Welcome!

I'm James Maxey, the author of the Dragon Age fantasy series of Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed, the Dragon Apocalypse series of Greatshadow, Hush, and Witchbreaker, as well as the superhero novels Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Atom-huggers

Okay, in my last post I came out as a global warming skeptic. However, here's some good news for those of you who worry about our carbon emissions: we have a safe alternative that produces no greenhouse gasses.

I've been googling this evening trying to find the total percentage of American carbon dioxide output that comes from coal. Unfortunately, I'm finding wildly varied numbers--anything from 35% to 85%. I can't believe the internet is giving me fuzzy information!

Whatever the actual figures are, I can tell you this: your house has a bigger carbon footprint than your car. We think of electricity as "clean" energy. If you have an electric furnace and an electric water heater, stove, etc., you might feel pretty smug about the fact that your house has no chimney. In fact, though, most electricity in America is generated by burning coal, and the emissions from that coal equal far more carbon than is being put out by all the automobiles in the US. Again, I keep finding different numbers--as low as 9%, as high as 25%.

We can't all stop driving in the next decade. If we switch to electric cars that are recharged at home, we'll be pushing the pollution from a tailpipe to a smokestack, but if we're still burning coal, it does little in the long run to reduce CO2. And, even if we perfect the electric car, we aren't going to perfect an electric airplane anytime soon, and all those big trucks on the highway are still going to be rolling on diesel. Electric cars might make acceptable short range commuter vehicles, but we are a long ways away from having a battery that would propel an 18 wheeler five hundred miles on a charge.

Fortunately, oil has jumped to $120 a barrel and could go higher. (Fortunately if you believe in global warming, that is.) This means that price alone is going to change people's driving habits. And, I predict that as $4 gasoline sets in, you're going to see more and more cars in production that are real fuel sippers. The Honda Insight hybrid gets almost 70mpg. I predict we'll see a 100mpg commuter car hit the market within the next 5 years. Maybe that's overly optimistic, but right now you can count all your 50mpg choices on the fingers of one hand. Give it five years, and you'll need both hands and some of your toes, too.

So, higher fuel costs will eventually cut down carbon emissions from vehicles. But, as noted, this is, maybe, 25% of the problem. The big target has to be those coal powered plants that are currently the backbone of american electricity, and, thus, the backbone of our economy and our way of life.

The technology exists to shut down the last coal fueled powerplant within the next twenty years. We just need to get over our irrational fear of nuclear power plants.

A few posts back, I talked about American's inability to judge relative dangers. Nuclear power is one of the victims of irrational fears. Let me be blunt: Nuclear power isn't safe. People can die working in nuclear power plants. The nearby cities can be endangered by nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants produce dangerous wastes. However: Every one of these statements is equally true for our present coal-based energy generation. Far, far, far more people have died mining coal than have ever died from nuclear power. US department of labor statistics show about 50 people die a year in mining accidents. Many more people die each year from a disease known as "black lung." Burning coal produces polution that some people estimates contributes to 10,000 cancer deaths per year, though I'm skeptical of such a round number. Still, it's inarguable that coal based power plants push a lot of bad things into our atmosphere... and, if you think that carbon dioxide is one of those bad things, then the environmental cost of coal is almost immeasurable compared with the environmental cost of nuclear. Coal also has pollution effects beyond just burning it... mining it currently strips away whole mountains and is a major source of ground water pollution.

The number of deaths attributed to nuclear power plant failures in the US is pretty low. The worst nuclear accident ever in America, Three Mile Island, killed exactly zero people. Yes, there is risk with this. If we converted to a completely nuclear electric economy, and had 1000 nuclear plants online instead of 100, we'd be increasing the risk of eventual catastrophic failure. But, again, you have to weigh this against the known risks and dangers of coal. Currently, if you compare the pollution and risk footprints of the 100 nuclear plants in the US against the pollution and risk footprints of 100 coal plants generating a similar amount of power, I believe you'd find that nuclear is the most responsible choice we can make for the environment.

As for waste, yes, nuclear waste has special challenges. There is a NIMBY response to its disposal. But, if you are a believer in man-made global warming, then you have to be more afraid of coal than nuclear. Nuclear power isn't going to make the oceans rise 30 feet. Carbon... maybe. I doubt it. But everything is a trade off of risks.

By the way, for proponents of wind and solar: Yes. Go for it. If you live in Arizona, solar may well be a better option than nuclear. If you live near an ocean or someplace that generates a lot of wind, put up the windmills. A windmill in my immediate vicinity would be mostly decoration... there's just not that much wind here. Solar panels are fine. We can cover the roofs of our nuclear power plants with them, but the technology isn't there today to have it completely replace coal. Nuclear power is ready. It's been ready for decades. It can save the world from coal, if we just have the good sense to use it.

Environmentalists are frequently called tree-huggers. Count me in the ranks of the atom huggers. I believe in power of the atom, by the atom, for the atom (at least when those atoms are arranged into the shape of me).

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What would it take to make me change my mind?

I was at Ravencon in Richmond, Va on Friday and Saturday. It's a great con. Very well organized, good attendance, and I thought the panels had interesting topics. There were plenty of actual science panels to go with the writing panels and gaming panels, etc. As a science fiction writer, and a science geek in general, I like being in the company of people who know what they are talking about.

On Friday, I moderated a panel on Global Warming. I went into the panel well prepared to make my argument that the case for man-made global warming isn't the slam-dunk, no further arguement needed conclusion presented by folks like Al Gore. I anticipated being a lone voice of dissent on the panel, so I tried to gather as much data as possible before going into the room. Instead, out of about 30 folks in the room, it turned out that fewer than five thought that man-made global warming was a reality.

I was actually somewhat bothered by this. Anytime I find myself on the side of a majority opinion, an instinct kicks in that makes me start questioning my own beliefs. And, beliefs is the operative word here.

One of the panelists who doubted global warming kept referring to scientists she knew who thought that man-made global warming was BS, so, ergo, it was BS. But, while I like talking to experts, I dislike relying on faith in experts as a foundation for my beliefs. To me, this is more faith than reason. Plus, it leads to the standard media "news" treatment of dueling experts. "My authorities are better than your authorities" begins to pass as reasoned debate. People no longer listen to evidence--they listen to "leaders," and this strikes me as a risky way to run a world.

I'm human. I have limited time and limited resources with which to judge the world. On a lot of important issues, it really isn't reason that guides me, but gut. I suspect the same is true of most people, and I don't find this a particularly bad human trait, as long as people retain the ability to listen to reason when they hear it, and follow reason instead of thier guts if needed. Over the years, I've found that I keep asking myself one simple question about my beliefs. As long as I know the answer to it, I feel that my beliefs are reasonably ones for me to hold; I'm not just being dogmatic to believe in evolution, or libertarianism, or whatever.

That question is: What evidence would convince me that I'm wrong?

As long as you are open to evidence that your beliefs are wrong, then you know you've still got a sliver of reason guiding your guts.

So, if you believe in God, what evidence would it take for you to believe that you are wrong?

If you don't believe in God, what evidence would you need to see to doubt that you were right?

If you believe in global warming, what evidence would make you think that the theory didn't have merit?

If you don't believe in global warming, what would it take to convince you that it's real?

Here are a few of my core beliefs. Here's what evidence I could encounter that would make me pretty sure I'd been wrong:

1. Atheism. This is simple: If I were to witness the rapture, I'd just sigh and say, "Well, I called that one wrong."

2. Evolution. This is also pretty easy: If we were to discover, clearly, repeatedly and predictably, human fossils through all geologic strata, then I think there's be a good case that humans were seperate creations from the rest of the world's biology.

3. Global Warming. This is a tough one, alas. I don't think you could gather enough data over a human lifespan to genuinely document a cause and effect relationship between the current warming trends and human emissions. You would need centuries of hard data; right now, the numbers before the last few decades are somewhat muddy. We're documenting changes of tenths of a degree. Today, we have thousands, if not millions, off hard data points from all over the globe, measured with digital instruments that are accurate and calibrated against all the other instruments. Unfortunately, we are comparing our increasingly precise numbers against data that was gathered for much of the last century by somebody looking out a window at a red-line on a thermometer and writing down the number it showed.

Still, I can think of one thing that could persuade me: As we get better data from Mars, if we were to document a multi-decade cooling trend there, or even temperature stability, while at the same time documenting a warming trend here on earth, then you could make the case that the warming isn't due to natural flucuations in the sun. Right now, though, Mars is showing a warming trend as earth is showing a warming trend. Of course, again, the data for Mars for more than a few decades isn't great data. Still, if I must form an opinion on this in my life time, then that seems like a good starting point. If Mars cools or remains stable between now and 2020, and earth warms over the same time span, then I think I'd swing over to believing in global warming.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Anti-Libertarian Propaganda???

I recently read a column on Snope.com where the "real" libertarian agenda was published. I did some googling, and as near as I can tell, it started as a blog post at Caleb's Column. You can read the original post here.

A few highlights of the evil libertarian agenda:

1. Replace public schools, which are required to be somewhat religiously and politically neutral, with right-wing Christian fundamentalist academies which indoctrinate students with ultra-right ideology, and are run to make profits.

5. Remove all social programs which aid the poor, including Social Security, Medicare, Workplace Health and Safety, Unemployment Insurance, Drug Treatment Programs, Student Loans, and the Department of Labor.

12. Rewrite history to make Communism worse than Fascism.

16. Rewrite history to make Senator Joe Mccarthy into a great American hero.

17. Remove all public knowledge that Socialism and Communism ever had a mass following in the United States. “Who controls the present, controls of the past.”

I must confess, as a person who has vote with the Libertarian party for the last 20 years, and as a hard-core atheist, I was somewhat shocked to discover I'd been working all these years to push kids into right-wing, Christian Fundamentalist schools. That wasn't in my indocrination kit at all! Well, I'm tearing up my member card right now, boy, I tell you what.

Or, maybe not.

My first reaction was to argue with this article post by post. Some of these agenda items actually sound like good ideas to me though. I would love to see cuts in social security and medicaire... those are a big part of the reason we are currently a debtor nation to the tune of 10 trillion dollars. If fairness, I want to cut defense spending as well, and whatever trivial percentage of our budget is currently being spent on the War on Drugs, or in trying to catch governors spending their own dough on prostitutes. Other items in the post seem strange... I'm not sure one needs to rewrite history to make communism worse than fascism. On sheer bodycount, the commies win. But, "worse" is such a strange qualifier here. It's like saying that lung cancer is worse than stomach cancer. Can't we just agree to lump it into the list of things that suck, and move on? It's not like any libertarian I know thinks that fascism was the way to go.

The last two items I listed because they seem so contradictory. If libertarians are engaged in an effort to puff up Joe McCartney (???), then wouldn't we want to promote that he was right, and that we were absolutely overrun with internal commies, since this was his big claim to fame? And, of course there were once big communist and socialist movements... most libertarians will tell you they still are, they just relabeled themselves as democrats and republicans.

But, the most mysterious thing about the column to me is, really, why bother to slander libertarians? There is no chance in the world we're going to take over congress or the presidency any time soon. You don't need to misrepresent our ideas to have people reject us... people reject our actual ideas without much prodding, thank you very much. And, since he's framing this as a libertarian/communist dichotomy, I would point out that libertarians have never really held power anywhere in the world, while commies have controlled about 1/3 of the world's population. It just seems like a very strange thing to view libertarians as a threat to the great historical march of Marxism.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I might also do some yardwork...

Pale morning clouds mute the lighting
on a fresh Saturday fit for writing.
I'll labor all day,
just typing away,
on scenes where my dragons are fighting.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Debate Debates

I didn't watch the debate between Obama and Clinton the other night, but I've heard Obama whining about the "gotcha" nature of the questions. I've got two gut reactions to this.

First, Obama has forfeited all right to complain about a tough press, in my opinion. Obama has been treated for the most part as if he's the second coming of Jack Kennedy and Ronald Reagan combined, the most talented politician to have emerged in America since the founding fathers. He's been running on fluff, talking about hope, working together, changing the world, etc. He does have positions and policies, but these are distributed through his website, they aren't the stuff of speeches or debates.

For the most part, media reports about Obama resemble celebrity gossip. Even the stuff he's getting smacked around on now is gossipy--did you hear what he said? Did you hear what his friend's said? He's risen to where he is mostly on chatter and charm; unfortunately, if chatter lifts you up, it can also drop you. It's especially dangerous for Obama because his resume is so thin. When negative stories hit McCain, McCain has a track record of decades in the senate that he can point to as evidence of who he is and what he does. He's shown a willingness to take stands unpopular with fellow republicans and, on the matter of the war, with pretty much everyone. No one agrees with him on everything, but it's not important, because, agree or not, he's clearly demonstrated that he's someone who puts some thought into his opinions and goes with what he thinks and feels, not with what is most politically convenient. Obama's most famous vote is one he never made--he didn't vote for the war, but since he wasn't in the senate at the time, we'll never know how he would have behaved if he'd actually been put on the spot. And aside from that non-vote... what else? Where are the bills with his name on them? Where are the instances where he took a stand against his own base and voted in a way that showed any political courage at all? If Obama want's to run on a substance free platform, he can't gripe about substance free debate questions.

My second reaction to Obama's complaints, though, are that he's absolutely right. As something of a political junkie, I stay at least vaguely aware of what questions are getting asked in debates, and, for the most part, this entire campaign has been almost entirely information free. The questions, again, have a high school popularity contest feel to them. Candidates for the presidency deserve better questions than, "Do you think people like you?"

My favorite question of all the debates was the one on whether illegal aliens should be given driver's licenses. It's a good question because there isn't a clear cut, easy answer that will make everyone happy. No is a good answer, because, what part of illegal don't you understand? If an illegal alien walks into a DMV and applies for a license, why not slap handcuffs on him instead of taking his picture? But, yes is also a good answer. Illegal aliens are here. They are a part of our economy. And, they're driving. Encouraging them to have driver's licenses deals with a pragmatic reality... they are on the roads anyway, they should at least prove to a beaurocrat somewhere that they know what a stop light means and how to parallel park. Clinton got chewed up by basically answering with both the pros and cons and then not saying what her position was. She was evasive. But, you know what? While it was my favorite question of the debate, it was also one that a presidential candidate really didn't need to have thought about in great detail because the federal government doesn't issue driver's licenses. Still, I liked that she at least showed an awareness of all sides of the argument.

Obama has hinted he's not going to do a debate in North Carolina. I hope he changes his mind. If it will help, I'll offer to moderate. I'll even give my questions in advance:

1. Do you know what the current federal debt is? (Rounding off to the nearest trillion is acceptable.) Do you regard the debt as a problem to be tackled by the next administration, or as one that can safely be left for future generations to deal with? Is a debt free America a realistic goal? If not, what would your target be for the debt load of America, as expressed as a percentage of GDP?

2. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Should this be a guiding principal of American imigration policy? Or is this mearly a quaint 19th century platitude that must give way to a 21rst century policy of giving preference to the energetic, successful, well-educated elites of other countries who come here to drive our high-tech industries? Should the Statue of Liberty's text be replaced with an H-1 visa? And, do you feel our current imigration targets are well calibrated, or should we be allowing more legal imigrants? Less? Should the number be doubled? Halved?

3. Do you know how many countries US armed forces are currently stationed in? How many countries do you perceive as potential military threats to American's on American soil? Do you feel that a military presense in Europe, Asia, South America, the Pacific, the Middle East, etc., has done anything over the last fifteen years to make American's safer? How many nuclear bombs do you feel American must possess in order to maintain an effective deterrent? What is your position of testing these nuclear weapons? What is your position on a military presence in orbit?

4. Do you feel prayer is a legitimate approach to problem solving? You've both (Obama and Clinton) spoke of feeling the guiding presence of the holy spirit in your lives. Would you follow the guidance of that holy spirit in crafting foreign policy? Social policy? Economic policy? Would you feel comfortable appointing a catholic to the supreme court? A jew? A muslim? A scientologist? An atheist?

5. Of current the supreme court justices, are there any you feel you agree with more often than others? Are there any you feel have a fundamental misunderstanding of the constitution? If so, what would that misunderstanding be?

6. If oil remains above $100 a barrel, do you foresee any potential benefits? Do you feel the government should have a role in determining the price of commodities (as is already done for a lot of agricultural products) such as oil, drugs, and houses? Are there any products that you feel the government should never regulate in price, but should always be left to the whims of the free market?

7. Do you feel, twenty years after it was declared, that the war on drugs has been a success? What stratedgies and tactics would you alter should you continue the war? Would you be willing to continue the war for 100 years if neccessary?

Other questions are popping to mind, but this will do for now. If Clinton or Obama give me a call about moderating, I'll be sure to let y'all know.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Ten Trillion Pound Gorilla

Sometimes, I'll be listening to NPR talking about the political supression that goes on in other countries. The Russians, for instance, have horrible supression because Putin's party keeps all but a half dozen minor parties off the ballot. In Iran, all the candidates must meet the approval of the all powerful mullahs. In Egypt, candidates who are "radical" are disqualified from appearing on the ballot. And NPR reports that the citizens of these countries still support the ruling parties, and speculate it's because the media is controlled by the government. NPR. A news media created by an act of congress, is decrying state run media.

Which of these conditions isn't true, at least in parallel, in the US? Can you imagine going into a voting booth and having SIX parties to choose from? Here, the religious mullah's may not select the candidates (though some would argue that James Dobson and Pat Robertson certainly try), but the media mullahs decide early on who the serious candidates are and who the jokes will be and shape the race by reporting on it as a popularity contest. Money mullahs also have their say, though this time I was pleased to see that, on the republican side at least, money didn't prove to be the decisive factor. As far as disqualifying candidates from the ballot, I'm currently listed as "unafilliated" because the Libertarian party was decertified for failing to get 10% of the vote. But, why should any party or candidate get decertified? It's an electronic ballot these days. Does it seriously take that much more electricity to put ten candidates on the screen instead of two? The reality is that powerful people decide in advance who we get to vote for, and our choices wind up between corporate approved candidate A and corporate approved candidate B.

I mentioned that the election is reported as a popularity contest. It has to be--the differences in the issues between the "mainstream" candidates is trivial. They squabble around the edges on the nuances of who is more opposed to gay marriage, or illegal immigrants, or whether we should be using military might in Iraq, or whether we should have gone into Pakistan to get Bin Ladin. Our elections hinge on whether someone has a nervous laugh, or is too old, or attends church with a bigot. It's like we never get past the voting patterns of our high school class presidents. The candidates there might take a position on school lunches or allocation of parking spaces, but everyone knew they would have no genuine power to change things, and the election was going to come down to who was the most likable.

So, the election is going to come down to McCain and, probably, Obama. Neither of them has ever uttered a word about the biggest threat that America faces. They aren't going to. None of the mainstream candidates are going to. Because you can't get elected if you talk about the truth in America.

There's a ten trillion pound gorilla hanging off the great American skyscraper, and everyone is acting like they don't see it.

I'm talking about the Federal debt. Not the budget deficit, though this is related. The deficit is how much we're falling short each year in our tax collection versus our spending. The debt is how much we owe, and currently it's closing in on $10,000,000,000. Ten trillion.

Currently, we collect about 2.5 trillion a year in taxes. So, if we shut down the Federal government... we don't pay any federal employee salaries, we pay no social security, we leave our tanks sitting out in the desert and have our forces hitchhike home... and we still would need four years before we were out from under this debt.

Four years might not sound so bad, but the reality is that we aren't going to shut down the government. We're going to keep growing it. The interest on 10 trillion dollars ads up rather quickly. It's turned into a national reverse savings account. Since we run budget deficits, we are continuing to borrow money just to pay the interest payments on the debt. We've become a country that's akin to a household using its credit cards to pay its mortgage. If you were a financial counselor who saw a family doing this, you'd recognize that family was in a serious financial death spiral.

And you know all those billions we're spending "off book" to protect America by fighting a pre-emptive war? Well, if we went to war with China, or Saudi Arabia, they wouldn't need a single tank or bomb to bring us to our knees. They could just do nothing, and stop funding our debt. The real WMD's of the future won't be nuclear or biological, but financial.

You can look around at the supposed prosperity growth of America in the last twenty years, but we're more akin to the overdrawn families living in McMansions who've been living the good life by borrowing until they can't borrow any more. Then, someone loses a job, or an interest rate rises a point, or gas goes up a dollar a gallon in a year, and the whole facade comes crumbling down.

The longer we ignore the problem, the more difficult it will be to solve. And I worry we'll never, ever elect the people who would have the courage to solve it. To get back in the black, we have to do two things: Increase taxes and decrease services. Curiously, I don't notice any candidate running on that slogan.

Some modest proposals for increasing taxes: First, reinstate the estate tax at a newly draconian level. At heart, I'm a libertarian, opposed to taxing people just because they are wealthy. But, you know, sacrifices must be made. We're going for a decade with the estate tax slowly dwindling down to zero. The year you die is going to effect how much your family gets to keep--the longer you hold on, the better for them. So, why not keep this "changes by the year" philosophy, only instead of it going down, we spin a wheel January 1 to figure out the death tax amount for the year? And the wheel can have a lot of 100% slots and almost no 0% slots.

Second, we could have a "too much fame" tax. We could have a vote each year of the celebrities we're most tired of hearing about. Then, we'd just go and grab everything from the top ten folks on that list. Britney would be too broke to afford her brazilian waxes after a few votes. Rush Limbaugh could no longer afford to hire a housekeeper to score hillbilly heroin from. If you're a baseball player caught up in a steriod scandal at the same time you're closing in on a home run record, well, you'd better hope there are ten people more loathed than you are this year. If you do manage to get rich, you'd learn to keep your head low. The new rule would be, you can be famous, or you can be rich, but it's dangerous to have too much of both.

Cutting services: Step one, let's get rid of the military. Honestly, I have nothing against our soldiers. They've done a fine job. But, do we really need troops in a hundred different nations? In theory, the purpose of our "defense" forces should be just that... defending our borders. Making sure no hostile nation comes onto our shores and tries to grab, I dunno, whatever it is we make here in America. Our iced coffee drinks, perhaps. But we could do this with a much, much, much tinier military than we presently have. We just need to keep 50 nukes. Or even just say we're keeping 50 nukes, and we're not showing them to anyone, or saying where they're pointed. But, Portugal, if you mess with us... well, just don't is all.

As for our immediate borders, well, gee, the INS and border patrol are doing a bang-up job aren't they? I bet no more than a few dozen people slip over the border each year. What? How many? Oh dear. So I have an alternative to the current border patrol. We make it all volunteer. We ask patriotic American's to come on out to the borders and serve a week or two at a time patrolling. In return, they get to ride around in armed pick-up trucks and fire machine guns into the air while drinking beer. No terrorist in his right mind is going to face off against that. Mexican's (and the occasional Canadian) can sneak through now knowing that if they're caught it will be by professionals who will treat them respectfully and escort them back out of the country. With the drunken gun-toting volunteer force, who wants to chance it?

For the oceans, the deal would be similar, only it would be armed speed boats. Honestly, with the right recruiting posters, we not only wouldn't have to pay the volunteers, we could charge them a thousand bucks a week, and we'd still have all the manpower we need.

Obviously, my modest proposals aren't serious approaches to dealing with our problems. And yet, they are better proposals than anything I've heard from McCain or Obama or Clinton. They aren't talking about the debt because their fingerprints are on the credit cards. We were once the wealthiest nation on earth but both Republicans and Democrats have colluded to manage our finances in a way that would make even MC Hammer's business managers blush.

And, in fairness, while ten trillion dollars is a big number... trillions are normally not often encountered outside of discussions of astrophysics... the US economy is a creature of big numbers. Our gross domestic product is roughly 14 trillion. We owe a lot of money, but if we had to pay this debt, in theory it's not too late. But after 8 more years of a president who just doesn't talk about the problem? Where is the tipping point? If we don't take it seriously now, then when?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Blogger's Question

Some no doubt wonder
Why's he stuck on these hiaku?
A blow to the head?

Well, no. To be honest, was writing an email last Sunday morning and noticed that a sentence I had just written had a hiaku rhythm,* starting and ending with a 5 syllable phrase. I went ahead an altered it to be a hiaku in that email, then wrote a hiaku about writing that hiaku to post on my blog. Since that hiaku ended with the line "I should put on pants," I had several people over at the Codex board write humorous hiaku responses about the horror and/or inspiration of me sitting around naked writing poetry. I would like to state that, for the record, I wasn't naked. I was in my underwear.

At a Starbucks.

Anyway, the hiaku have helped me set a personal record for this blog: I actually have at least one post a day. Admittedly, they aren't long posts. But, hopefully one or two raised a grin, and they fit into one of the topics I frequently blog about, musing about the writing life.

If I could, I'd write 1000 word articles every day. I like meaty, though-provoking posts. But, I really don't know that I have seven meaty, thought-provoking ideas a week. Probably I have something closer to one per week.

So, as a blogger, I have a question: Do readers actually enjoy these frequent mini-posts? Something fresh every day even if it's little more words than a fortune cookie fortune? Or do you mind waiting waiting a week for the longer, more chunky posts?

Also, does anyone have any strong opinions about the content? I would say that over the years, I've drifted into writing three main types of articles.

1. Practical writing advice.
2. Political rants and/or religious rants.
3. Stories of my personal history.

I also write articles about writing and promoting Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed, but I post these over at Bitterwoodnovel.blogspot.com.

So, does anyone absolutely hate that I waste my time writing one of the categories of articles listed above? Is there a type of article that you browse over here hoping to find? I seem to get the most links from other blogs when I write about writing. I get the most comments on a post when I write about my personal history. And I get the most emails when I write about religion and politics.

Currently, I write about just about anything that interest me. Even then, I edit the material I post here. The lives of my friends interest me more than politics, but I wouldn't post an article about them because I respect other people's privacy. Griping about my day job produces most of my verbal rants in real life, but I don't gripe about work here because I suspect most people would find it whiney and boring... and whiney and boring is something I only inflict on my closest friends! And, as a man, I would say that sex is right up at the top of the list of things that interest me, but I don't talk about sex here because it would be crass.

The point is, I already select the sort of stuff I write about from a much larger pool of things that interest me. Should I narrow my selection further? Or just carry one with the current mish-mash of topics?

*Rhythm is, like, the ultimate weapon if you're playing Hangman against an unsuspecting foe. They burn through all five vowels instantly, and are left with only two strikes. Really proficient players will instantly deduce rhythm once the vowels are gone, but less experienced players usually guess the "y" next, then strike again by guessing an "s", and then usually crash and burn guessing something really random, like a "w."

Saturday's Promise

Just after midnight
on a Saturday morning
ripe with potential

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday's Agenda

bang out a chapter
then have a margarita
big as a fishbowl

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thursday's lament

Up at 4:30
Nothing written yesterday
save one sad hiaku

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Wednesday Calling

Ah! The temptation!
To call in sick and stay home...
Here there be dragons!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Tuesday's Zombie

up till two A.M.
groping for one thousand words
makes a rough Tuesday

Monday, April 07, 2008

Why I'm not afraid of Muslims (or Christians, or Atheists, for that matter)

I wrote this rather long response in the comments section in the Darwn Fish post I made over the weekend. I'm modifying it slightly to make it its own post. I got bugged last week when I read an article saying that people who posted Darwin Fish on thier cars were narrowminded, bigoted cowards. The argument ran that we atheist aren't afraid to parody Christians, but we don't dare speak out against Muslims because we'd get our heads chopped off.

The main reason I'm more vocal against Christianity than Islam is simply a matter of personal experience. In my life, I've known hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians. I can count the number of Muslims I personally know on the fingers of one hand. If I scan my AM dial, I find several stations of preaching and gospel music. No hint of the Muslim faith can be found except maybe Cat Stevens playing on an oldies station.

I don't have any actual numbers to back this up, but, world-wide, I'm guessing that if you are the victim of a beheading, you are statistically likely to have been killed by a Muslim. And, world-wide, Muslims do seem responsible for a high percentage of terrorists acts. They aren't exclusively responsible, mind you, but still, if I heard about a bomb going off in a major metropolitan area tomorrow, I'd immediately suspect a Muslim was behind it, unless it turned out to be doctor's office, in which case I'd suspect an anti-abortion wacko, or a medical lab, in which case I'd suspect an animal rights nut. And, when Muslim fundamentalists get thier fingers into the governance of a country, that country is pretty much screwed. Stonings, beheadings, hand-choppings, and the horrible degredation of women become the law of the land... trust me, I don't want fundamentalist Islam holding any power at all in American politics. I'm deeply grateful for a constitution that prevents this.

That said, I just cannot see any plausible way that Muslims are a serious threat to the American way of life. This isn't to say they are NO threat. They simply aren't in the top ten threats to life, maybe not even in the top 100. Chalking up every single American death in the Iraq war to the actions of a Muslim fundie, that means in a 10 year period, Islamic terrorists have managed to kill about 8,000Americans.

In that same time frame, 430,000 American's died in auto accidents. 280,000 were killed by guns. 38,000 American's drowned. The general couch-potato, fast-food lifestyle of American's contributed to about 9 million heart failures in this time span. 650,000 people died of the flu. The flu! The flu is 80 times more likely to kill you than a Muslim terrorist if you're an American. The airwaves are full of people who think it's a good idea to spend a trillion dollars on a war to fight Islamic terrorists. No one is advocating for spending a billion dollars to make certain everyone single American gets a flu shot. (I'm not either, by the way.)

Americans seem to have no capacity at all to weigh risks and design appropriate responses. Large chunks of my fellow citizens are so terrified of the invading Muslim hordes they support torture, indefinite detention without charges, and generally bombing the crap out of people who share the faith of the 50 or so Muslims in America who've ever committed a terrorist act.

There are 8 million Muslims living in America. So far, the known terrorist conversion rate here is roughly 50 to 8,000,000, or about 1 out of every 160,000. Let's assume that there are sleeper cells, though, who are waiting to kill us and quadruple that number, to one out of every 40,000.

Somewhere out in America, 200 Muslims are going to sleep tonight with murder, mayhem, and carnage on thier minds. Frightened? That's 4 per state. Draw a hundred mile circle around you... are there any Islamic terrorists in that radius? Maybe. If you live in certain areas, bump the maybe into probably, even certainly. Scared yet?

Compare this number to the number of all Americans who commit murders each year--roughly 1 person in 20,000 is going to kill somebody. Assuming that murderers as a whole reflect society as a whole, then more than half of US murders are performed by people who self identify as Christian. This means that about 1 in 40,000 Christians are murderers--so, there are quite possibly 3750 Christians among us who are thinking of killing somebody tonight. Your odds of living within 100 miles of one of them is quite good. Just keep watching your local papers.

(If the notion that 50% of murderers would think of themselves as Christian strikes you as absurd, I'll direct you to these 10 year old statistics of religious affiliations of inmates in federal prisons... these number aren't, alas, broken down by crime, so I don't know how many of these are murderers and how many are in for tax evasion, or child porn, or whatever. But, 10 years ago, 84% of prisoners identified themselves as Christian. Read the numbers here. )

Obviously, I'm pushing these numbers to the point of absurdity. But, if you get murdered in the US, you are inarguably more likely to be killed by a person who was raised in the Christian faith than in the Muslim faith. A sense of perspective is required.

I would much rather live in a nation that's 50% Christian than 50% Muslim. I'm not trying to make the argument above that Christian's are dangerous; 39,999 out of 40,000 of them aren't murderers, after all. I work side by side with Christians. My whole family is Christian other than myself. I like Christians! It's just thier beliefs that drive me bonkers. But, the beliefs of many of my fellow atheists drive me bonkers as well. Christopher Hitchens, after all, believes in the Muslim threat and supports the Iraq war. A whole lot of atheists I know are also liberals, and seem to drink the kool-aid on every liberal cause that comes down the pike. I know so many who call themselves "freethinkers" who are anything but.

On the whole, though, I'm not terribly worried about any ideology killing me. I'm much more worried about the flu, and my worry level for that is somewhere down near the bottom of the list of stuff that keeps me awake at night.

I just can't get worked up about this grand muslim assault on our freedoms that the right-wingers keep jabbering about. The terrorist muslim in our midst strikes me as an overhyped hobgoblin, designed to frighten and distract us from the larger problems we could be tackling.

Monday Morning

Monday morning blah
I'd rather stay home writing
if only it paid

Sunday, April 06, 2008

sunday morning author hiaku

chill april morning
drowsy fingers tap the keys
I should put on pants

Friday, April 04, 2008

Darwin Fish

I recently read an article at real clear politics where the author denounced Darwin Fish as a form of religious bigotry. You can read the article here. The author, Jonah Goldberg, basically says that displaying a Darwin Fish is an offensive, intolerant action, a PC form of bigotry. And, on top of all that, it's cowardly. He concludes by writing:

The Darwin fish ostensibly symbolizes the superiority of progressive-minded science over backward-looking faith. I think this is a false juxtaposition, but I would have a lot more respect for the folks who believe it if they aimed their brave contempt for religion at those who might behead them for it.

His point being that the Darwin Fishers aren't afraid to poke fun at Christians, but don't dare poke fun at Muslims because we're afraid of getting killed.

His argument bugged me on several different levels.

1. It doesn't seem to understand the nature of parody. The Darwin Fish is funny only because the Christian Fish is a very, very popular plastic symbol for people to affix to their trunk. Really, it's almost the only game in town. In 30 years of driving, I've never once seen a star of david or a crescent moon and star affixed to the trunk of a car. Nor have I seen a little plastic Buddha, or whatever the hell a Scientologist might display. (A little UFO over a volcano?) The Darwin Fish only works because it's poking fun of something that's instantly recognized. I doubt most Americans would even recognize a symbol of Islam, let alone the parody of it. You can make a lot of money selling plastic fish in America. You can make a little less money, but still turn a profit, making darwin fish. But once you get much past that, the economics of the situation just falls off.

2. In the hundred posts that followed this article, a significant number were from Christians who testified, yes brother! that they took offense whenever they saw a Darwin Fish. I don't know the intricacies of copyright law that would allow me to cut and paste whole comments here, but you can read them under the article link above. Darwin Fishers are accused of attempting to "tear down society" and "demean humanity." To which, I must respond, What the hell? We're talking about putting a pit of plastic on the trunk of your car! I suspect society, and humanity for that matter, may endure. So, to all the people who may be offended by the Darwin Fish, I would advise you to learn some good anger managment techniques. Some people turn to prayer to handle these feelings, or so I'm told.

3. It was also implied that the Darwin Fish is displayed primarily to insult Christians. I used to display them; I went through three, in fact. They kept getting torn off my trunk and broken... I think the commandment to vandalize other peoples car symbols might be in Deuteronomy. But, the whole reason I displayed it was because the first time I saw one, I grinned. I really didn't stick it on thinking, "Man, this will humiliate and demean those Jesus fishers!" If Christian's got to display the logo of their team, why shouldn't I display mine?

4. Isn't there a commandment against making a graven image that looks like an animal (this is a retorical question... it's right there in those ten commandments that people are always jabbering about). Arguably, the Jesus Fishers are defying their own holy book by showing the symbol. But, this doesn't bother me, obviously. Still, if you turn your faith into a bumper sticker, it seems to me that it deserves all the solemn respect due any other bumper sticker.

Finally, on about a dozen of the responses, there was a theme that said, "You're only making fun of Christians because Muslims would kill you if you made fun of them." And, it finally hit me what underlay all this anger: Jealousy. Somehow, this tiny subset of Christians are sitting around seething because they don't get any respect. They think, "Boy, if we were more like those Muslims, rioting and beheading in response to cartoons, then no one would mess with us!"

Luckily, I'm pretty sure this represents a fairly tiny minority among the larger Christian population. Still, if you're filled with anger over the Darwin Fish, you're in luck: They make a trunk logo that shows a Jesus Fish swallowing a Darwin Fish. Go buy one and stick it on the back of your car. Then, if I get stuck in traffic behind you, it will be my turn to stew in bile and rage as I stare at this stunning denunciation of my beliefs, set eternally in plastic.

Or not.