Tag Archives: rant

The price of free (or why I won’t be upgrading to Mavericks any time soon)

So Apple’s new OS is out and it is free. Users should be delighted, right? Um… maybe not so much. The problem is that, very quietly, Apple has gotten rid of a tiny little feature: the ability to sync locally. In fact you are now forced to use iCloud… whether you want to, or not.

Well, I hear you say, the cloud is the way of the future. Who syncs at the local level anyway? What decade do you think this is? The answer is that I know what decade it is, but I also know Apple cannot be trusted with my private data, what did you do? Sleep through the revelations that came out this past summer? Does the name Snowden ring a bell? And before you tell me that I shouldn’t worry if I don’t have anything to hide, let me tell you that the fact that I don’t have anything to hide doesn’t mean that I’m going to be volunteering to be strip searched any time soon either.

Oh, and before you decided that I’m a tinfoil hat nut, let me reassure you that I do use cloud storage on a daily basis, and I find it extremely convenient… I just refuse to use Apple’s version of the blasted thing. They can choose to collaborate with the NSA, but if they do I want to retain the right to store my information elsewhere.

Maria and the Golden Dawn

In these past few days we have seen the innocent, and terrified, face of a cute, blonde, little girl plastered over the news as Greek authorities try to figure out who she is. That all efforts should be made to find her family is undeniable, but I can’t help but to find the emphasis on her blondness and the assumptions surrounding her being discovered in a Roma camp in Greece to be deeply disturbing.

That she was found with a family that was not her own, and in the company of adults who haven’t exactly provided a consistent account as to how it was that she came to be with them in the first place, is undeniable. This means that it is possible that she is a victim of child trafficking, but in light of the racist attitudes that have historically tainted the perception of all things Roma (aka gypsy), and the way in which not too long ago children were routinely told that, if they didn’t behave, the gypsies would take them, I am deeply disturbed by the way in which the story is being presented.

The charity currently caring for her said that when she arrived the girl was filthy (something that tends to happen when poverty forces your family to live in squalor), and traumatized (to be expected when a child is torn from everything that is familiar to her, and tossed into a completely alien environment, with no explanation whatsoever). This doesn’t mean she was loved or properly cared for, but at the same time it doesn’t necessarily follow that she wasn’t… and then we have the fact that the story originates in Greece, a country with a resurgent neo-nazi movement embodied by the Golden Dawn.

Considering the fact that in quite a few countries Hitler and his followers killed a higher percentage of the Roma than of the Jewish population (though coming up with an exact figure is much harder), the role of such an ideology should probably be taken into account. Add to that the fact that the gypsies have long been one of Europe’s favorite escape goats (while Greece is a country in the throes of a devastating crisis, where escape goats are desperately needed), and what we have is a rather disturbing picture of the biases that may be fueling this story.

Yes, all efforts should be made to locate this little girl’s family (though the fact that brown-skinned girls attract no such attention is in itself telling), and if she was kidnapped, or if she is a victim of human trafficking, she should be allowed to go home, but at the same time there is something to that old ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing that seems to have been lost somewhere along the way. This is not unique to this case, a rush to judge is part and parcel of what the media usually does, but even though the evidence seems to be compelling, this is one case in which I wish they would exercise more restraint.

After centuries of discrimination the Roma have no reason to trust the authorities, and they tend to live on the the edges of society, where the proper paperwork is not exactly the norm. This means that the possibility that the adults that were with that little girl when she was found, adults who insist that what we have here is an unofficial adoption, has to be considered (though, unless the girl’s birth mother comes forward to confirm their account, chances are that they will never be able to prove that they are telling the truth either, that’s precisely why it is so important for the legal standard to be ‘innocent until proven guilty’)… and, sensational as the story may be, I wish the media would reserve judgement before fueling the fires of a hatred that has been with us for hundreds of years.

UPDATE: So Maria’s mother has been identified. She is a Roma woman from Bulgaria who has corroborated the story  the adoptive parents have been telling all along, namely that she gave her away because she could not afford to care for her. She insists that no money changed hands, though efforts seem to be under way to charge someone with something… whether anyone is guilty or not. As to the question of what’s in store for Maria, that is unclear. Will the authorities that now hold her fate in their hands acknowledge their mistake, and return her to her own community, or will they place her in what they deem to be a ‘good family’…  with ‘a good family’ being defined as ‘one that is not Roma’?

Oreos are as addictive as cocaine

Yesterday I went grocery shopping, and as I was walking down the cookie aisle -salivating like a good Pavlovian dog- I heard someone mention a recent study that found that ‘oreos are as addictive as cocaine’. I had seen the headlines, of course, and I had found them amusing and bordering on the absurd, but at the same time I was worried about what those headlines seemed to suggest: ‘oreos are as bad as cocaine’, and that’s where the difference kicks in… not that the similarities along the addiction line can be stretched as far as that headline would seem to suggest.

Yes, sugar tickles the same pleasure centers of the brain as drugs do, that has been known for a while (hence the ‘salivating like a good Pavlovian dog’ bit), but while we can be said to crave both substances to a certain extent, there is a difference both in term to how we are likely to respond to being unable to get a ‘fix’ are, and in terms of the damage the substance in question does to our bodies.

Simply put, most people I know can skip their daily cookie fix without displaying any obvious withdrawal symptoms, and -diabetics not withstanding- the likelihood that you will eat enough oreos in one sitting to kill yourself are… well, they are pretty much nil.

And if you are wondering if my passionate defense of the blasted things means I’m secretly in the employ of the food industry, let me reassure you that that is not the case. My defense of the cookie industry has to do with something more fundamental than that: even though I am not particularly keen on oreos, I do have a massive sweet tooth, and I am not to happy about the growing criminalization of sugar I see all around me. Yes, I realize that we should try to exercise some self-control in that regard (or maybe that we should try to exercise, period), but while I am aware that sugar is not the healthiest of foods, putting it on the same level as cocaine -or even nicotine- is downright absurd, and I am not particularly fond of the fact that sweets have somehow been turned into a guilty pleasure… so excuse me while I go grab a cookie.

E-publishing and the race to the bottom

As I prepare to release another book I find myself grappling once more with the question of what to do about e-books, a question that becomes more relevant with each and every passing day, as more and more readers eschew the printed world altogether to switch to electronic versions instead. The thing is that while a part of me would love to join this trend, there is another one that can’t help but to hesitate.

To begin with there is the fact of just how fragmented this market happens to be. You can choose a publisher, have your book printed and distributed by signing a single contract in such a way that you know what you are getting, but when it comes to e-books each bookstore requires what amounts to a different agreement, with most outlets claiming for themselves the right to modify the terms of the agreement. This creates a maze of shifting legalese few self-published authors can realistically hope to untangle, or even keep track of, where the possibility that the evolving contracts would at some point collide with each other cannot be entirely ruled out… and the more distribution options you seek, the higher that risk becomes. Continue reading E-publishing and the race to the bottom

Keeping school out of the kids’ hair

Is it just me, or are schools getting completely out of hand, becoming more and more intrusive with each and every passing day?

There are a couple of stories floating around that have caused me to start wondering about that.

In the most disturbing one of those a California district has apparently hired a firm to monitor their students’ use of social media, nominally in an attempt to keep an eye for a series of problems and behavioral issues (after all, they have to make it sound like they are acting on their students’ best interest), but in practice intruding on their students lives beyond the classroom. The thing is that while keeping kids safe is a worthy goal (bullying and suicide are pressing issues), I don’t like the way schools are intruding on the kids’ lives outside of school. Call me old-fashioned, but as far as I’m concerned that’s what parents are supposed to be for, though at the same time I do realize that too many parents are too busy to care, and more than happy to have the schools step in. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a way for parents (or students) to opt out of that kind of monitoring (not that I would trust a school to respect such a decision to opt out).

The second story is more circumscribed. It is about a little girl who was told by her school that her dreads were unacceptable, and whose father decided to yank her out of that particular school instead (good for him). Setting aside the racism such a policy entails (afros were also explicitly forbidden), there is the fact that some of these policies focusing on the kids hairstyles that are written into many schools’ dress codes fail to take into account that, unlike clothes, hairstyles cannot necessarily be done and undone on a whim. Children may be able to change their clothes as soon as they get home, but they can neither uncut nor redye their hair in a similar fashion, and dreads are not exactly a hairstyle that can be changed in a matter of minutes. That means that by regulating hairstyles in the classroom schools are intruding in their students’ lives long after they’ve left the premises, and it is there that I feel that they have crossed the line.

Yes, a dress code can be a good idea, at least up to a point, but there is a problem when it comes to their definition of dress. Regulate clothes? Sure, kids can change those as soon as they get home. Require some standards of hygiene? Fair enough (as long as you make some accommodations for those students whose situation does not allow them to comply, and do it in a way that does not stigmatize those students), but leave the kids’ hairstyles out of it.

After all, as important as school may be in a child’s life, it is the parents job to parent that child, and schools should really learn when to get out of their students’ hair.

The healthiest meal is… no meal at all

And here we go again, with another pointless warning about why you should abstain from eating/drinking something you had always been told was good for you if you want to live a long, healthy life… come to think of it, if you were to listen to all those warnings you would probably have to give up food altogether. Anyway, the latest bit of nonsense that had me slamming my head against the nearest wall was an article on Yahoo about how unhealthy fruit smoothies happen to be (if you want to read it, you can find it here). Yes, smoothies have sugar in them, and sugar is not the healthiest of ingredients, but  that doesn’t mean that smoothies are poisonous or that they are ‘as bad as soda’, which is what the so-called-experts behind the study on which that article is based seem to claim.

The thing is that the presence of one or more unhealthy ingredients doesn’t cancel the benefits of the other ones. In fact even heath nuts acknowledge that chocolate has a number of health benefits (not the least of which is that is delicious and one of those things that make life worth living).

In other words, it’s not black and white, you can eat some sugar and that’s not likely to kill you (not unless you are diabetic). The key word here, in case you were wondering, is ‘some’. Besides, for all the dangers that experts keep reminding us are lurking in every mouthful, it is worth noting that there are few things you can eat as part of your regular diet that will kill as surely as not eating at all, so give yourself permission to enjoy your life, and if you want to have a smoothie or a piece of chocolate, go for it!

When grandpa rocks (In defense of Miley Cyrus)

This week one of the stories I have been following are the responses to Miley Cyrus performance in the VMAs. It was also the first time I’ve actually watched her (though I did so long after the fact and mostly to figure out what the big deal was supposed to be)… and while I agree that the whole thing was racist and more than a little tacky, the first word that comes to my mind is ‘sad’… sad, and maybe a little pointless.

To me it looked like an attempt at being outrageous that wound up sounding more like a temper tantrum than anything else, but at the same time I realize that that’s just me.

Oh, in a way I get where she and her generation are coming from. For more than fifty years -almost since it became possible for individual performances to reach a mass audience thanks to the radio- music, and to a lesser extent dance, have provided safe outlets for the next generation as it tries to define itself and to find its own voice, a that voice is almost invaribly raised in defiance (and I realize that, trapped as she is by her lily white past as a Disney megastar, Miley Cyrus has more to rebel against than most if she wants to remain relevant to her own contemporaries). The problem is that there are few boundaries left for young rebels to tear down. We’ve been there, done that… and to add insult to injury this generation is also having to deal with the fact that their parents get it, at least to a certain extent.

Let’s face it, Rock Around the Clock was written more than sixty years ago, and was already topping the charts back in 1955. Paul McCartney, who wrote When I’m Sixty-Four some forty-five years ago, is now in his seventies himself. In fact When I’m Sixty-Four was released on the same year in which Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild gave us the term ‘heavy metal’… and let’s not forget that a quarter of a century ago the parents of Miley’s generation were already grumbling about the fact that a forty-year-old-plus Mick Jagger looked kind of pathetic singing Satisfaction. If James Dean were alive today, he would be in his eighties.

The point of this little digression is that  Miley and her cohort are trying to express themselves using a language that was first developed by their grandparents, one that had already been tamed, at least to a certain extent, by the time their parents came along. That is going to make it hard to for them to be outrageous enough to shock their elders no matter what they do.

That, I suspect, is part of what lies behind that particular performance, but at the same time there are other issues that hardly anyone has mentioned, issues that, with all the scorn that is being poured over Miley’s head, deserve some attention. To me the most striking of these is the question of whether or not the idea behind that performance was hers at all. She was not alone on that stage. In fact what we saw was a very sophisticated production, and the truth is that Miley has always been a prepackaged product. Yes, she may be trying to rebel, she may be trying to break free, to show the world that she is a grown up, and she may be willing to do whatever it takes to stay relevant to her own contemporaries -who are themselves itching to prove to the world that they have outgrown her- but Miley Cyrus is the puppet, and in the end the one responsible for the puppet’s actions is the puppeteer.

There were others that had the power to put the brakes on that one, they didn’t.

I’m not trying to argue that Miley had no control whatsoever over what happened on that stage or that she was an innocent victim. Even if she was not the driving force behind that performance she was certainly a willing participant, one whose voice must have made itself heard at some stage, but to all the parents out there that are outraged because their little girls are still clinging to her former image, and don’t want to have to explain to those daughters what they saw in that particular performance, the only thing I can say is: kids grow up, deal with it. Miley Cyrus is no longer a child, she’s no longer even a teenager, and asking her to remain frozen in time, to deliberately allow herself to become a has-been at the age of twenty to help you ‘protect’ your much younger daughters’ so-called-innocence is absurd.

No, I didn’t like her performance. There were plenty of things I found objectionable, if not downright disgusting, in it  and I most definitely don’t get it, but at the same time I do realize that in a way that was precisely the point, that I wasn’t meant to get it. It wasn’t to people like me that Miley was addressing her message.

Apple, the NSA, iWork and the cloud

Okay, let me get this straight: the new version of iWork (one that is sorely needed seeing how the last major update of the desktop version of that particular app suite was released back in 2009) is going to be iWork for iCloud. That means that if you want to access get some work done you have to rely on Apple’s servers and online storage, where we your files are ‘conveniently kept for you’ and where you know for a fact that you have no expectation of privacy… am I the only one that sees something very wrong with this particular picture?

Yes, I realize that Google Docs has always been a cloud-based service, and that there are a number of other such services available, but the key there is in the always part of that description. People signing up for these services knew all along just what it was that they were getting into. iWork users, who are stuck with a proprietary format, are effectively being shoved into the cloud whether they want to or not.

Now, I realize that, except for the iOS ecosystem, iWork is a pretty minor player in the field, but I am afraid that this is just the beginning, that other programs will eventually follow suit (so far other programs allow you to collaborate online, but they don’t force you to do so). To me this push towards the cloud is unacceptable.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the cloud has its uses, and I appreciate the freedom it gives me, and the comfort of knowing that my files are (relatively) safe no matter what happens,  but I want to remain in control of what I store and where I store it. I want to retain the freedom to choose a different service provider or to work off line altogether, and this move (and others like it) threaten to deprive me of that right. It is my computer, my work and my files we are talking about here… what part of MY doesn’t Apple understand? After all, given what Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and the like have done with my trust in the past, is it that surprising that I want Apple and its ilk to keep their filthy hands to themselves?

1984, the PC version

These past couple of days I’ve been following a news story in a different way: I’ve been following the Chelsea Manning story via Wikipedia’s talk page, watching each and every little change being debated, and I have to say that the whole thing has been highly entertaining, not to mention that it has been a fascinating and enlightening experience. What is an encyclopedia to do when the subject of a fairly major entry suddenly switches pronouns?

Let me be clear about it, I respect her decision, and I also think that her expressed preferences should be taken into account and given a considerable amount of weight, but at the same time there is no getting around the fact that rewriting her biography to reflect the fact that she is a she is problematic to say the least. That the name should be changed seems to me like a matter of respect (especially because the use of redirects ensures that anyone looking for the information will find it regardless of what the article is called), and the fact that the introductory text should be adapted to reflect such a major change is undeniable, but by trying to modify the entry as a whole we create a situation in which all of a sudden all those little illustrative anecdotes, descriptions and quotations no longer seem to fit. Do you edit what others have said in the past to reflect the new reality, or do you respect those quotes, even if the end result is that you wind up with a text that, truth be told, at times doesn’t seem to make much sense?

I have to admit that more than once the debate reminded me of 1984’s newspeak, but of course I think part of the problem is that this whole incident has shone a spotlight on some of the problems inherent to the way in which the world has been transformed when it comes to LGBT issues, on the fact that we are still trying to work the kinks out of the system… and on how far we still have to go before common usage catches up with those changes and we wind up with something remotely resembling a standard that can truly be described as neutral. As things currently stand it seems to be impossible to even address the issue without making some sort of statement… whether we want to or not. At the risk of being accused of mixing my dystopias, it’s a brave new world out there, one that seems to have come without a user’s manual. In fact, even as I write this I find myself struggling to avoid a word that keeps coming to my mind, a word that is necessary to make sense of this whole mess, and that word is ‘he’.

No, I am not trying to make light of the situation, and I understand why that little pronoun suddenly becomes so problematic, but at the same time there is such a thing as taking things too far, and equating a pronoun with a slur (a position that some of the most extreme voices in the transgender community almost seem to advocate) makes no sense, at least not in this particular instance. Wikipedia is supposed to be an encyclopedia. As such it should be factual, and there is this whole thing about how we can’t change the past… which is precisely what that entry seems to be trying to do at times by rewriting things as if to make it look like hers has always been a woman’s bio.

If you ask me, the solution is simple (not perfect, but simple): we should do exactly what Chelsea asks us to do in her letter:

I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun.

If we take that request literally, and then use it as our starting point, we come to a situation in which there is no need to rewrite the past as such, and while her entry will probably wind up being modified substantially to incorporate the latest developments (as well it should), this approach doesn’t require us to do it at the expense of accuracy, readability and reliability.

UPDATE: and the title of that entry is back to Bradley Manning, not that that has made things any more coherent as far as the content of the article goes. Honestly, with redirects being what they are the name is not going to make much of a difference when it comes to users looking for that particular bit of info, but it seems like there are two camps that are determined to have an all or nothing outcome. Personally I would favor renaming the entry to something like Bradley/Chelsea E. Manning, and being done with it, but I do realize that that may contradict some of wikipedia’s policies.

A glimpse into a different world

A couple of months ago I was fooling around buzzfeed when I stumbled upon a story that for whatever reason caught my eye. It was about a blogger in Singapore who specializes in makeup tips who had just had her face ‘destroyed’ by a facial treatment gone wrong (you can find it here, if you are interested). I clicked on the link and got my first glimpse of a world that felt completely alien to me and left. That should have been it, except for the fact that for whatever reason I remembered that post yesterday, so I decided to go back to that site and see what had happened since then… and unlike what had been the case the first time around, I wound up spending some time there.

It was an interesting experience, both enlightening and horrifying. To begin with, let me state something: I don’t get makeup. I never have, and I probably never will. I am who I am and I am comfortable in my own skin, but at the same time I realize that makeup is a multibillion dollar industry and that there are plenty of women out there who can’t even begin to imagine going out in public without their gunky armor on. That may seem weird to me, but I guess that’s my problem.

The thing is that while I was reading this story I was horrified not so much by what had happened to this woman’s face as by the impact it seemed (or rather seems) to have had on her life. Yes, the damage was extensive, and I understand that the whole thing must have been quite a shock for someone who describes herself as extremely image-conscious, but it was as if in her mind there could be nothing worse than having a skin condition, and that a couple of months later she is still apparently ashamed to even show her face. Granted, in her case that situation is likely to have been made worse by the fact that, being a professional makeup blogger, makeup tips are literally her life, but at the same time in reading her words I couldn’t help but to think that it went deeper than that.

I mean, in the original post there were more warnings about how gross, graphic, disturbing, disgusting, horrifying and downright revolting the pictures were than you would get from a serious news organization before a segment dealing in detail with the carnage of war, massacres, bombings, catastrophic accidents and the like, and those warnings anything but tongue in cheek.

Now, under normal circumstances I would consider it her business, acknowledge that she is entitled to her opinion and leave it at that. I certainly don’t want to minimize her feelings, but at the same time I feel that her story is a perfect, albeit extreme, example of the importance women are taught to ascribe to their looks. Yes, I understand the concept of beauty, but at the same time I hate the fact that there are all these companies that spend millions of dollars selling us a problem in our childhoods, when we can’t really hope to defend ourselves, just so that they will be able to sell us the solution once we reach our teens (and keep selling them to us over and over again as we age) that makes me want to rebel. From the day we are born we are taught to judge each other based on our looks, to compete with each other, and to feel that we have to strive for some unattainable ideal so that when the time comes we will buy the clothes, cream, makeup and eventually the plastic surgery that will supposedly get us there… and to make matters worse we are also taught to force each other to comply. If we decide not to play that game, well, then we are judged too.

It’s like that old reality show ‘What Not to Wear’, a show that had as its sole purpose to humiliate, belittle  and ‘reform’ those who refused to fall in line when it came to those expected standards.

I guess that’s why the story of that blogger, a woman I don’t know and I will never meet, bugged me so much. Yes, she was the victim of a facial gone seriously wrong, but what she doesn’t seem to realize is that long before that she was a victim of a culture that sold her an ideal she had to aspire to… and then she went on to become an enforcer for that culture, one for whom the very idea that she might be effectively out of the running when it came to attaining that particular ideal was completely unbearable.

I wonder what THEY think

I was reading a story about a woman who found herself on the receiving end of a visit by the spook brigade because she was looking for a way to cook some lentils… okay so maybe it was a little more complicated than that, and there are some questions about the details, but basically what happened was that a series of innocent searches by different members of a household led someone to put two and two together and come up with twenty-two. That got me thinking: in a world in which our every search is logged, monitored and aggregated to create a ‘profile’, what would my search pattern say about me? The answer is that I suspect that my profile is likely to come up as puzzling to say the least. Why?

Well, as you know I am a writer. I may not be a great writer, or a successful one, but I am a writer. That means that some of my search terms are bound to be on the unsavory end of the spectrum. I can’t help it. If I want to write a less than pleasant character, and I want that character to come across as believable, then I have to try to understand that character’s world… and that is precisely where my research comes in. After all, the characters I have something in common with are easy, it’s the characters that are totally alien to me that require me to look things up to try to figure out just where it is that they are coming from, and at times that research can be pretty extensive. Oh, it’s not just the unsavory characters that lead me to Google’s door (the professional ones too tend to require their fair share of research), but those are the ones that are most likely to raise some eyebrows.

The thing is that doing that research can be an eyeopening experience. It can also be a puzzling one, or it can leave me feeling almost sick, but at the end of the day what I have is a situation in which what I search for says very little about who I am, what I think, or what I care about.

In defense of porn

I can’t believe I’m writing this. No, I don’t like porn, and I agree that it is too easily available (in fact at times it seems to be all but inescapable), but at the same time I am fed up with moralists who want to restrict what others see and do in the privacy of their own homes to protect their children’s innocence, or some such nonsense. Let me be clear about it: they are your children, and while I applaud your determination to shield them from the big, bad world, that doesn’t give you the right to restrict what other adults see and do. Your job -a job you signed up for- is to world-proof your child, not to child-proof the world.

What got me thinking about this is the push by the British government to force ISPs to put content filters in place, and to have them turned on by default. If you want to turn them off you have to notify your ISP, and by extension the government, of your desire to do so. I don’t know how things work over there, but in most places you have to be an adult (or have parental consent) to sign a contract… so why shouldn’t the people who sign up for a service be treated as adults by default?

The thing is that while trying to argue against protecting the children feels wrong, I can’t forget that the crew that wants to shield the children’s eyes is mostly the same crew that -using what is basically the same argument- opposes marriage equality. It is also akin to the crew that not too long ago passed a law in Russia outlawing ‘gay propaganda’… and please don’t even get me started on how wide ranging, inaccurate and unreliable those filters happen to be.

These filters have never really worked, not like they were supposed to anyway, and requiring people to opt-out of a government mandated filter in order to access a certain kind of content is, to put it bluntly, nothing but an intimidation tactic.

Oh, I’m not that naive. I know that, filters or no filters, internet activity is monitored. I know there are very powerful interests that seek to control what I see and do while online. I know that the advent of mobile platforms built with the internet in mind, ridiculously restrictive app stores you can’t bypass (at least not legally), large social networks and walled gardens has effectively enabled the corporate world to set itself as a gatekeeper to the internet, and I know that even now efforts are underway to restrict my access even further by pushing the app store model onto the desktop. In that regard a government mandated filter that denies me access to a specific kind of content in order to ‘protect the children’ is just a small step. Other kinds of content are sure to follow. The wild, untamed internet poses a threat that makes both governments and corporations uncomfortable, and they are desperate to get a hold of it.

Yes, there is plenty of content out there that I find objectionable, but as long as the content doesn’t cross a legal boundary, I acknowledge that it has a right to exist. I realize that I don’t have a right to shove my opinion down other people’s throats… and, for better or for worse, that means that porn is one of those things I have no choice but to live with.

As I said, I’m not in the UK, the proposed law does not affect me, not directly, but I fear that these laws will spread, that sooner or later they will be adopted by other countries, and once porn is gone, what will the next target be?

Heads I win, tails you lose

Contests are one of the best vehicles for aspiring authors out there… or at least so goes the conventional wisdom, and there is no denying that  in some instances they can be a wonderful opportunity. The only problem is that there are also a whole bunch of other instances.

Now, I’m not knocking all contests, but one of the first things you have to do before you enter one is… to make sure that you can turn the prize down. Why would you want to do that? Well, let’s face it, the main draw of some of these contests is that they offer you a way into the walled garden of paid authors without having to go through those dreaded gatekeepers, known as ‘the agents’. That’s good, except for the fact that you don’t really know the terms you are agreeing to. Granted, in the real world a new author doesn’t really have that much bargaining power either, but at least you get to read the contract before you sign on the dotted line, and if there is a clause in there that you really can’t live with, well, you can always choose to walk away. Beware of the fact that by entering a contest you may be giving up that particular right.

Another thing I find hilarious is that the people arguing contests are an unknown author’s best friends are all too often the same people who argue against self-publishing and reading fees. Money should always flow towards the author, they say… but they make an exception for contest entry fees. Okay, I understand that organizing a contest does entail some expenses, but let’s look at the deal those organizers are getting out of this: they get hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions plus fees that more than allow them to recoup any expenses they may have incurred in in the process, and they also get their pick of hundreds/thousands of works… with the added benefit that authors don’t even have a right to see what kind of terms they are agreeing to. Oh, and while they are at it they also often claim exclusive rights to the entry while the contest is underway (something that can translate into more than six months), meaning that the authors are effectively frozen in place until they deign to come down with a verdict. That is ridiculous.

Is self-publishing ideal? No, nowhere near it, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. It is hard work, and chances are that your book will languish in obscurity for all times no matter what you do, but the thing is that right now authors can have their book published with some pretty favorable terms for less than what it would cost them to enter a single contest… and the sad fact remains that writing contests, just like publishing and self-publishing, is a field that is rife with scam artists. You may not be getting much out of self-publishing, but at least what you get out of it is a known quantity.

It’s a tough world for authors out there, and the bottom line is that whether you are looking to enter a contest, publish your book, trying to find an agent, or trying to determine what your best option for self-publishing happens to be, you have to be very, very careful… that, and to keep typing.

Who is to blame?

Let’s tackle a little scenario: a man has an affair, it is not a one time thing, and after a number of years someone finally clues his wife in to what is going on. The woman is understandably angry, but instead of apologizing the man reacts violently, blaming the one who told her of the affair for all his troubles. After all, as far as he is concerned the problem is not so much the fact that he was cheating on his wife all along, but rather the fact that someone had the nerve to  fill her in. Up to that point his life was going great, and if only that no-good busybody had kept his/her mouth shut the good times would have rolled on.

I think we can all agree that, in spite of what the guy in this particular scenario may think, the fault belongs not so much on the shoulders of the one who clued his wife in, but rather on his own. He was the one who chose to have an affair, that’s what caused the problem, and therefore he is responsible for the consequences of his actions, end of story.

This is the scenario that comes to my mind when I hear the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff moaning about the fact that Snowden’s revelations have damaged the relations between the US and other countries, or that he has affected the importance of trust, or some other such nonsense.

Just as in the case of the cheating husband that was mentioned above, the damage was not done by Snowden, the damage was done by the existence of the programs he revealed in the first place. No programs, no problem.

Of course, leaving it at that would make it to easy for all other governments, it would let them off the hook, and the truth is that they are most definitely not the innocent victims they claim to be. In fact chances are that most of them have engaged in similar acts within the limitations of their own technical capabilities, that at least some of them  had an understanding with the US when it came to the programs that have been revealed, and that some of them may even have benefited from some sort of unofficial cooperation agreement… not that they want their own citizens to know about that. In that regard their ‘outrage’ is nothing but posturing, and it is precisely because that outrage is nothing but posturing that, in spite of all the moaning about the lasting damage that was done by Snowden’s revelations, at least at the government level life will (unfortunately) soon go back to normal.

Selling an end to privacy

Earlier today I was thinking about a conversation I had with one of my best friends on the issue of privacy long before the subject became a fashionable one. She had a new baby, I had just microchipped one of my pets for the first time a couple of days prior (yes, it was that long ago), there was a kidnapping that was making headlines, and we were talking about safety. I remember asking her what would she do if someone were to come to her and tell her that there was a new GPS chip that could be implanted under her baby’s skin, one that would ensure that, no matter what happened, the child’s location could be pinpointed in a matter of seconds anywhere in the world. The trade off was that such an implant would be permanent, her child would be tracked for life… and that since she was the one who would making that call, her baby would have no say on the matter.

To me the idea of being tracked 24/7 was horrifying, and she was not too keen on it herself, but at the same time when she weighed her distaste for the thing against her own fears –even if those fears revolved around a very remote possibility– she hesitated. No, she didn’t want to be tracked herself, but the possibility of allaying what were some of her worst fears, fears that were actually being fanned by a media machine, was obviously alluring to her. Continue reading Selling an end to privacy