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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Birthers

One reason it hasn't been too dificult to cut back on my news consumption (see my previous post), is that some of my once favorite right-wing news sites have stopped running any news stories at all other than articles calling into question Obama's status as a natural born citizen. Some of my favorite left wing sites are also having problems; sites like "buzzflash" are still running non-stop articles blaming all the world's problems on republicans, seemingly unaware that republicans have absolutely no governing power any more.

I enjoy a press that's confrontational in its relationship to government. I suppose it's not a shock that liberal sites have lost their edge. But it's the right wing sites that I feel most betrayed by. Barely a month ago, the house passed a sweeping climate bill, perhaps the most consequential legislation to come out of Washington in this year. At the time, the right wing sites made a big deal about the speed with which the legislation was passed; they complained that no one had time to read the bill and debate the details. But, there's now been a long pause between the passage of the bill in the house and the debate of the bill in the senate. It would seem like the right wing press would use this gap to go through the bill page by page and run an article each day discussing the details and talking about the ramifications. They complained about not getting to study the bill in advance, but apparently they really had no intent to talk about the specifics of the bill, ever.

Let's look at World Net Daily, a news source whose perspective on the world is usually in opposition to mine, but who I used to respect because they would, from time to time, actually report on an issue. For close to a year now, this site has been stuck on the "issue" of Obama's birth certificate. On the site today, the first twelve headlines deal with the issue in some degree. There are no articles about climate change, health care, Sotomayor, the Gates arrest, or any of our various wars. They've surrendered the field of debate entirely to focus on the "mystery" of why Obama won't release his long form birth certificate.

I honestly can't see how this matters in the least. The constitution doesn't require a candidate produce a birth certificate, only that the president be "naturally born" in the US. I don't know why Obama hasn't released his long form birth certificate. It may be that it no longer exists, or never existed. Paper records can have gaps; they can be lost or destroyed over the course of five decades. Hawaii has released a "certificate of live birth," it's a legally binding document good enough to issue Obama a passport. And, there are are birth announcements in Hawaii newspapers announcing Obama's birth. This seems to me to be the most devestating blow to the birthers. It just seems unlikely that Obama's parents were thinking ahead to his presidential eligibility when they announced his birth in Hawaiian newspapers even though they were actually living abroad at the time, as WND contends. The birth announcements list a physical address where the parents live; World Net Daily actually sent reporters to this address to interview the neighbors. None of them remember Obama from almost fifty years ago! Further proof of the conspiracy!

The greatest mystery to me is what, exactly, the birthers are hoping to accomplish. The absense of a birth certificate won't disqualify Obama as president. What they need to produce is hard proof that Obama was born overseas. In the absense of this evidence, they really don't have a case. But, suppose they found a Kenyan birth certificate. Then what? Presumably, just as the right wingers denounce evidence of Obama's American birth as smoke and mirrors planted by Obama supporters, a real, solid, Kenyan birth certificate would almost certainly be attacked as a forgery. Paper documents just aren't that hard to fake. I don't think a single Obama supporter would change their mind if WND posted photos tomorrow of a Kenyan birth certificate. I'm certain that the house wouldn't draft articles of impeachment. The republican's will roll into the next election squawking "birth certificate... birth certificate!" Democrats will laugh at them and say that they are afraid to talk about the issues of the day. Rather than triggering some great constitutional crisis, the republican will just look increasingly crazy and conspiracy minded, lumped in the same camp as flat-earthers, gold-standard proponents, and deniers of evolution (oh, wait, they already have these last two among their ranks).

Here's my advice to right wing news sites: Stop focusing on an issue that only appeals to the most xenophobic members of your base, and start focusing on the actual problems this country faces, such as our national debt, our foreign entanglements, and some of the structural problems built into our economy, some of them government inflicted, some inflicted by plain old greed. Absent the creation of a time machine, Obama's Hawaiian birth will never be established to the satisfaction of the hard core right, and will never be disproven to the satisfaction of democrats, and will never be of any interest at all to most independents. You're obsession with this non-issue, and utter neglect of everything else happening in the world, has contributed to your loss of me as even an occasional reader.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Race, Rogue Cops, and Stupidity

So, I spent most of the week steering clear of the news, but broke down yesterday and read a newspaper at lunch. I'd been hearing chatter over the arrest of professor Henry Louis Gates in his own home, but yesterday was the first day I'd really stopped to absorb the details. I googled and read the police report to get the facts as clear as possible.

Conservatives have predictably come down on the side of the cop. Gates is calling the cop a "rogue officer" and blaming his arrest on racial profiling. But, having read the details of the case, it looks like Gates threw a temper tantrum over being asked for ID. He got himself arrested not because he was black, but because he was being a jerk. The officer plainly didn't mistake him for a suspect. He understood that Gates lived at the house, as indicated by his police report. He wasn't using racial profiling to single Gates out as a robber. He was teaching a jerk who was hurling insults at him why you shouldn't be nasty with a cop.

And, I fully, 100%, think the cop was completely wrong to arrest Gates. It's one thing to stand in the middle of a city street and curse a cop until you're blue in the face. It truly is disorderly conduct to make an ass of yourself in public. But, this confrontation didn't unfold on a city street. It unfolded in Gates' living room, and later on his own lawn. And, honestly, if you don't have a right to shout insults at a government official in your own living room, what exactly do you have the right to do? If at any point after it was established that Gates was the rightful occupant of the place, Gates told the cop to get out of his house, the cop should have left, no further questions asked. There was obviously no crime in progress. It seems like the 4th ammendment would be on Gates' side, as well as the first ammendment, which would seem to grant the freedom to shout out, "This is what happens to black men in America!" That's not a threat. It's a statement of a political opinion. If you're in the middle of a movie theatre shouting it out, I guess there's an argument that you're disturbing the peace. But if you're shouting it out in your own living room?

Conservatives are supposed to revere the constitution, but I haven't heard a single one jump to the defense of Gates based on the first or fourth ammendment. Instead, conservatives are revealing their most cherished value here, a love of authority, and a tendency to always side with the cop over the accused.

Now, with all this said, I have to admit that I think Gates was an idiot. According to the facts I can find, he and his driver did, in fact, break into his front door. I don't think it should have been a huge suprise to him when a cop showed up to investigate. In fact, I think a smart man would have said, "No problem officer, I live here, but I do appreciate you're dropping by so quickly to investigate. Good to know that you're watching out for me." If the cop was sceptical that Gates lived there, it seems like Gates could have proved it in half a minute even if he didn't have a photo ID on him. It's his own house--isn't there at least one picture of him hanging on a wall somewhere? So, Gates could have been smarter.

But, the cop certainly could have been smarter as well. In his own police report, he acknowledges that Gates produced an ID, and when he radioed in, he said that it appeared that Gates was the legal resident to the house. Gates may have been standing there hurling insults at him, calling him a racist, a redneck, and a son-of-a-bitch, but so what? He stuck around on Gates property long after he'd established that it was, in fact, Gates property. He knew that the break in he'd come to investigate hadn't happened. He should have said "And a good day to you too, Sir," to Gates insults, tipped his hat respectfully, and marched out. He couldn't seriously believe Gates was committing any actual crime. Certainly somewhere in the city, there were matters more deserving his time and attention?

Obama was stupid to say the cop acted stupidly. The cop was stupid to arrest a man who hadn't committed any actual crime. Gates was stupid to throw a temper tantrum at a cop who had a legitimate reason to stop by.

One last thought: I hope that Gates has installed some really, really good locks on his house. Because I imagine that if his house is ever actually burglarized now, it's going to be a very, very long time before the police actually get there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

No news is no problem

Sorry for the lack of updates the last two weeks. I took a vacation and went down to Myrtle Beach and avoided the internet as much as possible. While there, I read a book called "The Black Swan" that deals with what is in some ways an really obvious premise: we can't know the future. However common sense this is, businesses and governments are often blind to it. They make forecasts, because it's obviously a good thing to plan and have goals. But, the problem often comes from the fact that they treat these forecasts as hard and fast reality instead of mere guess work. People seem built by evolution to take the present and project it out into the future. As a result, you wind up with people believing that housing prices and the stock market only go up, or that health care costs will only spiral out of control until everyone is bankrupted, or that a warming trend of a few decades is proof that the world is going to turn into a Venus-like hell where our cities vanish beneath oceans and what land is left is desert.

One of the counter-intuitive bits of advice the author gives is that people should stop reading newspapers and watching the news on a daily basis. He's making his argument mostly from a financial sense, since there is evidence that people who check the price of a stock frequently are less able to judge it's performance accurately than someone who only looks at it once a month or so. There's a tendency for people to confuse information with knowledge.

I've decided to follow this advice. I'm a news junky. I listen to NPR any time my radio is on in my car or my house. I frequently read two newspapers a day, one at lunch and a different one at dinner. Then, I spend hours in the evening cruising political sites like realclearpolitics and drudgereport. I think I can safely say that my typical day includes at least 4 hours devoted to consuming news. I don't think, however, that I wind up with 4 hours of knowledge for my efforts. So, I'm switching off NPR when I drive in favor of books on CD. I'm going to skip newspapers in favor of books when I eat alone. Instead of cruising realclearpolitics, I'll spend more time writing.

At least, that's the goal... who knows what the future will actually hold.

One reason I'm not that concerned that my knowledge of world events is going to suffer is that I really feel as if newspapers, NPR, and most news outlets have stopped reporting on world events in any meaningful way. Rather than spending a week reporting on the details of a climate change bill, NPR and cable news will instead bring on pundits to make claims and counterclaims and focus on what is likely to happen in upcoming votes. During political campaigns, there is almost no coverage at all of any issue with any substance or depth, and instead the news cycles are mainly dominated by reading the entrails of the polls and the airing the bloviations of spin doctors from the various campaigns.

The bias in our news system isn't one of liberal or conservative. It's one of punditry and prophecy over facts and history. Our news is forward focused, and recent history seems to vanish. The talking heads making inaccurate predictions six months prior are still on the air making predictions of what will happen next week. Actual reporting would, by neccessity, have to report on what has happened in the past. It would take time to gather actual data. But, time is no longer on the side of facts. The news cycle demands that something go out on the air every minute of the day. Reporters are to produce stories mere hours, or even minutes, before they hit the air. If a thing happened yesterday, it's old news, already forgotten. No one is going to spend weeks or months digging down to establish truth. I'm not certain that reporters or politicians or the citizens recognize truth any more. Everything is now just spin and position. Indeed, the more an "issue" is discussed by the media, the less sure I become of any actual facts underlying the debate.

So, I'm jumping off the wheel. I've been spun enough.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Books for Breast Update

As of July 1, Team Dragon met its fundraising goal of $1000 for the Susan G. Koman Foundation. I've had 33 contributors, a couple of whom already had copies of Dragonseed, so I still have 20 copies left to give away. But, on the fundraising page, it showed my goal had been met 100%, and donations have pretty much stopped since I hit $1000.

I just raised the goal to $1500. I have mixed feelings about raising the goal. On the plus, it's for a good cause, and I hope the higher limit will encourage people who still learn about this cause to contribute. The only downside is that I dislike moving the goalpost, so to speak. I told my friends and fans I wanted to raise $1000, and you did an amazing job of making that happen in only a week. I don't want to diminish your hard work and dedication by taking away that 100% filled-in goal thermometer. But, in the end, I think the greater good falls toward raising the goal and trying to collect a little more if I can. It may be that the news of this drive has spread as far as it's going to, but if there is someone out there who hears about this in the coming weeks, I don't want them to be confused into thinking the Books for Breasts drive is over. If I can raise even another hundred bucks toward fighting breast cancer, I intend to do so.

Thanks again to everyone who helped meet the initial push toward $1000. I cannot begin to sum up my enormous gratitude for this. As readers of my dragon novels may surmise, I'm not someone who always sees mankind in the sunniest light. The fact that so many people jumped in for this cause so quickly has reminded me that the greatest thing about humans is their humanity. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Another thing to make me lose sleep....

Below is the screen shot of the Amazon home page when I signed in earlier today at a public computer. It's tiny, but if you click on it, you'll be able to see it better. Even small, however, you might notice that the world's premier online bookseller seems to have stopped pushing books. The main page does feature a prominent add for the Kindle, but everything else is electronics, sporting gear, music and movies. Not a single book is being offered. True, if you go there looking for a book, they'll have it. But to not have a single book on display on the splash page is a disturbing hint of the future for a writer such as myself.

Amazon was one of the forces that drove neighborhood bookstores to near extinction. Judging from the space they are devoting to their front page, they Amazon is firmly committed to no longer being an online "bookstore." Books are just an ever smaller part of their total retail package. I'm sure they'll always carry books, but if they don't bother to market them, it seems like we'll be on a downward spiral. They'll sell fewer books because they don't market them, and they won't market them because they don't sell.

Anyone want to tell me why I shouldn't be worried about this? Anyone? Please?