I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. 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.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Acorn Videos and a Plea for More Muckraking

One thing has been bugging me in all this Acorn video frenzy. (If you don't know what the Acorn videos are, google them.) It's true that, if the workers caught on video should have immediately picked up the phone and called the police once they had the names of two self-confessed child-slavers. There's really no excuse; this is bad behavior.

Still, take out the child-sex ring angle, and what you really have on tape are people giving tax advice on how to work the tax code to hide or launder income. It make me wonder: if you're the CEO of a big corporation, and you go consult with your tax attorney about how to hide your income in foreign bank accounts to avoid taxes, how many of those attorneys do you think pick up the phone and call the police? When Bernie Madoff was meeting with his tax attorneys, did any of them ever think of reporting that something fishy was going on? Where are the hidden camera investigations into the boardrooms of the banks that swindled the general public out of a billion bucks? I'm all for undercover reporters exposing corruption and graft. I just hope that, next time, someone shoots for a larger target instead of going after such low-hanging fruit. A pimp and ho laundering money might ruin a neighborhood. A big bank messing with the books can cost millions of peoples their homes and their jobs. Aim higher, future muckrakers!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why Must Laws Be Long?

I've discussed this topic before, but after Max Baucus announced his health care reform bill this week, I've found myself once more obsessed with an aspect of lawmaking I don't understand. Why is every bill that now emerges from congress a 1000 page plus monster?

The second the Baucus bill was arrived, critics from both the right and left took their knives to it. Everyone could find one provision that they couldn't abide. At the beginning of the year, I was certain that the president would get something out of congress he could call Health Care reform and sign it triumphantly. Now, I'm not so sure. The problem is, all the bills that are getting designed have a core of attractive items in them, but then glom on stuff that seems guaranteed to be opposed by a majority. I suppose the idea is, you use the popular items as leverage to pass the unpopular ones. But, in this case, I'm starting to think that the whole enterprise will crash and burn, and nothing at all is going to pass.

The big bills wind up being almost impossible to explain to the American public. The president can't go on TV and tell us everything that's in a 1000 page bill in a half hour. He might explain five or six popular provisions of a bill, but the second he stops talking critics will jump in to talk about the others and the general public will wind up with the feeling that they are getting sold a pig in a poke. The legislation is so complex, any sane person is going to be suspicious of it. No average citizen with a day job and a personal life is going to be able to sit down and read all the bills to form an opinion on them.

But if the president really wanted the five or six reforms that he most often talks about, couldn't each of these reforms be introduced as a seperate bill? This week, we vote on new rules for recission. Next week, we vote on a program to set up insurance co-ops. The week after, vote on a bill that standardizes insurance application forms. The following week, shoot for a bill that would allow for more portability of insurance between jobs.

Some bills would pass, some would fail. My gut instinct is, you might actually see a return of bipartisanship on the more popular measures. Small, tightly targetted bills would be easier to explain to constituents. The general public wouldn't live with the worry that their lawmakers were trying to hide the truth of what they were attempting to do from them.

If health care reform does eventually fail, it won't be the Republicans or the rabble rousing public that have doomed it. It will be the stupid, pointless complexity of trying to do a hundred things with a single vote.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Health Care is a Right. Feel Free to Use It.

In the context of the health care debate, I've been hearing a lot of people assert that access to health care is a fundamental human right. During my years of following politics, I've heard any number of things proposed as rights that aren't specifially spelled out in the US constitution. Among some of the more common ones:

A right to work.
A right to housing.
A right to nutrition.
A right to an education.
A right to privacy.

Now, I suppose I could play strict constructionist and argue that if it's not written down by the founding fathers, it's not a right. However the ninth amendment says, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." It seems to me easy to accept that the founding fathers would acknowledge that people had some or all of the rights listed above. Even if the founding fathers wouldn't, we certainly can today come together and agree that everything on this list, including a right to health care, is important to living a good life in today's world.

So, I'm willing to agree that you have a right to health care, a house, food, education, and privacy. It's now up to you to go out and excercise them. A right is not the same thing as a guaranteed service. It doesn't mean that you are owed anything, or given anything. It merely means that, if you choose to excercise a right, no government can stop you from doing so.

For instance, at the top of the bill of rights, you are granted the right to free speech, and freedom of the press. Note that this right doesn't mean the government has to provide you with a printing press and free paper. It doesn't have to provide you with blogs or billboards or megaphones. If you want to use your right to free speech, you have to do the work of writing your blog, or publishing a newspaper, or plugging in your ham radio set, or going down to the town hall and shouting till your throat is raw.

Next on the bill of rights is the right to bear arms. After two centuries of fence straddling, the Supreme Court has finally said that, yes, this guarantees the right of an individual to own a firearm. It does not, by any legal theory or argument, mean that the government has to mail you a voucher to go out and buy a rifle. You have a right, but to take advantage of it, you'll have to spend your own money.

You have a right to housing. While at one time there were definitely discriminatory practices against blacks or jews or catholics or what have you, none of that is legal today. There is no governmental force standing in the way of you going out and getting all the housing you can handle. You can own five or six or seventy houses if you so choose, and take the neccessary financial steps to make it happen.

You want a right to work? Well... what's stopping you? People who don't speak english, who can't read our want ads, and who have no social security cards come across our borders in waves and mow our lawns and diaper our children; they pick our peaches and package our pork. There are no barriers to most people's ability to work beyond their dignity. I'm not knocking dignity! I work at a desk, not in a ditch. But, a right to work doesn't mean that the goverment is obligated to give you full employment in the trade of your choice. I want to make a living writing fiction, but I don't expect the government to guarantee me a living wage while attempting to do this.

You want an education? You're in luck! Every state in the union provides one for free. Most towns have libraries where you can study up on any subject you want. Again, it wasn't that long ago that armed men would line up around a school house to keep children of the wrong color from walking through the door. But today, if you aren't getting an education, you really just aren't trying. We have more information at our finger tips than ever. So why do I keep running into cashiers who can't count correct change?

Which brings us to health care: I think costs are insane. I think it's unfair that sick people should lose their houses and their livelihoods. But, again, the right to health care is a right that individuals have to excercise. The vast majority of American's get the treatment they need without losing everything they've earned because they've made life choices that saw that they would have insurance. It's not always easy, but it's not impossible. The statistic Obama quoted the other night was that 33 million Americans have no insurance. That means roughly 267 million Americans are excersizing their rights to obtain health insurance in some form or fashion. It's not impossible.

I'm not so naive to think that all men are created equal. There are people out there who have had the bad genetic luck to be born without the intelligence to function independently. There are others who are going to encounter really awful luck; young mothers get the phone call in the night and learn that their husband's plane has crashed, or heathy, twenty-year old college students who get diagnosed with bone cancer. A kind and caring society will band together to assist these people in difficult times.

Still, for those people who are arguing that health care is a right, I'd like to say that I agree with you. I certainly won't stand in the way of you going out and getting some. I won't stop you from getting a gun, a megaphone, or printing press, either. I'm just not completely clear, however, on why anyone else has a moral obligation to spend money to pay for you to use rights you already possess.

Friday, September 04, 2009

I Saw Lightning Fall

Frequent visitors to this blog have probably noticed the name Loren Eaton in the comments section. Loren recently invited me to write a guest post at his blog, the poetically named "I Saw Lightning Fall." Apparently, he and his wife were having a new baby, and some how this event was more important to him that writing on his blog! Tsk, tsk.

Anyway, I was just informed that the newest Eaton has arrived, a little boy. So, congrats, Loren! Woohoo!

It's moment like this that make life so swell. Which is a rather clumsy segue into the subject of my guest blog, on the literary technique of slowing and freezing time.

Forgive me if that's the clunkiest, least clever segue ever. Today was day 1 of Dragoncon; I gave blood within an hour of arriving at the con. They apparently liked my blood so much they talked me into giving a platelet only donation, which I'm told is used to treat cancer patients. How could I say no? They gave me a sheet that said I should 1: avoid lifting anything heavy for a few hours: 2: drink lots of fluids, and 3: generally avoid over exerting myself. So, of course, I spent the whole day wandering around the con, probably logging at least five miles, sweating like a fool, drinking only one small bottle of water, and lugging at least twenty pounds of books.

Anyway, more Dragoncon stuff is going to be posted at my dragon blog in, like, ten minutes.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Unsung Heroes

I'll admit it: Most of my posts focus on gripes and frustrations. Readers of my blog might come away with the impression that I'm kind of a jerk who wanders around looking for things to argue about, complaining ceaselessly about government and corporate stupidity to anyone in earshot. That impression is mostly correct.

Today, I'd like to shift gears. There are some human behaviors I take note of, small, almost invisible acts of kindness, or mere politeness, that make this old world a better place to live. Here then, are ten of my unsung heroes:

  1. People who return their shopping carts to the cart return bins in parking lots, even if they aren't coveniently placed.
  2. People who have concise messages on their voicemail, so you can start leaving them a message in under thirty seconds.
  3. People who spay and neuter stray cats.
  4. People who give blood.
  5. Parents of children who are deeply tanned when they return to school in the fall. (I mean the children are tan. I could care less about whether the parents have spent their summers outside.)
  6. Waiters and waitresses who magically appear with a pitcher of iced tea the second my glass is 2/3rds empty.
  7. People who populate wikipedia with accurate information.
  8. Retail outlets that don't require me to fill out a card collecting my personal information in order to get their best prices.
  9. People who can talk about religion and politics without the main thrust of their argument being that people who disagree with them are evil or idiots.
  10. People who call in sick to work when they wake up coughing/sneezing/feverish.

I suppose that even pointing out the heroes among us can be interpretted as a form of griping. By saying I admire people with concise voice mail, I suppose I'm admitting annoyance with those who have long ones. But, that wasn't my intention when I launched into this list. If you're one of the people on this list, seriously, thank you for being you.

So... any one else have any nominees? Who are your unsung heroes?