Wednesday, December 31, 2014

SotBL in the Wild

Spotted in the Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica:

Thanks, Josh!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The future of capitalism begins here

Workers at the LA Times just lost all vacation time.

This article explains the policy of regular accrued vacation has been replaced with "performance-based" snap judgment calls by managers. Meaning, of course, that getting a vacation now is a bonus instead of a benefit. And you know how frequently bonuses are being given out these days - well, if you work for a living, that is.

Now in any sane world, the LA Times staff would simply resign in mass. But of course there are no other jobs for them to take. It's not that they can't go to a different newspaper; there are no other jobs to be had at all.

How long before some other company notices this? Then they adopt the same policy. What are their workers going to do? Leave for the LA Times? Pretty soon you get to the position where your boss reduces your pay by a nickel every day. As long as all the other bosses are doing it, what can you do about it? And this wonderful race to the bottom doesn't require collusion, or conspiracy, or criminal intent: it is simply the natural outcome of the free market at work.

Here in Australia we have those pesky socialist labor regulations. Consequently even Subway workers get 4 weeks of vacation, health care, and a wage you can live off of. And there's nothing the bosses can do about. Well, other than seizing control of the political system and putting in a Reagan-like puppet who will dismantle government protections by convincing people government doesn't do anything. But what are the odds of that happening?

UPDATE: Faced with a massive staff revolt, they backed off. For now.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The new opiate of the masses is outrage

This is a excellent article that sums up why people choose to inflict outrage on themselves.

They said one possibility is that negative emotions represent “a reliable source of arousal, one that can be continuously converted into positive affect as long as people place themselves within a given protective frame.” This protective frame can actually take several forms: it can be that the individual feels the danger of the stimulus but has the confidence to overcome it; or that a “safety zone” is created, where the individual places herself sufficiently away from the danger; or, finally, that the individual observes the danger but simply doesn’t engage with it.

The Psychology Today article also notes that the expression of outrage signals affiliation—we know you’re on our side if you exhibit the same level of indignation at the same perceived violations. And since there is safety in numbers, when we see and hear the thousands of comments in our respective echo chamber we know we’re not alone—and this is likely what gives us such confidence to deal with those violations. We enjoy feeling outrage because it increases our sense of camaraderie with like-minded fellow believers. And as Tetlock says, true believers “seek reassurance from each other that their beliefs are not mere social conventions but rather are anchored in backstop or sacred values beyond challenge.”
Not only does this explain Fox News, it also explains the doctrine of Hell. Defining actions as moral crimes worthy of outrage, coupled with the protective frame of God's forgiveness, allows the believer to safely engage in negative emotions. Like a horror movie, he can scare himself silly and yet enjoy it because he knows he is safe. This creates camaraderie with other believers, which in itself feels good. But there is a more insidious aspect to that camaraderie: because belief in the protective frame is difficult to sustain, the support of the group becomes doubly necessary. The fact that the idea of God is not independently derivable from empirical observation and requires an act of faith means that a group of like-minded believers is necessary to maintain that faith. And since that faith is the protective mechanism, the group becomes inescapable: the more you indulge in the outrage and fear, the more protection you need, which means the more you need to identify with the group. And the group exists to indulge in outrage and fear. It's a self-feeding cycle.

It also means that de-converting someone is literally rescuing them from hell (or at least their imagination of it); but, like Marx's famous quote, it's not as easy as it sounds. Have you ever tried to get between a junkie and his opiate? He'll knife you in an instant. In the same way, people who are quaking in fear of Hellfire are actually thrilled; just like being in combat, every second counts, every action is significant, colors are brighter, sounds are louder, and the sense of engagement and presence in the world is turned up to 11. But unlike combat, this state is enjoyable, because they are certain they will emerge unscathed.

In other words, those hellfire and damnation traveling tent shows were the equivalent of the Saw movies. And watching Fox news is like playing Doom with your buddies. Outrage is the junk food of the mind, and the USA will stop gorging on it just as soon as McDonald's closes up shop.

(Note: this mechanism might also explain the growing contingent on the Left that seems to glory in how irreparably broken democracy seems to be. Escape I can't figure out what their protective frame is.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

People who drink too much

This chart is absolutely horrifying. It shows that 10% of Americans account for 60% of alcohol sales. The entire industry is propped up by its most loyal customers. That's not surprising; it's true of many industries. What is horrifying is how much those people drink: 74 drinks a week.

It's one thing to have a loyal customer base. It's something else for them to be killing themselves with your product. But the only way the alcohol industry can not murder millions of people is by accepting a 50% reduction in sales. Never mind blaming greedy corporations, such a thing isn't even possible in a capitalist system.The rules of the free market make it literally impossible for alcohol companies to provide a safe and healthy experience for all of their customers.

Under some kind of state-regulated scheme you could imagine a system where most people still get to drink once in a while, but nobody can drink that much. The only way to shape the market that way is government regulation. So the next time someone tells you we need less regulation, ask them if having 10% of your population literally drinking itself to death is good for the economy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Seriously thinking about moving to Canada

Another big spike in Canadian Kindle sales. Possible reasons why:

1) The accounting system is completely borked.

2) is reporting in Canadian numbers, which everyone knows are only worth a fraction of American numbers.

3) Too much maple syrup on keyboards, so people keep ordering 10 copies when they meant to order 1.

4) Noted Canadian fantasy author Dave Duncan is totally leading a fifth column effort for me. (Thanks, Dave!)

5) Once you make it to the top of the Magic & Wizards list, you stay there, because people just order off the top of that list. I mean, who wouldn't?

Sadly, I imagine it's #5, which means the only reason my book isn't a blockbuster yet in the USA is because it isn't already a blockbuster.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Canada loves me!

I don't understand this, but apparently on I am #2 in Books/SF&F/F/Magic & Wizards. Since this is likely the only time I will see my book right behind Patrick Rothfuss (and ahead of Lev Grossman!), I had to grab a screen shot.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Interview with the Qwillery

Another interview over at the Qwillery, wherein I get to quote the best sentence I have ever or will ever write.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

An interview with Dave Gross

Dave Gross, the author of Prince of Wolves and a host of other Pathfinder books, asks me some questions over on his site, giving me an excuse to spin a pack of lies.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

SotBL Down Under

Some places to buy my book in Australia (sadly, all on-line):
$20? Not bad for Australia.

Look at that RRP: $34.99.  And that's in Aussie dollars, not that worthless green paper. But it's discounted to $22, which is reasonable.

Ebook only, but hey - free delivery!.

OK, even I wouldn't pay $35 for this book, and I think it's the best book of the year. I can say that because GRRM hasn't released a GoT book this year. But then, I guess you can say that about almost any year.

 $40? -choke-

This is the best price, only $17.69, but they order it from America, so it takes a couple of weeks. So better order two, for when your partner swipes your copy!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

SotBL in the Wild

Rumor has it copies of Sword of the Bright Lady can be found on bookshelves. Unfortunately they are native only to the continental USA, so I have zero chance of spotting one here. If anyone sees one, feel free to snap a pic and send it to me.

Also, you can turn the book face-out, so that engaging cover by Gene Mollica gets maximum exposure. The gorgeous Keithen will force people to buy the book by the sheer power of his one-thousand yard stare.

My mother-in-law appreciated the writing, but on the whole found the book to have "too many sword fights." So, you know, that's kind of a glowing review.

Monday, September 8, 2014

SFCrow's Nest reviews SotBL

Kelly over at SFCrow's Nest noticed:
By about half-way through the book, I had decided that M.C. Planck had found a way to truly fictionalise a table-top gaming experience. Bodies are looted and experience and goods apportioned according to who struck the killing blow and rank, of course.  

This is referring to one of my little jokes in the book. It's a scene that mirrors what every single group of RPG players do: as soon as they kill the bad guy, they stop and argue about how to divide up the loot, with the noblest Paladins kneeling in the mud right next to the knaviest Rogues dicing for the magic boots or whatever.

In my defense Homer started it. There's a scene in the Illiad where some warriors stop fighting to strip the armor off the guy they just killed in the middle of an active battlefield, and consequently get ganked while their guard is down.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Japan leading by example

This is a fascinating look at Japan, but what I wanted to highlight was this:

People I interacted with in Japan seemed to be intent on being honest and conscientious in their work because it was part of a cultural code of conduct. That’s just the way we do it in Japan is what it felt like to me...

Within a few days in Japan, my cynicism was replaced by trust, which made me begin to feel an obligation to the society as a whole to keep within the social code of integrity.

We are social animals. We copy what others do, especially if those others are social leaders. Now look at how many of our social leaders behave, from celebrities to politicians. That should explain a lot.

Trust is the most valuable cultural asset, and the Libertarian enterprise to reduce everyone to a profit-seeking machine destroys that trust. I don't particularly want to live in Japan (its social conformity has plenty of downsides), but the basic concept of integrity is something that is self-replicating. Sadly, that's the only way it replicates: people are only trustworthy after others have been trustworthy to them.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The solution to the police state

The solution to police brutality is already available: What happens when Police wear body-cams.

Of course it's not perfect. Any system has flaws and potential for abuse or misuse.

But the fundamental point is that people cannot remain moral without accountability. This is not a knock on police officers; it is a statement about human nature. We are feedback loops; if no one is standing beside us to frown when we drift in the wrong direction, we literally go off the rails. We have known this since forever: "absolute power corrupts absolutely" was well-understood long before John Dalberg-Acton wrote it down. And haven't internet forums exhaustively proven that anonymity = douchebaggery?

In the first year the Rialto police force wore these cameras, complaints about police behavior went down by 88%. That is incredible. Can you imagine any other technology increasing quality of customer satisfaction by that much and yet not being instantly adopted by every company everywhere? What is stopping every police chief in the country from reducing his civilian complaint file by a factor of ten via the trivial expense of a few cameras?

Much more tellingly, the use of force went down by 60%. Now there can be a lot of explanations for this: perhaps perpetrators who were aware their actions were being recorded were reminded to behave better, lest a jury see their intransigence. But it is hard to dismiss the notion that police use of force had perhaps been higher than strictly necessary the year before.

It was not too long ago that people were being threatened with severe criminal penalties merely for filming cops performing arrests (sometimes even when they were the arrestee). It may not be too far in the future when every public servant who is legally authorized to wield deadly force must also wield a camera. And when that day comes, we will look back on today the same way we look back at the early firearms that lacked safety catches.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

More Police State

I have to stop writing about this, because if I don't, that's all I will have time to write about. It just seems never-ending.

But this one is too good to pass up: the Ferguson police beat a man while he was in a jail cell.

No, that's not the absurdity - it gets worse. They then charged him with a crime of destroying property for getting his blood on their uniforms. Shades of Stalin!

But wait - if that was all it was - it wouldn't even qualify for my blog. It gets worse. Later, during a trial, they swore under oath that their uniforms did not have blood on them.
“After Mr. Davis was detained, did you have any blood on you?” asked Davis’ lawyer, James Schottel.

“No, sir,” Beaird replied.

Schottel showed Beaird a copy of the “property damage” complaint.

“Is that your signature as complainant?” the lawyer asked.

“It is, sir,” the cop said.

“And what do you allege that Mr. Davis did unlawfully in this one?” the lawyer asked.

“Transferred blood to my uniform while Davis was resisting,” the cop said.

“And didn’t I ask you earlier in this deposition if Mr. Davis got blood on your uniform?”

“You did, sir.”

“And didn’t you respond no?”

“Correct. I did.”

So there it is. A cop can charge you with a crime, swear out a complaint against you, sign a legal document and put in you jail for that crime; and then later, under oath, deny that the crime ever too place. And it's OK. Nobody goes to jail over it, nobody gets fined over it, nobody even gets a black mark in their personnel file over it. Well, by nobody, I mean no cops, of course. Other people don't count.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Careful! We don't want to learn anything from this

So some mining company decided to exploit the pristine wilderness, as they do. Unfortunately there was already someone exploiting it: the salmon industry, possibly responsible for half the salmon on the store shelves.

The people making a living off of salmon found themselves in a fight with a huge corporation that had both political support and deep pockets. The free market wanted to mine that copper for the profits now, and never mind the harm to the salmon industry, since the free market had priced the copper at more than fish. And never mind that the salmon industry is sustainable - it can go on indefinitely - but by definition the copper mine will run out (or more likely be abandoned during some fluctuation of commodity prices).

Sounds pretty familiar to us liberals. But of course this is Alaska, so everyone involved is a die-hard Republican. And like die-hard Republicans everywhere, they suddenly discovered the value of government when they personally needed the help of government:

Greg Harris, a fisherman who has lived in Bristol Bay for 33 years and who describes himself as being “as conservative as they come,” struggled with the contradiction. “Last year the EPA came out here,” he recalled, “and I told them point blank: ‘I think the EPA is an overstretched, over-budgeted blown bureaucracy.’”

He needed to make that clear in order to justify what he said next: “I think you guys are like a big octopus – you have your tentacles into everything. But if one of your tentacles can help with this, I’m all for it.’”

Don't worry - they'll still all vote Republican:

Make no mistake: Halford will die a registered Republican, and he still believes in the things he thinks Republicans are supposed to stand for, development included. “I have become more and more conservation-oriented as I’ve realized the pressure on renewable natural resources,” he allowed. “But I would not call myself an environmentalist, and in the past I probably would have strongly resented being called an environmentalist.”

Just because in this instance they needed the help of government to prevent a corporation from destroying their livelihood and the the livelihood of their children's children's children doesn't mean they recognize that anyone else ever legitimately needs the help of the government against a corporation.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Paul Krugman finally catches up to me

Inequality is a drag

And this, in turn, implies that redistribution — that is, taxing the rich and helping the poor — may well raise, not lower, the economy’s growth rate.
Apparently, the leading economic minds of the day are beginning to grasp the fact that Ronald Reagan sold us all a lie. Voodoo economics, it turns out, really is just voodoo. All this nonsense about the Laffer curve really is just laughable. Everything the ordinary citizen of the last two decades thinks about the economy is simply bunk. All lowering taxes does is make everyone poorer.

The secret to a healthy economy is high taxes. The reason is as simple as it is obvious. What makes an economy grow? DEMAND. Nobody builds a factory because they have a lot of money; they build a factory because the one they have isn't making enough stuff. And what drives demand? SPENDING. You have to spend to create demand. And what do governments do with all the money they collect in taxes? THEY SPEND IT.

This is so mind-numbingly simple as to defy explanation. How could those Austrians have been so wrong, but more to the point, how can the educated population of the world not see how wrong they are? For over 30 years the economies of the world have been driven by this idiotic inversion of basic truth, and the result is massive injustice, financial panics, and crumbling infrastructure.

Taking money from people who have it and then spending it makes the economy go. If you can't understand this, you're probably the kind of person who can't understand why fiat currency is better than a gold standard. Taxes are in fact why the world has progressed past subsistence farming.

If you think that rich people deserve their money, because they made it all by themselves without any help from anyone else, then just consider taxes as the price we charge for calculus. You want to avoid taxes? Fine, make your money without calculus, or logic, or democracy, or literacy, or fire, or any of the rest of the heritage of civilization and knowledge that you inherited for free.

This reminds me of an old joke, ironically a Christian one, which makes it even stranger that the people who often tell this joke don't see how it applies to their own economic prejudices:

God was once approached by a scientist who said, “Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.”

God replied, “Don’t need me huh? How about we put your theory to the test. Why don’t we have a competition to see who can make a human being, say, a male human being.”

The scientist agrees, so God declares they should do it like he did in the good old days when he created Adam.

“Fine” says the scientist as he bends down to scoop up a handful of dirt.

“Whoa!” says God, shaking his head in disapproval. “Not so fast. You get your own dirt.”

Stories that bring sermons to life

Is it wrong of me to tell Libertarians - get your own math?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


A friend asked me to exercise my vaunted status as Published Science Fiction Author in fulfilling one of the steps of the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. Since it is almost certainly the only time I will ever be called upon to employ said status, I wrote a little flash-fiction and put it on my author Facebook page. Which is itself so utterly obscure that finding it ought to satisfy anyone's idea of a hunt.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My baby discovers number theory

While driving past a row of stores: "Mommy... there must be more people than shops."

Woot! Fields Medal, here we come!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Police State back on track

Mother arrested for letting daughter play in park

So this woman is working at McDonald's. She can't afford child care, obviously, so she takes her daughter to work. The kid gets bored after a few days, so Mom gives her a cell phone and lets her go to the local park. Someone else at the park is so concerned about the possibility that the child will be snatched by strangers (never mind that the chance of that is lower now than any time in America's history) that she calls the police.

The end result? The police - who are of course strangers to the girl and her mom - take the kid away. Then they arrest the mom.

Once again, we see the police preventing a crime by committing it.

The only danger the child was in was the potential danger of being snatched. The only harm here was a child that might be abducted by strangers. And the state's response is to have the child abducted by strangers.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

America is now officially a Police State

Virgina police have a warrant to photograph a teenage boy's penis

On top of all the other stories - forced enemas, setting fire to toddlers, etc. - comes a story that, in its way, is worse than all of those. This is not just overzealousness; this is officially insane.

The basic story is that a teenage girl sexted her teenage boyfriend some naughty pictures, and he responded in kind. The girl's mother saw his picture and called the police.

The girl is 15 and the boy is 17. Whatever you think about teenagers having sex, the law in this case treats it as a misdemeanor. Calling the police in the first place was an insane act by the mother, which is going to cost her any chance at a relationship with her daughter, but whatever. The cops actually pursuing it is pretty stupid, but whatever.

But it doesn't stop there.

The cops are going for a child pornography charge, apparently under the theory that a law designed to stop sexual exploitation of minors can be used to charge a minor with sexually exploiting himself. The idea that two kids can have physical sex and be charged with a misdemeanor, but if they take pictures of themselves not having sex it's a felony that lands them on the pedophile list for life, is insane. If I stopped the story right now, you'd be like, "That's f*cking insane."

But it doesn't stop there.

In an effort to prove that the boy is the perpetrator, the cops apparently sought and received a warrant to reproduce the photograph as evidence. That's right, they plan to “just take him down to the hospital, give him a shot and then take the pictures that we need.”

So: to enforce a law that protects children from sexual trauma and exploitation for adult ends, the cops intend to sexually traumatize and exploit a child for adult ends.

Mind you, we're not talking about a rape/murder case where they need to prove who the perpetrator is. The only crime greater than a speeding ticket is a picture on a phone. We're not talking about harassment or stalking or assault; the girl is not an innocent victim of a brutish predator. The only sin here is a teenage girl disobeying her mother by her choice of boyfriend.

But even the wildly disproportionate response to the trivial issue is not the problem. That's just par for the course; that ship sailed long ago when SWAT teams started delivering summons. What makes this case so much worse than all the others is the Kafkian absurdity of the police obtaining evidence for a crime by committing the same crime.

How could any sane human being think that forcibly inducing an erection in an underage boy and then forcibly subjecting him to photography by strangers is an appropriate way to protect children from being sexually exploited by adults?

What the hell are the police going to do with the photograph? Show it to the jury as evidence? It's one thing to show a jury a stash of filthy pictures you found, it's something else to manufacture child pornography to show the jury.

Maybe they'll just have their experts examine it and determine if the two match. Can you imagine the defense attorney's cross examination? "Please tell the court, sir, what your professional qualifications are. Just how many hours have you spent looking at underage boy's erect penises?"

Setting fire to toddlers, however horrific, is still just violence out of control. Forcibly searching a person for drugs by administering enemas, however sick, is still just the cops trying to beat the bad guys. But this is another level entirely. This is the not the abandonment of reason, it is the embrace of unreason.

This is not just careless disregard for human life, this is not just viewing people as a means to an end, this is not just using the law without regards to its intent: this is the perversion of the entire concept of criminal justice, making the cops worse criminals than the bad guys. In a world where reporting sexual assault results in you being raped by the police, we are better off without police. Anarchy would be safer than living under the kind of police officers that could utter the above quote without spontaneously combusting out of pure irony.

But this is not madness. This is not simple insanity; the true offense here is obvious. The police offered the boy a chance to plead guilty, and only resorted to this strong-arm tactic when he dared to assert his rights under the law. This is punishment for defiance of state power. This is authority for authority's sake.

This is the Taliban.

UPDATE: Apparently the police have decided not to pursue this opportunity because of the public outcry. So apocalypse is averted - but only temporarily. It's not like any of the police or the judge will lose their jobs. They'll just wait a until next time and hope the press doesn't catch wind of it.

UPDATE: One of my loyal readers (thanks, Dad!) has alerted me to the fact that the boy is now on probation, and charges will probably be dismissed in a year. This is a perfect metaphor for America: things slide out of control until people start paying attention. Participating in politics is not a right, it is a duty. The system doesn't work unless people do their part, which means paying attention, being reasonable, and voting.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

D&D 5.0

I just downloaded the D&D 5.0 Basic Rules and read through them. I got to this part:

At the end of a long rest (8 hours), a character regains all lost hit points.

Nope. Sorry. I appreciate the various attempts to clean up the system and standardize the mechanics (although what is with that funky XP per level table?), but this here is a deal breaker. I can't tell a story in which no one ever breaks a leg.

Admittedly previous editions were a bit sketchy on the relationship between hit points and injury, but this edition has just flat out erased it. Even if you are reduced to 0 hit points, as long as you are not killed out-right, you will be fully healed in 12 hours (4 hours to heal 1 hit point, and then one long rest to heal the rest).

Nope. Sorry. Can't do it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Game of Thrones

Just watched this season's finale. The Hound was brilliant, his best scene ever. Martin has made clear why you don't write books in which the main characters die: because when you make it into a movie, you keep killing off the actors just as they hit their stride.

At least we still have Jorah Mormont to kick around. I wasn't that attached to the character in the book, but I am a big fan of Iain Glen ever since his bit part in Downton Abbey. This is another problem with film; a good actor makes his character more likeable than the plot expects. Sean Bean did the same thing with Boromir.

At the end, I was struck by the unhappy revelation that this book series will never be finished. The TV show is burning through the plot; they have maybe one more season and they'll be out of books. Martin will have to devote his time to script treatments to finish out the show. After that, he'll just be too tired of the whole thing to actually write the books.

On the other hand, as much as I like Martin's discursive writing, the show is dramatically and narratively tighter. Maybe they'll hire somebody to write the final books based on the show.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Paul Krugman has a more optimistic view

Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.
Interests, Ideology And Climate 
In Krugman's view, the only real problem is ideological. I agree. All of my arguments with libertarians have gone the most screwy at precisely the moment when I point out that the looming environmental crisis cannot be managed by the free market.

These are data points that are unassailable: we are heading for disaster, and the only solution is collective action. Libertarians can only respond by ignoring the scientific facts, ignoring the consequences of their own ideology, or by embracing defeatism - essentially, our destruction is inevitable and inescapable.

Think about that. These people would rather see the world burn than admit that their governing philosophy is simply bunk. But that's not as defamatory as it seems, since it basically describes all people ever. It is only now, with the advent of science, that people can separate their personal worth and self-esteem from the factual positions they happen to hold at the moment. And even now, most people simply can't do it.

Because most people have built an edifice on those "facts," an edifice they know is unfair and unjust, and they rightly fear that if they surrender on those "facts" they will have to dismantle their edifice, and at that point they may well be required to account for the injustice they have done (or even merely be subject to someone else's injustice). By most people, of course, I mean the entire Western world which has consumed the lion's share of the Earth's resources for centuries.

An accounting is coming, either at our own hands or at the hands of Nature, in the form of brute reality; and as any biologist will rush to assure you, Nature is not by any definition merciful.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blogging the end of the world

It starts here: Erza Klein lists seven reasons why it's too late.

1. We waited too long. Self-explanatory.

2. The people most affected don't get to vote. For those of you who read Collapse by Jared Diamond, this is the number one reason societies collapse.

3. We're bad at sacrificing now for the future. As Neil Degrasse Tyson and Thomas Piketty keep pointing out, that is a design feature of capitalism.

4. The effects are not reversible. It's not like if we just stop burning carbon, things will go back to the way they were. These changes are effectively permanent.

5. The Republican party. Self-explanatory.

6. International cooperation is too hard. Here I think he is wrong; if America were leading the way on this, we could actually pull it off. There is a value to having a military roughly equivalent to the rest of the world combined; people listen when you speak. If the USA were of one heart and mind on this, we could make it happen. But see #5.

7. Blind faith in magic doesn't work. But I guess this is really just #5, again.

What am I doing about it? I only had one child, we own a single car, and I will be buying a house at least 10 meters above sea level.

Friday, June 6, 2014

I should check my email more often

Just found a year's worth of fan mail. Also, less importantly, a request to enter the Compton award, and an inquiry from a movie studio on licensing rights for TKG.

I was sure my IT department set that account up to forward my mail. I would complain, but I don't want to have to sleep on the couch.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Lawerence Krauss agrees with me

Just saw him on the show Q&A; he said it seemed like Abbot was trying to make Australia into America.

And indeed he is, from regressive taxes, repealing regulation, and increasing the defense budget, right across to science denial. Krauss' best line of the night (said to a climate-change denier): "OK, so what does your model predict?"

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Windows 8.1

Just when I had my XP box perfectly clean and functional, the motherboard blew.

So now I have a new laptop. I tried to convince Sara to switch to Apple months ago, but failed. As her partner it is my duty to follow her even unto darkness. Hence I have endured the maelstrom which is Windows 8.1

I don't get all the hate. I mean, sure, Win 8.1 is a gratuitously insulting piece of software that reduces people to incandescent rage whenever they try to do the simplest tasks; but that describes every version of Windows. As far as I can tell, same as it ever was.

The laptop came with 8; updating to 8.1 was free, if you don't count the nine hours of my life it consumed. The next day I was treated to the new, improved blue screen of death; after my laptop booted to the the desktop, a huge blue banner overtook the screen with the message "Please wait."

Chump that I am, I did wait for 45 minutes before going online on a different computer to see what nefarious update had effectively bricked my computer. After a few hours, I managed to boot to safe mode (so that virus protection was disabled) and then perform a restore point (the first restore attempt having failed due to the aforementioned virus protection. I would point out it was Microsoft's own virus protection, but that hardly needs to be said).

I cannot imagine what went through a professional engineer's mind when they were designing that "Please wait" screen; did the concept of a timeout (hey, we've spent half an hour at this and it's still not working, maybe we should let the user have his computer back) never occur to them? Is this a technology that Microsoft is unaware of? On the other hand, I can imagine a psychotic sadist designing it. Mind you, it's not simple greed or laziness; the lazy thing to do would to let the computer boot despite whatever perceived problem, and leave the user to the winds of fate. But no; Microsoft chose to exercise considerable effort in ensuring that your otherwise perfectly functional computer would be rendered useless, and they spent a lot of time making sure you couldn't sneak your way around it.

I have my limits, however; I shall not follow the wife into the screeching hell which is OneDrive. Manually backing my files up to the cloud every day is a right royal pain in the ass, but it doesn't leave me weeping with hatred on a weekly basis.

I do, however, envy GRRM. Not for his fame, which is a fickle favor bestowed by the gods; but for his wisdom in writing on a DOS box in the first place. If only my editor would accept Word Perfect files...

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Photo shoot for SotBL

Here's an interesting You-Tube video: Gene Mollica shooting the cover for Sword of the Bright Lady. A chance to see a great artist in action - and a long-suffering model wearing the most confusing collection of gear. But he wears it so well!

At one point Lou sent me an email stuffed with incredibly gorgeous male models to choose from, and I had to ask the womenfolk for advice. If only they would show so much interest in my manuscripts.

Ironically, the sword itself did not make on to the cover, which I realized after the fact was perfectly appropriate. I must confess we took some artistic liberties: technically the revolving rifles don't appear until the 2nd book (and also my protagonist is not nearly so young and handsome until then), while this specific shot is from the long march at the end of the 1st book (where he's just about to shoot.... oh, wait, spoilers).

Oh, I guess you probably want to see the final product. We asked Gene to capture the same gritty drama he did for Promise of Blood, and he delivered. I love the white background, the gun (he had to buy it just for this shoot), and most of all Keithen's thousand-yard stare. Gene sure knows how to make a model look like he's been through hell and back. :D

sword of the bright lady mc planck

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thomas Piketty summed up

Daily Kos referenced an article that summed up Piketty's book.
Piketty's research, which is immaculate, reaches back hundreds of years to establish a simple thesis: the American dream – and more broadly, the egalitarian promise of Western-style capitalism – does not, and maybe cannot, deliver on its promises. That, he writes, is because economic growth will always be smaller than the profits from any money that is invested. Economic growth is what we all benefit from, but profits from invested money accrue only to the rich.

The consequences of this are clear: those who have family fortunes are the winners, and everyone else doesn't have much of a shot of being wealthy unless they marry into or inherit money. It's Jane Austen all over again, and we've just fooled ourselves that the complicated financial system has changed a thing.

This is a deep point. Many American households, if they are lucky, will grow their wealth at the same rate as the economy. But, because the wealthy are growing their fortunes at a much faster rate, no one else can ever catch up.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Masters of Business

Sophie made up her first complete game today. It's called "Master of Business." The rules are: run around the house three times, jump on the bed four times, and walk around the room two times, while wearing a belt and sunglasses.

I have no idea where the name comes from, but I am very happy to report I am now a "Master of Business."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Catholics of yore

From an article discussing when Catholics on the Right were against capitalism. True, they were proto-libertarians and religious zealots, but I have to admire the passion in this passage:
Chesterton, always the better stylist than Belloc, could work himself into righteous fury in defense of the distributist ideal over the capitalist one. He gave that ideal a peroration in the book What's Wrong with the World that suffices as a conclusion for this article, because it has all the revolutionary romance and inevitability of Marx, but more moral force and beauty:

With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property, because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict's; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and multilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and slip and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down; and not one hair of her head shall be harmed. 

The conservative case against capitalism

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The return of Fuedalism

As documented in "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," a new book on economics:

U.S. inequality is now close to the levels of income concentration that prevailed in Europe around 1900-10. History suggests that this kind of inequality level is not only useless for growth, it can also lead to a capture of the political process by a tiny high-income and high-wealth elite. This directly threatens our democratic institutions and values.
Thomas Piketty

And as demonstrated by good old Tony "More Reagan than Reagan" Abbot:

Tony Abbot wants to bring back knighthood

The whole world is hurtling towards feudalism as fast as Grover Norquist can drown those pesky republican sentiments in his bathtub. No surprise that the 1% have become trans-national parasites; but why are ordinary working people following along so eagerly? What keeps people voting for the Republicans even while they strip-mine our rights for corporation's benefit?

I want to lay out the bones of an argument here. First, we have the conservative and Christian doctrine that all men are depraved and worthless. Second, we have the human need to maintain some kind of self-esteem. Thus, we see the layering of society, where the middle class accepts the domination of the upper class because they can at least place themselves above the lower class. Of course, this requires there to be a lower class that is not only poor but deserving of being poor. Furthermore, it is necessary that this lower class not be constantly shrinking as people climb up to the middle class, because that would unveil the illusion that they deserved to be poor in the first place. So we need a mechanism to keep them in the bottom class, regardless of their actual merit: and as necessity is the mother of invention, so has this mechanism already been built. It's called racism.

Racism is the perfect tool for the job, as it allows a benighted populace to salve its self esteem no matter how badly their rulers mistreat them. Because at the bottom, placed there by God himself, there is always a cushion of losers worse off than yourself. As evidence for this dynamic in Christian thought, I offer the following observation: whenever a preacher ceases preaching hellfire and damnation, he loses 90% of his flock. Apparently the existence of sinners in hell is necessary o the Christian psyche, even if it is not theologically required.

Egalitarinism, the idea that we are all equal and deserving, destroys racism - and with it the entire concept that some people are better than others, and therefore the justification for the aristocracy. This democratic, progressive impulse has always fought with the authoratarian, reactionary status quo, and it has always gradually and continually won. Until now, at least.

So it is no surprise to me to see the mask slipping, and the Republican party revealing its inner racist more and more with each day. This is not just because there is a black man in the white house, but also because the aristocracy is pushing its age-old deal: be a slave to us and we will make sure you have slaves of your own. A truly titanic battle is brewing. Future historians will look back at Occupy Wall Street the way we look at the storming of the Bastille.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mencken on the Dunning-Kruger effect

The agents of such quackeries gain their converts by the simple process of reducing the inordinately complex to the absurdly simple.  Unless a man is already equipped with a considerable knowledge of chemistry, bacteriology and physiology, no one can ever hope to make him understand what is meant by the term anaphylaxis, but any man, if only he be idiot enough, can grasp the whole theory of chiropractic in twenty minutes.

- H.L. Mencken

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sharks with lasers

Or at least twitter feeds: Australia's sharks will now tweet before attacking.

As if there weren't enough social pressure on teens to use social media, now we've added an actual evolutionary advantage. Tweet... or be eaten!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The worst column ever written

In the constellation of terrible political punditry there are many blazing examples: Cal Thomas, Peggy Noonan, Thomas Friedman, to name just a few. But David Brooks has immortally cemented his position as the greatest with this column: Been there, Done that, so now the rest of you who go there and do that should go to prison.

Brooks has written some of the most truly pathetic columns imaginable - just a few weeks ago he wrote a piece pointing out the complete irrelevancy and meaninglessness of ideologically lazy political pundits, the chief notable example being himself - but this column must go down in history as the definitive piece of sheer ass-hattery. The man has produced entire books which consist of him making up stories and claiming them to be data points, but that's just simple fraud. This column moves beyond that.

He spends the entire column discussing the complete lack of danger associated with marijuana, as evidenced by his own personal experience: his worst personal experience was botching a speech in English class, and the vast majority of his friends naturally outgrew it. He concludes that legalizing pot is good for personal freedom (Isn't this the rallying cry of the Tea Party Republicans? Freedomz!).

He then concludes with the banal fact that spending all of your time smoking pot is not the best possible life, and in the ultimate act of mind-boggling hypocrisy and willful ignorance suggests that society should therefore continue to discourage marijuana use. At no point does the brute fact that society currently sends men with guns to lock you up in jail with murderers and rapists and take your house and prevent you from holding hundreds of classes of jobs again and take away your right to vote cross David Brook's alcohol-fogged tiny little mind (because you know the bastard was drunk as a skunk while he wrote this - he had to be: no sane human mind could commit such a heinous act of indifference while sober). Thus does society "discourage" pot use; by putting it in the same class as using heroin, meth, burglary, and assault. By destroying lives and swelling prisons.

If David Brooks had been "discouraged" when he was smoking pot, he wouldn't have a cushy job writing banal idiocies for a national audience. Or maybe he would; Brooks has spent his entire life in an atmosphere where rich white guys get second chances (and thirds, and fourths, and....).

To advocate a policy while remaining willfully blind to its actual implementation is one thing; to do so when said policy would have ruined you had it been applied to you is something entirely different. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are evil clowns, but they are clowns. David Brooks is vastly more wicked: he makes people comfortable with hypocrisy. Brooks has column in a old and venerable newspaper, a national audience, and a cushy paycheck - and he uses it every week to display brazen hypocrisy, for which he is continually rewarded. This amounts to society encouraging hypocrisy, as long as it's hypocrisy for rich old white men. All the pot smokers in the world cannot add up to the harm David Brooks personally inflicts on the national character.

David Brooks has just endorsed the police state: he has formally asserted that social culture should be enforced by the power of the state through criminal law. He is the drug war's Leni Riefenstahl.