song? It's still Dreaming by BT.

Jesus, you have really horrible taste in music, you know that? Okay, what's wrong with Dreaming by BT?

It's only the gayest music ever produced. Are you a big fan of electronica? Not really, but I like his music and a few other things. I like the ethereal nature of the high female voices in music like that. I'm not much of a club person though, so I tend away from the really deep thumping base lines.

Enough music questions. I don't want to know any more. What is your favorite food? Sushi.

What? Don't you know that it's got tons of Mercury in it? I only eat it once or twice a week, and more of it is probably from California than from New York.

Still, that could be really bad for you, don't you think? Eh. I drink milk, I eat the occasional burger and I like chili and soda. It can't be worse for me than that stuff.

What's your favorite television show? What kind of question is that?

Pardon? I'm posting this on my blog, and I was trying to give an accurate impression of what I'm like without exactly broadcasting my faults to the world.

You think that telling people about your favorite television show is a fault? Well, I've already admitted that I watch some bad television a few posts back, and I am sometimes embarrassed by how much I watch. Since I'm the one writing this, I figured that I could skip that question without anyone noticing.

Just answer the question, what's your favorite show? Well, House, at the moment.

That wasn't so hard, was it? I guess not.

Who's the cutest actor in it? How is that relevant?

Again, just answer the question. Do you need me to repeat it? No. Well, the thing is, there's really not really anyone that I really go for. The closest is Dr. Chase, and even with him, the fact that he's sort of religious is sort of a turn off. Personality wise, I have to say that I like Dr. Cameron, except there's that major drawback of her being a woman and all. Then, of course, there's Hugh Laurie, who's an asshole but somehow still manages to be loyal, funny, and disturbingly attractive.

You thought about that answer, didn't you? Well yeah, isn't that the point?

I get the feeling that you're fishing for something else though, huh? Er. . . I was sort of thinking about how I could segue from that into cute porn stars.

Something else on your mind? I am a guy, after all, and I suspect that's on a lot of guys minds most of the time.

Aren't you 25 years old or something? Shouldn't you be over that by now? Well, yeah, I'm twenty five, but I sort of missed out of my peak sexuality. I really wouldn't mind trying to catch up.

So, did you come up with a way to "segue into cute porn stars?" This is a questionnaire. I figured I could just ask myself straight off "Who are your favorite porn stars?"

Works for me. Who are your favorite porn stars? Jeremy Penn's still at the top of the list, of course, although he hasn't been on the scene for a few years and his early stuff is still the best. Mason Wyler's still hot, although I could live without having seen previews of his golden shower scenes. Fredrik Eklund, or Tag Eriksson, or however you spell that is still one of my heroes for being both a porn star and a successful human being. Erik Rhodes for kissing Kathy Griffin at the GayVN awards. . . .

Nearly done? . . . and pretty much all of the Corbin Fisher guys for just being cute and straight acting.

Well, that's not excessive. Anyone you're missing? Tommy D, for apparently being bisexual or possibly just straight but still having sex with guys.

Jesus. More than I needed to know. Ready to move on? Yeah, I guess. I just sort of realized that we sort of left the real questions back in the dust a while ago, didn't I?

You got that right. We're deep into Dave Eggers territory now. Have you ever fired a gun? Geez, another odd question. Where did that one come from?

The third reference from up at the top of this post. Have you ever fired a gun? Nope, although I've wanted to become a cop for a while.

A cop? Yeah. Is that so hard to believe?

You do know that you're really gay, right? Don't you think that might be an issue? Not really. There are gay cops out there. Besides, I'm not that gay.

How many out of shape gay cops with broken necks and crazy dreams to write science fiction do you think are out there? Well, maybe I'll be the first.

Why do you want to be a cop anyway? For the same reason that I wanted to become an Administrator on IIDB; I was hoping to make things better for other people.

That sounds like the most trite answer that I've ever heard. It's really about the power, isn't it? Not in the way that you're suggesting. You'll notice that I gave up power pretty quick on the message board trying to do the right thing. Same thing with being a police officer. With power comes responsibility and all of that.

Two questions: One, do you realize that you just quoted a superhero movie to justify your moral stance? Two, you didn't really give up power at the message board, did you? To your first question, yes, I realize that. I'm not exactly proud of it, but my morality is mostly from books anyway. Just because it's in a movie that doesn't make it pointless. To your second question, yeah, I was kicked out, but it's not like I didn't realize that could be an outcome when I went down that path before I started. Mike was crazy, and crazy people do unexpected things some times.

Don't you think you did anything wrong during that whole situation? I've certainly said I did, especially about being confrontational with Maverick and Mike in the ACR, but right now as I think about it, I just sort of justified it to myself. After all, one of the things that I think is most important in leadership is the ability to take verbal abuse and shrug it off. Even if I was rude and confrontational in the ACR, I don't necessarily think that should have resulted in my disqualification. That Mike and Maverick couldn't deal with it speaks more about them than about me.

So, you do think you did wrong, but you're still trying to abrogate responsibility? I suppose it sounds like that. I take it back then. I did make mistakes.

Why not go back and delete what you wrote in the question before the previous one then? I'm not sorry enough to go do that.

So, why do you think that you'd make a good cop? I don't think that I'd be a good cop, I'd probably be an average cop, but I am really honest. I'd have exceedingly large problems with other cops taking privileges, and maybe I could make the lives of some people better by preventing them from running wild.

You realize that if you ever post this, no police academy in the country is going to let you through the doors? I've already been told that they won't let me in because I'm too smart. See, I'm too honest for my own good.

Uhg. You're sort of a romantic of sorts, aren't you? I suppose I am, about honesty, anyway. I've seen honesty destroy people's careers but I still have this sort of faith that honesty is still the right thing to do most of the time.

If you become a cop, how long do you think that will last? Hopefully longer than my tenure as an Administrator at IIDB did.

Who would you like to see right now? I'm torn. I'd like to kick back with J., the guy I had a crush on in college, as much as it pains me. At the moment, if I could wish it into existence I'd probably choose Mike, who I'm still worried about.

Why are you worried about him? He hasn't been returning my calls or emails. It's been months since anyone I know has heard from him or seen him. His ex suggested that perhaps he's on a long trip with his father, but I worry.

Doesn't he live in the same town that you do? Outside of town, yeah. I'm sort of scared of his house though. I've never successfully navigated my way out there before. I'd really like Jeff to drive me, but they're not on speaking terms still.

If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? London, probably. I need to go to a place where I can kick my reputation out the window and have some fun.

What do you mean by "fun?" Have sex and write.

Well, that was blunt enough. Why can't you have sex where you are, and why can't you write? I don't know about the sex thing. I need to get out of my Mom's house primarily, and I need to get away from my past. Also, I need to get away from my solitary comfort zone in order to write. Either I have to have friends urging me on or I need to get away from a place where I'm comfortable relaxing in front of a television.

There's your television thing coming through again. Well, why don't you just turn off the television? I can't get up the will power. Internal motivation is something that I lack.

That's an interesting problem. Could you describe it a little better? I have this issue with internal drive. I typically just drift through life in a sort of fugue state of motivation. Other people ask me things, and I can derive motivation from their actions either to do them or to refuse them, but I have a lot of trouble using my internal motivation to create active willpower.

That sounds like it could be a hindrance to having sex. Is it? Yeah. I can't work out for myself, even though I'd love to be in shape. I have trouble approaching the guys that are attractive, too.

So, what do you do? I don't get laid, mostly.

I meant about the lack of motivation. Is it a depression thing? Not really. Don't get me wrong, I've been depressed for most of my life, but even during the good periods I have trouble with motivation. Sort of like extreme manic depression without the manic phases.

Any other fun psychological issues? Yeah, actually, I have a strange sort of mild synethsia that makes certain fabrics and textures uncomfortable sometimes to the point of pain. I don't touch corduroy, velvet, or crushed velvet. I usually deal with it by rolling up my sleeves before trying to touch it.

You're serious about that? I really, truly am. I've been known to exaggerate it, but it's really an issue for me. It drives me nuts and sends these bizarre shivers up and down my nerves.

Do you have any piercings? Nope. Not planning on getting any, either.

What about tattoos? I like tattoos, but I'm not planning on any of those either. I'd love to get one of my own designs as a sleeve or on my back, but I also think that I'm way to fat to get a tattoo.

You think only thin people can get tattoos? Well, no, but I only like the way they look on people that are in shape, so I don't think I'd get one unless I got into amazing shape.

Are you a giver or a taker? Uh . . . that's sort of an uncomfortable question.

I just took it from the list again. I didn't mean it in a gay way. I'm sure you don't have much of an issue with telling us even if I'd intended it in a gay way anyway, do you? I suppose not. Alright, In a non-gay way, I'm probably more of a taker than a giver. I have a reactive personality, not a proactive personality. In a gay way, I'm more of a pitcher, but I can play both sides of the field.

You do realize that most gay guys say that but really aren't, right? Someone recently said that there was a definite lack of tops in major gay cities like NYC, San Fran, and Miami. I really do go both ways, but then I'm not the most experienced person in the world.

Alright, I'll take your word for it. What are three things that you can't live without? My computer, books, and . . . uh, food and air.

That was sort of a sarcastic answer. Were you going to say something else? No, I just couldn't think of anything.

Here's a question for you. Why did you stop writing this quiz for a week and then pick up again? I don't know. Boredom, maybe?

I bore you? Well, originally I had to leave work. The reason that I didn't start writing again is because of the whole boredom/lack of motivation thing. Are you bored?

I am you, remember? Yeah, well, you don't seem to know the answers to any of these questions, do you?

I'm asking for posterity. What did you want to be when you were a kid? I remember that I wanted to be an architect at one time, and I've always sort of wanted to be a general commentator on television, a talking head, sort of. I've always wanted to be a god, also.

I thought you didn't believe in God? I don't, but that doesn't mean that I wouldn't want the position if it was available. Also, note the use of a small g. I don't know if I would want to be God, only a god.

Let's narrow it down a little bit. What super power would you like to have? Illusion, just like that girl on Heroes had.

Why do you want that? I think it's the most useful power to have. Jeff knows why.

Well, is there anything else that you want to be asked? Not that I can think of.

Alright. Well, if you think of anything, let me/yourself know? I will. I promise.