Senator Michael Bennet (on today's Morning Edition NPR show), about the House Shutdown of the government: "People should be upset. The government is closed. It's an outrage. It's ridiculous. It's an embarrassment. There's a reason we have a [5%] approval rate.

"I used to spend a lot of time wondering why anyone would want to work in a place with a [5%] approval rate... if your ideology is about dismantling the federal government, having a [5%] approval rate suits you just find, because you get to go home and say, 'See how horrible these people are?'

"The more degraded they can make the government seem, the more it suits their ideological purposes."

Hear, freakin' hear. It's all so clear to me now.

He also points out that "The divide between Democrats and Republicans is less than the divide that exists in the Republican Party."
That's it, I'm done with our government. It's one thing to make power-grabs, gradually erode our freedoms, and serve only their richy-rich masters, but to eliminate NASA's public outreach and educational programs? The budget they're proposing for Fiscal Year 2013 forces NASA to walk away from planned missions to Mars and Europa's oceans, delay for decades any missions to the outer planets, and radically slow the pace of scientific discovery, including the search for life on other worlds. For example, Mars exploration would totally be put on hold, taking a 38.5% cut.

THEM'S FIGHTIN' WORDS.


Click the image to see the io9 article.

Bill Nye and other Planetary Society folks posted a great piece on this, too. Did you know that NASA's total budget is far less than 1% of the federal budget? Chopping NASA's budget for exploration like this only saves 0.01% of the federal budget. That's one ten-thousandth, a hundredth of a penny for each tax dollar.

THROW THE BASTARDS OUT. Is the representative from your district someone who screwed around during the budget debates or actively worked against creating a reasonable budget? Was your rep one of the bastards who let the "sequester" happen? Then write them! Tell them what you think of chopping off the good parts of our nation in order to feed the greed of those who support their elections.

Heck, let's just fire them all, do a 100% recall election, then make them beg for the jobs from us (the voters) for once - and prevent them from getting re-election financing from anyone more than, say, $20/person. That'll change things. Because when basic research dollars get yanked (not just at NASA but all over the place, in every university), and public education programs get canceled, we might as well throw in the towel as a nation.

NO MORE.

Chris
Because some 200 million US Citizens do. That's 2/3 of us all in this country.

The Department of Homeland Security Theater has defined a 100-mile "border" around the nation. Within that "border" they can - and do - search and seize Americans (and everyone else) WITHOUT REASONABLE CAUSE. If you resist, YOU TOO can be seized. Click the map below to find out.


Click the image to see if you live in a 4th-Amendment-free zone.

Here's the original WIRED story that broke the news... which I'll bet you haven't heard about.

How is this not huge news all across the nation? Why aren't people protesting in the streets? Between 2008 and 2010, 6,500 people have had their electronic devices searched along the US border, according to DHS data. What happens to those who refuse? Have you heard what happens to those who refuse DHS? NOT GOOD THINGS. In fact, refusing DHS orders by definition makes you a terrorist suspect, which then give them cause to detain you indefinitely until they are assured you pose no threat.

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

Here's the petition you need to sign to stop this Constitutionally illegal DHS behavior. Go there now. If you're a US citizen, it's your duty.

I was about to type, "I can't believe this has been going on in our country," but I can, actually. Why? here's a litany of what's become of the USA since the Neocons transformed this nation from one that represents the people to one that represents the 1% of the filthy-rich who possess 99% of the wealth:

Wiretaps, search and seizure, indefinite detention, citizen surveillance, thought police, assassinations, invasions of sovereign nations, on and on... this is no longer a nation of law, but a place that's being transformed into a tyrannical empire ruled by royalty who don't attain their power over us all (and their special segregation from rule of law) through birth but through financial privilege... which their power ever-increases, which in turn provides them more power, and so on, an eternal spiral sucking freedom and wealth from the rest of us and funneling it into their vaults. The ultra-rich are a power-singularity, around which orbit the politicians they own, and into which all we have will ultimately spiral, erasing the US Middle Class as surely as a black hole erases all traces of matter that passes within its event horizon.



All of this is an outrage. An outrage against us as citizens, against the Constitution which defines this nation, against this nation as a whole, and because of our position in the world and how we project power, an outrage against everyone on Earth. Why aren't we all outraged?

This cannot go on forever - at least not without destroying every remaining aspect of America-as-the-dream-that-was. Will Americans once again just lie back and allow this new assault on our rights and freedoms? Will we let the dream fade forever into history?

Or will we sign that petition, organize protests and marches, offer sane political candidates, and put our nation back on course toward freedom? Will this finally give the Occupy movement (or something like it) a core around which to rally?

I can hope.

Chris
Now for some fun, especially for those who've watched HBO's "Game of Thrones" show.



And they've also posted Episode 2:



For some reason, this reminds me of the movie "Heathers," which [profile] chernobylred and I just watched for the first time last night. HOW DID I MISS THIS ONE? Check out this freaky trailer:



Last night, I kept asking aloud how I've never seen Heathers before. Here's what I came up with, which is both telling and ironic, considering what the movie is about:

I think it's because it came out in 1988, when I was in college and not dating anyone, and boys then saw it as a "girl's movie." That's right: Boys didn't allow themselves to see "girl's movies," and might still keep themselves from enjoying such. Not that Heathers is either a boy's or girl's movie, but it was perceived as such, partly because the lead is a girl (Winona Ryder). I never had that issue, but I've also never liked going to movies alone, so I missed out. BECAUSE OF THE DAMNED PATRIARCHY. I stopped myself from enjoying a film that would have blown me away at the time, because of cultural normativism. I'm a white guy in the US, yet I've been harmed by the retro-patriarchy. Just goes to show that we're ALL harmed by outmoded cultural norms.

Chris
Turns out that it's now illegal in the US to have disgusting fantasies... even when you explicitly state that the online chat you're having about said fantasy is just that: Only a fantasy.

From the Slate.com article:

In the government's version of the facts, Valle had been working up "practical and strategic" plans to kidnap, rape, torture, kill, and eat several women, including his own wife. One of his Google searches shows he was looking for audio clips of knives being sharpened, utensils clanking, or whatever else might serve to whet his violent appetite.

The prosecuting attorney - a representative of the US government, of us all - said in closing statements, "That's not a fantasy that's OK."

Clearly, this guy's fantasies are creepy as hell. But is having creepy fantasies something we should make illegal? Should we put people in jail for having bad thoughts? If so, where do we draw the line for what we consider okay? And who gets to decide that? Do you want someone with his own repressed fantasies deciding yours aren't okay because he feels guilty about his dark desires? Or someone who's so pure as to think oral sex isn't okay? Do you think you've never had a fantasy that someone, somewhere in power would find disgusting?


The Thought Police are here. Time to start practicing your mind-block jingle.

Chris
mckitterick: From a US nuclear test in the 1960s. (mushroom cloud)
( Jan. 4th, 2013 11:35 am)
First up, new research suggests that 2.7% Of Drivers Are Stupid Jerks, Will Go Out of Their Way to Kill Turtles. This is a follow-up to another study, 2.7% of Drivers Are Stupid Jerks. Both studies find that about 2.7% of drivers intentionally swerve in an attempt to kill box turtles or other reptiles.

Click the image to see the article.

Let's say we have 300,000,000 people in the US. If 2.7% of them are animal-murderers (a short step from full-blown psychopaths), that suggests we have 8,100,000 psychos-in-waiting. Whoah. I wonder what keeps most of them from emerging like murderous butterflies from their cocoons?

How about some GOOD news? Here, have some hope for curing Alzheimer's.

Click the image to see the Kurzweil.com article.

Some more cool science: Quantum gas goes below absolute zero. This is fascinating. Things behave very strangely at the quantum level, so I'm strangely unsurprised! They also suggest this might be the explanation for dark energy....

Ever wondered how to pick a lock? This is a great graphic demonstration:

Click the image to see the Tumblr post.


My New Year's gift from the universe was a lovely cold. Thankfully, my fever broke last night (in a puddle in my bed - seriously, my sleeping-hat was DRIPPING), and the cough has become, ahem, productive. I've also become a snot factory. On the plus side, my brain is working again.

Hope you're doing well!

Best,
Chris
Extending yesterday's post about the national conversation about guns. Thanks to everyone for contributing (even the "f**k you" response shed some light on the discussion).

My related Facebook post generated some interesting discussion, as well, that combined with this discussion got me thinking.

  • It's vital that we shift our national focus from ridiculous, horrible, treasure-wasting, murderous, human-suffering-inducing military adventures like our wars on [insert item here: drugs, terror, etc.] and instead invest this wasted creative energy, power, money, resources, and so forth into things that make our nation and humankind better and stronger in the long term.

  • We need to invest in vastly improving our public schools, mental-health institutions, scientific research... you name it: all the things that make us grow healthier and stronger instead of weaker and sicker.

  • To do this, we need to get money and religion out of politics. When our political representatives must spend the majority of their creative, emotional, and intellectual energy on gathering support from big donors and financial interests as well as anti-intellectual powers, we the people are not represented or served. These are all forces of entropy.

  • We need to debunk the corporate fiction of logarithmically increasing profits. It's unsustainable and leads to financial collapse, as we've witnessed recently. It imbues people with starry-eyed notions that they, too, can become wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, which leads to all manner of sickness and moral decay.

  • We need to teach our children that money is an abstract tool, not a goal in life. At the same time, we need to teach them how to be a productive, contributing member of the world while earning a living, and that becoming wealthy for the sake of wealth is a goal unworthy of a good citizen.

  • We need to teach people - especially our children - that working to understand empathy for others is the answer to most of our problems.

  • Something we can all do: Love things deeply and share your love for those things, one classroom at a time, one room of gamers at a time, one dinner-party at a time, one person at a time. If someone wants to share their love with you, give them a chance. Open your mind. Don't exclude people, don't dismiss their love.


What would happen if, instead of wasting money and resources and mental energy and lives on war and destruction as a nation, we invested it?

What would happen if we made building a better future the goal instead of inducing and propagating fear? Would people feel the need to own guns if they didn't fear others? What would our culture look like if our greatest aspirations revolved around building a better world instead of protecting against threats and becoming rich?

Would people grow up emotionally healthier if they weren't bombarded with the messages of a culture of war and fear and rape and violence and profiteering?

Is it possible that being tacit supporters of such horrors as our nation commits in our name is a root cause of our national dysfunction?

If this is supposed to be a "Christian nation," as defined by so many of those who propagate these horrors, why do we value and act out the inverse? I believe we really could make this country a respectable place and become a beacon of hope for humankind if we actually followed the teachings of Jesus. But we don't, and organized religion always falls prey to the rot that destroys other human institutions, so the religionists need to either shut up about our "Christian nation" or else start acting in a way the historical Jesus taught. But they need to leave out the notion of gods and instead work on building an actual heaven on Earth.

Indeed, making this a truly secular nation would go a long way toward saving us. Heck, eliminating the notion of "nation" would help, too, as would eradicating all the other sub-tribal, exclusionary concepts with which we've enchained ourselves and dragged along through time like sledges since our earliest ages. Religions ruin civilizations, which I find to be a bitter irony, in that they were formed to organize and help people. Religious leaders destroy religions. Politicians ruin governments. Governments destroy nations. And so on.

Establishing anything leads to entropy, a crumbling and ruination and dying of everything that people build with their energy and enthusiasm. Whenever an institution settles, wherever bureaucracy forms, entropy sets in. So we must continually rebuild, reinvest, explore, discover. We must let go of what we cling to out of fear and comfort. We must always keep growing and learning, else we begin dying. This is the lesson all of history teaches us, as does physics, as does medicine....

Wanna save the world? Wanna make it a better place? I wanna hear your ideas.

Chris

Aaaaaaaaa!


Seriously? People who aren't the Phelpses are MEMBERS of this abomination? And they're running for political positions where they can dictate that our children's future includes hatred and ignorance?

Can you even imagine how Dark Ages that Kansas could become should someone like that get on the Board of Education? The mind boggles.


Click the image to see the HuffPo article and more people messing with the Phelpses.

If you live in the appropriate district, please vote this lunatic off the island. Thank you.

This has been a public service announcement. Spread the word.

Chris
Have you been following the Doonesbury comics over the past week? Holy Relevant Politics, Batman!

Here's the progression so far:









Have you read The Handmaid's Tale? In it, Atwood paints a dark portrait of how the US might look if the Christian Right gains the reins of government. When I first read the book - when it cam out, about the time I started college - I thought this an unlikely future. I mean, we wouldn't let this kind of insanity happen, right? Half our population is women - surely they would defend their rights!

I was wrong. This is the direction our country is headed. Women of America, do you like the vision portrayed in this novel? If that's too SFnal for you, let me put it this way: Do you like the world in which women live in theocracies and religion-dominated nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan under the Taliban (or even now), and so forth? Because that's where we're headed.

Don't believe it could happen here? Then you're not paying attention. You're like the young me, privileged with having grown up white male in a United States freshly reformed after the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s.

This is not only our future; it's happening now. Do something about it.

I'm adding The Handmaid's Tale to my SF Novels reading list.

Chris
What is happening to this country?

I've been wondering this for most of my adult life, but it's come up a lot during the past decade, and the past few days of following the Wall Street protest news coverage - more to the point, the lack of news coverage - have made this question blow up once more.

I know that not all police officers are warped by their daily exposure to criminals. I know that not all police officers take every opportunity to abuse the citizens they're sworn to protect and serve. I know that not all police officers view non-cops as potential perpetrators, that they're not all puppets to those in power, that they wouldn't all idly stand by or actively join in as crimes were committed by their fellow emotionally perverted officers, but once again we get evidence that this particular line of work attracts the worst elements in the human species:



In this essay from a few years ago, I write about the day that my respect and appreciation of the police force dissipated in a cloud of violence. I lived through the Seattle Police Riots of 1999 - sorry; the Newspeak way to say it is, "World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999 protest activity." I watched peaceful protests against the WTO turn into a riot of violence against the citizens of my neighborhood. I watched neighbors - whose only crimes were trying to eat dinner in a restaurant, or leave the tear-gas-reeking streets, or looking too gay - get gassed and shot and beaten and terrorized for days. I got to experience what it's like to stumble through a two-block-long city park enshrouded in a cloud of CS gas (commonly known as "tear gas"), my asthma-afflicted partner barely able to breathe, among thousands of other peaceful protesters all suffering the burning skin and constricted lungs and disoriented brains and chaotic emotions that go with it. For two city blocks. In a park. Where the people had come out not to protest the WTO but to protest the violent police occupation of our neighborhood.

I could go on and on about this, but that was the turning-point for me. My eyes were opened to a fundamental truth:

Those in power tend to stay in power. And they'll do whatever it takes to ensure that.

This is also why I don't trust any high-level politician, and why I'm suspect of even local politicians. And when they turn the armed civil forces - our police - against us, it's worse than a crime, largely because it's not a crime for them to do so. Do your benefactors not like the protests against their corporation or industry? Arrest them at random, beat them in front of other protesters, gas them and mace them and kneel on their heads against the pavement. The others will get the idea.

Except that doesn't work in the long run. The harder they push us, the harder we push back. Just look at what's going on in the Middle East, especially Syria right now. The Syrian people are dying by the hundreds, perhaps the thousands, at the hands of their police forces. But they're not going home cowed by the Fascist oppression; they're just finding more ways to get the word out, and they're feeling empowered by the world's response against their oppressors.

When will we do the same here in the USA? When will we say, "Enough!" as our government and our police forces continue to abuse their power? When will we stop fighting among ourselves - with the full support and incitement of the mainstream media - and jackhammer out the current foundations of power? Which, by the way, aren't the police forces or the Congresspeople or whatever - those are just the instruments of those really in power: The corporate leaders and the ultra-rich, the 1% who control the rest of us by manipulating the political landscape and evaporating what the USA stands for in order to grow their own power.

The United States of America was formed on a revolutionary idea: That we, the people, should be free to protest what we perceive as wrongs without fear for our life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness.

What the hell happened to that?

Chris
This is a terrific talk, in which Tyson discusses the danger of "revelation replacing exploration." He uses the example of how the world of Islam went from being the intellectual center of the world in science and discovery during its "Age of Enlightenment," the 300-year period from 800 AD through 1100 AD to where it is today, when the Middle East has given us nearly no Nobel Prize winners and is full of strife and poverty. Why? Because they turned away from scientific exploration and embraced religion. Why would they give up the wonders they had developed? Because religious leaders like Imam Hamid al-Ghazali declared that "mathematics is the work of the devil." These people invented math, but the dangerous religious meme of anti-intellectualism destroyed their Age of Enlightenment and helped collapse their civilization.

Then Tyson turns the mirror on the US, where the same thing is spreading like a disease across our landscape. Good lord (so to speak), this is scary, something we've been watching march toward us for years (click here to watch if it doesn't appear below):



You don't need to be a genius astrophysicist to see where we're headed.

If you're religious, please talk to your fellow faithful about this danger. Keep the conversation going to drown out those who use the name of religion to oppose real education or devalue understanding. "Intelligent design" and anti-evolutionism, prayer in schools and religious arguments against legal rights - these things are exactly the same kinds of dangers to our future that Hamid al-Ghazali was to the great Islamic culture of the 12th Century. Use Tyson's example and ask your fundamentalist friends if the Islmaic world is better off since it turned away from science and growth, since it replaced exploration with religion. Ask if we would be better off if we did the same thing to ourselves. Especially express this to the most reasonable-sounding among them, because the radicals will play to their fears and faith and win in the end.

Those who worry about Islamic fundamentalism are right to worry, because such radicalism is the root of much terror and oppression and war in the world today. But I'm more worried about Christian fundamentalism, because those are the folks who are the primary threat to Western world, especially in my own country.

Why? Not just because of people like Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. I fear we are treading the same path that the Islamic world stumbled down after al-Ghazali and his ilk.

Tyson nails on the head the number-one threat to humankind. Anything else, I believe we can deal with. Global warming? With enough research and creative energy, humans can find a solution. Vanishing easy sources of energy? Again, we'll find a solution if we have the intellectual and technological infrastructure to keep looking. Disease? Killer asteroids? Zombie apocalypse? I believe we can save the human species from any of these threats.

But only if our civilization promotes learning, investigation, and new ideas. Only if math, science, and creative pursuits are valued and respected will we remain capable of taking care of ourselves. If the West follows the Middle East into poverty and internescine strife, if we promote obsolete religious notions over scientific progress, if we look backward instead of forward - if we seek to be saved from outside rather than seek solutions ourselves, we're doomed as a species. Because we must find solutions to problems that will destroy the human species - and soon. If science and progress is considered a threat and a danger, we will not survive.

Science is not the enemy of religion; that is a meaningless distinction. Fundamentalist religion is the enemy of civilization, the enemy of the human species.

Chris
According to this Japanese researcher, the amount of radioactive pollution from the Fukushima catastrophe is 30 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb, and even worse, the radioactivity is about 100 times longer-lingering than the fallout from that bomb. He estimates it'll cost many trillions of yen to clean up, and the efforts that organizations - including his - are making now to do so are illegal due to esoteric bureaucracy. But what really gets him furious is the Japanese government's apparent negligence in allowing children to go to school and play in severely contaminated areas.

Thanks, TEPCO, for making such reliable and safe reactors.


(Click the CC button to read an English translation.)

I can't even imagine what this is doing to the Japanese people, their culture and national identity.

Chris
So the country won't go into receivership today because the Congress happened to finish a bill that would raise the debt ceiling and the Senate approved it. Was anyone surprised? The only part that surprised me was that they somehow managed to create a 12-person crew to guide cuts and so forth that's half Dem and half Repub. Perhaps it's less surprising when we step back and ask what those party definitions mean today, and if there's any real practical difference anymore.

I really like this piece by Republican commentator Robert Frum about how radical conservatives have not only ruined the Republican party but are on track to ruin our nation. At last, a sensible Republican speaks out.

A few simple things:

1) Reducing government spending eliminates jobs and reduces support for the unemployed and poor, infrastructure repairs, education, military adventures, research, science, and so forth. I think everyone of all party affiliations can agree that people losing jobs is not a good thing for anyone, nor is it good for the economy. I think everyone with any education at all knows that cutting across the board like this, eliminating science research and educational support will result in a nation of declining value.

2) When fewer people have jobs, tax revenue declines because of several factors: a) the unemployed don't pay as much tax (though they lost their tax break in 2009), b) the unemployed collect unemployment benefits, c) the unemployed don't buy stuff the way employed do, and d) this cascades across the entire economy. Fix unemployment and you fix almost everything.

3) We're suffered a decade's worth of hugely expensive wars - unfunded wars. You don't need to be highly educated to recognize that spending $trillion$ without adding any income sources is just idiotic. If America were truly based on fairness, the radical neocon-wingnuts who demanded war but refused to pay for it would be sued to cover our debt.

4) Many or most of the tax loopholes for the ultra-rich and mega-corporations must be eliminated. Billionaire Warren Buffett is disgusted that he pays lower taxes than his secretary. The tax rate paid by ultra-rich Americans declined from 26% in 1992 to just 17% in 2007. Meanwhile, the tax break for unemployed workers ended in 2009, so as tax breaks for the poor evaporate, the ultra-wealthy pay less. This, while the Census finds a record income gap between the rich and the poor.

5) Why do corporations that ship jobs overseas get tax breaks? Why do we give more subsidies to corn and other grain crops when even the heavily ag-lobby-influenced USDA's "food plate" has revised way down how much grain we should consume? And why do we still give more tax breaks for oil than anything else ("for wealthy or sophisticated investors, one investment class continues to stand alone above all others: oil")? Worst of all, though, is how American corporations pay almost no taxes. The best example is General Electric: Not only did they pay absolutely no taxes in 2010 or 2009, but they actually pocketed more than $3 billion in government tax credits. Yes, you and I paid GE billions for being GE.

6) Which leads me to my primary point: Eliminating tax subsidies for the ultra-rich and mega-corporations is not the same as increasing taxes. It is cutting spending. Tune out the radical screams about "tax increases" and consider: We, the taxpayers, spend a lot of our nation's wealth on tax-code-based spending designed to encourage some things and discourage others. I guess if you're a staunch Ayn Randian and place your self-interest above the well-being of others, including your nation (which, I would argue, is short-term thinking: Wreck your country and you wreck yourself), you're okay with all this.

So was it good or bad that Congress passed this bill to allow the debt ceiling to rise? Yes. No.

Yes in that it likely allows our credit rating to remain tip-top, though some argue that the credit agencies had also required that we find more revenue and cut more. But did anyone believe that the 2-year thinkers driving our country toward oblivion would really let their political posturing overcome their desire to keep their jobs at the next election? Feh.

No in that it doesn't address any of the real problems outlined in my six points above. Cutting spending willy nilly leads to nothing but bad things, short-term and long. Not paying for what we spend is childish. Our current tax code gives gifts to mega-corporations and the ultra-rich - why? As rewards for their richness. Then the radical neocons cut spending, which mostly benefits the poor and middle class, in order to maintain this reward-the-rich scenario.

This bill is meaningless, really. Except for how it helps display the disease that is radical neoconism that's killing our nation, and how almost every politician is okay with letting them do so.

EDIT: I must share Keith Olbermann's take on this. He's on the money:


Chris
What is up with LJ today? I keep seeing links like this that fail to open comment pages or links: http://api.viglink.com/api/click?format=go&drKey=1111&loc=http (and then the link address).

Speaking of being pissed off at authority, did you hear that the Supreme Court threw out the Wal-Mart discrimination case - not because of merit or lack thereof, but because the "class-action status – potentially involving hundreds of thousands of female workers – was too large."

Um, isn't that what a class-action suit is all about? Largeness? With this precedent, I can see corporations planning to market crappy or dangerous products simply marketing it far and wide enough that they can't get sued.

Fuck the Supreme Court. Also:



Chris
This is not a rhetorical question.

I really want to understand what is going on inside the minds of American conservative Republicans. I could point to a billion examples of how people who call themselves "libertarians" or "Republicans" (the right wing of the party) are the first to try to legislate morality, legislate how we can spend our money, where we can go, what we can do, and so on. That is, they want to put the government into personal business. I won't even get into how they seem to support corporations over people lately, even though corporations look much more like governments than individual people do.

Libertarians and conservatives are both groups that I once understood to support the notions of "Leave me alone and I'll leave you alone" and "Government out of my business," among other things. They complain about the "nanny state that liberals want to impose," and they fear "socialism," which - if you listen to their cries - they clearly don't understand.

They way they behave sounds less like their chosen political identifiers and much more like fascism. Here's the Wikipedia definition of fascism, which is pretty good:

Fascists advocate the creation of a totalitarian single-party state that seeks the mass mobilization of a nation through indoctrination, physical education, and family policy including eugenics. Fascists seek to purge forces and ideas deemed to be the cause of decadence and degeneration and produce their nation's rebirth based on commitment to the national community based on organic unity where individuals are bound together by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and "blood." Fascists believe that a nation requires strong leadership, singular collective identity, and the will and ability to commit violence and wage war in order to keep the nation strong. Fascist governments forbid and suppress opposition to the state. Fascists promote violence and war as actions that create national regeneration, spirit and vitality. Fascists exalt militarism as providing positive transformation in society, in providing spiritual renovation, education, instilling of a will to dominate in people's character, and creating national comradeship through military service.

Let's examine this point-by-point. First sentence:

Remember the "Permanent Majority" the Republicans desired and still believe they can attain? Check. Can't get more thorough indoctrination than creating a news empire dedicated to spreading your word, plus using the Church to glorify your views and vilify the enemy. Check. Family policy - goodness, name a Republican in office who believes in a woman's right to choose, who supports same-sex marriage, and who supports alternate family structures. Check. Mouth-frothing fears about decadence and degeneration? Check. Nationalistic fervor with exclusion of peoples from other cultures? Check. Every word in the next sentence - and here I include the war-hawk "liberals" (What's that term again? Can be from either party...), too - fits. Check. Next sentence: "Free Speech Zones," anyone? Check. Next sentence as the previous one: Check. Because I feel uncomfortable and un-American even saying that the last sentence is a check suggests that it's also true of our entire culture. Finally, USA PATRIOT Act, anyone?

Whatever happened to the dream that was the United States of America, home of liberty, land of the free, beacon of potential? Whatever happened to the dream of the USA as a symbol of the good that humans can build, the shape of the perfect society, the "melting pot," where ideas could grow and develop? Hell, whatever happened to our mantle as ethical leader of the world?

Please help me understand what's going on in this country, because I don't want to believe we're becoming a fascist state.

And if we are, what can we do to stop it?

Chris
By now, everyone in the world knows that the Obama administration - in a misguided attempt to appease the birther-loons - got Hawaii to release our Prez's full birth certificate this morning. The Trump has been trumpeting the trumped-up nonsense that the birther-loons have been quacking, in an effort to be in the spotlight. You win, Trumpenator! You've earned your full-monty Loon Medal! And Republican party? You asked for this.

Will this release stop the noise? Of course not. What the Obama administration did was nothing more than feed the trolls, and we all know where that gets us.

Let's take a look at these folks. They honestly believe that Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior is going to initiate the rapture of the chosen few on May 21, 2011, and that Almighty God His Father will destroy this world on October 21, 2011. If only, except for that pesky "destroying the world" part.

The world has been promised destruction pretty much as long as we've had religions. Remember that famous case when aliens were going to wipe us out on December 21, 1954? And of course Scientologists are pretty certain that the Alien Overlords are coming to destroy/free/probe us.

Despite facts to the contrary, people believe any number of insane things. The Roman Empire will last for all time! (Came close, relatively speaking.) The United States will always be a superpower full of rich folks! (Sorry, Americans.) Global warming is a myth! (Keep on believing that, Sparky.) You name it. I won't even get into religion, because, well, lots of folks get some kind of comfort from that, when they're not destroying infidels, "saving" people from their own culture's belief systems, or compelling people to behave strangely in nonsensical rituals.

What is wrong with people?

This article nails it on the head:

"A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.' So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger, in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial - the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. But it was too early for that—this was the 1950s - and Festinger was actually describing a famous case study in psychology.

Festinger and several of his colleagues had infiltrated the Seekers, a small Chicago-area cult whose members thought they were communicating with aliens - including one, "Sananda," who they believed was the astral incarnation of Jesus Christ. The group was led by Dorothy Martin, a Dianetics devotee who transcribed the interstellar messages through automatic writing.

Through her, the aliens had given the precise date of an Earth-rending cataclysm: December 21, 1954. Some of Martin's followers quit their jobs and sold their property, expecting to be rescued by a flying saucer when the continent split asunder and a new sea swallowed much of the United States. The disciples even went so far as to remove brassieres and rip zippers out of their trousers - the metal, they believed, would pose a danger on the spacecraft.

Festinger and his team were with the cult when the prophecy failed. First, the "boys upstairs" (as the aliens were sometimes called) did not show up and rescue the Seekers. Then December 21 arrived without incident. It was the moment Festinger had been waiting for: How would people so emotionally invested in a belief system react, now that it had been soundly refuted?

At first, the group struggled for an explanation. But then rationalization set in. A new message arrived, announcing that they'd all been spared at the last minute. Festinger summarized the extraterrestrials' new pronouncement: "The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction." Their willingness to believe in the prophecy had saved Earth from the prophecy!
(Click here to read the rest.)

Did you know that 25% of Americans still don't believe that Obama was born in the USA? Nothing will change their minds... in fact, trying to change their minds will only reinforce their beliefs. Last year, according to the Gallup Poll, 48% of Americans said that global warming's effects had been exaggerated. How about the whole "Aztec 2012 ZOMG!" craziness? And need I say more than the phrase, "Sarah Palin"?

I believe that humans are inherently good. I believe that seeking understanding, being open to change, and growing ourselves and our culture are our loftiest goals. I believe that, together, we can solve any problem, and that one day we will reach the stars.

Or is that only more proof of our infallibility regarding belief systems? Is it merely my own personal delusion?

Chris
Having my novel pirated and torrented all over the web has gotten me thinking a lot about copyright and distribution of creative work, what to do about pirating, and the freedoms that get touched when combating pirates.

One cannot write about this topic without mentioning long-time Electronic Frontier Foundation fellow Cory Doctorow, who observes that "Despite 15 long years of the copyright wars, despite draconian laws and savage penalties, despite secret treaties and widespread censorship, despite millions spent on ill-advised copy-prevention tools, more copying takes place today than ever before" (Guardian).

His observation is that "if I give away my ebooks under a Creative Commons license that allows non-commercial sharing, I'll attract readers who buy hard copies. It's worked for me."

When Doctorow came to Lawrence, KS, for the 2009 Campbell Conference (where we honored him with the Campbell Award for Little Brother, free download from Doctorow's Craphound site here), he gave a talk about an experiment he was planning to run. He's long argued for giving away ebooks as a tool to increase an author's visibility, and after hearing his plan to completely circumvent traditional publishing with his experimental project - the marketing supported by giving away books (marketing itself coming from Boing Boing, articles, and thousands of avid fans...) - I was convinced that it was a good approach for a new novelist, as well, and planned to give away my book for free.

Heck, John Scalzi made his name by giving away his work, and he's doing pretty well now.

Only the pirates beat me to the punch and cracked a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982946708/?tag=CSSF-20" target="_blank">the Kindle version of my book, posted it to bittorrent sites, and posted links all over the web. So I'm playing catch-up with the pirates in a race to give away my work! It's available as a free .pdf download now; as I write this, a friend is converting the book into epub format, and I hope to offer more formats (html next) as soon as I can manage to make them. Not just sample chapters, but the whole darn thing.

Am I crazy? Well, when it comes down to it, it's already out there. As I see it, I'm losing nothing by giving it away. Now, we can have all kinds of ethical and philosophical debates at this point, wring our hands about the decline of civil society where people feel it's okay to take something that someone created, copy it, and give it away to others (or even charge for downloading it! One has to be a member of some of these forums to use 'em...), but that misses the point.

My book has been pirated and shared already. I can't stop that, and the methods necessary to create a pirate-free environment would transform the internet into something ugly and forbidding. Look at the Great Firewall of China. Do you want that? I don't. And even this unimaginably oppressive regime of censorship doesn't stop serious Chinese internet users who seek internet freedom.

Freedom isn't free, sez the dusty ghost. Musicians, movie-makers, authors, artists, and other creatives pay for the cool stuff we can get on teh interwebs - not with money (though, sure, that too; websites aren't free), but with creative energy that they could have used to make money. Before I turned to a life of teaching and fiction-writing, I worked in high-tech and used my creative energies to create software documentation. My career change cost me about $50k/year in salary and bonuses, not counting stock options and other perks. I no longer get fancy parties or logo-embroidered jackets or a 5th-floor office with windows overlooking forested hills and all that jazz.... But I love teaching. And when I'm not writing fiction, I get grouchy and unhappy. Will fiction-writing ever make up for the earnings I gave up in the transition from IT dude to teacher? Seriously doubtful, but that's not the point.

This is the same story for all creatives: Whatever you're doing for love is costing you greenbacks, probably a lot of 'em. If you were dealing crack or selling stocks or whatever, you'd earn a lot more dough. So there's a measurable cost to creative output. If - rather, when, because that's the reality of our times - someone pirates your work, be it a photograph or song or book or whatever, you are potentially giving up even more income that you could have earned from selling that work. To have created that work in the first place is to have cost yourself income due to the time and energy you expended to create it. So pirated work serves up a double-whammy, kicking you in the creative 'nads while you're down.

However! If someone encounters your art or book or movie or song or whatever via a friend's blog or in an email or wherever, and if they like it, and if - and this is important - if you are identified as the creator of that work, you've earned a new fan. This is someone who might potentially purchase your work, or at least spread the word to other like-minded people, some of whom might purchase your work. This was a functioning business model for Jim Baen's Universe, enough so that they paid pro rates for stuff they gave away. The idea is pretty simple: The more this happens - the more your work gets around for free - the greater the likelihood that someone will encounter it who'll buy it or make a donation to your PayPal tip jar. Assuming enough of these ethical folks see your work, potential losses from non-sales will be outweighed by the acquisition of new fans.

When it comes down to it, that's why we create stuff: To communicate whatever it is in our hearts that burns so strong that we are driven to create art and share it with others. To grab the stranger on the street by the collar and say, "Listen to this! I have something really important to say!"

Getting paid to do this just means we can continue to do more of it. I don't know any professional writers, artists, or musicians who honestly hope to get rich from their work. Though a lot of beginners have this motivation, few succeed, because creative fields simply aren't the best place to get rich. We do it for other reasons. If I could make a living writing fiction, would I give up teaching? It would mean another salary drop, similar to going from IT to the university, plus loss of more benefits like health insurance and so forth, but it would also mean giving up teaching, about which I am equally passionate. Happily, I won't have to face this dilemma any time soon.

But many creatives out there dream of earning enough from their art to pursue creative work full-time. It seems counter-intuitive to think that giving away one's creative output could serve that goal, but obscurity = poverty. Perhaps even worse, obscurity = no one can hear the really important thing you have to say. But if no one pays the creators, there'll be few creators to make the cool, quality stuff we love. Right here is the heart of the matter, and the eternal question regarding piracy and giving away our work. If I ever transition to full-time writing, I'd love to be able to earn enough to buy food and pay the bills. The only way to make that happen is to develop an audience now, enough of whom are willing to pay to enjoy my work later.

So am I bothered by my book getting ripped and torrented? Sure, at least I was when I first discovered the piracy. Now I see it as an irritant; I'm annoyed that the folks who ripped and shared it didn't ask if I was willing to give it away and let me handle that. Heck, I told an audience at ConQuesT (the Kansas City SF convention) last spring that I was going to give it away, and I've been telling people that ever since – and even wrote it on my website and blog! In fact, I'm a bit flattered that someone liked it enough to share it. But when people read my book in shadowy corners of the internet, I don't know about it. On the other hand, when they buy a Kindle edition or a paper copy, my publisher tracks those sales. When they download the ebooks from my website, I know about it. My primary motivation in writing is to share stories about things I can't not write about, so I want to know when people are reading it. I want to hear what they think about it!

So I urge you: If you enjoy a creative work - especially one you got for free! - tell the world about it. With my novel, at least, you needn't worry about getting caught, because I'm giving it away. Blog about it, post reviews at Amazon or Goodreads or wherever, and tell your friends whom you think might also like it. Post a link to my site where others can download it. Because those small efforts are payment-in-kind for my effort-cost to create the work and distribute it without demanding payment or imposing DRM on the free copies. Visit my my blog or Facebook page or send me an email to let me know what you think. Heck, buy a copy and give it to your local library or to a friend if you really liked it, but largely I simply want to know that I'm being read, that someone out there gets what I'm saying and is affected in some way by my work. It would be awesome if my writing could provide enough income to pay for a trip or fix the roof or so forth, but I'm not banking on it. I just don't want to be the idiot who worked his ass off for years to create something and then just let people run off with it without even saying, "Thanks."

I first encountered internet pirating a decade ago. My website contains a bunch of poetry, and some of the sex poems have made the rounds on various sites. I never expected to earn anything from those - they're poetry, famous for not making money! - so I found it flattering that people liked them enough to share with others. I wish the posters had at least identified me as the creator with link-backs to my site. To this day, when I find one of my poems on a site, I respond to those posts (when the site allows non-members to respond) something along the lines of, "Glad you liked it! Here's my website..." The moment that made giving away these works worth it was when a woman wrote to tell me that one of my poems had re-ignited her and her husband's sex life. (Yes, that was an appropriate response to the work *g*) Can an author ever hope for more than that? Also, a musician asked to use it as lyrics for what became one of his most popular songs.

That's what I'm talking about.

What did I earn from giving away those poems? Not much. But the value I got from my efforts was immense. I'm not willing to give up the exquisite freedom inherent in the Web as we know it today in order to make more money from my creative work. Trampling on net neutrality, imposing draconian safeguards over content, DRMing everything - these are baby-steps toward a Web that is not free. I give away my stuff because I want people to read what I have to say and then to tell others - and me! - what they think of it. I just don't want to be a chump about it; I want to make a little income from my efforts.

I'll let y'all know how my own experiment turns out: Will giving out my novel earn extra sales? That'll be tough to measure, because it's my debut novel, so I can't compare it to anything. My publisher might be able to guess a bit by comparing my sales to those of other SF books he publishes, but that won't say much more than what appeals to various market segments. But I hope to see results in the form of responses from readers. And maybe some of them will buy a copy of this or my next book!

EDIT: By the way, it's important to mention that I made prior arrangements with my publisher (and we put it into the contract) that I retain the right to sell or give away electronic editions of the book. In fact, he was very supportive of the idea, because Hadley Rille Books is a smaller press with a limited marketing budget, so he sees my giving it away as just another publicity tool.

EDIT2: I've been interviewed on this topic on the Lawrence Journal-World website, here. If digital freedom is important to you, check out the discussion! Some really good chat there.

Best,
Chris
So I discovered this morning that my novel, Transcendence, has been ripped (presumably from its Kindle edition) and file-shared all across teh intarwebs. Most irritating, perhaps, is that the top several hits on a Google search of my name and book title show torrent and file-sharing-club sites.

Here's how I responded:

  1. What? How can this be? I can't believe someone would rip and share my book without even letting me know!

  2. How dare they! The bastards! They didn't even ask, and none of them provide link-backs to my site.

  3. Maybe if I ask the torrent sites to take down the offending posts, this will go away.

  4. *boo-hoo*

  5. Hm. I guess this just means that I have at least one torrent-hack for a fan. Any exposure is good exposure, right?

  6. I know! I'll beat them at their own game and give it away, myself. Bwahahahaha!

So! If you want to help, let people know where they can get my novel:

My publisher's website with my book:
http://www.hadleyrillebooks.com/transcendence.html

Here's the link to Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982946708/?tag=CSSF-20

It's also been Kindled:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004BA5GJ0/?tag=CSSF-20

Powell's:
http://www.powells.com/biblio?PID=29700&cgi=product&isbn=9780982946701

Barnes & Noble:
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Transcendence/Christopher-McKitterick/e/9780982946701

Alibris:
http://www.alibris.com/booksearch.detail?invid=10473949295

And of course they can get it from my site, where people can download the whole thing in .pdf, .epub, or .html versions for free:
http://www.sff.net/people/mckitterick/Me/Transcendence1.htm

I also provide a link for people to drop me a donation if they choose:





Links to these will help alter Google's (and other search engines') algorithyms such that the torrent sites fall off. I'd appreciate your help!

Best,
Chris
So I happened to do a search on my book and discovered that the top results no longer link to my website (or Amazon or Powell's or Alibris or whatever) but instead to a wide variety of file-sharing networks.

Is this normal these days? Do I combat it by doing the same, offering my own free download on my website as an "official" way to get it free? Do I contact all the forum managers to remove such posts - or is that a Sisyphean effort? Or do I not try to combat it at all and learn to like it?

Huh!

EDIT: Or should I just take it as a compliment that someone liked it enough to share it? *sigh*

EDIT2: I've decided to fight fire with fire and just give it away electronically!

Thanks for any advice,
Chris
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