Friday, December 28, 2012

Theology in action

The dentist who fired his assistant for being "too sexy" (after 10 years of working together!) didn't do it in a vacuum. He consulted his wife (or rather, was driven to it by his wife), and he got a second opinion:

The Knights consulted with their pastor, who agreed that terminating Nelson was appropriate.

Thanks, nameless pastor, for making it perfectly clear that the sanctity of the marriage bed trumps any concerns about fairness, and reminding us that if a man can't control his physical desires, it must be a woman's fault.

It's not enough that this guy was legally supported in this act (which, arguably is an unhappy but necessary result); no, he also got moral support. And not from the Playboy club or the Elks Lodge or some bastion of patriarchal oppression, but from... oh. Never mind.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Don't try this unless you're Alexander

“I’m afraid,” she told me. “Write that. We’re scared to death.”

The Blues Cruise

Fear motivates people. Unfortunately, it's hard to stop once it's started.

The most powerful military tactic in the ancient world was the feigned withdrawal; to have your battle line retreat, or even appear to break and flee. Invariably the enemy would break ranks to pursue. Partially because they were never that well disciplined, and pursing weakness is as common to a man as a dog; partially because it was when the enemy broke that one could actually inflict damage on the enemy army. A full day of battle could produce as little as 3% causalities, but a single rout could do 15% to 50%.

The problem, of course, was convincing your troops to feign withdrawal, and prevent it from turning into a real rout. Once your men started running away, the panic pretended by the generals always had the danger of becoming real. This was so dangerous that few generals ever attempted it, despite the incredible success rate.

This is what the Right-Wing noise machine has done; feigned panic so long that their troops are now truly in panic. It is true that the D's played on fears of Romney's election, but those were rational fears: that he would continue the status quo or do the things he said he wanted to do. The fears of the R's were that Obama would reveal his secret agenda and do things opposite to his speeches. And now they've lost control; their own base is so afraid they are turning on their leaders.

Where does it stop?

Monday, December 24, 2012

A litmus test for Fascism

I have been struck by the opposition to legalized marijuana that I have encountered Down Under.

The arguments invariably follow the same pattern; first, the dangers of the drug are cited. This is usually a fact-free argument, and it must be, because science has found no particular danger aside from an utterly wasted life.

When alcohol is presented as an example of a more harmful drug, and therefore even more deserving of banning under this principle, the discussion invariably slips to the defense of the traditional: alcohol is too entrenched to combat, but why should we encourage even more drug use?

But this position assumes that the only reason people aren't out getting stoned all the time is because a man with a gun is telling them not to. So, fascism alert #1: people can't be trusted to act on their own behalf.

Fascism alert #2, of course, is the idea that if an injustice is traditional, it's OK. By that logic we'd still have slavery.

But it runs deeper than that. When faced with facts such as the relative quantities of harm that alcohol and marijuana inflict (and how society would be better off with one instead of the other), or with the evidence that legalizing marijuana does not materially affect the number of users (particularly in a country like America which already has 40 million users or so), the truth eventually slips out: marijuana represents a lifestyle that people generally oppose.

And why not? Pot-smoking hippies are the butt of jokes for many well-deserved reasons. I, personally, have no more use for them than George Will does. Wasting your life smoking dope is only marginally less repulsive than wasting your life drinking, and that only because smoking is less likely to harm others.

But herein lies the ultimate endorsement of fascism: the idea that lifestyle choices should be compelled by men with guns.

Not by the market place, or personal choice, or education, or social norms, or peer pressure; but by men with guns.

Alcoholism is a disease, with social support for cures, and baked-in legal exceptions (try running over someone in a car while drunk and then while sober; one is manslaughter and the other first degree murder). But marijuana addiction is a moral failing, akin to robbery, rape, and murder. Why? I don't know. I have never gotten a coherent answer.

Human beings will always self-medicate. It is regrettable, but true. Therefore my preferred solution (eliminating all intoxicants and filling the shelf-space with condoms and sex toys) will never happen. I accept this. But I find it disheartening how many people unthinkingly reach for the power of the state to enforce their personal decisions on everyone else.

I think the next time I get involved in one of these discussions, I'm going to try a personal tack. I'm going to ask if the person I am debating ever chooses to self-medicate their emotional difficulties with alcohol (knowing full well, of course, that the answer is invariably yes). Then I'm going to ask them what they think I should do, when I feel the desire to self-medicate. Because, you see, I can't drink. The sugars will kill me. It will be interesting to see how someone defends their right to engage in an act while denying me the right to do the same.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

It is always to be taken for granted, that those who oppose an equality of rights never mean the exclusion should take place on themselves. -- Thomas Paine

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Next Big Thing

The next big thing is a series of tag team blog posts by writers about their next novel, whether about to be published or in development. I was tagged by the ever gracious Keith Stevenson, the former editor of Aurealis magazine back when Sara was the Associate Editor.

Since everyone knows I'm a sucker for chain mail, I'm in. Wait - that's the wrong kind of chainmail... oh well.

1) What is the [working] title of your next book?

The working title was Prudence Falling, but both my agent and editor rolled their eyes until I changed it. So now it's The Kassa Gambit.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Firefly + the Iraq war.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

I thought of it as space opera, in a style I call Vance-light. Apparently it has defied easy categorization, however, as various reviewers have called it political thriller, mystery, who-dun-it, or even romance.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The hero - David Boreanaz
The heroine - Kate Beckinsale

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Aliens attack! Followed by much heroic brooding (hence the David Boreanaz angle) .

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It's published by TOR, due out on January 8th.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Three months.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Song of Scarabaeus, by Sara Creasy, which was a perhaps-not-surprisingly large influence. Jack Vance's Demon Princes series, and Dave Duncan's Hero, though not without suitable admonishments of unworthiness.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My wife doesn't like fantasy. So I wrote her a sci-fi story where everything was exploding on the first page.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

"Earth" is used as a curse word.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

House auctions

There was a house auction in the neighborhood yesterday, so we stayed and watched.

There were about 10 families there, but when the auctioneer started the bidding, only one family was willing to bid. They started a bit low; the auctioneer eventually called a "Vendor" bid, which is to say he bid over them by $20K on the seller's behalf. They've always had plants in the audience raising the bidding, but these days they have to identify themselves instead of pretending to be genuinely interested parties. The original bidder finally made a second bid. The auctioneer outright said he was disappointed, and made another vendor bid. Then he passed the house in - that is, declined to sell

I can't imagine buying a house this way; not only am I unwilling to walk around with 10% of the purchase price in my pocket, on the off chance that I win an auction, but the deal is final: you need to have already hired a house inspector and made your inspection, because whatever state the house is in, you are stuck with. This is crazy; before I can even find out how much a house costs (because they never tell you beforehand) I have to make a full inspection? Why not find out if the seller and I can even hope to reach an agreement before we start spending money on inspections?

Immediately after the auction was over, a different family signaled the auctioneer and went inside to make an offer. The original bidder did the same. At that point it was just like an American house sale, with interested parties making offers and the seller making counter-offers. I'm not sure how final the deal was, but I imagine you could make your offer conditional on the house not having any major undisclosed flaws.

I've talked to several Aussies about this, and they all have the same take: suppose you're selling your house and somebody really falls in love with it. You could have a bidding war and the sky's the limit! Except, how ridiculous is that? People don't suddenly decide to spend an extra $50K on a house because they're impulsive. Who has that kind of money? And even if they did, the entire auction system - wherein the seller is hoping to sell for far more than the house is worth, and the buyer is hoping to find someone so desperate that they'll sell for far less - is just distasteful. It's an arrangement where both parties are hoping to screw over the other one. That's never a good business model.

The American method seems to be growing; only about half of houses go to auction these days, and half of those get passed in (to eventually be sold through ordinary wheel-and-dealing, I guess). More and more houses are listed in the ads with actual prices, so you know if it's in your range or not. This is one part of American culture I won't mind seeing displant the local flora.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Too big to jail

A major bank, HSBC, has just pleaded guilty to laundering money for drug lords and terrorists. These are crimes that would put any of us in jail for decades. The bank? A fine, amounting to a few weeks of earnings.
 Our banking system's latest disgrace 
Meanwhile, the dreaded plague of moochers who are bankrupting America with their $29 a week of food-stamps remains the hot topic of conversation. And people caught with a joint can lose months or years of their lives, their cars, even their houses. Is this politics? Am I talking politics again? Or just despair?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Welcome to the future

The owners of the Miami Family Medical Centre on the Gold Coast fear they may have to pay $4000 to the extortionists, who hacked into a server and encrypted the medical records.
"We're trying to work out how to pay the hackers or find someone to decrypt the information," the centre's co-owner David Wood told ABC Online on Monday.
He said the information hadn't been stolen and the centre would continue to operate, but admitted it would be very difficult without patient records.
There have been 11 similar offences in Queensland this year, according to police.

This kind of thing is no longer a novelty item; soon it won't even be news.Except in the real world hackers aren't cool nerds or sexy high-functioning autistics. They're just thugs with computers instead of crowbars.

Meanwhile, everyone needs to keep backups. We keep our writing backups on Amazon's cloud; it costs a few dollars a month and you can upload from Firefox. But if you have a business, you need to have your data on physical media, somewhere in your building.