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, May 28, 2010

A Libertarian Environmentalist Agenda

I was recently in a discussion with folks who expressed skepticism that a libertarian could ever be an environmentalist. You need a strong government to defend the environment, was the general gist of their argument.

But, any government big enough to save the environment is a government big enough to harm it. BP may have dirtied the gulf, but it took a government to tame the Mississippi to the degree that shoreline of the gulf coast is retreating and shrinking due to the lack of silt that used to replenish the coast. BP is going to dirty the shorelines; the army core of engineers was able to sink thousands of square acres beneath the waves. It took a government to drain the Colorado River to the point that it turns to dust before it reaches the Pacific. It took a government (not our own, fortunately) to drain the freakin' Aral Sea. And, it took a government to pump our atmosphere full of radioactive particles from above ground atomic weapon testing.

So, I think the real question should be, how can a person care about the environment and NOT be a libertarian?

If I were ever to be elected president (I would place higher odds on the rapture occurring), here’s my five step environmental program. My goal isn’t a complete libertarian takeover of every aspect of American life. I’m just shooting for implementing a handful of libertarian ideas to produce a healthier planet.

1: Stop all farm subsidies. Right now, we warp markets to encourage American farmers to grow more corn than the world can consume. In a free market, farmers couldn’t make a profit from overproduction. Our corn monoculture requires the use of petroleum-based fertilizers that distort the ecosystem in immeasurable ways, and damages once fertile lands by compressing them. On a side note, I’d legalize hemp, which would provide a nice transitional crop for some of the corn farmers, and is rugged enough to grow on some of the land damaged by our present policies, helping restore the soil.

2: Eliminate federal funding of new highways. Slap toll booths on the existing highways we choose to maintain. Urban sprawl was made possible by the federally funded interstate system and the fact that use of these highways has no [i]perceived[/i] cost. Whether or not you believe the auto exhaust contributes to global warming (which, personally, I doubt), if we drove less, there would be fewer incentives for oil companies to drill holes a mile beneath the ocean. And, even the most hardcore global warming skeptic has to admit that if we cut the number of miles driven by a substantial percentage, we’d have cleaner skies, water, etc.

3: Bring the boys back home. Wars are never good for the environment. Bring home all those diesel guzzling humvees and tanks and warships and permanently park all our fighter jets. And if you think plastic water bottles all over the landscape is bad, it's nothing compared to the litter of unexploded cluster bombs.

4: Break up the government enforced monopolies of current power companies. Let power companies charge whatever they damn well want to charge. Public power companies have their rates approved by politicians in exchange for monopoly rights to supply power to given areas. The low price we pay for energy as a result means that new technologies face hurdles in becoming cost competitive. The current government plans call for subsidizing new technologies with tax dollars, or inflating old technologies with carbon taxes. But, you could just take government dollars out of the picture and let power companies charge whatever they wished. As rates went up from big companies seeking higher profits, smaller companies would be able to enter the market. For instance, if you were Walmart, and were building a new store, you could choose to do business with local power companies that were going to gouge you, or you could work with an energy contractor to cover the roofs of your multi-acre store with solar panels and install turbines on your lamp poles to capture the updraft from your parking lot. Consumers at the mercy of a price-gouging power companies might respond by purchasing energy efficient appliances and choosing smaller, more energy efficient houses.

5: If we must have public lands, then at the very least let’s charge companies that use these lands for profit ungodly fees. Right now, the cost of leasing public land to drill and oil well or mine for copper or graze your cattle is trivial compared to the profits generated from these activities. Of course, an alternative solution might be to sell off public lands at preferred rates to conservation groups, and allow them to simply not allow drilling, mining, grazing, etc. We could use the money raised to help pay off public debt.

How about it? Would anyone vote for me?

Friday, May 07, 2010

One Good Moment

Yesterday was the 4th anniversary of Laura's death. I had fully intended to post something last night, but two things stopped me. The first and biggest obstacle was that I didn't feel like I had all that much to say. I've experienced several deaths of people close to me this year, namely my father, my best friend, and my grandmother. When my father died, I spent several days in the hospital by his side, and it was impossible not to go through that without thinking of Laura's final days. I've had my fill of intensive care units at this point, and would like to not visit one again for a few decades at least. Then, when Greg died, I felt frustration at my lack of ability to express myself, not just here, but to anyone, really. I know things about Greg that no one else will ever know and can never know. Our friendship wasn't just one of good times. Greg had stood by my side during some of my darkest moments, and there were bad times in his life where I had been the one person he could call and talk to. To fully explain what he meant to me, I would have to betray his trust, and I won't do that, even in death. But, it means that the stuff I can and will talk about with others feels hollow to me. I can tell the funny stories, and the safe ones, but the rest are effectively gone. I'm the only one that knows them, and I will never tell them. And if a story is untold, does it even exist?

The same is true of Laura. It's easy to elevate the dead, and talk about their wisdom, their humor, their kindness. But the Laura I knew was a very comlicated human being. I have no problem telling the world about her loves and joys, but, like all people, she was fully capable of anger and bitterness and even outright hatred. I feel free to tell the world she fought cancer bravely and loved life. But I was also there during the moments when bravery failed, and when she wasn't certain that going on another week or a month was worth the effort. I was there when she was tired and miserable and mean, and that, too, is now something I carry in silence, unable to share the specifics. It means that parts of Laura will never be known; when I am gone, those parts of her will be gone. It creates something of an empty feeling.

So, last night I had opened up my laptop and was staring at a blank Blogger essay field when my phone rang, giving me reason #2 not to post anything. It was an old friend of mine and she wondered if I had a minute to talk. I closed down the computer and went out to the deck and talked to her for a while. She had recently had a cat die and was feeling depressed. After Greg had passed away, I had told her that I was giving serious thought to starting an atheist ministry to give atheists somewhere to turn to during difficult moments, and she was in one of these difficult moments. She told me how the cat had been feral and she'd slowly tamed it, and during a vet visit had discovered a heart condition, and had been considering treatment options when the cat passed away. Now, in addition to being depressed over losing the cat, she was also wondering if she'd done enough. Maybe if she'd made different decisions with different priorities, she could have had the cat's heart condition treated earlier.

I told her that the opposite was also true. She could have done absolutely nothing with this feral cat. To feed it, tame it, and take it to a vet was much more than many people would be willing to do for a stray. In some alternate universe, maybe a diferent chain of events would have led to the cat living another ten years. But, in this world, you can never know how much time anyone or anything has. All you can hope to do is make the most of the moments that you do experience. The cat was happy, well fed, and cared for during the last few months of what was likely a very rough life. The fact that the cat didn't live longer didn't subtract from the good she did. Kindness need not be permanent to be important.

Today, I feel a little more at peace with my inability to fully explain or share all I knew of Laura, or Greg, or my father. Because, at the risk of stating the obvious, what I do now to memorialize them makes no difference to them at all. What made the difference isn't what I've done since they passed away. It was what I did when I was alive to show them kindness and make their time on earth a little better than it might have been. When I am gone, these moments I remember will be forever lost. But... so what? The kindness, the beauty, the sorry, and the truths I've shared aren't a product of the memories. They're a product of the moments. Moments are fleeting and ephemeral, and have a distressing tendency to slip past without announcing their presence. But, in the end, the moments are all that truly matter.

A lot of religion is eternity-centered. The dream seems to be to take the ups and downs and sideways of life and turn them into an unending sequence of only good times. The reality is all flipped around. It's not eternity that matters. It's the moments. One good moment can make all the difference in one good day, one good year, or one good life. You are probably surrounded by people who need this one good moment today. Go out and help them find it.