"A Certain Nobility"

Simon Evans's "Symptoms of Loneliness."

Monday posting will resume in the new year. Cheer up, motherfuckers!


Ghost of Christmas cool

I'm interested in online literary archives. I'm going to incorporate some into my classes this spring, including the Poe archive at the Harry Ransom Center.

Check this out: all sixty-six pages of the handwritten manuscript of A Christmas Carol, complete with edits and notes and a typewritten version to aid in reading. You can even download a copy for yerself.


Castle for sale

This place is for sale and about five blocks from me. Any Bellmen want to pitch in? We could blog in peace while the zombies flail helplessly against the rock walls.


"Nobody even said "happy birthday" to me. Someday this tape will be played and then they'll feel sorry."

Depressing Monday posting.

R.I.P, Dan O'Bannon. He was a groovy dude. Collihouse has a nice piece on him.

comic via Curved White.

I must be missing something

Kevin Drum writes:
But leverage is everywhere, not just on Wall Street. If you buy a house with 20% down, you're employing leverage of 4:1. At 10% down it's 9:1. At 5% down it's 19:1. At the FHA minimum of 3.5%, it's 27:1.

That's too much. Just as leverage much above 10:1 is dangerous in the banking system, it's dangerous in the home mortgage market too. If 10% had been the minimum down payment over the past decade, the housing bubble never would have taken off the way it did. Crazy loans would have been rare. Unqualified buyers would have continued to rent. Mortgage fraud would have been dramatically reduced. Speculation and flipping would have been dampened. Foreclosures wouldn't have decimated entire cities. The derivatives market wouldn't have reached such stratospheric heights. We still might have had a medium-sized housing bubble, but the world probably wouldn't have been on the verge of imploding last year.

We should limit leverage everywhere: in the real banking system, in the shadow banking system, in hedge funds, and where it's baked into derivatives. But we should also do it at the individual level: mortgage loans, car loans, and credit card loans. The point is not to cut off credit, but to do what we can to ensure that it grows steadily and sensibly, not catastrophically. A minimum 10% down payment to buy a house is a place to start.

I get the point, but it's important to keep in mind that the 3.5 percent FHA amount is for first time home buyers like I hope to be early in 2010. There are loads of responsible people who plan to live in the home that they buy at 27:1 leverage and have figured out how to make the monthly payments. Punishing all home buyers to curb the behavior of speculators and "flippers" would be really unfortunate.


The continuing commodification of the short story

This is an interesting little piece about The Atlantic's deal with Amazon. The magazine is publishing short fiction again, but you have to buy it separately from Amazon to play on ye olde Kindle.

Some of the comments are pretty funny, too. Here is one of them, from Chris Broe:
What’s the difference? Short story. Novel. It’s going to have stupid vampires in it. If the reader is that easily amused, then $3.99 is a perfect price point. “What are you reading?” (Oh, it’s a short story I bought on line.) “What’s it about?” (Well, it’s got these, you know, it’s really great, it’s set in this weird country…….it’s about vampires, okay? Vampires.) “Why Johnny can’t read, eh?” (Huh?) “This is my stop, good luck.” (Snob. What are you reading? Come back here!) The Snob stepped quickly from the car, dodging the rush of fresh passengers. Then a vampire jumped from out of nowhere and killed him, and laughed about it, like the dirty rat-person thingie a vampire truly is. The end. That’ll be $3.99 please.


Fatherhood's worst surprise so far

Speaking of reading books...

The experience of being a father is full of surprises for me, and most all of them are pleasant. But there's one that's really, really unpleasant.

It makes me an emotional wreck when I sit down to read fiction of any sort that in any way relates to childhood. Even (perhaps especially) descriptions of childhood woes that are cliched or trite have a devastating effect on me as a reader. I often have to put the book down and try again later.

Max (pictured), I blame you.

Frack this list: io9's 20 best sci-fi novels of the decade

Either io9 has such poor taste that I can safely ignore their recommendations OR I am clearly out of touch with what is happening in the world of scifi. Here's their list with my reactions:

Acacia: The War with the Mein, by David Anthony Durham

Never read it. Never heard of it. Never heard of Durham.

Air, Or Have Not Have, by Geoff Ryman

Never read it. Never heard of it. Never heard of Ryman.

The Alchemy of Stone, by Ekaterina Sedia

Never read it. Never heard of it. Never heard of Sedia.

The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson

I've read the first book, but couldn't finish the second (sorry, Tracy K and Jeff M!). It's definitely baroque, and I really like sections of the books, but there are chapters that just meander into pointlessness. Or maybe I'm not smart enough to get the awesome of those chapters.

Confessions of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean

Never read it. I heard of this when that terrible Benjamin Button movie came out, but haven't gotten around to checking it out.

Down And Out In the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow

Never read it.

Of course I have heard of Doctorow (it's boingboing's internet, we're just living in it). I've read exactly one short story of his, which I enjoyed. I actually think his (mostly appealing) blogging makes me hesitant to read his novels. Definitely something weird going on in my brain on this one. I should just pick up the damn book.

The Execution Channel, by Ken MacLeod

Never read it.

MacLeod (which I will continue to pronounce "McCloud" whether or not that is correct) is aces in my esteem for tackling politics in his science fiction, but I don't find his actual writing to be very good. At his best, he evokes Iain M. Banks, but cannot sustain it. The reviews say this is one of his better works, so I guess I should pick it up.

If you are going to read MacLeod, my recommendation would be to start with Cosmonaut Keep, also published in this decade.

Glasshouse, by Charles Stross

Never read it, but it has been sitting on my nightstand for several months.

This paragraph is copied and pasted from McLeod's: Stross is aces in my esteem for tackling politics in his science fiction, but I don't find his actual writing to be very good. At his best, he evokes Iain M. Banks, but cannot sustain it. The reviews say this is one of his better works, so I guess I should pick it up.

If you are going to read Stross, I would start with Singularity Sky, also published in this decade.

Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling


Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

I'm reading this right now on the Kindle iPhone application. So far, it's pretty good. I'll update the post when I finish.

Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks

Okay, it's not bad. None of the Culture books are bad. In fact, the worst Culture book is probably better than most of the books on this list. So I guess I have no complaint with it's inclusion here. But if you haven't read any of these books before now, I would heartily recommend beginning with his short stories, or jumping in to Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons, or Excession.

The Mount, by Carol Emshwiller

Never read it. Never heard of it. Never heard of Emshwiller.

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

Never read it, but I do intend to do so. I am a fan of Atwood's work.

Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson

Never read it. Never heard of it. Never heard of Gibson (just kidding, but for real I have never been a big fan).

Perdido Street Station, by China MiƩville

Never read it. I'll probably get around to it. I have read two others of Mieville's.

Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge

This is not a great book, but it is a very, very interesting vision of the near future. If you want to know where things are heading, this is probably a more accurate prediction than most. (Note that the title is a complete sentence, not a phrase with a punctuation error).

Stories of Your Life And Others, by Ted Chiang

Never read it. Never heard of it. Never heard of Chiang. This is despite io9's assertion that:
Chiang is one of the legends of the science fiction world, often hailed as the best short story writer of his generation.

Where have I been?

Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

Never read it. Heard of the movie.

Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton

Never read it. Never heard of it. Never heard of Walton.

World War Z, by Max Brooks

Never read it. The Zombie Survival Guide was somewhat amusing, but did not leave me wanting more.

To sum up, that's 15 out of 20 I've never read. So it's completely not fair to react to this list so negatively. However, I will say that any of the follwoing novels could take the place of the Harry Potter book on any list, any list at all, that purports to be a list of great science fiction. All were published in this decade.

Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan

I recommend the whole series, with the caveat that Morgan feels like he must include some truly ridiculous sex scenes every 50 pages or so.

Pandora's Star, by Peter F. Hamilton

Truly mega let's-throw-everything-in-the-blender sci fi.

Santa Olivia, by Jacqueline Carey

If it didn't feature some (really quite innocent compared to a lot of stuff in this list) homosexuality, this would be an outstanding example of young-adult science fiction. Let me rephrase: This is an outstanding example of young-adult science fiction, but you will not likely find it in any young-adult section due to the aforementioned lesbianism.


Jack Rose R.I.P.

I'll give you a hand, Jason. Although my first post of the new era is not a happy one.
I learned today from Rob Cambre, an acquaintance in New Orleans, that Jack Rose died of a heart attack this month. Rose was a master guitarist whose work in the drone band Pelt would be notable enough had it not been eclipsed by his solo work. He was mentioned in the same breath as John Fahey, and he was 38. I saw him live thrice, once opening for Mogwai, where I met with him briefly. You know when you meet someone for the first time and knew they were ok? It was like that. But the first time was when he opened for Donald Miller at the Zeitgeist in New Orleans. He played this awesome blues piece that, over the course of a minute or so, morphed seamlessly into an Indian raga played at the speed of speed metal. It was one of the most transcendent musical moments I've ever experienced.

Listen and watch via authormag.


Monday posting begins

As promised last week, I'll be updating the blog with two or more posts each Monday. Today I've got a short insta-style post to Kevin Drum on Carbon Tax vs. Cap and Trade, and a link to a terribly awesome article about a new folding plug design to overcome the absolutely terrible U.K.-style of electrical plug.

And, via icanread via @rands, we've got a doodle about a walrus.

Design FTW

I love this. A simple design for a folding plug that will instantly be popular with anyone who travels with a charger in (or to) the U.K.

This is very appealing to the design geek in me: Great design overcomes stupid existing hardware, pushing it towards obsolescence while remaining backward-compatible. I work on similar problems in my current job (and it's just about the only interesting thing about my job).

Check out the whole article at Icon Magazine Online.

In a perfect world, taxing carbon would make more sense than Cap and Trade

Unfortunately, we live in a world that features such institutions as the United States Senate. I have to agree with Kevin Drum on this:
And at the risk of pissing off some decent people, I'll add one other thing. In the near term, no serious carbon tax will ever pass the U.S. Senate. Period. If you believe otherwise, you're just not paying attention to things. A big part of the surge in interest in a carbon tax is purely cynical, coming from special interests who are afraid a carbon cap might actually pass and want to muddy the waters with pseudo-liberal arguments in order to build an anti-C&T alliance and keep anything at all from passing. There are plenty of carbon tax advocates who are perfectly sincere, but I gotta tell them: you're being played by people who are the farthest thing imaginable from sincere. If you win, we're not going to get a carbon tax. We're going to get nothing.

Barring a sea change in the political situations (possibly brought on by a literal sea change?) cap-and-trade is our best bet to get some legislation passed that could have a positive impact.

It's worth checking out Drum's primer on cap and trade from April. I'm not swayed by all points, but it's definitely more realistic than the carbon tax.


This is not the end

No, dear reader, this is not the end. But posts have been pretty thin here at your humble blog of record. My job and new kid are absorbing almost all of my time. Our other Bellman are not frequent posters, either. But there are deeper mechanics at work, here, too.

The first is that DR has stopped posting. I hope that--if this blog keeps going long enough--DR comes back around. He was more than 50 percent of of the reason for the existence of the Bellman in the first place. And much more than me, he would fasten on to a subject and provide continuing attention, insight, and clear writing about it. By contrast, my own posts are usually quite inconsequential.

The other mechanism has to do with the force that drove us to blog in the first place. The Bellman was born in a truly bizarre political environment where the executive branch was busily eroding some of the most basic foundations of our country; and in a media environment where to be on television, one had to pretend that Bush was being "responsible." A lot of us started blogging just to convince ourselves that America had not gone completely freakin' crazy.

That's really not the situation anymore, and while the current events in D.C. and the world are just as important and far-reaching, they don't scare the bejesus out of me like the rush to war and the suspension of habeas corpus for brown people did.

The internet still needs its blog of record, however humble, so I am going to try a new strategy to keep things going: I'm going to collect blog-worthy items all week and do a blast of 2 or more posts each Monday. That way, all readers who remain can know when to expect new content, the world can continue to enjoy its faithful Bellman.

Other Bellmen may post during the week--as may I if something cries out for immediate textual response (that is, if the outrage cannot be contained by my twitter account (feel free to post your nom de twit in the comments... I'll follow you, dear reader)). So, if you've got the Bellman on speed dial, keep it tuned in! Or... some more appropriate, less mixed metaphor for continuing to visit our little blog.

So, like I said (3 times now, count 'em), this is not the end. Although, it is the end of this post.
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