Friday, December 27, 2013

The Time of the Doctor

Has a TV show ever paid such close attention to its fans?

After much internet buzz that Matt Smith could not be the Doctor in the Xmas special because he had cut his famous mop while filming a movie, the scriptwriters shaved his head and put him in a wig. Hard to believe that during months of speculation, that simple little solution didn't seem obvious.

They also settled the question of regeneration. We knew they would; Dr. Who is far to valuable a franchise to kill off simply because long-established canon says you're on your last face of Doctor; but it's nice to see that they cared about it enough to dedicate an entire conversation where the Doctor counts up all of the past events.

It was, however, a bit much that the excess energy from this regeneration was apparently sufficient to destroy a Dalek battleship. For the man who almost never fires a weapon (during this episode devoted to a long war the only direct kill we see him make is convincing a Cyberman to shoot himself) it was a dangerous precedent. But of course, that Doctor is gone now, and the scriptwriters get another chance to create rules and limitations they can then dramatically break later down the line.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

An example of Privilege in action

This Duck Dynasty thing that's burning up the interwebs - turns out some Southern cracker is a homophobe, and apparently that's like news or something? - is the perfect example of privilege in action.

The cracker gives an interview, in which his homophobia is made plain; his employer decides that makes him not a cost-effective employee insomuch as his job is entertainment; and the right-wingers go ballistic because they think his freedom of speech is being abridged.

Three points. One, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence. You can say anything you want, and people can react to it anyway they want.

Two. If the Federal Government sends men with guns to silence you, that's an abridgement of freedom of speech. Anything less... not so much.

Three, and by and far the biggie. The first two are just basic failure to understand concepts, which is nothing new. But the most important thing to notice here is that the people calling for the Federal cavalry to defend this man against his employer are the very same people who think that employers should be allowed to fire and hire at will for any reason including race, creed and color.

Apparently it should be OK by Federal law to fire a man for being black... but not for being a homophobe. You can refuse to sell cakes to gay weddings... but you can't refuse to employ people who say things about gays you don't like.

Here we see the knife of privilege cutting exactly one way, and one way only. Basically, they support freedom of speech when its speech they like. And apparently, there are lots and lots of people who like to talk smack about gay people.

I wonder how long they can keep the wall up? Given that they've pretty nakedly admitted that bashing gay people is protected speech, but defending gay people is not; how much longer before they just come out and admit that bashing black people is protected speech, but bashing racists is not? We came perilously close with the Paula Deen affair, and this seems like another step in that direction.

I, for one, would welcome it. Just say what you actually mean. Honesty is always the best policy. I read some of the things the Duck Dynasty patriarch said, and as one pundit said, they were at least said without malice. No doubt Duck Dude is a little surprised at all the froufrou (just as Paula Deen was). That's just the way he thinks. I applaud him for his honesty, and I wish the rest of the right-wingers would hurry up and join him. Just come right out and say it. Put down the dog whistles and plainly say what you mean.

Of course, it would be the near-instantaneous destruction of the Republican party; but even if it weren't, I would still prefer a world in which racism, sexism, and homophobia were openly recognized as what they are.

"The best antiseptic is sunlight," Mencken said, and I'm sure some long dead Greek guy said a similar thing. To put it in military terms, identifying the enemy is the first step in destroying him.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Day of the Doctor

Just saw it in 3D at the theater. Short analysis: Brilliant.

Two things really stood out for me. One, this is the first time I found any value-added from the 3D experience; there is a 3D painting in the movie, and getting to see it was in 3D before being told it was in 3D was dramatically moving.

The second was how John Rawl's original position is just tossed out there as a solution to a minor plot point. Of course the Dr. knows about Rawl's work; it's that the script writers knew about that impresses me.

I am always a sucker for any movie that can work a bit of serious philosophy seamlessly onto the screen. So my longer analysis of The Day of The Doctor is: Bloody brilliant.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sword of the Bright Lady

The amazing Lou Anderson over at Pyr has bought Sword of the Bright Lady, intent on inflicting it on an innocent and unsuspecting world sometime in October 2014.

I am very happy about this development, as you can imagine. SotBL was my first full-length novel, written in a feverish three months almost ten years ago. Since then it's undergone a lot of editing, almost all of which was fixing the the first half wherein I committed every sin expected of a beginning fantasy author. Now the first half is about a quarter of what it was, and the sinning has been reduced to a tolerable din.

Pyr is the SF&F arm of Prometheus, one of my favorite publishers. Lou Anders is a Hugo-award winning editor. This book could not have landed in better hands.

Micheal Planck’s debut flintlock fantasy SWORD OF THE BRIGHT LADY, an unassuming forty-year old mechanical engineer becomes a pawn in a cosmic game when he stumbles into a world where he must pit wit and rudimentary firearms against magic and monsters to open a pathway home to his wife, to Lou Anders at Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books, in a nice deal, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency (World English).

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Philosophy in politics

And you thought this was a rhetorical question:

Vladeck: I disagree with that. If a tree falls in the forest, it makes a noise whether you're there to see it or not.

Rogers (astounded): Well that's a new interesting standard in the law.

No, Rep. Rogers, it is not a new standard in the law. As any first year Philosophy or Law student could tell you. If you violate my rights, you have violated my rights, even if I don't know about it.

But the fact that this very basic question of epistemology has now been raised in a Congressional hearing is less important than the fact that the elected representative got it wrong.  This either demonstrates the radical epistemological underpinnings of the Reactionary Right... or their simple ignorance.

And by simple, I mean most people recognize that phrase as rhetorical. It's not an actual arguing point; it's just a place holder for a reminder that "objective reality" trumps political ideology. But Rep. Rogers is so unused to intelligent conversation that he doesn't understand that.

An American Halloween

I was having lunch at a burger joint on Halloween, and the staff was dressed up. It's not a big holiday here yet (we had about 7 trick or treaters all night) but it's growing.

I was the first person to recognize his costume, so he gave me a bag of Blue Crystal. I guess being an American has its perks after all. :D

Monday, October 28, 2013

Another message from an alternate universe

That the American Thinker published a misleading polemic against Obamacare is not surprising; however, my eyebrows did react with Spock-like intensity to this comment on the post:

You read much farther along than I did. I stopped at the point where he said Romney couldn't garner the votes [to win the election]. Apparently the author never considered, or simply discounted, rampant voter fraud.

Yes, that's right: this winger stopped reading the article because it dared to take note of the fact that Mitt Romney lost the last election.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Scenes from the back of the lemming pack

Here's how your representatives are coping with the situation:

Congressman confronts park ranger

A congressman accosts a park ranger for doing her job by shutting down a national monument; when the crowd defends her by pointing out Congress has shut down the government, he blames the President and then walks away. Look at the face of the chubby staffer at the very end, when he is looking at the bicycle rider who spoke up: I see fear, loathing, contempt, and even possibly a little bit of confusion.

Inside the mind of the angry gop
A phone interview with a congressman which displays startling paranoia combined with unbelievable thickness. Notice what lengths the congressman goes to to avoid answering simple questions. Notice how he constantly says "I don't know what your looking for." In my experience the answer to that question is generally "the truth," and the other party already knows that, which is why they're hedging. But the takeaway moment is this: after explaining that "I do not want the federal government interfering in the healthcare of average Americans," the congressman is asked:

What does that mean for Medicare then?

And his answer is:

What does that mean for Medicare? What does that have to do with anything?

Rand Paul thinks they're going to win
A live mic catches Rand Paul explaining that because Obama keeps saying he won't negotiate, the Republicans will win the messaging fight. It is extraordinary to me that the people who claim to love the Constitution think that Congress should have a line-item veto over every piece of legislation. I mean, separate from the power they already have by passing or repealing it in the first place. And of course controlling funding at this micro-managent level is essentially an executive power.

But the key point is that Rand Paul, who is already being touted as a Presidential favorite, thinks they're going to win this fight. Just like Romney really, really thought he was going to win his. This is the caliber of political genius the Republicans have to offer.

Congressman explains what it is really all about

"We're not going to be disrespected, We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

EDIT: And here's a congressman explaining why he's going to keep drawing his paycheck during the shutdown.

"I've got a nice house and a kid in college, and I'll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That's just not going to fly."

Never mind the 800,000 federal works who are going without pay. He doesn't know any of them, and besides, they don't have nice houses or kids in colleges, right?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why this is happening

New York Times: "Back then, Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel was a year from its debut, Andrew Breitbart was a lowly assistant at E! Online, and The Drudge Report was an obscure gossip and news digest sent by e-mail -- to the lucky few who had e-mail. But today, a fervent group of conservatives -- bloggers, pundits, activists and even members of Congress -- is harnessing the power of the Internet, determined to tell the story of the current budget showdown on its terms."

We've all complained about the media bubble that the wingers live in. Now here it is, in full display. They believe so strongly in the power of their own voices that they are sure Romney is going to win this time - sorry, I meant they are going to succeed in blaming Obama for the government shutdown.

Feynman said, "The first principle of science is not fooling yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." That the Republican party is both anti-science and now finds itself in the position of believing its own hype is not coincidental.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

If we are going to have a debt ceiling and default crisis — with all of the havoc it may well entail — it may well be because Republican voters want such a crisis, even if it causes serious economic harm.

Among Republicans who believe not raising it would cause serious economic harm, a majority say don’t raise it by 53-32.

Washintong Post/ABC News poll
Reasons why this could be true, in order of rationality, starting with the plausible and ending with the completely insane:

1) The respondents don't think the harm will fall on them.

2) They think it will fall disproportionately on the people they don't like - aka poor, non-white, and female.

3) They think the damage will be blamed on Obama and thus win them the next presidential election.

4) They think the government will collapse and they can start over, like it's 1776 again.

5) They think the governments of the whole world will collapse and they can live out their "The Walking Dead" fantasy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Why we can't have nice things

I kinda figured this out in my 30's. I remember it as the day I transitioned from young to old; when the idealistic fire of my youth was quenched by cold reality. I realized that you can't force people to be rational, you can only make irrationality expensive, but if they wanted to pay, the would.

I guess "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink," sums it up pretty well, too, but it took me a while to figure out just exactly what that meant.

Now we have scientific proof: The most depressing discovery about the brain ever. You should read the whole article, but the take-away is this:

"[People] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs."

I experienced this in a most dramatic way (about a decade ago) when arguing with a coworker about homosexuality. This person was a devout Christian, but he was also a top-flight engineer with math skills I can't even describe because they were so far advanced over mine. My argument was simply to demonstrate that homosexuality can be evolutionarily adaptive. I posed the following situation: suppose you can choose between raising 2 of your own children to adulthood, or 6 of your brother's children to adulthood. Which action puts more of your DNA into the next generation?

It's a simple math problem: 2 * 50% < 6 * 25%. Whether it fully defends the idea of homosexuality as natural or not is not the issue here; the issue is that this very intelligent and morally upright engineer could not do the math.

I don't mean would not; I mean could not, as in face screwed up and counting on fingers inability to produce the correct answer. He temporarily lost the ability to multiply fractions in order to defend his position.

People who said the economy was the most important issue to them, and who disapproved of Obama’s economic record, were shown a graph of nonfarm employment over the prior year – a rising line, adding about a million jobs.  They were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down or stayed about the same.  Many, looking straight at the graph, said down.

The simple fact is that facts don't matter. People only care about facts when they have to, and even then (as the history of martyrs and terrorists show) they don't always care.

The one good piece of news:

But if, before they were shown the graph, they were asked to write a few sentences about an experience that made them feel good about themselves, a significant number of them changed their minds about the economy.  If you spend a few minutes affirming your self-worth, you’re more likely to say that the number of jobs increased.

And this explains everything about American politics. Fox News has spent a generation pumping fear and shame into its audience, and they simply can't let go of it long enough to think straight. It's an old trick, of course (the Catholic Church has been doing it so long their patent rights expired 1,700 years ago), but it explains why civilization took so long to take hold. Rationality is not why we are well-fed and secure; rather, rationality is a product of being well-fed and secure.

The good news is as long as things get better, people will get smarter; the bad news is that once things start getting worse, just when we need people to be smarter, they'll get dumber.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


I wish I had written this (Fletch, remember when you wanted a good idea? This was it...). A cross between Magic: the Gathering and D&D, with a very 1980's vibe. It's cute, fun, funny, and even a little bit challenging. And it's free!

I spent $10 because the designers deserved to get paid. This game is everything Flash games promised to be (it's played entirely from a browser) but aren't (Cardhunters is a real game, not a simple pig-throwing exercise with a single dimension of freedom). For my ten bucks I got the 11 bonus missions, which means I can play the whole game for free. The only thing more money gets you is more loot faster, but the game is very well balanced. Just because an item is higher level and rarer doesn't mean you'll want to use it; and the difference between items is pretty small.

You play a D&D player, playing a D&D party, while Gary (and his older brother Melvin) entertain you with their differing ideas on the art of Dungeon-mastering. The whole thing is a pitch-perfect sendup of my D&D youth.

Card Hunters

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The winter of our discontent

The Australian elections are over, and the Liberals (that is, the conservative party) won a solid victory.

For me, it feels a lot like when Reagan swept the country, despite the fact that his positions were self-evidently nonsense, and that I personally didn't know anyone that voted for him.

In worse news, the Palmer United party won a seat. This party is the hand puppet of Clive Palmer, a billionaire mining magnate who apparently decided that looting the country under the current set of laws was inefficient, and so ran a slate of candidates in every district with the aim of simply buying the entire country on the cheap. That he even got one seat is bad, but I guess it could have been worse.

The fundamental problem was the same as it was back in Reagan's day: the Left is incompetent, corrupt, and feckless. Kevin Rudd won an election, was deposed by his own party, spent three years knifing people in the back until he got the top seat again just in time for the next election. Who seriously thought Australians would vote for that kind of in-fighting? Worse, given the way the parliamentary system works here, the only way to get rid of Rudd and the brain-trust that enabled this nonsense may be to wait until they die of old age.

All in all, it was a solid rejection of the politics of self-interest and power-mongering, in favor of the politics of business interests.

I should not despair; after all, even the Liberals are not suggesting undoing Australia's national health care system. They aren't abolishing the minimum wage. All they want is to cut taxes and spending, on the theory that giving businesses and rich people more money will lead to more jobs for the rest of us, and the other theory that private enterprise will provide for the public good better than public investment. What could go wrong?

If there is one thing I could import from the USA, it would be Barrack Obama. Or even Bill Clinton. Someone who not only said the right things (to be fair a lot of what Keven Rudd said made me smile), but was actually good at this whole politics thing.

Instead, we have at least three years of sitting still. There will be no gay marriage here, no drug rehabilitation, no action on climate change, no expansion of the public health into dental and ambulance coverage, no limit on the mine's profiteering, and no National Broadband. Things won't get any worse - I doubt Abbott can actually crash the economy or start a couple of wars like Bush did - but they won't get any better.

The real test comes later, when we see if the right-ward drift continues. I can only hope that by then America is well on the path to sanity, and Australia gets turned in the right direction again.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Age of Censorship

The other day we were watching "Oblivion," which is a decent SF flick with only a few glaring plot holes (mostly related to the passage of time), even if we did spend the entire film shouting out what other movie any given scene was stolen from. When it got to the part where Tom Cruise beats up Tom Cruise (how could you not like such a scene? Either way, Tom Cruise takes a beating!), which was a pretty clean and well-scripted fight scene, Sophie leapt up, tears streaming down her face, and shouted,


Well, fair enough. She doesn't like violence; that's a good trait in a 3-year old.

But the next day we tried to watch Dr. Who - nope, the killer Santa robots were a bit too much. OK, then.

Last night we were watching "Ruby Sparks," a completely innocuous (and calorie-free) rom-com about a spoiled rich talented writer and his spoiled rich talented problems, and at one point a woman throws a glass of water in a man's face.

Cue the Sophie Alarm.

I have no idea how we're going to finish watching "The Walking Dead..."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Australian Tea Party

The 27-year-old ''poster child'' of the One Nation movement did her campaign no favours in an interview with Channel Seven on Wednesday night, mistaking Islam for a country, confusing haram with Koran and drawing a blank on the nationwide disability scheme.
(Sydney Morning Herald)
The difference here is that in a parlimentary system you can have many parties (instead of just two), so our Tea Party types form their own parties (almost all of which have the word Nation in them). The Coalition (as the conservative political branch is called here) gets to separate itself from the nuttier wackos, who run under their own party banner; but they can still count on them for votes when it comes time to govern.

Of course, the problem in America is not that the Tea Party can't have a distinct identity from the Republicans; it's that the conservatives can't count on the whack jobs for votes anymore.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Politicians here and there

One of the differences between here and there is that there, Anthony Wiener sends pictures of his wiener in shorts to his girlfriends; here, Peter Dowling sends pictures of his wiener in a glass of red wine:

The letter, tabled in parliament yesterday, follows the revelation Mr Dowling had sent text messages to the woman of pornographic images of himself, including one in which his penis is in a glass of red wine.

So I guess our politicians are just that much classier than yours! Suck on that, America! Er, metaphorically, of course.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

License to Kill

Florida's Stand Your Ground law is not, in itself, a terrible idea. Nor is the concept of Concealed Carry, where people gain the right to carry a gun without making it public knowledge.

But put together, they equal a license to kill. George Zimmerman has proven that you can stalk somebody, harrass them, threaten them until they punch you - and then you can pull out your gun and kill them.

Even if you assume Martin threw the first punch, do you really think he would have done so if he knew Zimmerman was armed?

The entire point of not allowing concealed carry was that adding a firearm to any altercation automatically increases the risk of fatality. If two men are wrestling, and one of them has a gun, then both of them are legitimately in fear of their life. Which is why you show your gun - so people don't choose to wrestle. If they do choose to anyway, they know what they're getting into.

Trayvon Martin didn't know what he was getting in to (again, assuming Martin had any choice in the matter, for which we only have Zimmerman's word). The clear and obvious conclusion is that Trayvon Martin should have been carrying a gun of his own*. Then he could have shot Zimmerman - because any time you're being stalked by a hostile, aggressive man in the dark carrying a gun, you are legitimately in fear of your life.

This is how it would have gone down: Martin would have suddenly pulled his gun - completely legally - and said, "Stop following me!" Zimmerman would - completely legally - respond by pulling his gun. Then, of course, gunfire until one or the other (or both) are dead. The cops would have shown up, looked around, and then gone home (which, as it turns out, is what they did in the first place). A win for everyone, right?

Carrying a concealed weapon is supposed to carry with it an increased responsibility. Choosing to approach people in the dark as part of a Neighborhood Watch program is supposed to include increased responsibility (which is why the Watch guidelines specifically say not to carry a weapon). At every point in this process Zimmerman (and his defenders) have looked past the responsibility that Zimmerman choose to accept, and laid all of the blame entirely on Martin's ill-considered decision to throw the first punch (assuming, of course, that he did).

Basically, the white guy gets a complete pass for every part of the history leading up to this incident, and the black guy is expected to behave perfectly in the face of provocation.

Now why does that sound so familiar?

* Assuming anyone can, even for the time it takes to read this post, pretend that a black man shooting a white man would result in an acquittal. I find I am not in that august company.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Not Entirely Clear On The Point

This is a typical exchange:

The fixation with the Crusades and Inquisition are precisely because they were human phenomena: despite all the outward signs of piety, where was God in all of that?

We point to the vast canvas of human misery and say, "Where is God?" You point to a saint or stray miracle or personal experience and say, "There is God." That you cannot understand why your answer is insufficient to us is the entire point.

(Hint: look up the definition of "self-centered.")

Not Entirely Clear On The Point:
The Christian answer to the question "Where is God?" is "On the Cross."

Well he's not doing anybody any good there!

Tell him to get down and start helping.

Not Entirely Clear On The Point:
Speak for yourself. I have observed a lot of good effects myself.
Apparently, instructions to look up the definitions of words are not widely heeded on the interwebs. Who knew?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

We are all Luddites in waiting

For years I have been telling people that increasing technology means increasing the percentage of the workforce who are effectively unemployable in a for-profit task. Some policy wank on a news show had made the point that we could have 0% unemployment overnight by banning farm machinery, and the light went on for me.

And of course, as a SF author, I am pretty certain that technology will continue to grow. Which means that sooner or later, the technological bar of unemployment will be coming for you:
Even a quick scan of the report’s list suggests that some of the victims of disruption will be workers who are currently considered highly skilled, 
Of course, the Luddites already knew this:
So should workers simply be prepared to acquire new skills? The woolworkers of 18th-century Leeds addressed this issue back in 1786: “Who will maintain our families, whilst we undertake the arduous task” of learning a new trade? Also, they asked, what will happen if the new trade, in turn, gets devalued by further technological advance?
Yet I still get Libertarians/Republicans (is there actually a difference any more?) telling that people just need to get mad skillz.

Krugman goes on to make the same point I make: that redistribution is the only possible solution. And of course (as I pointed out earlier) consuming is a necessary job. Somebody has to consume all the stuff that producers produce; otherwise, that produce is worthless. If my stories go unread, they are of no value; and a box of Rolex watches that no one every buys is just as valueless. An entire box car of gold is worthless unless you have someone else who wants it.

The only thing that is valuable in this world is time; people's labor and attention. Writing books is an obvious form of labor; but reading them is a kind of labor, too. I am asking people to give me a part of their lives: to give me the one precious thing that can never be replaced, time. It is not just money I need to engage in my craft; I actually need consumers. And so does every producer, whether they know it or not. All of us owe a debt to the people who make our production possible, by consuming.

The Republibertarians see that mass of consumers as a horde of parasites, completely oblivious to their own symbiotic dependence on them. This is, of course, the primary problem with libertarianism: it simply fails to understand human nature as a collective artifact. The other problem, of course, is that surprisingly soon, that bar of technological unemployablity is going to be on top of them.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The poor are different from you and me; they have less money

Turns out helping really, really poor destitute people is really, really simple:

Give them money

Money with no strings attached not only directly raises the living standards of those who receive it, but it also increases hours worked and labor productivity, seemingly laying the groundwork for growth to come.

You don't need a PHD in economics from a fancy school to know that. In fact, pretty much the whole point of the degree process is to keep you from knowing that. Culture does not exist to teach morality; six-year-olds understand the Golden Rule. Culture exists to create exemptions to the basic idea of fairness we all come equipped with.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The evils of meritocracy

When I was younger I thought meritocracy was a great idea. Why shouldn't the smart and effective people make the decisions?

When I grew up I discovered that merit is relative. People who are good at one thing are not necessarily good at another. People who are good at something are not necessarily good at it in a different context. People don't stay good (or bad) at things.

For meritocracy to work, the definition of merit has to be fluid, redefined at every decision point.

Pretty obviously, this is impossible. What happens instead is that your merit rankings get codified and ossified, and pretty soon you just have plain old aristocracy.

The bright side of the coin is that evil is also relative; with the proper channeling, a useful social intervention or two, Hitler would have been a perfectly decent and productive member of society. His fate as monster of the world was not born with him.

We are, all of us, products not just of our own choices but of the choices of those around us, and sometimes merely of arbitrary fate. This, ultimately, is why I can never be a libertarian; because the libertarian ideal of self-hood simply does not acknowledge the biological reality that our personalities require and are therefore partly defined by the personalities of others. We are a social animal. Our brains are incomplete; they distribute processing to the brains of those around us (note the key to this experiment is that the basketball players pretend not to notice the gorilla).

In this context, the idea of meritocracy is rendered absurd; we are only as good as those around us let us be. The towering - and solitary - creative genius is a myth; Newton not only profited from the investigations, past and present, of others, but was also merely slightly ahead of Leibniz.

Admitting that we depend on others takes strength; ironically, more strength than going it alone. Admitting that we do not control our fates takes courage, more courage than facing mere death. Admitting that we cannot always reward merit requires the fortitude to admit that we cannot always punish evil.

I still have trouble with that very last bit, so I understand why conservatives balk so rigidly at the idea of redistribution: the idea that some undeserving might get something undeserved.sticks in their craw, and well it should. It sticks in mine.

But I have come to realize that undeserving is a much narrower term that it might appear. To the extent that those dull masses exist merely to buy Bill Gate's products, they enable his greatness. Does that not make them deserving? How much writing would I do if I had no readers? (Answer: not much). When I create a book, don't the people I created it for, whose enjoyment nourishes my creativity, deserve some of the credit too?

Redistribution - that blind leveling, cutting off the top of the mound and throwing it back to the ground - is the tool we use to reward the people whose contributions cannot be measured. Yes, some undeserving get rewarded too - Ayn Rand drew Social Security payments - but that is no justification to shortchange the rest.

And ultimately, it is necessary. The wheat thrown down seeds the next generation, provides something for the compulsively productive to accumulate again. No society (not even Rome) has ever collapsed because there were too many losers living on the dole; but plenty have sunk under the weight of winners who have forgotten how they got on top.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Something to bank on

Despite this: Bank employees told to lie, I can assure you that no bank managers will go to jail. Or even lose their jobs. And no Republican politician will even mention this affair, no matter how much they talk about the IRS.

I would say no Democratic politician, too, except Elizabeth Warren was probably already complaining about it last year.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Goodbye Jack, you will be missed

Jack Vance has died. One of the most under-rated, under-appreciated authors of our age, his influence in SF&F is deep and wide. He was one of those authors whom you can recognize from a single paragraph (it didn't hurt that said paragraph often contained a word you didn't know). My own book, The Kassa Gambit, was my tribute to the space-faring world-spanning political adventure he invented and perfected.

We all knew some time ago that Lurulu was his last book, but the thought of all those wonderful words now gone forever still makes me sad.

Jack Vance dies at 96

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Political Profiling

You know how certain people object to the objections to racial profiling? They point out that it only makes sense to look harder at certain groups, since terrorists and drug dealers are so often found in those certain groups.

Now those people have had a taste of their own medicine: the IRS, it seems, decided to focus its investigations in precisely those groups that displayed a certain profile heavily associated with tax-dodging.
But what about the specific targeting of Tea Party groups? Doesn't that show that this was all just a witch hunt against groups with right wing ideologies? Uh, no. It came up at exactly the time the office was getting flooded with a bunch of hastily prepared applications spewing from the Tea Party's messy birth. The edict went out expressly because the office was being flooded with a bunch of hastily prepared, clearly political, applications all using very similar terms.

The IRS scandal - all smoke, no fire

Apparently, fairness and civil liberties take a back seat to efficiency only when profiling minorities. When you're dealing with old white men, you have to be... color-blind.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What a libertarian is worth


Viking farmers were about the most self-sufficient imaginable. They tilled their own lands (ignoring the system of thralls and slavery), defended their own homes, and even made their own iron. A Viking farm could exist all by itself indefinitely. The ultimate libertarian dream.

Using Viking technology, a farmer can harvest about 3 tons of wheat. Which at the current spot price is less than a thousand dollars a year.

You can live off of three tons of wheat. You can even support a family. Vikings had decent lives, for medieval peasants, but the point is they were medieval peasants You can't support iPhones or heart-transplant surgery or jet airliners on three tons of wheat per farmer. If you want those things, you need to specialize. And specialization means each of us depends on the other, for everything from luxuries to basic necessities like food and janitorial service.

And if you're going to depend on other people for things, then you're going to have to give them an incentive to be dependable. You can't just go off and make your millions on hedge-fund strategies and then tell the janitors to suck it up. After all, the janitors can go back to three tons of wheat; heck, for a lot of people in the world that might be an improvement.

Civilization is a group enterprise. It depends on everyone from the top to the bottom. It doesn't even make sense to say that some people are more important than others: which brick in your house is "more important?" Removing any of them threatens the structural integrity of the entire edifice.

Libertarians are addicted to this ideal of self-reliance. But we know what self-reliance looks like; it looks like three tons of wheat a year. Agreeing to a collective strategy, accepting that people will contribute different things and possibly even amounts and yet everyone will benefit, is not a radical socialist idea: it's simply civilization. Obviously there are right ways and wrong ways to go about wealth redistribution, ways that are fairer and more effective versus ways that are less fair and horrifically inept, but the essence of wealth redistribution itself is far too necessary to even question its fundamental fairness.

At least, if you're willing to trade hysterical notions of moral hazard for iPhones, heart surgery, and jet airliners. I am sure there are a few idealists who would rather live in moral purity however penurious than sybaritic luxury at the cost of vague notions of property rights: but those societies always lose to the army that has jet fighters.

If this sounds like I'm defending Communism, in a sense I am: the Communist empire, as horrific as it was, was still a marked improvement over the Tsarist empire. Communism, as dreadful as it is, is still better than medieval peasantry.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Australian TV is a libertarian's dream

Channel Nine pulls next episode of The Voice

Nine would not confirm it but, Media understands the network did not have an episode to air tonight after the "Battle" rounds concluded last night but kept the program in TV guides to fool its competitors.

Changes to programming, "foxing" with schedules, and running episodes beyond natural half-hour breaks have become more frequent as the TV ratings battle heightens between the in-form Seven and Nine networks in an effort to keep audiences from changing channels.

What's the point of a DVR and a digital guide that lets you preset recordings of your favorite shows... if the broadcasters are going to lie to the guide?

We don't watch The Voice, but we have had this problem with Big Bang Theory. You can't actually tell when the new episode will be on, and you can't just record all of them because they show four episodes a day.

Friday, May 3, 2013

If we don't educate our culture, we are in for cultural re-education

Here is  case of a teenager being charged with felonies as an adult for mixing draino and tinfoil. These felony charges will stick with her for the rest of her life, barring her from careers as varied as law enforcement and nursing and programming computers for Raytheon. Her entire future is now compromised because she did something that literally one million other kids have done this year alone.

Teenager charged for learning while black

I seriously hope that this just simple racism, because simple racism would be better than admitting that in America, scientific curiosity is a crime.

Now, combine it with this fact:
44% of Republicans say "an armed revolution might be necessary to protect our liberties"

And just to show that the insanity is not limited to the hoi polli:

Congressmen says Obama is buying up all the ammunition

That's congressmen, as in plural. As in Federal elected officials.

Those cultural re-education camps aren't looking so impossible now, are they?

These people have drunk so deeply of the absinthe of fear that they are ill. Mentally ill. They spread these rumors so thick and fast that they can no longer remember which rumors they started and their maelstrom of terrors now overwhelms them, leaving them trembling, huddled, and unmoored.

People need to start standing up. People need to start shouting down the clowns of hate, laughing and hooting at Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck,. People need to be making fun of the people who listen to them to their face.

Because if you are listening to these people, you are surrounding yourself in cloud of madness. And you are spreading that madness. You are part of the problem.

And the only possible solution is mockery.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Education in America

Pol Pot infamously kick-started his cultural revolution by shooting everyone who could read. This is the ultimate reactionary fantasy, the desire to cut society back to the root and start over. It also represents the distrust and hatred the reactionary has for education (as opposed to indoctrination). The reactionary has always hated education, the midwife of reason; the reactionary has always understood that informed discourse is the surest guarantee of liberty.

To wit, I bring you this, extracted from a comment board:

My wife has certainly had enough. She's far more extroverted and conscious of social status than I, and though she's also the product of a Ph.D. program, she long ago stopped admitting it and by all measures is generally embarrassed to admit that she ever had anything to do with teaching, because she feels that it lowers others' opinions of her.

This is just one data point, of course; but it is raw data, straight from the street. And if you want more like it, I'm sure they're not hard to find.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cutting off your nose to spite the planet you live on

In a real-choice context, more conservative individuals were less likely to purchase a more expensive energy-efficient light bulb when it was labeled with an environmental message than when it was unlabeled.

Political ideology affects energy-efficiency attitudes and choice

This is not a rational reaction; it is an emotional one, and it really has no relation to climate science. It is the conservative mind rebelling against change, not mere technological change but social change, the upending of institutions and traditions that kept certain groups in power. You would think Republicans would be more sympathetic with the Imams; both groups, after all, are watching the political ground erode under their feet with astonishing rapidity.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Paul Krugman writes:

While the Reinhart-Rogoff fiasco is fresh in our minds, it’s worth recalling the other paper that swept through the ranks of the VSPs, briefly becoming orthodoxy, what everyone knew, until people took a hard look at the data.

In case you don't know, the Reinhart-Rogoff fiasco is the discovery that the empirical data justifying the current fiscal austerity policy is based on... a mistake. R&R forgot to add up one column of data in their Excel spreadsheet.

Krugman points out that basic, old-fashioned economic theory accurately predicted everything that has happened, and told us years ago that repeating the policy of the 1930's would lead to a repeat of the 1930's. Yet all of this was ignored in favor of radical new economic theories that said... well, that basically said what the rentiers wanted to hear.

Krugman also points out that nothing will change. The mere fact that their economic theory has been shown to be unrelated to the facts will have no impact, because they didn't choose the policy based on facts in the first place (or at least, not based on facts they care to share). This is the hallmark of religion and ideology: immunity to disproof by facts. All those libertarians going on about Atlas Shrugged don't seem to understand: they're the bad guys, the ones Francios Antonio spent 27 pages railing against on the radio. They're the ones who want everything to just keep working even while they impose their ideology.

The conspiracy is real. It is a confederation of dunces, of people who choose to believe in an ideology not so much of selfishness as of independence; a fantasy world where the words "no man is an island" have never been written; an alternate reality where the madness of crowds doesn't exist; where people are not social animals with a 250,000 year evolutionary history of complete social interdependence for their survival.

They wanted to believe in the fantasy of complete self-determination. In that way they are no different than Oprah's "The Secret" crowd, New Agers who believe that life is scripted, or Calvinists who believe that God gave each person a fully-formed immortal soul at conception so pure that only laziness allows it to be corrupted by the material world.

It's the same old battle as we have ever fought: the will to believe vs. reality. And at its root is the same old rot: what we want vs what we can have. Selfish desire vs. maturity.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The real conspiracy

Oddly enough, Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh won't touch this one. But Matt Taibbi will:

The idea that prices in a $379 trillion market could be dependent on a desk of about 20 guys in New Jersey should tell you a lot about the absurdity of our financial infrastructure.
The Biggest Price-Fixing Scandal Ever
As Matt points out, Libor was just the tip of the iceberg. Not only did the banks make huge bets and then force taxpayers to bail them out when those bets failed; they have been straight-up stealing the whole time. There is no other word for it: this is stealing. If you did this you would go to jail.

Can anyone explain to me why conservatives are up in arms about an alleged conspiracy to fake climate change, but apparently can't care less about an actual (there have been successful court cases! with admissions of guilt!) conspiracy to loot whole nations?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Some thoughts on Islam

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarneav surely didn’t expect to destroy America/Christianity/The West with a few kitchen utensils. Nonetheless, they gave their lives to strike feeble blow. Why?

It starts with hatred. By bombing us they express their anger and encourage Muslims to feel and express anger; by bombed them in return, we create more anger and hostility. This is the goal. The worst thing we could do, from Tamerlan’s perspective, is to forgive; to not respond with violence.

Hatred is necessary, because without hatred, there is understanding and communication. These might sound like good things to you and I, but to the faith of Islam, and thus those who identify with Islam, they are poison.

This is not because Islam is a religion of violence. The next time someone repeats that ridiculous canard, ask them to look up what religion the Hutu were in 1994. It is because Islam is a functioning monotheism. The violence is really incidental: Islam neither profits from, nor is it particularly debilitated by it. Islam, as a faith, can survive any number of invasions, any display of military might, any amount of bombs and bullets. What it cannot survive is modernity.

To understand why Islam cannot be modernized, it is helpful to understand what happened to Christianity when it was modernized. The fundamental difference between Islam and contemporary Christianity is the Protestant Reformation. Prior to that event, you would have been hard-pressed to find any significant social differences. Pre-Reformation Catholicism had everything we complain about in Islam: church/state integration, religious law, violence against reformers/heretics/pagans, and so on.

Catholicism was at that time an all-encompassing world view, in the same sense that we now consider the Standard Model of physics. Sure, there are people who don’t share that outlook, but they know they are in the minority: they are aware that they are outside the mainstream and that their ideas require special defense or explanation. In Dark Age Europe, that was true of atheists and scientists. Their arguments, papers, and books are all wrapped with disclaimers and couched in the hypothetical: “Just imagine if what we all knew wasn’t true…”

Islam, as a pre-modern faith, is also an all-encompassing world view. Science, philosophy, other religions, even empirical evidence must necessarily give way to the truths of the Koran. The point of passing Sharia laws is to publicly demonstrate adherence to this truth; to declare society’s total commitment to the faith. It is not that Muslims want the irrational or harmful effects of Sharia law; it is that they want to maintain the totality, the purity, of their world-view. To allow mundane concerns (such as fairness, effectiveness, or simple practicality) to intervene would be admitting that there is another path to truth. And once you have multiple paths to truth, the gig is up.

Christianity discovered this during the Reformation. Having freed theology from the constraint of the chair of St. Peter, they quickly discovered they had freed it from any restraint. Sects proliferated with abandon; science and reason moved in, winning territory with empirical evidence and logic.

It should be no surprise that democracy flourished in this environment. The currency of democratic governance is reasoned debate; if a priest can simply invoke divine authority, then there is no room for debate. But if you need to convince your fellow citizens with rhetoric (rather than violence or authority), then empirical evidence and logic are really, really handy. Athens and Rome, both ancient democracies, were also polytheistic: this is not a coincidence. When there are many gods, there are many paths to truth and goodness, which leaves room for argument. Your clever new idea can’t be shouted down by the priesthood as immoral simply because it disagrees with doctrine, because other people might disagree with their doctrine too.

A truly monotheistic religion, meaning a complete and encompassing world-view, is incompatible with democracy, science, and modernity. Christianity survived its conflict with modernity by effectively ceasing to be monotheistic. There are many theologians, then and now, who view this as essentially defeat. As much as I disagree with their efforts to re-impose theocracy, I do agree with their diagnosis: Christianity is a pale shadow of its ancient glory. It has been reduced to a personal feel-good New Age marketing scheme.

Post-Reformation Christianity is, essentially, polytheistic, albeit the boring kind. Where the Greeks had pantheons of imaginative gods with fabulous names, Protestantism just has one name for many slightly different gods. While each sect adheres only to its own vision, society as a whole respects all of the various definitions of God – which amounts to social polytheism. You can’t simply shout down gay marriage as immoral, because some Christian priests actually support gay marriage.

Understandably, the Imams do not want to watch Ramadan turned into the biggest shopping day of the year, or the daily call to prayer set to Top-40 muzac. They would like to keep their actual functioning monotheism, thank you very much. The only way they can do this is by rejecting modernity. But rejecting modernity is hard: young people, in particular, like TVs, the internet, vaccines, and all that jazz.

Therefore, the contact between the West and Islam must be cut off, or at least poisoned, so that every idea that creeps in can be rendered impotent against the doctrine of the faith. A permanent state of war, or at least violence, tags every broadcast, every speech, every comment from the West with the red of blood. Think of terrorism like a vaccine: it’s not strong enough to kill the society, but it produces angry anti-bodies that immunize it against foreign ideas.

In this sense George Bush played right into radical Islam’s hands. This should be no surprise, since it is also radical Christianity’s hands: the Dominionists don’t want rapprochement with different ideas anymore than the Islamofascists do. Barrack Obama, with his speeches about understanding and co-existence, is the worst foe the Imams could imagine.

In another sense Bush only did the inevitable: capitalist economies exist to exploit markets, and the Middle East is a market for both buying and selling. As Will Durant noted, whenever a market has been closed to a commercial empire, violence has ensued. He was speaking of American-Japanese relations in 1935 (and we all know how that turned out), but he might as well have been speaking of the East India Company, Admiral Perry, Dole Fruit Company, or Standard Oil of California. When King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud took those gold coins, Islam’s fate was sealed. It would be the irresistible course of history: we would buy and sell. And because we would buy and sell in a modern market, Arabia must become modern. And modernity… is incompatible with true, socially enforced monotheism.

So here we are. Our capitalist economy will not allow us to ignore Arabia; their religious philosophy must necessarily rebuff us. We can try to be nice and understanding, but that just makes things worse; they can try to modernize, but only by surrendering their essential identity as a culture and as individuals. Tamerlan wasn’t just angry over our infidel ways; he was angry because he could not adapt to them and remain true to himself. It is hard enough for immigrants; imagine how much harder when the nature of modern society challenges your entire identity. Fundamentalist Christians struggle with the same problem (look at the recent defections from the Westboro Baptist Church), and, by golly, some of them turn to violence too.

Tamerlan achieved his goal: he chose a course of action that would maintain his identity as a Muslim (a true Muslim, not some wishy-washy reformist moderate). That this required his death should not be viewed as a deterrent; for would not the loss of his identity be a kind of death? And he saved his brother from the infidel, too. A double win. That America now seethes with hatred for Islam is just icing on the cake; it was hardly Tamerlan’s top priority, if he thought about it at all. This was a personal act; the social, political, and religious aspects are merely context. But that context assures us we will see more personal acts like this. And not all of them will be from Muslims – there are plenty of Christians who still have not surrendered to modernity (the Amish are only one example; the entire Catholic hierarchy is another, and what about those White Power guys?). Few of those will choose violence, but then only a tiny fraction of Muslims choose violence. Most just suffer in silence, with the occasional irrational cheer when the underdog scores a hit.

What can committed secularists do? The worst thing possible, from the terrorist’s point of view: understand. Persevere with appropriate responses, eschew jingoism and over-reaction, and keep making cool stuff that other people want. Islam is in its death throes; if it takes 100 years to reform at the cost of millions of lives, it will still be 300 years quicker and less bloody than the Protestant Reformation.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


We have tolerated unreasoning hatred for far too long. We have abandoned the rational for the comfortable, and we have abandoned the empirical for the comfortably insane.

Charles Pierce

The very first question put to the Governor of Massachusetts was "Is this another false flag attack to take our civil liberties away?"

Government, like currency, functions on belief. We believe in our rights, so we act as if we have them; and that action creates them. When we no longer believe, the game is over.

We need to stop giving the people who are ruining it a free pass. Put up or shut up: prove your conspiracy or stop talking about it. Every single claim must be challenged, and the only acceptable defense is empirical evidence.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Libertariniasm in a nutshell

State Rep. Mike Reynolds (R) – Oklahoma City responded to the suggestion that the legislature do something about education with this message:

It is not our job to see that anyone gets an education. It is not the responsibility of me, you, or any constituent in my district to pay for his or any other persons education. Their GPA, ACT ASAB, determination have nothing to do with who is responsible. Their potential to benefit society is irrelevant.

Here we have the perfect example of the libertarian line, and the perfect exposition of it as a religious and moral position rather than a rational or pragmatic one. Read the last line again and again, until you understand the deontological morality behind it. Note how purity is more important than consequences.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The tyranny of choice

One of the maximums I have derived over the years is that choices are bad: options are just another way to screw up.

Case in point: I have a wireless router, and I have a PS3. Plug them in and turn them on and they talk to each other. Great! Except. The router supports multiple methods of connection (G, N, Mixed). The PS3 supports those as well. Left to their own devices, both machines default to selecting the slowest mode. If I restrict the router to only supporting the G method, then my download speed to the PS3 increases by a factor of 50.

Presumably turning off the other modes means some devices might not connect to my router now, so I can understand why the router felt it necessary to default to supporting everything. But can anyone ever give me an adequate answer why the PS3 should look at all its options and choose the worst one?

Of course, if there were only one method, then everything would just work automatically. But then a company couldn't muscle the competition out of the revenue stream. If nothing else explains why the Libertarian fantasy is insane, surely this must. If we let computer corporations build the highways, you'd only be able to drive on roads that matched your car's manufacturer.

Sooner or later governments will recognize codexs and network standards (and even operating systems) as public infrastructure too important to leave in the hands of private corporations. And once the IT industry is brutally oppressed by the heavy hand of government, it will... explode, just like the automobile industry did once government standardized the rules of the road. (And operational design, and safety design, etc. etc. etc.)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Something Jesus knew but Republicans forgot

Why the Rich don't give to charity
One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income.
Does this surprise anyone but Republicans (and their condottieri, the Beltway punditry)? Because in that book which so many Republicans claim to love, we find:

Mark 12:41-44

41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
I swear, it's like they don't even read the thing.

I'm kidding a bit, of course. The article goes on to explain that rich people who are exposed to the problems of poverty are just as generous as the poor. So apparently it is not just being rich that makes you an asshole, but being isolated. Again, not news; but the point is that America's rich are increasingly isolated from the rest of the country, in where they live, work, and even in the media they use. And of course this goes a long way to explain the current Republican bubble; the problem with Fox is not so much that it is wrong so often, but rather that it is so isolated from the rest of society.

And again: Jared Diamond makes clear that one key to a society's ability to cope with environmental damage is making sure the decision makers suffer the effects of their decisions.

The echo chamber destroys everything human. This is because human beings are auto-calibrating feedback loops; they must have healthy input to generate healthy output. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, because absolute power operates in a vacuum: with no power to oppose it, with no useful feedback, every control circuit goes haywire.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Irony is dead

This is a long article on the moral issues of capitalism, a generally balanced article even it it is written by an essentially Conservative author. You can tell he's a Conservative because he so badly misrepresents the Liberal position. For example, he states:

The traditional liberal defense of redistribution, of course, is that a lot of what passes for economic success derives not only from hard work or ingenuity but also from good fortune — the good fortune to be born with the right genes and to the right parents, to grow up in the right community, to attend the right schools, to meet and be helped by the right people, or simply to be at the right place at the right time.

Notice what's missing here? The entire concept of redistribution as effective economic policy. In any market system that "thrives on unequal outcomes," you are going to get concentration of wealth. This concentration is, in and of itself, harmful to the market system, as he notes elsewhere in his article. Yet the simple conclusion - that redistribution is thus necessary for the health of the market system - completely escapes him. This is how you know you're reading a Conservative author: when simple conclusions are invisible because they contradict with ideology. Not just rejected, condemned, or argued against, but invisible.

He also states:

A useful debate about the morality of capitalism... should also acknowledge that there is no moral imperative to redistribute income and opportunity until everyone has secured a berth in a middle class free from economic worries.

There is, in fact, a strong moral imperative to free everyone from economic worries, starting with The Golden Rule and running straight through"If a man asks you for coat, give him your cloak as well," and "What you do for the least of those among you, you do for me." Yet another way you know you're reading a Conservative author: Jesus' moral imperatives are invisible.

But that's not what prompted this post. That's all par for the course. The sentence that prompted me to look out the window to verify that the sky was still blue, intact, and not full of aeronautic swine, was this:

How much income redistribution is enough? Must we keep redistributing until we reach the equality levels of the 1950s, which liberals seem to consider the golden years?

And there you have it. Conservativism has now reached the point of blasting Liberals for being too traditional.

Irony cannot exist without self-awareness; irony is dead.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

This is what evidence-based policy looks like

Following decriminalization, Portugal eventually found itself with the lowest rates of marijuana usage in people over 15 in the EU: about 10%. Compare this to the 40% of people over 12 who regularly smoke pot in the U.S., a country with some of the most punitive drugs laws in the developed world. Drug use of all kinds has declined in Portugal: Lifetime use among seventh to ninth graders fell from 14.01% to 10.6%. Lifetime heroin use among 16-18 year olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8%. And what about those horrific HIV infection rates that prompted the move in the first place? HIV infection rates among drug users fell by an incredible 17%, while drug related deaths were reduced by more than half. "There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal," said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, at a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law. 
But to quote another famous philosopher:

What good are facts? With facts, you can prove anything that's even remotely true! - Homer Simpson
The point of the drug war, of course, is not to prevent drug use. It is to punish a certain class of people and marginalize them from civic life (and of course the political process). And how do we know this? Because if the goal of policy were to actually contain drug use, it would - like Portugal - be concerned with actual numbers.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

How to lose an argument with a two-year-old

As part of the inevitable going-out ritual for anyone who has a two-year-old, I was trying to convince Sophie to sit on the potty before we left.
"Go to the potty. The restaurant won't have a potty."
Her response was devastating, relying as it did on brute fact to destroy the premise of my argument:
"They have toilets."
And now my job is done. The next sixteen years are just polishing.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Monday, February 4, 2013


Watching Super Bowl coverage on Australian TV, and they actually uttered the words,
"let's be honest, no one really understands this game."
This from people who play cricket?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Release of The Kassa Gambit!

One of the pleasures of publishing a book is seeing it on store shelves. When Sara's book came out, we went to all the bookstores in town and took pictures.

Unfortunately, I will never have that pleasure: the book isn't released in Australia, and by the time I get back to America it will be ancient history.

So if anyone feels like popping over to a book store and taking a picture of my book on the shelves, that would be great. Send it to me and I'll post it here.

Assuming, of course, that you can find a bookstore with it. Or find a bookstore, these days. I think I've seen three since I've been in Australia. Everybody here buys their books online, from America or England.

Spotted at a Barnes & Nobles! Thanks Angelica!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Hobbit

Saw the Hobbit yesterday. It was beautiful to look at, the acting was great (especially Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis), and visiting Middle Earth again was wonderful. All in all, I am glad I saw it.

That said, the movie was dreadful. Peter Jackson should be flogged. He tried to make the story as epic as LotR (going so far as to steal whole scenes - the ring falling onto Bilbo's finger, the storm in the mountains, the race across the narrow bridge underground, the hero cutting off the evil leader's hand), and it simply isn't. It's about some greedy dwarves that want to steal some gold.

Jackson tried to pump up the drama, but he can't; we already know all 13 dwarves have to survive, for instance, so every battle scene not played for laughs is just silly. You can't make an adventure into an epic without changing the story, and Jackson didn't do that, he merely added to the story.

And this is where the flogging comes in. Of the scenes Jackson added, two of them are so unforgivably bad Hollywood cliches as to make me question Jackson's sanity.

The least objectionable is Thorin giving his unnecessarily contentious speech only to reverse it by announcing how wrong he was and then hugging a hobbit. Not only is this unnecessary, but no. Thorin does not hug hobbits.

The worst was the absolute bog-standard cop show stupidity, "We have your friend! We'll kill him unless you throw down your weapons and let us kill all of you! Then we'll kill him anyway." Real life cops never fall for this; movie cops falling for it is unbelievable; making medieval warriors fall for it is absurd. Seriously, Jackson must have been high when he wrote that scene, and every single person on the entire set must have been oxygen-deprived or something to not have pointed out just how freaking idiotic it was.

And the lines given to Saruman (magic mushrooms?!!) are a freaking insult to the character and the actor. Wasting Christopher Lee's voice on those idiotic words is a crime against nature. Honestly, I almost walked out of the theater at point, out of a fear that this one scene would taint the majesty that is LotR.

I will undoubtedly see the remaining films, for the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph. However, I don't know if I'll ever see another Jackson film; it is clear now that he had one and only one story to tell, and that the majesty of LotR was due entirely to his slavish adherence to a creative vision that was not his own.