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.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Drive-by Diplomacy

The debate among pundits seems to be that President Obama's handling of the situation in Syria was merely incompetent or outright idiocy. A few extreme right pundits have gone so far as to argue that the President has deliberately schemed to weaken America, while a few far left cheerleaders have proclaimed that the President was a Machiavellian genius who snookered Putin into getting exactly what he wanted all along.

I told a friend this week that Obama's performance had left me a little nostalgic for George W. Bush. I might not have agreed with Bush's choices, but you have to admit that he wasn't decisive. He might not have been the world's most gifted speaker, but when he took a position he and his underlings were prepared to defend that position to both the public, to congress, and to the rest of the world. Obama didn't seem ready to make the case even to himself. There's a show on Comedy Central called Drunk History where speakers narrate stories while intoxicated, getting their facts muddy, their narration meandering to odd places, until the speakers inevitably fall out of their chairs. Watching the stuff coming out of the White House, I detected the same sort of staggering, stumbling unsteadiness. Drunk diplomacy.

Yet, I have to admit, the end result is almost certainly the best possible case scenario. Obama managed to stumble himself right out of the hole he'd been digging for himself. The situation in Syria wasn't something we were going to solve by throwing drones at it. Obama is a one trick pony when it comes to military force--bomb bad guys, see what happens. I'm not certain it's effective, and I'm extremely certain it's not moral. Colin Powell famously invoked the (fallaciously named) "Pottery Barn" doctrine: You break it, you buy it. Until Obama, with a few exceptions like Reagan's bombing of Libya, the presumption was that, if we used military force against a nation, we than had an obligation to go in and provide security. Germany, Japan, Iraq, even Afghanistan... the stated goal was to leave these nations in better hands than they were when we decided to act against them. Anarchy was never an acceptable goal.

The only goal Obama seemed to have for Syria was anarchy. Punishing Assad only helped the rebels, and the rebels don't exactly strike me as nation building patriots. Bombing chemical weapon sites would have left big craters filled with dangerous substances at best, or wound up unleashing clouds of toxic materials to spread for miles at worst. Of course, you could not target the chemical weapons, just weaken Syria's infrastructure by taking out some power stations or bridges. But, this seems like an attack against the people of Syria, who have enough problems to deal with without us providing this kind of assistance. Our last option was to target Assad's troops and weapons, leaving him weakened. In this case, the rebels might overthrow him, and suddenly they are the ones controlling the chemical arsenals. Won't we all sleep better after that?

In the end, the only ethical choices before us were a full scale Iraq style invasion where we went in and stabilized the situation on the ground and took command of the chemical weapon stockpiles, or... we do nothing. The world is full of atrocities. We cannot intervene to stop them all. Attempting to do so would require us to conquer nation after nation, in a never ending quest to impose order.

Some people worry the world will become a more dangerous place if America isn't there to act as the world's policeman. Quite possibly. But I would argue that we help make the world a more dangerous place if our only course of action is to lob bombs onto foreign soil and hope for the best. That's not the behavior of the word's policeman. It's drive-by shooting diplomacy. Let us be done with it.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Day 365: Year one of living better

It was 365 days ago that I downloaded MyFitnessPal on my smartphone and made the choice to turn my life around. I put in my weight that first day at 284 pounds. I just weighed myself a few minutes ago, and I now weigh 228 pounds. Not only have I been able to lose about 20% of my body weight, I've now kept it off since I hit my major milestone of 224 pounds back in May.
Alas, I never reached the goal of hitting 220. So close, but it eluded me. I'm still hoping that I'll get there eventually. My weight started going the other way in May when the days started getting longer for a very good reason: I began moving my body through space at distances I couldn't have even dreamed of last year. Below is a chart generated by Endomondo, the program I use to keep track of how far I walk, hike, bike, run, and kayak. I started using the app last December. As you can see, I got a little obsessive about keeping my total distance always just a little bit higher than the month before, I trend I managed until August. But, in fairness, I had weeks of vacation in June and July where I had the time to do more long bike rides. The fact I got as far as I did in August while holding down a full time job is a pretty good accomplishment.

So, while I've gained a few pounds, I'm pretty sure most of the gain has come from adding muscle to my legs. Since we added biking to our workout schedule, it really uses a very different set of muscles than hiking. We've gone from sweating and panting our way through six mile bike rides to managing 30 mile rides, with plans for longer ones.

Alas, some of the few pounds I've added back might be fat. One paradox of all the exercise I've done this summer is that it's kept me eating ridiculously high calorie loads. Over the course of a week, I might burn an extra 8000 calories from exercise, but all the working out leaves me famished, so I can't stop snacking, and feel justified eating larger portions of everything. I'm still avoiding soda, but confess I've gone back to eating pizza after mostly staying away from it last winter.

Of course, weight isn't the only important number when it comes to health. I gave blood last night and my blood pressure was terrific and my resting pulse was only 68. My resting pulse used to be in the high 80s or low 90s. I used to have pretty frequent back pain, and now I go whole days without noticing a twinge. And, I'm still fitting into the 34" waistband pants I bought back in the spring. All in all, I'm probably more fit than I've ever been in my life.

Cheryl and I have moved ourselves through space under our own power a little over 750 miles so far this year.  We plan to make it to 1000 miles before years end, though it does get a little tougher in the winter since it's harder to get in long hikes or rides after work when it gets dark 30 minutes after Cheryl gets home. Still, I think we'll make it.

The major milestone I'm shooting for now is to bike 50 miles on my 50th birthday. That's in early March, so weather might complicate that. Obviously, if it's snowing or raining hard, I'll have to reschedule. Still, it's something to look forward to, and something I could barely dream of when I started this last year.