Thursday, March 5, 2015

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

VIDEO: Pre-election Political Roundtable

Featuring a panel of Debra J. Saunders, Josh Richman, and Dr. Tammy Frisby.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Remembering Joe Shattan — and What I Learned About Him from His Office

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building. (Public domain photo)

Former Dan Quayle and Dick Cheney speechwriter Joe Shattan died this past summer. I'm late in hearing about it (it happened in early June), but I would like to share some memories I have of him.

"What? John, you know a Quayle/Cheney speechwriter?" Yes, in the summer of 1990, I had an internship in the Office of the Vice President of the United States. Of America. It was thanks to the Institute for Educational Affairs (an organization that I think continues today under a different name).

Anyway, I was assigned to work with Zelda Novak (daughter of the "Prince of Darkness" conservative columnist Robert Novak), and I spent the summer doing pretty useless work in appropriate obscurity. But on the other side of my desk (stuffed in a cubby hole) was the office of Joseph Shattan, who was often traveling with the VP and who allowed me to spend my lunch hours in his office when he wasn't there. I never got to know him well or much at all, but I did get a good sense of him during those lunch hours, and you can see why.

I'm from Green Bay, Wisconsin. If you're a Green Bay person and there exists a photo of you with a Packer player, you've got it framed on your walls, and probably in a prominent place. In Washington, D.C., people are the same way about big politicians, and usually their desks and walls are covered with framed photos of them shaking hands with or at least photobombing presidents, vice presidents, senators, governors, and representatives.

But Joe Shattan? In his quiet, neat, book-filled office, he had plenty of photos, but they were of him and his family. Wife. Kids. I saw all those and didn't see the other celebrity-suck-up photos, and thought to myself, "This guy has his priorities right. Good guy."

When I stumbled across the news today that he had passed away (on June 8, 2014, at the young age of 63, felled by cancer), I found a couple things that reminded me of my fondness for this person. First, other people were writing about what a kind and genuine person he was — not something you generally associate with political people, especially conservative political functionaries who spent decades in government.

The other thing was a link to an article Shattan had written in 2009, in which he remembered how much he loved visiting the library in the Old Executive Office Building (a large old building next to the White House where the vice president has his office and staff). Shattan, a writer and clearly a book lover, really enjoyed going to the library, taking in the atmosphere of books and busy librarians and available information in that pre-internet age. Back then, I hadn't known about his joy for that library, but I had also enjoyed escaping to it when my useless tasks allowed. I can still remember that library well, with its beautiful columns and spiral staircases and awesome collections of books. I especially recall the corner where I dug through countless old copies of The New York Review of Books. It was the summer in which I had just discovered John Updike and Philip Roth, so I loved searching for old reviews of their books. The library was the one room in the Old Executive Office Building (now known as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building) that had the same nice vibe as Joe Shattan's office.

I never knew Joe Shattan well, but I apparently knew him well enough to know that this book-loving intellectual whose politics were quite different from what mine became was a good man. I'm very sorry to hear about his passing. R.I.P.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Airbnb Plays Ball

From the latest Marina Times:

Airbnb goes legit?
Home-sharing service begins collecting mandated hotel tax as city clarifies regulation

Short-term residential rental companies such as Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway might be the biggest disruption to hit the real estate market since public online listings took away the Realtors’ MLS exclusivity. But recent developments in San Francisco show that both regulators and the new market entrants are learning to work with each other.

David Owen, Airbnb’s regional head of public policy, announced in late September that beginning in October ...

One of My Cats Is Stupid

In the latest issue of Marina Times, I explore the social conundrum of the age: sweet but dim kitties.

Captain Skycat

Marina Times (October 2014) — There are many reasons to doubt the natural intelligence of Ashes, our little tuxedo cat.

How do I know she’s not an Einstein? For the sake of research, I found some online feline I.Q. tests (for example, see Ashes scored quite poorly, and our other cat scored very highly.

Even without a test, I knew...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Galaxis 4 ... Is not the Last One

I've decided not to end my digital science/science fiction magazine Galaxis with the current issue, #4. I'm working up plans to have a fifth issue after all, and this one should appear in digital and in limited print editions.

So while I put the finishing touches on the first Galaxis Reader book and start pulling together the fifth edition of Galaxis magazine, it's a good time to remind everyone that Galaxis #4 is still available for you to read, free, online.

Read the magazine:

Everything I Know about Cats I Learned from Krazy Kat

Whenever Charlie does something particularly wild or stupid, I tell him he’s a crazy cat. Except in my mind, I’m spelling it “Krazy Kat,” even though I know he and perhaps most of you don’t get the reference.

My late stepfather was a political cartoonist. Like most such artists, he would use characters out of the day’s news to populate his graphic editorial commentary, but he also ...

Read the entire article

From the September 2014 issue of the Marina Times

Friday, June 27, 2014

George Takei Introduces David Boies, Ted Olson, & Gavin Newsom

Last night, actor/director/activist George Takei gave the introduction to a Commonwealth Club of California program with bipartisan legal team David Boies and Ted Olson; it was moderated by the state's lt. governor, Gavin Newsom.

The sound isn't the best; my apologies, but I recorded it on my phone. And I'm afraid I wasn't quick enough turning it on to catch his opening trademark "Oh, myyyyyyy," which is what the laughter is for at the beginning of this clip.

This program took place on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions overturning DOMA and California's Prop 8.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Gregory Benford & Larry Niven's Bowl of Heaven

An hour ago, I finished reading Bowl of Heaven, a 2013 science-fiction collaboration between Larry Niven and Gregory Benford. I am left feeling refreshed — it has been a very long time since I read a hard-science, deep-space SF novel — and stunned. Stunned because the book reads at times as if it went right from the writers' computers to the printer, without going through an editor. I'm sure that isn't true, but how else to explain mistakes that had me wondering if I had missed a couple pages or was losing my mind?

It started early in the book where one character is injured; a metal shard had been embedded in his leg during an accident. He is tended to by a teammate, who removes the shard and applies medication. A few paragraphs later, however, a different teammate is removing the shard and medicating him.

It continued throughout the book. People who are described as being in a room are suddenly in a different room. An alien who is on the bridge of an airship descends a stairway and goes to ... the bridge. People who left a room are suddenly back in the room. The amount of time that has passed since the launch of the humans' spaceship is stated, but then it's given as a different amount of time later.

On and on.

I have read Benford's books before, but I'm surprised to say that I don't believe I have ever read anything by Niven, which is an admission not to my credit. Niven is a science-fiction legend with numerous big books to his credit. But, for whatever reason, I had never read his work. That was part of what made me select this book to read next after I finished reading a couple history books (Anne Applebaum's post-World War II history book Iron Curtain — a book that was stunning in a good way, though telling a very sad tale — and Robert Graves' historical novel Count Belisarius). This was my chance to read Larry Niven.

I actually enjoyed the grand-premise tale of Bowl of Heaven. The characterizations and relationships are a bit out of date (sorry guys, but having interpersonal relationships be key to the characters and their organization but not even mentioning a gay character — and then in the most oblique way — until the book is nearly finished suggests being a bit out of touch), but I'm willing to overlook that. However, I was astounded at the poor editing. It's old news that even big publishers don't do proper editing any more, but these mistakes (repeated incidences, actions described twice — just a few paragraphs apart — but differently, and more) are incredibly unprofessional. If it was a mind-bending game of fluid reality with the readers, that would be something, but of course the story would make use of that. No, that just was not the case. Bowl of Heaven was a normal hard-science SF novel, and publishers Tor did themselves, their authors, and their readers a major disservice — publishing malpractice, really — by releasing a hardcover book with this many major, obvious errors in it.

The writers should have caught some of this in the various drafts they would have proofed. But writers are often focused on making sure other aspects are correct; that is compounded by working with a collaborator. We'll give Niven and Benford a small slice of the blame, but the majority of the blame cake has to be served up to Tor.

The sequel to what apparently is the first of a series has been published. Called Shipstar, it was published by Tor in April 2014. Think they had an editor do a good line-by-line on this one?