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.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Week Seven

259. I can tell I'm starting to plateau a bit. May need to bump up my workouts to compensate. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Quick thought on the foreign policy debate

A lot of pundits are commenting on how often Romney agreed with Obama last night on a whole string of foreign policy issues. Even when he made a show of disagreement, Romney would essentially repeat back exactly the same position Obama had offer, only he would throw in the word "strong" five times.

But what Romney couldn't note was that he was stealing Obama's foreign policy issues mainly because Obama pretty much stole all his actual policies from George Bush. Sure, he got us out of Iraq, but the reality was we were pretty much done in Iraq by the time he took office. He's promising to get us out of Afghanistan, but only after surging there for goals as amorphous and unachievable as anything Bush ever proposed.

Obama didn't close Gitmo. He didn't bring terrorists to the US for trial. He took a stand against torture, but the subject hasn't been brought up by Romney so I have no idea what his position is. Obama has order far more drone strikes than Bush. And, if Obama has any difference in policy from Bush on China, Europe, or Russia, Iran, or North Korea, I'm really hard pressed to think of it. Obama went into office promising to talk to Castro and Ahmadjinadad (I know I just misspelled that!), but it turned out that he wasn't even able to negotiate with John Boehner.

The thing that scares me is I suspect that Romney sincerely will conduct a foreign policy indistinguishable from Bush/Obama. We'll continue fielding high-tech weapons and expertly trained and equipped soldiers against enemies who fight with improvised bombs and hand weapons, whose greatest strategic defense against being bombed back into the stone age is the reality that they seem to really want to live there already.

Am I advocating isolationism? Not by any means. I would just welcome some perspective. Are the threats we face deserving of the money and lives we throw at managing them? Does a single attack on US soil justify a decade and a half of foreign wars? Why is the threat of Islamic terrorism more of an existential threat to us than massive debts? Why is it more of a threat to us than our own handgun violence? Cigarettes? Obesity? We've turned criminal acts into acts of war, and in doing so we've managed to surrender some of our most cherished values, while elevating the terrorists into positions of heroes and martyrs for an entire generation of people who are growing up in lands we've occupied by force.

Just another reason I'm voting for Gary Johnson.

Friday, October 19, 2012

CPAP Q&A



I've been using a CPAP machine for two months now. This week, I had a follow up with the CPAP tech who confirmed what I already knew. My sleep apnea events have dropped from dozens per night to two. According to the card, I'm getting just shy of seven hours of sleep per night on average. I feel a lot better these days. I no longer worry about falling asleep when I'm driving home from work, and when I get home I'm still a functioning human being who doesn't have to immediately go to bed for an hour long nap. The CPAP might even be making me look better, as using it corresponds with losing over twenty pounds of weight. My dietary changes are probably responsible for most of the weight loss, but the CPAP keeps me rested, which means I can exercise routinely, and I no longer need a full liter of Mountain Dew to keep me awake and alert during my work day. In fact, I've cut almost all caffeine from my diet, save for occasionally ordering unsweetened tea when I'm eating out.

Before starting the CPAP, I had a lot of questions. I thought I'd post a bit of a self Q&A in case other people had the same questions.

Q: Do people really need this? If the human body was so badly designed that it strangles itself while sleeping, how did we survive as a species?

A: Just another argument against intelligent design. I've known for over ten years that I stopped breathing sometimes in my sleep. Pretending that this was normal and acceptable is easily one of the top three bone-headed thoughts ever to lodge in my mind.

Q: Does the CPAP actually fix the problem? Or is it just treating the symptoms? Can't you fix your breathing by exercising, losing weight, and changing your sleeping positions?

A: Well, sure, it is just treating symptoms. But, while being heavy does contribute to the problem, I know people who are a long way from obese who also need the machine. And, I've tried sleeping in every position you can imagine without positive results. The long and short of it is, the machine actually works.

Q: What if there's a power outage when you have the mask on? Won't you suffocate?

A: I was really worried about this before I tried a mask on. If you google CPAP problems, you find people talking about feeling as if they are suffocating. I honestly have no idea what they are talking about. The mask has holes in it to let you exhaled air escape. If the machine's off, these holes also let air in. Breathing with the mask on and power off isn't a problem at all.

Q: Maybe CPAP will help some people, but I have terrible allergies and can barely breathe through my nose half the time.

A: That's a statement, not a question. But, I really am someone who had difficulty breathing through his nose at night. But, with the CPAP, you're breathing filtered air all night. Most mornings, I wake up and my nostrils are completely open. Before the mask, I always started each morning with a ten minute sneezing session. Big improvement.

Q: Is it hard to fall asleep with the machine blowing air in your face?

Not at all. You really don't feel air blowing on you. I usually fall asleep in under five minutes. It's pretty awesome.

Q: Won't the mask make my face break out? Or leave lines in my face?

A: So far, I haven't had this problem, though I do wake up feeling like my face is oily where the mask sits. I also can see the lines of the mask for twenty minutes after I wake up. But, so far, these things really don't seem to be a problem.

Q: Then what does seem to be a problem?

A: I sleep so soundly that I don't toss and turn, and when I sleep on my sides, sometimes my arm will be numb when I wake. I also can sleep on my back for the first time in decades, but when I do so, I sometimes wake with back aches. Despite the machine having a humidifier, I do often have dry mouth in the mornings, so bad even my throat will fill dry. Luckily, a few swigs of seltzer water in the morning fixes this. Finally, I also wake up with dry eyes. I think air leaks ever so slightly from around my nose and blows into my eyes. I've tightened my mask as much as I find comfortable without fixing the problem. For now, I muddle on. Usually the dryness is gone a few minutes after waking. Rarely does it persist beyond my morning shower. When it does, there's always eyedrops.

All in all, I really regret I didn't get on the CPAP ten years ago. I think of all the hours wasted because I woke up each morning feeling like a zombie. In just two months I'm feeling healthier and have reclaimed several extra productive hours in each day. I know most people want to die in their sleep. But, it's just stupid to let your sleeping body try to kill you night after night.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Week six: 260

Despite eating out all weekend, Cheryl and I both had good progress on our weight loss this week. I've now lost 24 pounds since starting, meaning that it's likely that my next weigh in is going to have me in the 250s, which is a pretty big milestone for me.

I need to figure out what to do about my clothes. I've added three new notches to my belt, but at this point most of my pants would drop right off without the belt. But, I'm hesitant to go out and buy new pants, since I hope to be thinner still in another six weeks.

If anyone else out there has gone through a similar weight loss journey, I'm interested in hearing how you shopped for clothes without knowing what your waistline might be in another month. I'm too cheap to be buying new pants every couple of weeks!

Speaking of our weekend eating out, we went to a Burmese restaurant and had ginger salad, which was essentiall coleslaw with ginger, sesame seeds, and soybeans, with sesame oil and soy sauce dressing instead of mayonnaise. It was amazing. The second I took a bite into, I knew that I had added a new favorite food to my top ten list. It's just perfectly balanced. It's a little salty, a little hot, a tiny bit sweet, a bit sour and really crisp and crunchy. Seriously, if you have the fortune of living within driving range of a Burmese restaurant, go get some of this. It will leave you shaking your head at how bland and pointless American coleslaw is.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Week Five

262 pounds at my work weigh in this morning. On my home scale undressed I'm consistently getting weights under 260 most mornings.

I have concerns that this progress will come skidding to a halt this weekend. We're going to a con and will be eating out all weekend. There's no question that probably the biggest factor in my success is the fact that my wife Cheryl has taken the lead in meal planning and has displayed some pretty amazing cooking chops at bringing in dinners that are low calorie and super nutritious. Most of our evening meals are coming in under 500 calories, yet we wind up full because we're eating a lot of non-starchy vegetables and lean proteins. The only "diet" food we're resorting to regularly is a diet salad dressing, a balsamic vinegarette that tastes pretty awesome. (I also tried some no-fat hot dogs a few weeks ago. Not as awesome.)

Travelling means eating out for dinners, and it becomes a lot harder to guess how many calories you're consuming without breaking out a scale at every meal. At home, we weigh most of our calorie dense ingredients and have a pretty precise measure of how many calories we're consuming. When we're at restaurants, we often get a wide range of calorie estimates when we type the dishes into our phones. Still, when we do we out, we're definitely making smarter choices than we used to. Avoiding pasta, potatoes, and white bread is a decent rule to follow in these situations.

Last week, I mentioned that, despite losing twenty pounds, I really couldn't tell it in my appearance or my wardrobe. Then, Sunday, I kept having to hitch my pants up. I finally had to punch a new hole in my belt to keep from having them slide off me. Jeans that were tight only two weeks ago are now loose. I have a leather jacket that I stopped wearing about 4 years ago because it was too tight around my gut. I almost gave it to good will when we moved. Today, I wore it to work and it was a perfect fit.

Still a long way to go to win the competition, though. One of my coworkers is pretty close to losing 10% of her body weight.  I'm only down 7%. Fortunately, I still have plenty of flab to work off, and seven weeks to go. I think I still have a shot at this.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Doublespeak

This weekend at Capclave, I'm going to be on a panel with James Morrow called Doublespeak. The panels topic is: "The proliferation of information beyond the control of any one authority is a good thing that can topple dictators and hold powerful corporations accountable. But, falsehoods can be spread just as easily as truth, and seemingly neutral, objective data can and is manipulated by people with political agendas. How are we to navigate the growing maze of truthiness that surrounds any subject?"

Sometimes, I despair. We live in an age where we're immersed in news and information like never before, yet I'm constantly surprised by just how information free most debate is these day. The tiniest snowflakes of truth seem to instantly grow into avalanches of half-truths and misinformation. For instance, in last weeks debate Mitt Romney said he would cut funding for public broadcasting. This instantly was mocked along two lines. First, people ridiculed the idea that Romney thought he could balance the budget by cutting this funding. But, I never heard Romney make that claim. He argued it wasn't important enough to borrow money from China to pay for, but he plainly was offering this as one example of unneeded spending, not the entirety of it. Second, some ads and commentary have run with the idea that Romney was threatening to fire Big Bird. In the same breath, people will point out how small the Federal dollars are that go to programs like Sesame Street. And they're right! The sale of dolls and books and games about Sesame Street characters is probably more than enough to keep the TV show on the air. Cutting off federal funds isn't going to ruffle a feather on Big Bird.

I'm not a Romney supporter, and can point to examples going in the other direction. WND just yesterday was running proof that Obama is secretly a Muslim. They had enlarged a photo of his wedding band a zillion percent and were showing how the blurry little squiggles in the gold spelled out "There is No God but Allah, etc." It reminded me a bit of people who find the face of Jesus in the stains on a whitewashed wall. And, of course, if you type in "Obama Birth Certificate," you will find hundreds of thousands of words dedicated to proving that the certificate is a forgery.

Twenty years ago, a few nut jobs with newsletter might have been able to spread these rumors to a couple of thousand people. Today, anyone with a computer and a cellphone can make their wildest theories available to millions of people. The millions inclined to believe Obama is a foreign born Muslim can read a new article proving their case every day. It's news! There's evidence! Look at the photos! Look how there's a blur on the birth certificate around the third "e" that proves it was cut and pasted from a different document! YOU'D HAVE TO BE BLIND NOT TO SEE IT, PEOPLE!

Of course, the "mainstream" media is only slightly less embarrassing. The order of the day is report on controversies, and, if none exist, make up some. Again, not to defend Romney, but when our embassies were attacked in Libya and Egypt he made a statement that the State Department had handled the matter poorly. For the next 72 hours of the news cycle, the headlines of how Romney had embarrassed himself with the statement seemed to be just as prominent as the stories about the actual attacks. It's not that I wanted to read stories about how the White House had screwed up... I really would have been happy with some real reporting about what was going on. But, of course, it's difficult to report on a story taking place in a far away country where American reporters might not be safe asking questions of the local authorities. It's easy to report on what politicians here are spinning. The path of least resistance is followed, and reaction to the story becomes the story... even while the facts of the story are still unresolved.

Arguments are fun. Shows that provide partisan arguments draw far higher ratings than shows that provide more staid, objective reporting. At least, I guess they do. I don't know. I'm throwing out a fact that could probably be googled, but I'm not going to google it, because if I'm wrong I don't want to throw out my argument. The perception that the partisan argument shows have higher ratings feels true to me, and probably feels true to many people reading this, so, PRESTO! We have truth! Who the hell cares if there are facts undergirding our truth? We live in an age where three news stories have to break every fifteen minutes just to keep us interested. If we're not entertained by our news, we'll just click on over to Cracked.com and look at their latest list of goofy photographs. Or there's always the latest World of Warcraft podcast to listen to, or a chatroom to discuss who's winning Face Off.

I'm reminded of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Hunter S. Thompson:
“We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled that 60's. That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary's trip. He crashed around America selling "consciousness expansion" without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously... All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody... or at least some force - is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.”
 
The struggle of our age isn't drugs. It's amusement. We're all to busy watching the Daily Show, or listening to Rush Limbaugh, certain we're being informed when we're merely being entertained. And for the few who suspect there might be more to learn about a subject, they simply decide to trust that there are people out there who are keeping track of the important things. Information is everyone's right, but someone else's job.
 
The information universe has ordered itself to provide us with the most  stimulating news. Giving us internet connections is like giving a monkey a button hardwired into the pleasure centers of his brain. The monkeys would rather push the button than eat. We'll just keep pushing our own pleasure buttons again and again, slowly starving out brains of any actual nourishment, going down that dark tunnel with smiles on our faces.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

A political debate

Long time readers of my blog know I used to write a lot about politics. I eventually shied away from such posts for a couple of reasons. First, while I have no trouble separating an artist's political views from his or her artistic output, I've become increasingly aware that many other people do. Orson Scott Card is a good example of a writer who made his political opinions known and as a result has turned off many potential readers. One can argue that for every reader you lose because you hold a given political opinion, you gain others who agree with you. But, honestly, I'd rather not have people form opinions about my books in advance because they heard on my blog that I'm a libertarian atheist. This definitely bleeds over into the work, and if a reader dislikes these philosophies in my fiction, I'm cool with that. The work is what it is. But I don't want people thinking they know everything I write just by glancing at this blog.

Second, I also stopped writing about politics in large part because I've lost a lot of my passion. I felt like serious issues were discussed in the eighties, nineties, and in the years after 9-11. But politics in the age of twitter and facebook seems hopelessly trivial and vapid. I would be interested in a political debate about whether or not a president should have the right to assassinate a US citizen on foreign soil with a drone strike. I'd be interested in debating the root causes of poverty, and how to reform education to reflect the reality that we now outsource a great deal of our memory and analytical skills to machines. I'm bored stiff by debating whether candidate A is going to reduce our deficit by 3 trillion dollars over twenty years or candidate B is going to reduce it by 5 trillion over thirty years, or whatever. People talk about the stark differences between the hyper polarized parties, but I honestly don't see them. The parties are debating how what shades to paint the walls of our great palace of democracy. No one is talking about the fact that the foundations of that palace are in desperate danger of crumbling.

So, all of this is a long and probably unneeded prologue to my making a point about the biggest political story of the week, the presidential debate. I listened to the debate on the radio and thought that both candidates were just babbling talking points. If I'd been doing shots every time Romney said "jobs" I'd have passed out before they got to the third question. I was stunned to discover the next day that the pundits were declaring that Romney won. It wasn't that I thought Obama won, I just came away from the debate feeling really good about backing Gary Johnson.

But, in light of the majority verdict, I wanted to put forward a theory about why Romney did so well. Obama complained on Thursday that he wondered why the real Romney hadn't shown up. I would argue that the problem was that Obama believed his own campaign spin, and the parody figure of Romney created by the media. It doesn't much matter who is running for president. The playbook is that Democrats are wimpy socialists and Republicans are heartless dimwits with no connection to the common man. Romney especially has been targeted as being a cold and ruthless billionaire who builds his mansions out of the bones of poor children. I've heard 10,000 jokes about how stiff and robotic he is, how devoid of soul, and how he can't open his mouth without making a gaffe.

Surprise! Romney was friendly, bright, and funny. I still thought he was talking in sound bites and trivia, but he didn't follow the year long media script of being a mean-spirited weirdo from another planet.

I think Obama wasn't ready for this debate because he believed his own negative ads about Romney. I think the strategy was to show up and play it safe and let Romney be Romney, and all the swing voters would be repulsed. Now, he's complaining that the Romney he wanted to debate didn't turn up.

Of course, that's kind of a pattern for Obama. The economy he wanted didn't turn up. The opposition party he wanted didn't sit down with him. The technologies he wanted didn't sell. And the foreign policy he wanted got derailed when democracy-loving twitter users in the middle east didn't wind up taking over their countries according to Thomas Friedman's script.

None of this means that Romney would be a better president. But the fact that one of these two men will be leading our country for the next four years really makes me regret my atheism, since I think, at this moment in time, prayer for divine intervention to is a pretty attractive plan.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

4 weeks, 20 pounds

Weighed in today at 264 pounds. A bit of a surprise; I'm obviously clothed at work for these weigh ins, and my home scale had me at 266 when I was dressed for work. So, one of the scales obviously needs calibration, but for the purposes of tracking, the work scale was where I recorded the weight of 284 exactly four weeks ago, so I can say with some confidence I'm down 20 pounds.

Oddly, this has changed my waistline almost none at all. My pants pretty much fit exactly the same way they did when I started. Looking at myself in the mirror, I really can't see where the weight is coming from. I had hoped for at least a few aesthetic benefits for my efforts.

Of course, even down twenty pounds, I'm still well above my ideal weight. I'm trying to lose as much weight as I can by December because of the competition at work, but long term it would be nice to get down under 230. Some health charts I've seen say my ideal weight is 196, which I think is insane. The last time I weighed that was in my early twenties and I was still thin as a rail. I have no real interest in becoming gaunt.

When I saw my doctor last week, he said my weight loss would probably level out soon. Assuming that my current average of 5 pounds a week won't last, my new goal is to try for 2 pounds a week and by week 8 be at 256 pounds. This would be down 10% from my starting weight, which seems like a decent milestone. At that point I can recalibrate and figure out my goals for the third four-week period.

A diet note: I've been mosty avoiding pasta, and probably miss it more than any other food I've given up. So, tonight we tried making noodles from ribbons of zuchini. They rocked! I know one thing that will be in our garden next year.