July 26, 2012

Yes, I'm the selfish one


By now we all know that James Holmes used a $26,000 federal healthcare grant to pay for his arsenal.

Nancy Pelosi, I hope you're proud. Forcing the Healthcare Reform Plan through congress without proper debate nor a genuine vote created the opportunity for James Holmes to kill 12 people in cold blood and wound 58 more.

One more example of the unintended consequences of big government.

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"Why do we need smaller government that can't take of people, Brian?"

"Because the bigger government is and the more involved it is in daily life the greater the opportunity for criminals to abuse the system."

"That is so selfish of you!"


July 17, 2012

Monsanto vs. Dupont


There's been a lot of bad press aimed at Monsanto Corporation over the past five years. Now, I'm not a big fan of Monsanto, but when every liberal in America comes out with anti-Monsanto op-eds and attack ads and when "Keeping America's Food Safe Act" is criticized as a Monsanto plot to destroy America's "food security", I start wondering what the heck is going on.

It turns out DuPont has thrown away so much money in failed development projects aimed at creating "sustainable" seed products for the African continent that they have been falling behind in the North American and European commercial agricultural markets. In other words, DuPont cannot compete in Europe and North America because they are too busy failing at developing seed products for African nations torn by civil war and anarchy.

As I said, I'm not a big fan of Monsanto, neither am I a fan of DuPont. My complaint in this whole issue is that BOTH companies have been lobbying Congress to pass bills that would serve no other real purpose than hampering the business operations of their competitor. Monsanto is busy lobbying Republicans while DuPont is busy lobbying Democrats, both aiming to pass bills that would make it impossible or nearly impossible for the other to do business in North America and Europe. The "GMO products are deadly!" campaign is mostly Democrat while "scientific agriculture equals safe food!" is mostly Republican. This also makes me wonder if some of the massive food poisoning outbreaks centered on Mexican agricultural imports over the past five years are in fact, some kind of deliberate sabotage by one side or the other.

Here are some relevant articles from around the internet. Read them carefully. Take special care to notice the names of the key players and what they are doing.

February 11, 2009: Blogs: New Medium, Old Politics
August 28, 2009: DuPont, Monsanto trade barbs over competition
March 28, 2011: DuPont: How Can We Help the World Feed Itself?
DuPont: Bioethics Guiding Principles
DuPont: Excellence through Stewardship
Monsanto: Biotechnology
Monsanto: Sustainable Agriculture
KJRH Channel 2 News, Oklahoma: Farmers Markets: Is the food safe to eat?
112th Congress, H.R. 5962: Organic Standards Protection Act
Brian's Meandering Mind: Have we been lied to about food safety?
Brian's Meandering Mind: This is what a dictatorship looks like

Unfortunately, almost everything we encounter in the modern world is some kind of propaganda. Everyone out there, whether a tiny, unknown blogger like myself or a major media company like News Corporation has an agenda. You have your own agenda, especially if you are sitting there reading this and telling yourself that you have no personal agenda. The fact is, you do. I know you do because you are human. Since you are human you need food, shelter, water, and company. Your "agenda" is the pattern of behaviors you use every single day to gain and hold onto these things. The real question, the only real question, you need to ask yourself is what you can do to improve your access to these things because if you do not have all four of them, then you will either die, go insane, or both.

-------------------------------------------------

Update, July 18, 2012:

Dumb luck strikes again, I suppose. When I wrote the post above I had no idea Monsanto and DuPont were about to go to court over patent rights to similar GMO products, specifically, soy beans. I noticed right away that for some reason this post was generating vastly more early attention than normal, so I went digging.

Reuters, June 19: Monstanto Sues Rival DuPont1
Bloomberg, July 9: Monsanto-DuPont Trial Set to Start
Manitoba Co-Op, July 13: Opening Arguments in Monsanto-Dupont Trial
NASDAQ, July 17: Monsanto-DuPont Square Off On Seed Patents

In all honesty, I have no vested interest in how this trial unfolds. I do know that Monsanto was the first to the market with both a glyphosate-based agricultural herbicide and a line of commercial seeds capable of producing a viable crop in a glyphosate saturated field. I also know that the patent for glyphosate expired in 2000, opening it up for generic production by just about anyone who owns a chemical factory capable of producing it in volume. In the middle of Ohio where I live there are many soy and corn farmers who depend on glyphosate-based herbicides and glyphosate-resistant seed crops to turn a profit every year. Considering how hard it is to actually turn a profit in today's agricultural business, I'm inclined to allow them whatever tools they need to compete with China, India, and other places where costs for commercial agriculture are lower and there is no EPA breathing down the farmer's neck every time it rains.

I had no idea this trial was taking place. It was just another one of those weird synchronistic coincidences that have been plaguing me recently. I'm getting kind of tired of them, actually.



July 16, 2012

Book Review: Hollowland


"Hollowland", by Amanda Hocking, is currently free for the Kindle, making it quite possibly the best value for fans of the zombie apocalypse. Before I go any further, let me clarify something:

I really do not like zombie fiction!

I almost hate it. I never would have downloaded this title except for three things:

1. It was free
2. All of the reviews were positive
3. I was really drunk at the time

Now I'm glad I downloaded it because this title really should not be free. This book is well written enough that people seeking it out really should be paying for it. There are many Kindle books going for seven or eight dollars that do not even come close to this one in terms of entertainment value and the quality of writing.

Ms. Hocking's prose is tight, concise, and more than descriptive enough to dispel reality for a little while. The story is not exactly a suspense-filled page turner, but then, it doesn't need to be. There is a small cast of central characters and, as expected, anyone added to the central cast is eventually left behind or destroyed. One of my personal pet peeves about this book is that none of the central cast seem quite real. Instead, they are a very small step above cliche: Remy - the hard-fighting Alice wannabe, Blue - the aptly named psuedo-medic, Harlow - the dingy blonde screamer at the first sign of danger, and Lazlo - the former rockstar Larry Underwood wannabe. Despite their shallow nature, the characters are likable enough that as a reader I really wanted to see them reach their goal.

In this book their main goal is locating Remy's brother Max. At first, Max is a shadowy non-character who serves a sort of holy grail role to keep the plot moving along when any sane batch of people would have stopped and set up a defensible perimeter. Eventually we learn that Max is the only person known to have a natural immunity to the corrupted rabies virus responsible for this particular zombie apocalypse. Shortly after that, Remy is bitten by a zombie and low and behold, she too is immune.

As far as zombie stories go, the quality of this one is a small but decisive step above the run of the mill. Ms. Hocking is a skilled writer, allowing her to overcome many of the limitations and failures of most zombie writers. Her ability to move the story along, keep her characters likable, and provide descriptions which are both vivid and concise, makes this story well worth reading for fans of shuffling, mindless, undead cannibals. If you're not a zombie lover, well, it is a free title, making it a far better value than just about half of the novels you'll spend real money on. It would be far better to use your money to buy a latte and read this one for free.



July 14, 2012

Dissent vs. Treason


You don't have to like me. You don't have to listen to me. You don't have to agree with me. In fact, you are perfectly free to completely ignore me just as I am free to completely ignore you. This is what real freedom means.

Understanding freedom is the first step in defining everything else in life. If a student cannot stand up and walk out on a teacher they disagree with than that student is no longer free. Assignment of penalty to the student's action is not a limitation on that freedom, it simply gives the freedom a price. If the student is willing to meet the price, then they exercise their freedom. All of that changes once the penalty passes the point where it prevents the student from exercising their freedom because the penalty itself destroys freedom. For example, if leaving the classroom means the student is suspended from school and denied access to education, then the penalty has moved into a different level. If the penalty is writing an essay, apologizing to the teacher, or having a demerit placed in their record, then the penalty is suitable for the offense.

Dissent and Treason work similarly. If you stand up and give a speech stating that you or your constituents oppose a certain policy, that is dissent. If you encourage your constituents to take to the streets and destroy the businesses of people who support the policy then it is criminal incitement. If you accept money from some individual or group before giving your speech then it is criminal graft. If the person offering you the money is a foreign government or corporation and you accept it, then you have committed treason.

Individual politicians are not required to agree with every policy, bill, or proposal put forth. That is why we have debates, negotiations, refinement processes, deliberations, and finally, floor votes. However, if an individual politician or their party consistently presses for laws, regulations, and policies that are destructive of the freedoms protected by the Constitution, destructive of the tools necessary for prosperity, or empowering of our nation's enemies, then that is treason.

When Nancy Pelosi gave her 2006 acceptance speech she was practicing dissent. In 2010 when she said, "we have to pass the bill so you can see what's in it", she was practicing treason. Why are they different? Because in 2006 she was still open to debate, still transparent in her policies, and still defending her constituency. In 2010 she refused to be held accountable for the contents of the Affordable Healthcare Act, refused to discuss whether it constituted a new tax on the American people, and when people in her townhall meetings opposed the Affordable Healthcare Act she had them removed from the proceedings under armed guard. That is not dissent because forcibly removing someone who disagrees with you is not freedom. Her actions in 2010 were tyrannical and treasonous.

In 2009, when President Obama shook hands with the Queen of England and then a few days later bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia he was being stupid and undiplomatic. Earlier this year when he told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev "after my election I'll have more flexibility" he was being treasonous because he was promising to compromise the will of the American people and betray their trust. In short:

Dissent is one thing, treason another!



Liberal hypocrisy and American myths


Our world very nearly ended on October 25, 1962. That day changed our world in ways that even today American scholars and historians have refused to face. From that day forward we became more like our enemies and less like ourselves. The 1963-64 Presidential campaign season was run by both parties on the basis of the fears created by that day.

It is critical to remember something here. Republicans get blamed for being aggressive warmongers and yet, every single time the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of a nuclear confrontation it was under the direction of a Democratic President. The 20th Century is the century of the complete and total failure of Socialism, Marxism, and the "progress" the Democratic Party continually promised us and failed to deliver on. Truman took us into Korea, Kennedy took us to the brink of nuclear war, Johnson took us into the quagmire of Vietnam, Carter sent a failed rescue mission into the Persian desert. All Democrats, all brutally aggressive foreign policies, all took us right to the very threshold of global annihilation.

Those are the facts of history. Real facts. Easily confirmed. Ever since that day in 1962 the Democrats have positioned themselves as the champions of peace while time and again they have pursued foreign policies based on violent confrontation with our enemies. The first Republican president of the 20th Century to lead us into armed conflict was Ronald Reagan. That war lasted three days and earned us global accolades. That war demonstrated the complete and total superiority of American weapons and tactics on a real battlefield. That war was one of the first steps on the road that led directly to the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

The second Republican president to lead us into war was George W. Bush. His war began as a direct and justified response to a bloody terrorist strike on American civilians, the American economy, and the American military. If he had not dragged us into Iraq, a move I personally will always hold against him, that war could have been over and done with in less than a year.

Democrats champion themselves as peace-loving defenders of the common man and yet, under their leadership we continually find ourselves on the brink of global war.

They lied in their 1964 presidential campaign and they are still lying today. Comparing the two presidential campaign ads below you will immediately see the fear-mongering lie of the Democratic ad which ignores the warmongering foreign policy of both Kennedy and Johnson and claims, without any substance whatsoever, that a vote for Barry Goldwater is a vote for nuclear annihilation. The Republican ad, on the other hand, is prophetic, clearly and correctly predicting what we have now become half a century later.

Nothing has changed since 1964. The Democrats are still lying and despite the end of the Cold War we again find ourselves on the brink of thermonuclear global war. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, China, all of these nations are right now furious at our foreign policy, all of them have nuclear arms, and any of them could easily launch an EMP strike on our country tomorrow. It is not the policy of George W. Bush that created the current standoff. The current standoff is a direct product of failed foreign policy of Barack H. Obama.

It is past time to learn the lessons of the 20th Century. The Democratic Party has had a century and a half history of treason, terrorism (the KKK were Democrats!), and consistent creation of domestic and foreign policies that favor parasitic class warfare, huge growth in government, and five decades of economic decay.

It is time to outlaw the Democratic Party, arrest their leadership, charge them with treason, confiscate their assets, and eliminate this cancer from our society. How much more of their lies, their warmongering, and their deliberately self-destructive economic policies must we endure?

Time to face reality, America. The Democratic Party who continuously build themselves up as champions of poverty and unionism are, in fact, the enemies of your freedom and prosperity. They hate everything you stand for and have spent one hundred and fifty years working to dismantle you.



Enough already! It's time to imprison the traitors!


Stephen King: Shut the fuck up and tax me!
The Reality: the top 10% already pays 70% of the total revenue generated

ENOUGH!

That's it. The straw has broken the camel's back. Marxist propaganda has just cost me my oldest, dearest friend. Second only to my wife and children, ever since Pres. Obama's inauguration she has fallen more and more under the perverse lies and purposeful deceptions of Marxist propaganda being spread by writers, actors, celebrities, scholars, and pundits. I tried to show her the numbers and she flat out refused to look at them seriously. She was so brainwashed and deluded by "feel good" propaganda she quoted the very numbers that proved the propaganda wrong and then repeated the propaganda!

I don't understand! Why are Americans NOT looking at the facts? Has somebody begun drugging the water they drink and the air that they breathe? Have they been taken over by aliens? What the hell is going on?

That's it. This is my personal North Bridge at Lexington Green. As far as I am concerned I am now at war with the liberal progressive movement in America. Starting from today I will push for a new Alien and Sedition Act and the full confiscation of the net worth of every member of the Democratic Party! As far as I'm concerned, the Democratic Party are now the enemies of the United States of America! They deserve imprisonment and the full confiscation of their assets!

You want to pay more taxes? FINE! Let the net worth of George Soros, Warren Buffet, Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Charlie Rangel, Eric Holder, Valerie Jarrett, and ALL their allies be forfeit! No more negotiation! No more compromise! If you stand against the Constitution, right up to and including the President himself, then by God your ass deserves a firing squad and loss of your worldly assets! It is time to impeach the traitor Barack Hussein Obama, throw him in chains, and confiscate his worldly wealth!

You want my homeland to become China and France, do you?

Over my dead body!



July 13, 2012

Book Review: Honor and Entropy


I have over three hundred books on my "must read" list with more being added almost daily. If I'm going to spend more than three days reading a novel it must have flawless prose, captivating characters, and an engaging plot. Unfortunately, Honor & Entropy fails in two of these and I am abandoning it less than halfway through. Somewhere out there is an army of high school and college literature teachers who like to pretend the 20th Century never happened, or if it did, writers really ought to use proper (as in 19th Century) English to describe it. Honor & Entropy has fallen victim to that army. The prose is flawless and languid in a way Faulkner would love and Hemmingway would disdain. Unfortunately, the characters are a depressing band of thieves, cutthroats, con artists, and other thugs masquerading as soldiers, sailors, bounty hunters and handymen. The female characters are sipid caricatures of 1950's American women with all of their conniving, passive-aggressive ways and none of their fiery independent spirit.

The timeshift paradigm that has foreshadowing presented as standard narrative memory is actually a pretty interesting technique. Unfortunately, it is not carried off as perfectly as the prose itself. There were many times when I would read through four or five paragraphs (and in one case four or five pages!) with no discernible shift in POV until suddenly the character's name or some other recognizable attribute appears. It is most disconcerting as a reader to suddenly realize you've been inside the head of someone new without even realizing it. This inability to immediately identify a new character or a new moment in a character's life threw me straight out of the story and dumped me alongside the narrative leaving me feeling like a hitchhiker unceremoniously kicked out the passenger door at highway speed.

The plot itself is actually rather simplistic. Which is a good thing, by the way. Honor & Entropy is basically the story of a treasure hunt gone horribly wrong. There is a hint of Stevenson in both the quality of the prose and the psychotic mindset of most of the characters. In a very real sense, the timeshift narrative is Stevenson's POV experiments taken to a radical extreme. If you have nothing better to do than spend a couple weeks working your way through an overlong novel and you are a champion of 19th Century literature, then Honor & Entropy might very well be the perfect book for you. Anyone else should probably make a different selection.



July 12, 2012

A Sense of Powerlessness


I stumbled across an interesting quote today,

...a sense of powerlessness, collective irrationality, and perennial political discontent.

Once upon a time this was exactly how I felt. I felt there was no way I could ever compete economically so why should I bother trying? I felt that both the world at large and individuals around me consistently behaved in irrational, self-destructive ways. Even worse, I honestly believed I had no voice in the political process. I believed politics was rigged against the common man and there was nothing I could do to change that.

I don't feel that way anymore.

I went to high school in California. My hometown, Calistoga, had more millionaires per capita than Park Avenue. It was and is, wine country. The wine industry in California is completely dependent on illegal immigration to do business.

Rich kids in my hometown were a dime a dozen, but all of them claimed to not come from rich families at all. The way they told it, their parents were simple blue-collar working class folks. I knew then it was not true but I wasn't sure why. Now I know that the area around Calistoga offered an ideal climate, relatively low taxes, and easy access to several major airports. It was the perfect location for someone living off their investments, royalties from their creative works, licensing fees from their inventions, and so on. False humility was, and even now is, the primary lubricant of social relations between the wealthy residents, the service workers who make their lives comfortable, and the illegal immigrants who keep money flowing into the valley by providing the labor that makes the wine industry profitable.

My hometown is also a hotbed for political progressives. When people have enough money they no longer must work to live comfortably they begin to feel saddened by the sight of so much poverty in the world. They don't understand why their music, their books, their fuel spigot invention, their condensed radio circuit patent, and so on, have given their life so much comfort when so many people don't have that advantage. Since they live surrounded by people like themselves, no one around them has any real answers for them. So they start political campaigns designed to leverage the power of the collective to help the impoverished rise to their level of comfort.

Unfortunately, the more the government does to help people the less people are able to help themselves. After a few decades, the bills for all those social programs come due and the people living off the receipts of their success suddenly find themselves facing enormous tax burdens. Prices start to rise as government money floods into the economy. The rich who paid for, petitioned for, and campaigned for this huge social reform program flee the area in droves, which means the service workers no longer have anyone who needs their groceries carried to their car, their meals cooked, their lawns mowed, their laundry done, and so on. That leaves the illegal immigrants, but they work for slave wages and most of what they earn is sent home to Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, and so on. In dire straits, local government begins raising taxes, inventing new taxes, and otherwise looking for ways to fill their coffers. Some of them borrow heavily in order to keep the huge social reform going just long enough for them to leave office.

Along the way the kids like me whose parents worked in service sector jobs have been taught over and over again by our teachers, our community "leaders", and mothers of our rich friends that someday we will all become good mechanics, plumbers, and carpenters. After all, we don't really want to work so hard at silly book-learning as they had to, right? We don't want to sacrifice our free time to write novels, learn music, create symphonies, and make movies. Better to leave that to their kids because after all, without the same kind of support they can provide for their own children there's no way for us to compete anyway.

The first time I went broke I was in Denver studying to become a body, fender, and paint technician. I was doing well in school, but my family had no money, so I was amassing student loans right and left. For some reason, even though they had no money, my father's salary as a small town cop was just high enough to push me out of the bracket for grants. There were no scholarships for the technical trades when I was young. I woke up one day nineteen years old, unemployed, about $25,000 in debt, and getting kicked out of my apartment because I couldn't pay rent. When lost in depression I ran my car into a pole and busted up the front end, it killed any chance I had to look for another job. I had a friend from church take me down to the Air Force recruiter, but they couldn't even be bothered to greet me at the door and ask my name. I went next door and joined the Army. They gave me a $4000 bonus, which repaired the car, and promised me three years in Hawaii.

My experiences in the military changed everything. I learned about personal responsibility. My confidence grew in leaps and bounds as I learned new strategies for not depending on anyone. One of the most important lessons the Army taught me was to examine my mistakes and devise alternative strategies ahead of time so when I encountered that same difficulty again, I'd be prepared to deal with it. I learned self-reliance.

Then I married a Japanese woman, left the Army and came to Japan. Many people don't understand that the "strength" of modern Japan is complete and total dependence. They depend on the U.S. and the U.N. to protect them from external enemies. They depend on one of the largest per capita police forces in the world to protect them from criminals. In daily life they depend on countless signs, megaphones, alarms that sounds like chirping birds, and endless uniformed "officials" to tell them where to go, what to do, and how to avoid danger. Train stations have dozens of workers standing around to answer questions, department stores have dozens of sales people and information desks to help them find just the right bargain, and every time you turn around there is a police officer using hand signals to reinforce stop lights, help locate a lost bicycle, or just give you directions.

One of the first things said to me by one of the local Japanese was, "In America you invent machines so you don't have to use your body. In Japan we invent systems so we don't have to use our brains."

So when I read a quote like the one I opened today's blog post with I cannot decide whether to shake my head in sadness or scream in rage. Every time we allow "progressive" policies and programs to make our lives better we surrender some of our own personal ability to make that decision or take that action on our own. Sooner or later we wind up where we are now: a country of cowards and criminals who depend on the government for tax relief from taxes we demanded in order to implement programs we were told would make our lives easier. This:

...a sense of powerlessness, collective irrationality, and perennial political discontent.
is the direct and inevitable result of rich people trying to leverage government to relieve poverty. There is no other cause. There is no other source. This ennui is the direct, unintended consequence of social reform based on utopian fantasies of a perfect world.

I know this for a fact because I have seen it in full operation twice over the course of my life: first in California, second in Japan. The creation of a dependent class is the destruction of personal empowerment. It is a form of enslavement that is reinforced over time by a growing sense of psychic impotence. In order to recapture psychic potency (and partly from boredom) extreme self-indulgence becomes the baseline of acceptable social behavior.

There are young adults in Japan who have not left their bedrooms for years! They are socially powerless and economically dependent on their parents but they know they should not be living that way. Their solution to this impossible dichotomy is either suicide or extreme isolation and sometimes both. There are millions of young people in California, New York, Michigan, Florida, Hawaii, and other "blue" states who are in the exact same situation. True, the internet is a powerful enabling force, but even if you remove the internet completely, these young people will simply read comic books or graphic novels, play video games, and watch television or discount DVD movies. The problem is not the flood of entertainment media. The real problem is that school, society, and the media have conditioned them to believe they cannot help themselves.

There are two ways out of this quagmire: world war or economic recovery. One or the other. World War is easy and appears to be the current game plan of Iran, the U.N., China, and Russia. Over here on the other side of the coin, decades of Keynesian economics have failed to bring about their promised recovery. That's because Keynesian economics is the economics of government dependence and government dependence adds to the ennui people are feeling because it relieves them of personal responsibility and robs them of personal empowerment. That is why California stands on the brink of economic collapse and Japan's economy has been frozen for so long no one remembers what growth feels like. That is also why Iran, China, and Russia feel confident we cannot block their determination to carry the world into a global war.

War or recovery. That is the choice we are facing. Keynesian economics has failed, so unless we are going to ride to war, we need a better strategy to usher in a new economic recovery. Getting the government out of the market is the first step. Unless you prefer a world war. In that case, just keep right on doing what you're doing until Iran starts throwing missiles around. You shouldn't have long to wait. I'm thinking they're going to want to get the party started before the election and definitely before the Inauguration.



July 11, 2012

Tricorders have arrived


Science buffs have known for decades that it was possible to build a Tricorder. Much of the technology was huge to deploy and expensive to build, but it was possible. Early versions include MRIs and CT scanners. Kind of hard to fold either one of those up and carry it in your pocket. Full-body scanners have become an unwelcome annoyance in TSA security lines at airports all across America. These scanners were originally developed for security applications in African gold and diamond mines and as far as I know, have not yet been deployed in medical applications.

Scanner technology has now taken the next leap forward, bringing us one step closer to Star Trek's ubiquitous "Tricorder". No, I'm not talking about the "Tricorder App" that nerds everywhere have added to their smart phones. A company called In-Q-Tel has created a laser scanner system small enough to be used in both mobile applications and/or mounted almost everywhere Big Brother might like to have one. Even better, not only is this system incredibly portable it is very sensitive, able to pull out and identify a single molecule from whatever target it has been aimed at.

Despite the advantages such a system would have in any and every security application imaginable, I cannot help but wonder if it is too sensitive. If I jump in a taxi on my way to JFK Airport and pick up some cocaine residue from the seat, some left-over marijuana residue on my sleeve from the smoke in the air left by the driver's last joint, and a few grams of LSD on the bottom of my shoe, this new scanner can and will immediately detect all of them as I walk through TSA on the way to my gate. Does this mean TSA will now have the right, no, the responsibility to pull me out of the security line and interrogate me? What if I clean my guns before catching an afternoon flight out of Cleveland-Hopkins airport? These new scanners will immediately sound gunpowder, nitrate, and cleaning fluid alarms. Will I then be held for questioning and charged with terrorism just because I cleaned my guns the morning of my flight? Even if I don't clean my guns, there is almost certain to be gunpowder residue on my shoes from walking around on the gun range and from target practice.

About ten years ago I had this weird semi-nightmare. I had to fly to the Middle East to participate in an archaeology site. At the airport on the way out I had to strip, pass through a decontamination shower, and wear clothes provided by the airline: a bright-orange prison jumpsuit, white socks, and black shoes that were a bit too large. My clothes, cash, and other personal items were returned to me at the arrival airport after I passed through a second decontamination shower.

I woke up from that dream wondering what had inspired it. Some movie or some book, probably. The images have stayed with me all this time. If the IQT Laser Scanner is deployed at airports around the world, the only possible way to prevent false positives would be to institute a program like the one I experienced in my dream. Every passenger would have to pass through a sterilization process and that process itself would render the scanners useless.

This paranoia that has gripped the world since 9/11 needs to end. Yes, the deaths of all those innocent passengers is horrific. Unfortunately, there is no humane way to prevent these kinds of tragedies. The only realistic plan is to maximize human intelligence gathering by "turning" members of terror groups or "planting" informers in terror groups.

Unless, of course, we just implement my original gut reaction as I watched the towers fall: transform the entire Middle East into a desert of green glass! About a third of the world's population would die and Middle Eastern oil would no longer be available, but hey, the terrorism problem would be solved and there would be no more need for body scanners!



July 10, 2012

Book Review: Hide in Plain Sight


I wrote "Reversal of Cultural Values in Modern Fiction" because the book I had just finished reading was no longer available in the Kindle store. My little rant on the state of modern fiction served as the best option for discussing the core of the many problems I'd found in reading that book. Even though writers tend to be somewhat monkish, they cannot be uninformed and still be good writers. Modern readers demand realism and the only way to achieve that realism is to walk out the front door from time to time and immerse yourself in the real world.

Well, today I finished another book: "Hide in Plain Sight", by Marta Perry. This title is currently available for free in the Kindle store and has been for quite some time. If you're staying at Hotel Indigo Newcastle this would be one of the thousands of free titles you could download onto the hotel Kindle and enjoy reading by the pool. I'll warn you ahead of time, however, doing so might have you buying a dozen more books by the same writer!

"Hide in Plain Sight" is a very well-written book. The main character is a woman named Andrea, a fast-talking, fast-moving executive at a top-flight financial firm who is called back to Amish country to help her family. Her sister Rachel has been hit by a car and broken both her legs. Rachel and the girls' grandmother, a steel-willed country matron named Katherine, have been working hard to transform the rambling family farmhouse into a bed and breakfast named, "The Three Sister's Inn." The third sister, Caroline, never directly appears in this story and I found myself wanting to meet her on its pages and learn what part her pattern plays in the family quilt.

The book is something of a country romance novel where the big city woman meets the aw shucks country boy and decides she prefers his down-home honesty to the slick, often deceptive gloss of city men. In this case the country boy is Calvin Burke. Tall and muscular as the role demands, he is also a carpenter who has rented the tack room and "new barn" for his business and workshop where he crafts and sells Amish-style furniture. We quickly learn that Calvin is a refugee lawyer from the fast-paced world of high-stakes legal defense who gave up the benefits of life in the fast lane when he discovered that one of his clients was far less stellar than he originally thought. Calvin is the first realization of the title metaphor and he is really the character that holds the metaphor throughout the story.

Ms. Perry is a skilled writer who weaves her prose with a deftness I have not seen since reading "The Crossroads Cafe" last October. It is nice to find another book by a writer who understands the power of clean prose, well-drawn characters, and a consistent pace. I find it ironic that two of the best written books I have recently had the pleasure of reading were both country romances. Times have certainly changed when the best written books are romances and the "serious literature" is mostly garbage with a hidden political agenda.

The story does take place in Amish country, so the Amish themselves are also prominent characters. The closest neighbors to The Three Sister's Inn are the Zook family, and the family matriarch, Emma, has cooked and kept house for Katherine throughout Andrea's life. Naturally Emma will also be working as the cook for the Inn after it opens. Ms. Perry's Amish characters are as unique and individual as her "English" characters. I was not expecting this when I opened the book for the first time and began reading. It was a very pleasant surprise to find Amish characters who were so realistically portrayed without any resort to stereotyping or cliche. Even though I have lived on the outskirts of Amish country for three years now, I have hesitated to read any novels featuring Amish characters for fear their portrayal would have more in common with Hollywood caricatures than the Amish people I interact with almost every single day of my life. This is icing on the cake, really, since the entire book is extraordinarily well-crafted.

Biblical allusions, scripture, personal prayer, and growing awareness of the role of God in daily life are a constant theme throughout the book. At the same time, the book never feels preachy or evangelical. God is part and parcel of the character's lives in the same way as in the lives of people out here in the real world. After the caustic attacks on religion, hypocritical preachers, and double-talking politicians of the last dozen or so books I've read, it was very refreshing to find a story where the presence of God is everywhere while at the same time it is never intrusive. God and faith are much more than props and metaphors for Andrea and the other characters. They are woven into the fabric of the reality in which they live.

I suppose I ought to spend some time on the plot. After all, there is a well-crafted story here with a realistic plot that unfolds with a quiet grace and just the right amount of suspense. At first, Andrea's main concern in her sister's welfare. Once she has learned that her sister will make a full recovery, she works to help Katherine and Emma get the Inn open in time for Memorial Day weekend. Along the way there are prowlers and vandals, someone hacks into the family computer and sends e-mail cancellations to the people who have reserved opening weekend, and Andrea learns the reason her grandmother and sister have been working so hard is that her grandmother is broke and has been advised to sell the family farm in order to have enough money to live on. The financial aspect, in keeping with Andrea's character, plays a leading role in this story which is quite unusual for a country romance.

"Hide in Plain Sight", by Marta Perry, is a breath of fresh air in a market filled with cynical attacks on country living and individualism. If you're tired of the crass disregard for humanity and condescending denial of individualism that forms the metaphoric core for books like "Fifty Shades of Gray" and "The Hunger Games", or better yet if you are smart enough to avoid such garbage altogether, then this is the book you'll want to read next.



July 09, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry On


Lately there have been a lot of people on Facebook posting variations on the old, "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster originally used by the British government during WWII to boost morale. As cute and pithy as they are, they all feel a bit too much like "Big Brother is looking out for your best interests so shut up and let the government handle it," for my taste. So I made my own.

July 04, 2012

Proposed 28th Amendment


Somebody in Congress needs to bring this to the floor and get the process started.

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution: "Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States."

And it needs to happen sooner rather than later.