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.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Should we eliminate the minimum wage?

Unemployment among teenagers is sitting close to 24%. It's easy to shrug this off, since most teens live with their families and their lack of income isn't likely resulting in some great wave of human suffering. Still, it has long term repercussions; the kids who don't wind up working in their teens go into the work force as adults with significant disadvantages. They haven't learned such basic work skills as showing up on time and how to conduct themselves among work peers.

Getting a quarter of our future work force off to a stumbling start is a pretty sure guarantee of problems down the line. I think it may be time to think about killing one of the sacred cows of the social safety net: The minimum wage.

First of all, as a libertarian, I accept the notion that there shouldn't be a minimum wage, period. I understand the impulse behind it, but is there any actual evidence that minimum wage laws raise people out of poverty? For years, people have warned that raising the minimum wage would raise unemployment. Usually, it hasn't, because the real world wage of most workers was well above the minimum anyway. And, up until 2008, the debt economy had enough people spending money they hadn't earned on stuff they didn't need that employers sometimes had to hire anyone with a pulse, which is frequently the sole job skill a teenager possesses.

Politically, we could probably never roll back the minimum wage for everyone. We'd get every local TV news show in the nation out talking to forty year old single mothers of eight kids earning minimum wage and the outrage ginned up would scare off even Rand Paul. But, what about a different minimum wage for people under 21? If you aren't old enough to buy beer, then you don't need to be paid enough to get drunk. Either repeal the minimum entirely before age 21, or maybe set it to half the adult minimum wage.

I'm sure I sound heartless proposing this. But I've mainly been thinking about this problem because I know a few unemployed teenagers, and would like to see them catch a break. This seems like a possible path to make them attractive to employers again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving

Roughly a decade ago, I stopped celebrating religious holidays like Easter and Christmas. It was really difficult to reconcile the celebration of these things with my professed atheism. Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is a bit more open ended. Despite it's Puritan roots, it's mostly non-sectarian. If you strip away the core supernatural element of giving thanks to an imaginary force for your good fortunes, it's still a good practice to reflect on the things you cherish in life and thank those who made it possible.

So, I'd like to thank my family, all my cousins, aunts, and uncles, and especially my siblings, Joy, Gina, and Joseph who had to put up with me while I was growing up. To my mom, I want you to know I remember the time I was having trouble with spelling in some early grade and you spent evenings with me going through long lists of words. Thank you for this and a million other kindnesses. To my father who passed away last year, thanks for working jobs you didn't especially like, working in loud, hot factories, in order to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table and books on the bookshelf.

Speacking of working jobs one doesn't particularly like, I'm grateful to my present employer for the steady paycheck and such niceties as insurance. I gripe and moan about my job a lot, but I'm smart enough to know that much good comes to my life because I have work. And, my coworkers are owed a debt of gratitude for putting up with my various quirks. Thanks.

Of course, my day job is only half my work life. Writing is my true passion, and I'd like to thank all the editors who've ever bought a story from me, and also the editors who haven't, but have at least read my work in the slush pile. I'm grateful to the publisher's who've taken a chance on my novels, I'm grateful to Amazon and Barnes and Noble and to a thousand independent booksellers, and I'm grateful to the tens of thousands of readers in the US, the UK, France, and Germany who've read my books. I know I'll never meet more than a handful of you, but you are the reason I keep telling stories. It would be a sad thing for a chef to cook a meal that no one ever ate, and sadder still for a book to be written that no one ever read. Thank you for sparing me from such a fate.

And, speaking of readers, thanks to everyone who drops in here to peek at my ramblings. Special thanks go to Loren Eaton, Eric James Stone, John Brown, Drakonis, Rastranomicals, Mr. Cavin, and everyone else who sometimes pauses to engage in conversation on the topics I bring up.

From online friends, I'll jump to friends I actually see face to face, Dona, Jesse, Stephanie and everyone else I hang out with from week to week. Thanks also to the friends I see only occasionally, like James Rice and the whole Herrmann clan. To Simon and Veronica, I'm especially glad to still know you and thank you for allowing me to be at least a small part of your lives.

Next, I owe an extraordinary debt of gratitude to my fiance, Cheryl Morgan. When we met, I was in a pretty frazzled state. My life was in turmoil as I was struggling to deal with book deadlines, the demands of renovating a house, and the tricky task of figuring out the new contours of my world following Laura's death. Thank you, Cheryl, for finding me in the center of this whirlwind and helping to slowly guide me out. You've granted me a great gift of wisdom and patience and all I have to pay you back is time and love. I hope this will suffice.

Finally, from the personal to the anonymous: Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I want to say I'm grateful to America. I'm grateful that the people who founded this country, and the generations of people who have since helped shape and define it, have created a nation in which I'm free to think what I wish to think, say what I wish to say, and be who I wish to be. No one person has brought us to this place. The names recorded in history books are merely a few leaves on a much larger tree. America as it exists today isn't so much the creation of lawmakers and leaders as it is the work of vast millions of people who focus on making the world better for themselves and their families and don't waste a lot of time or energy on hating others. America is a great place to live because of this. Thank you all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Exploration of Dangerous Places

Review
The Exploration of Dangerous Places
by Jonah Knight

At Capclave a few weeks ago, I attended a late night ghost story gathering. A few people told stories, some read, but one guy pulled out a guitar and sang about a haunted house. This was Jonah Knight, performing “Empty House,” and instantly I knew I had to hear more from him. “Empty House” fit right into my typical daily playlist of songs by the Mountain Goats, the Decemberists, and the Pogues. The chorus from “Empty House” is:

But this empty house isn’t empty after all
Late at night you can hear things in the walls
Your shallow grave isn’t deep enough at all
To keep your ghost under ground.

“Empty House” turned out to be from Knight’s new album, The Exploration of Dangerous Places. Now that I’ve listened to it a dozen times or so, I can say that it wasn’t pure chance that I first heard Knight at a science fiction convention. His website describes his music as “paranormal modern folk,” which is pretty much on target. Speculative themes run through many of the songs, from interplanetary travel and terraforming on “The Places You Will Go” to cloning an army of duplicates on “King of Nebraska.” I detect traces of Ray Bradbury and HP Lovecraft within the lyrics, such as in “Sleepy Little Creepy Little Town” with the verse:

There’s a nameless faceless thing crawling down from out of the hills
There’s a prehistoric prophecy on the verge of being fulfilled
Everybody in the village likes to gather at the general store
Talk about the screams coming from the mansion
and compare our mysterious open sores

Like Ray Bradbury, Knight is diverse, mixing introspective songs of ghosts and nameless evils with more amusing fare. “Pirate Song” is a jaunty sea shanty, and “King of Nebraska” provokes uncomfortable laughs with its rather disturbing tale of a man who’s cloning an army of followers, especially when we arrive at the heart of the narrator’s motives:

I keep your photograph buried in a book
I have a reference when I forget how you look
I down loaded more DNA
My lawyer friend says it's okay
There’s no expectation of privacy online
I rented a place and bought the stuff
Two more weeks should be enough
to finish off another you
that does whatever I tell it to

Musically, Knight fits in the singer songwriter mold, with guitar playing reminiscent of Nick Drake. Vocally, I’m reminded more of Atom and His Package mixed with early Mountain Goats. Knight’s voice probably wouldn’t get him through an audition for American Idol, but there’s a reason I don’t watch American Idol. What Knight’s voice lacks in range it makes up for in honesty and urgency. Ultimately, you understand from this album that the dangerous place that Knight has been exploring is his own soul, and the songs succeed because he’s had the courage to report back on the monsters he found there.

The album should be released any day now; visit Jonah’s website at www.jonahofthesea.com for when and where you can buy it.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Is Life Devoid of Meaning?

I've said before that I'm essentially a nihilist on the question of whether life has any greater meaning. I reject that there is any non-human power judging us, deciding if we are living correctly or not. From a universal perspective, it makes no difference how you live your life. You can be a nun, a ninja, or a nutcase, but hundred years from now all you'll be is dust.

But is the absence of greater meaning reason for despair?

Only if you think a blank sheet of paper is worthless. Which, as a writer, I definitely do not. A blank sheet of paper may be inherently devoid of meaning, but in the hands of men it can become the medium for a story or a drawing or a blueprint; it can be folded into an airplane or a hat. Love letters may be composed, yard sales and lost dogs may be advertised.

Men aren't lucky enough to be born as blank sheets. We're always going to wind up with culture and genetics scribbled all over our lives and actions. But, once you come to the realization that there is no higher outline for your life, that you are basically free to fill the pages of your existance anyway you wish, you can choose to treat your life as a medium to hold a work of art. Your body and mind can be used to love, to create, to share... or to rage and destroy.

And while there is no higher power to judge you, the same is true for literature, or music, or dance. We don't need a god to approve of these things; our fellow men are all the audience we need when we create art. In fact, sometimes we need no one's judgment but our own to feel happy with our creations. So it can be with our lives.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Unsolicited advice for republicans, Obama, and the American citizen

Last Tuesday, I did something extremely unusual for me: I voted republican for my US congressman. Not that it did much good in my district; my current congressman, David Price, is pretty well gerrymandered. If this election season couldn't budge him, he's probably safe until district lines are redrawn a few years from now.

Whenever possible I vote libertarian, since I'd rather vote for someone I agree with than vote against someone. This time, there was no libertarian running for the seat, so choosing to vote between a democrat and a republican was a bit like choosing whether to get shot in the face or in the gut. I went with the gut shot.

Since I voted republican, and since the last few days a lot of prominent republicans have been talking about listening to the voters, here some advice for the new congressional majority.

1. I'm fine with gridlock and paralysis. If the next two years pass without a single new law coming out of congress, I'll consider that a win. I think of the legal code of the US as a kind of cancer. Two years without further explosive growth might not be a cure, but sometimes simply not getting worse feels like a victory.

2. It's the balance sheet, stupid. I didn't risk a republican vote because I want you to block mosque building, deport Mexicans, hang the ten commandments in courtrooms, or treat gays as second class citizens. The only reason I'm giving you a shot is because enough republicans have given lip service to debt that I think, maybe, possibly, you might actually make some feeble steps toward cutting the growth of government. But, if experience is any guide, you're more likely to grow the debt by cutting taxes and refusing to touch sacred cows of spending like farm subsidies, defense contracts, and entitlements. Tax cuts made sense in the 80s, when income tax rates could be above 50%. Today, most households pay a net income tax of zero. I'm fine if my taxes go back to the Clinton era rates. I'd even embrace a tax increase if serious action was taken first to cut some of the sacred cows I've mentioned.

Maybe I'm in a minority, but I don't think American's feel overtaxed. I suspect most feel over-complicated. For me, as a homeowner with income from writing as well as a more traditional employer, I dread tax time not so much because I have to write a check every year, but because I have to spend days figuring out what it is I owe. I have an envelope full of reciepts for everything I spend going to conventions to promote my books, including a reciept for the envelope. What I can and can't deduct bewilders me. It's been a long time since I took the SAT, but, when I did, I had scores in both the math and the language portions that placed me in the top 2% of the population in both areas. If the tax code stumps me, I can't even imagine what it does to people who aren't as fluent with math and reading. I don't want more laws and loopholes piled on to the tax code, I want the whole thing scrapped and replaced with something comprehensible.

Cut spending and simplify taxes, and I might vote republican again.

Now, for Obama: So far, the spin doctors on the left, including Obama, seem to be in a serious case of denial. They seem to be looking at the election and thinking, "They aren't rejecting my policies; I've just failed to make sure the American public understood all the good I've done for them." President Obama, if you read this blog (which I'm certain you do, since it's part of the president's job to read all blogs that American's write), WAKE UP! HELLO! The average American voter has just screamed at you, "STOP SPENDING!" They understood exactly what you've done, and they don't want you to do it anymore.

So, here's a radical notion: Embrace the mandate. American's have said pretty loudly that they care about the budget deficit. The most radical thing you could do, President Obama, would be to go to the new congress and say, "Here's a plan that balances the budget in six years." Present them with tough cuts across the board, and maybe even a tax hike or two. Make sure the numbers add up not just in the world of wishful thinking, but to anyone with a calculator and too much time on their hands. If you presented a serious budget plan, you would either wind up a winner, or, if you fail, you'd take out your political enemies with you. If you had an actual balanced budget plan and Republican's opposed it without presenting an even more credible plan, it would expose them as hypocrits. If they embraced it, both Republican's and Democrats would share the political pain needed to reduce spending and increase revenue. I think the odds that you'll follow my advice are pretty low, but I still wanted to get it out there on the table. Thanks for reading, Mr. President!

Finally, to the American people: As convenient as it is to blame our problems on Obama or Bush or Reagan or Carter or FDR for that matter, the plain truth is that our problems exist because we elect people to govern and then stop paying attention. Obama complains that American's don't understand everything he's done for them, and he's right. We don't know everything he's done for us or to us because it's utterly impossible for any individual to pay attention to all the legislation and regulation that issues forth from any given administration. But, there was once a time in America when there were people who did this for us. They were called reporters; perhaps you remember them. They worked for something called newspapers. They definitely do not work for television. If you turn on a TV newscast, you aren't watching a reporter. You're watching a talent; they aren't speaking to you because they understand the issues or the facts to any great degree, but because they look good on TV and can talk without mumbling. They can keep talking long after they have nothing to say, such are their skills.

If you want to find actual information, you need to read. Tune out the screaming voices of talk radio and the weepy prophets of television infotainment. Read newspapers and magazines and books. In two years there will be another election, and elections should be treated like final exams. Now is the time to start studying.