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Monday, April 14, 2014

Castalia House releases new novel

Castalia House is proud, pleased, delighted, and deeply honored to announce the publication of AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND by John C. Wright. It is, quite simply, one of the best books we have ever had the privilege to read. It is not an easy book to categorize. Part anthology, part novel, it consists of four novellas that are tied together in one vast story spanning five million years. It blends three subgenres, SF, Fantasy, and Horror. It is set in the world first created in a novel published in 1912 and yet it is far more original than the vast majority of SF/F published in the last fifty years. It is dark and set in a world more inhumanly horrific than anything you are likely to imagine, and yet it is an uplifting tribute to the unquenchable human spirit.
It is monstrous and glorious and ghastly and magnificent.
Consider the reactions of the early reviewers:
• "The Last of All Suns" may be the best SF novella I have ever read. I am not kidding.
• Every now and then someone comes along who not only can say things nicely, but can say important things nicely. That somebody, in the modern age, is John C. Wright. 
• He projects an atmosphere of hope amid the vast emptiness of a dead world.

• Set millions of years in the future the story and setting can really only be compared to the worst nightmares of Lovecraft. I cannot stress enough, read this book! If you like Lovecraft, the darkest visions of Stephen King, or the visions of H.R. Giger you will love this book. If you like science fiction especially the 'Dying Earth' genre of Jack Vance, Leigh Brackett, Michael Moorcock, you will love this book. If you've never heard of those authors or those books, read this book.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Comrade! We haff story for you!

They've since backed off, however as late as last month the Federal Communications Commission was putting forward a plan that would have put federal monitors in radio and television newsrooms.
"The Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs (CINs) initiative was proposed last May. The FCC explained that it wanted information from television and radio broadcasters 'to ascertain the process by which stories are selected, station priorities (for content production quality, and populations served), perceived station bias, perceived percent of news dedicated to each of the eight CIN's and perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.'" Fox News reported. "The FCC has identified eight CINs, or key topics that the government believes should be covered."
Words fail. I mean seriously, I don't even know where to start.
Let us begin with the First Amendment, which reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
I'm not sure what might abridge the freedom of speech or of the press _more_ than having government political officers sitting in on your newsroom staff meetings taking notes about what you intend to cover and why — or worse, making "suggestions" about what to cover. Note above: "The FCC has identified eight CINs, or key topics that the government believes should be covered."
I can just see some Soviet Zampolit saying: "Comrade! We have story ideas for you!"
And if that seems alarmist, consider that this administration has already admitted to spying on the American public and on journalists as well.
Consider as well that America has slipped to 46 on Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. Seriously, Namibia ranks higher than we do.
What's more frightening to me is that there has been very little outcry among journalists, beyond the right-leaning new media.
Where is CNN flipping a biscuit over this? ABC? CBS? I leave out MSNBC and NBC News as they would probably welcome a Commissar to make sure they were not deviating from the approved message.
Leaving politics aside, I simply cannot fathom the media even 10 years ago laying down like this for _any_ administration.
After the initial furor over the reports that the Department of Justice was wiretapping the Associated Press, the story has died away. I cannot imagine any other president — of either party — surviving that sort of Constitutional infringement.
But the press has been strangely silent on this. I will not speculate as to why, although I could do so, but I will say the lack of reaction is at least as chilling as the suggestions.
A free press is as necessary to the security of a free state as the right to keep and bear arms. Without a free press the government is free to do as it wills, when it wills without regard to the legality of its actions.
Given that the natural tendency of government is to expand its power and to arrogate ever more authority unto itself, some check on its ability is required. The press was designed to be this.

We cannot function effectively — indeed at all — with government monitors watching our every move. The national media should be ashamed of their lack of outrage at this unprecedented intimidation by the FCC.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Russia and the waning Pax Americana

I've heard tons of theories over the last few weeks as to why Russia -- and specifically Russian President Vladimir Putin -- have invaded Crimea and Ukraine, but the comment that really sent me around the bend was that "no one could have seen this coming."
Because the open-source intelligence firm Stratfor saw this coming back in 09. Anyone with a brain actually saw this coming back about 1989 or 90 with the fall of the Soviet Union.
A little history. Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire from about 1783 on. It was largely ignored in the 19th century but became important again in the early 20th and was a founding member of the USSR before gaining independence in the fall of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine hasn't really been a country of it's own for very long, while there have always been nationalist movements, Ukraine has been at the least a satrapy of one Russian Empire or another for over 200 years. And it is a strategic region. Particularly the Crimea. It was for centuries one of the breadbaskets of Europe, much of Russia's wheat still comes from Ukraine.
Moreover Crimea has Russia's only year-round port and is home to the Black Sea fleet. Ukraine also provides defensive depth for Russia. Moscow is a bare 350 miles from the Ukrainian border -- which sounds like a lot, but is not, particularly given the speed of modern warfare -- with no significant natural barriers to invasion. Which means an Army is not limited to roads. It was the defensive depth given to Russia by Ukraine which allowed them to contain, and eventually drive back Germany in World War II.
So seen from that perspective, the move was inevitable. Russia has never truly regarded Ukraine as independent and would, under the right set of circumstances, move to take it back.
Enter former KGB officer Vladimir Putin, a Russian Nationalist, dictator and all around bad guy, but much loved of his people. He's been moving to reconstruct not so much the USSR as the old Russian Empire (with himself as Tsar) since he took office after ousting the Amiable Alcoholic Boris Yeltsin. He's had to reconstruct an economy, which is still shaky, and a military which is shakier yet, but more powerful than anything else in the region. Russia is not a resurgent Superpower -- yet -- but it's certainly a Great Power again.
Now enter the last two presidents.
Russia snaffled off part of Georgia under George W. Bush, mostly because we were over extended and distracted in the Middle East and, frankly had little strategic interest in Georgia. Putin knew it, Bush knew it, and both knew that Bush was unlikely to ignore provocation in Ukraine. While we allowed Putin's little Georgian adventure, we also made moves to strengthen ties with Ukraine and some of the other former Soviet Republic, gave a little military aid, and promised a missile defense shield.
These moves were enough to let Putin know where the line was and that we would not allow it to be crossed.
Comes now Barack Obama. He's seen world-wide as weak, and waffling on foreign policy. He doesn't appear to be really interested in it. Neither of his Secretaries of State has been particularly strong and he's gone so far as to tell Putin's Puppet Dmitry Medvedev that "after the election I'll have more freedom."
Our military is exhausted, demoralized and being cut not to the bone but through it. In short we're projecting not strength but weakness.
Russians do not respect weakness. Putin goes around without a shirt on all the time for a reason. Yes it looks ridiculous to us, but not to Russians, who see him as strong, virile and a leader. Certainly it looks no more ridiculous than Obama in mom jeans riding a bicycle with a helmet on -- and that image is replayed repeatedly all over Russia.
What it comes down to is this: When you are the preeminent empire in the world (yes, yes we're more hegemony than empire, just go with me on this) you cannot EVER afford to look weak. The Pax Americana which followed the Pax Britannia has relied chiefly, as such Paxis do, on the strength of the nation enforcing it.
We are allowing that strength to wane and the peace we have enforced will go with it. Russia is capitalizing on that as other nations will as well.
We must either move to reestablish the Pax Americana or be prepared for what will follow World War III.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The case for capitalism

Today class we're going to we’ll examine why greed is good, otherwise known as enlightened self interest.
Liberals often complain those evil Rich Folks have too much money, and worse they’re hoarding it.
Liberals often tend to make this mistake.
First in defining Rich Folks. To my mind a guy who makes say $250,000 a year is not rich. And I say this as a guy who makes FAR less than that. But the current administration has set this as the threshold at which point it is OK to raise taxes. Leaving aside the wisdom or lack thereof in raising taxes in a recession, let’s try to define “rich.”
Someone with say, $1 million in assets could possibly be defined as rich, and many would do so. Those people, of course, would not live in a rural community. Most farmers have far in excess of $1 million in assets. Of course they tend to have a lot of debt to go with that. Most small business owners also have in excess of $1 million in assets. Again, they often have the almost crushing debt load that goes with it. So for the sake of argument, let’s define “rich” as someone with little to no debt, at least $5 million in assets and an annual income in excess of $1 million.
Now he may have inherited this wealth, but in this country he most likely worked very hard for it. This person will likely be in early to late middle age, worked his entire life invested wisely probably owns a business, employs anywhere from 10 to 100 people and pays them a good wage as well.
Often enough this guy started out broke.
Now to a liberal, this poor schmuck, (who, by the way, is already paying something like 40 percent of the tax burden) is a cow to be milked. He’s evil, he has too much money.
He probably is holding on to his money right now because he’s scared. Why is he scared? Well the president keeps saying he’s going to raise Rich Guy’s taxes. He’s also looking at all the new regulations coming down the pike from health care “reform” and the banking “reform” and the Wall Street “reform.” New EPA regulations, Homeland Security regulations, FCC regulations, FTC regulations and probably new regulations from the Regulatory Commission on Regulations.
He doesn’t quite know what all this means, but he does know it’s liable to cost him money -- so he’s sitting on his. He’s not hiring, because minimum wage keeps going up so he doesn’t know what he’s going to have to pay or what the new regulations are going to cost him. He’d like to keep his people employed so he’s got to save money to be ready for it.
Now the liberal answer to this is to tax the nuts off this poor guy and then give the money out to whomever strikes their fancy. This is known as “redistributing the wealth,” and the rest of us call “equalizing misery.”
Now all this brings us back to our fledgling conservative who has been brought up to think everyone has a right to health care, a house, food, clothing and a 64-foot flat screen TV in every room.
Since everyone has a right to these things it’s obviously the job of the government to provide them and since the money has to come from somewhere, (until such time as we reach that great worker’s paradise and everything’s free, ‘cause you know that’s worked out so well everywhere else it’s been tried -- not,) obviously the solution is to soak the rich.
Our young darksider has been nibbling the cookies and is starting to realize this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. He (or she, I must not be sexist) has come to realize that perhaps we don’t have a right to those things. We have these rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the rights further enshrined in the Constitution make those things possible.
But we don’t have any guarantees. Capitalism is inherently risky, liberals at their core are afraid of their own shadows, they have no self confidence and are highly risk averse.
In a capitalist society you have the opportunity to become the Rich Guy and possibly have your dangley bits taxed off -- but no guarantees.
Our new conservative is also realizing that contrary to what he (or she) has been taught, businesses do not exist in order to provide their employees with jobs. Businesses exist to make money, in the process of that they provide jobs, which provide more jobs which provide more jobs and so on.
In point of fact, it’s impossible to make money or spend money without creating more wealth for other people as well.
Anytime you do either of those functions someone is going to benefit from it. Only in the case of government can you spend money without creating wealth. In that particular case the government has had to take wealth from someone else, without giving them anything of value in return, in order to give it to a third person.
And this is where liberals tend to get confused. They see wealth as a finite resource so that one person cannot become wealthy without forcing someone else to be poor.
This is not true. Wealth creates more of the same.
This brings us back to enlightened self interest, or greed is good.
If I earn more money, I spend more money, which means the person I paid has more money, which means they spend more money and so on and so on.
The best thing we can do for this economy and to help the poor is to give Rich Guy his dangley bits back, remove the uncertainty that keeps him from investing and hiring. Ease burdensome regulations and make it OK for him to look out for number one.
Do that and the economy will get running again, more people will move into the middle class, more people in the middle class will move up and the cycle will repeat -- and maybe I can get that big screen I’ve been wanting.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Michelle, stay out of my kitchen will you?

I've been watching, off and on, First Lady Michelle Obama's "war" on obesity. We've been told to cut salt out of our diets. That the government needs to mandate lower sodium in our food, no more sugary snacks at school, on and on.
All of this costs more, of course, and moreover most of it causes our food to, well, taste bad.
Much of it isn't really scientifically supported anyway. I've become convinced the food nazis who are out to tell us all what we can and can't eat really just don't want any one to enjoy themselves
Let's start with the salt issue. Yes too much salt is bad for you.
But what the food Nazis don't seem to get that you need salt to live.
Roman soldiers were paid in salt. To say someone is "worth his salt" is to say he's a good man who works hard. Loyalty even used to equate to salt. To say that "you ate someone's salt" meant you owed them loyalty because they had given you what you needed to live from their own hand.
The ones handing down these sodium standards also seem to forget that the amount of salt each person needs varies. There are people with medical conditions who require huge amounts of sodium to live.
Then there's the fat issue. Yeah I get that too much fat is bad for your heart. But once again, there are essential acids and nutrients we need in fat.
Oh, and then there's the mercury issue with fish, and you have the raw food diet people, and the... well I could go on and on but why bother.
Look, with all due respect to the First Lady, but can all you food Nazis please just butt out?
If I want my kids to drink water instead of a Coke, I'll make that call, OK?
You're the same people who've told me first to use margarine, then not to use it. That butter was bad and then butter was OK. That eggs were evil, but then eggs were good for you. Not to eat red meat (mmmm steak) and then that it was good for me.
I tell you what, how about I eat what I like?
It all comes down to people with too much time on their hands deciding they need to "save the children" or everybody else or just like telling other people what to do.
We used to have a word for someone who insisted on having their nose in everybody else's business — we called them "busybodies" and told them to bloody well butt out and go away.
Now? We make bureaucrats out of them and put them in charge of things like Health and Human Services. To my mind these are miserable human beings who just want to make everyone around them as miserable as they are.
It all comes down to freedom, really, the freedom to chose. Haven't we been told "choice" is important?
The freedom to decide what you want to put in your body seems to be about as personal and important as it gets.
Once the bureaucrats can tell you what you can and can't eat, is there anything left they can't control?
Look, we have allowed too many essential freedoms to be taken away in the name of "protecting people." The one thing I know for sure, however, is you can't really protect people from themselves. My doctor has told me a couple of times I'm supposed to lay off acidic foods like milk and tomatoes and spicy food as well. One problem, those are some of my favorite foods. Are they bad for me? Well not in the sense of, "going to give me heart disease or a stroke," but yeah, they generally give me a belly ache that sends me hunting for the Tums. So be it, my choice.
Others may ingest more salt than is good for them, or find it impossible to lay off the fatty foods or cookies.
We all have that right.
You want to make yourself miserable by refusing to eat anything that tastes good? Go for it, just stay out of my kitchen will you?
All IMHO, of course.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Gotta love them trolls

I recently, well if you define recently as "for months now", have had the dubious pleasure of dealing with a particularly nasty phenomenon known as the "Internet Troll."
On a Web site I post on regularly there is a gentleman, using the term loosely, who is a bit of a monomaniac on the subject of man-caused global warming.
This guy loves to bleat on, post after post, about how the Earth is getting hotter and it's all our fault. Like most trolls (as an aside, they're called trolls for a couple of reasons, one they're "trolling" for a response by posting outlandish things, and two, they're usually just plain rude) he loves to denigrate other posters, hijack conversations and otherwise just make a nuisance out of himself.
After months of arguments, and this individual's refusal to actually answer questions or address criticisms, I decided to give him, and the others like him, an opportunity to state their case.
So I left a post saying, that since I'm willing to debate anything, let's accept for the sake of argument that the Earth is getting hotter and it is man's fault. So then what precisely do the global warming believers propose we do about it?
The crickets are still chirping.
The only 20 responses (usually a thread like this will generate many more) have been from people like me who think man-caused global warming is utter nonsense.
All of which didn't really surprise me.
You see, it's been my experience that the global warming types don't really have any useful suggestions. What they're really after is to curtail the freedoms of other people.
It's been noted that most greens are really watermelons — green on the outside and red in the middle.
It's an accurate assessment. If you take a close look at the supposed "fixes" for global warming, climate change, climate disruption, whatever the name du jour they almost always involve using the bludgeon of government power to force people into desired behaviors.
This is an ideology driven more by what they don't want than what they do. They don't want cars, or power plants or roads, or well, much of anything which makes modern life possible and bearable, except of course for themselves.
And here's the key. Every proposal I've seen put forth means giving more power to government and thereby giving bureaucrats more and more power over our lives.
I wrote else where recently, about our slide into tyranny, this is one of the ways it happens, a little at a time, so that you don't notice, until you wake up one day to find you're a serf, and you've allowed it to happen to yourself.
All IMHO, of course.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Instead of gun control can we have idiot control?

A couple of months back a story broke that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had been allowing so-called "straw buyers" to purchase weapons in Arizona which they then resold across the Mexican border into the hands of the drug cartels. The theory was they'd track the guns up the chain and catch the big fish.
This, of course, didn't happen. All they caught were minnows, two American law enforcement agents got killed and more than 150 Mexican citizens were murdered with weapons which have since been identified as belonging to the group of more than 2,500 firearms the feds allowed to walk.
This has since been used to try to justify a new "Assault Weapons Ban" — which may have been the point all along — although I'm reluctant to attribute to malice that which can as easily be explained by incompetence.
What's sad is any event like this is always used as an excuse for more gun control, when what's really needed is idiot control.
The so-called assault weapons ban enacted in 1994 was particularly dumb.
A little background is perhaps in order. In 1994, in the name of making us all safer, Congress enacted legislation to ban so-called assault weapons and large capacity magazines. The law they passed actually did neither.
An assault rifle is a military weapon. It is usually what is called an intermediate caliber, meaning the cartridge is in between a pistol and a full-powered rifle cartridge like .30-06. Assault rifles are also selective fire — they can be fired either semi-automatically or on full-auto.
These were actually already fairly difficult to obtain in the U.S., requiring a special license to own. What Congress did is make up a list of purely cosmetic features they thought looked scary and say if a rifle had two or more of them it was banned.
Manufacturers promptly removed such things as pistol grips, flash suppressors and bayonet lugs and went back to selling the same rifles the next day. The features the Congress critters didn't like had nothing to with function. Moreover semi-auto and bolt action hunting rifles were, and remain far more powerful than military-style rifles firing the same rounds the military uses.
For instance, the AR-15 which is the civilian version of the M-16, and fires what is basically a .223 varmint hunting cartridge, has a maximum effective range of about 500 yards. The maximum effective range for the .30-06 cartridge, which is common for deer hunting, is twice that.
The only thing the "assault weapons ban" did, was drive up the price of military-style rifles and make gun shop owners a pretty penny. Same thing with the magazine ban. That simply banned the manufacture or importation of ammunition magazine which held more than 10 rounds. That there were huge stocks of "pre-ban" magazines already in stock didn't seem to matter. The unintended consequence of the magazine ban was that manufactures created a new class of smaller pistols which fired higher-powered ammunition than the pistols which had the high-capacity magazines.
Moreover, the price on "pre-ban" magazines went up and gun shop owners made a pretty penny.
So basically, in the name of getting rid of a class of "ugly" weapons all the ban did was help small business, and inconvenience law abiding gun owners — and that's the rub. What the gun banners never seem to get is new laws do not inconvenience criminals, just law abiding citizens.
The logic would seem to be inescapable — criminals do not, by definition, care about the law. Therefore, logically, restrictive laws — of whatever kind — are no deterrent to crooks, only to those already inclined to obey the law.
Logically, then, wouldn't it make more sense to increase penalties for using a firearm in a crime, while reducing restrictions on those who are using them legally?
You would then have a double benefit. Those who commit a crime are removed from society, and the law abiding have more freedom. Isn't more freedom always a thing to be desired?
All IMHO, of course.