Sunday, February 28, 2010

Raising Money for Blood Cancer Research

A friend of mine from high school is raising money for research into blood cancers like leukemia.

Here's her fundraising page. I've already donated some money.

Even if you don't know her (I would imagine most of my readership does not), this is an exceedingly worthy cause and I would encourage you to help out.

Friday, February 26, 2010

On State Transit Funding and Gay Marriage...

Now I've gotten y'all's attention with this title, here's what I've got to say:

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has thrown his support behind a constitutional amendment would enable twelve regions within the state to vote to have a penny tax used to fund transportation projects in their areas.

However, he wants this to wait until 2012, to give the economy time to rebound.

I'm torn about this.  Until I read the first article, I thought the state didn't have a good reason to wait until 2012.  It's not like there's no time to put it on the ballot--the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Georgia was on the ballot eight months after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled gay marriage constitutional in that state.  I was going to make some snarky remark about the state legislature caring more about that than about the vital issue of the state's transportation infrastructure.

However, the GPB article makes more sense.  Tax increases aren't popular when economic times are bad and even a mechanism to allow people to tax themselves at some future date (as this regional tax would be) would likely suffer from that, even if it would not immediately impose any tax increases.  It would be better to propose a constitutional amendment two years later and have it pass than to propose a constitutional amendment now and have it fail.

On the other hand, the House and Senate have deadlocked on this matter two years in a row.  I should know--I wrote the stories on it for my paper.  Not ramming it through now could provide additional opportunities for deadlocking, delaying it even more.

Furthermore, the state is on the verge of losing an $87 million federal earmark for an Atlanta-Griffin passenger rail line.  That would be the first leg of an Atlanta-Macon line, which would have both economic and environmental benefits: 

For example, If I could take the train from Griffin or McDonough to the proposed intermodal station in Atlanta and then use MARTA for church, Thrashers games, DragonCon, etc. I'd do it.  That'd save me some gas money and I could read, write, or just look out the window while I'm moving instead of having to pay attention to the road.  Plus I wouldn't be contributing to Atlanta's smog.

(I am but one person, but multiply me by thousands.  Plus there are people who commute to Atlanta from the Southside every day who contribute much more to the traffic and smog problems.  A passenger rail line could go a long way to fixing these problems.)

Plus, in the city where I work, I remember hearing about how a few years ago, when it looked like commuter rail would come to the city, there was a lot of investment in the northern part of town where the rail station would likely go.  Given how that's the poorer part of the city, that investment was needed.  With the rail line, many outlying cities would become "bedroom communities" and attract more residents and investment, benefiting their economies.

There's also the benefit to the state rail system.  The rail lines in Georgia "radiate" from Atlanta and Macon--which are not connected to each other.  An Atlanta-Macon line could greatly improve the rail network in general and make rail connection with other states easier.

(I hope endorsing these arguments doesn't make me a Keynesian.)

The regional transit tax could make providing the necessary local funding easier.  This might be the state's last chance to get the money needed to implement passenger rail without blowing the state's budget.

So what do you all think?  Is voting on it this November a better idea vs. voting on it in 2012?

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Thundercats" Script Is Down

It seems that the Thundercats movie script I found and read (part of) this morning has been taken down from the site hosting it.

Drat.  I was going to read the whole thing and write a full review of it.

This site here has got some bullet points about the script that indicate they've read the entire thing.

No Snarf.  That seems like a good idea.  Making Panthro purple, not so much.

Here're my comments on what I read before it was removed:

Lion-O in general is depicted simply young and in need of seasoning.  In the original cartoon, he physically aged but mentally did not (due to some glitch in his suspended-animation pod), which strikes me as somewhat ridiculous.  This situation seems much more realistic.

I liked what they did with Jaga--he was Lion-O's mentor and in charge of piloting the ship while the others were in suspended animation.  Rather than die of old age en route (and then returning sometimes as a ghost), he died in an attack by the Mutants on the cats' ship as it came to the planet it was supposed to guide other ships full of Thunderan refugees to.

Speaking of that, I liked how they handled the end of Thundera.  The planet's star was changing (like how, someday, our sun will balloon and swallow the inner solar system) and so they sent out a ship to find a new world, with arks of refugees following.  It seems more "hard SF" than the original series, which at one point included people breathing in space.

Wiley Kit and Wiley Kat are also adults, not annoying kids.  That strikes me as a good idea.

I wonder if the fact the script got taken down indicates that the film is a going concern?  I'd heard different things from different sources.

Thundercats Movie Script Leaked

Here's what appears to be a script for a new ThunderCats movie.

I've read only to page 19 at present.  Thus far, it appears more scientifically "hard" than the animated series was, although that doesn't strike me as being that difficult.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Warhammer 40K Movie?

Found this online today. It seems there's going to be an animated movie set in the Warhammer 40,000 science-fiction universe centered around the Ultramarines chapter of the Space Marines (or the Adeptus Astartes, for you purists out there).

It seems it'll be created using the same kind of motion-capture technology used in the recent Beowulf film (the one with Angelina Jolie, which can be purchased here).

This could be really cool.  I'm not a big Ultramarine fan (my favorite 40K factions are the Tyranids and Chaos Marines, although I'll concede the UMs are far higher on the moral food chain than those two), but any 40K movie, even a direct-to-DVD one, promises to be rather cool.  Although direct-to-DVD films tend to be bad, this means less pressure to change the storyline to make it more commercial (adding unnecessary romantic plots, for example).

For those of you who want more information on the Ultramarines, there's a 40K Wiki with lots of info here. It turns out there's also written fiction about the Ultramarines, which can be purchased here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Just Added a Blog-Roll

Just added a list of blogs belonging to people I know to the sidebar of my page.

This does not imply an endorsement (or dis-endorsement) of any opinion contained therein.

I'm posted these blogs because they belong to friends or family members.

Productivity Update

This weekend has been a fairly productive one. I've revised Chapter Two of Escape from the Wastelands according to many of the suggestions of the Kennesaw writing group, with some work of Chapter One besides.

I'm going to have the Lawrenceville group I'm also a member of take a look at Chapter Two. I've got a couple of weeks to finish Chapter Three and send it to the Kennesaw group, since I will not be able to attend this week's writing group due to work obligations.

Chapter Three's going to be a long, brutal one. In this one, most of the characters we've met so far die. Nobody said the transformation of the protagonist from a callow youth into something resembling Stephen King's Gunslinger would be easy.

I've also written five chapters in the last six days for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Reboot." Considering I hadn't updated the story since last November (!), I figured I ought to compensate my readers for this tardiness.

The story can be read here:

Revenge of the Fallen Reboot

For those of you who don't know me, some explanations are in order:

I saw the movie in July 2009 and though I enjoyed it, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how poorly thought out the plot was and how many things could have been done better.

I really didn't like Alice-the-Lustbot and the silly squabbling between Sam and Mikaela about who should say they loved the other first. So much more could have been done with Starscream and Jetfire and to pretend like the events of the first film (particularly the Battle of Mission City) could possibly be covered up was ridiculous.

However, anyone can complain. Doing something constructive, however, is something else. So I decided to reimagine the concept, much like how Ron Moore had taken the good-concept-but-cheesy-execution Battlestar Galactica of the 1970s and made it something really cool.

It's about half-finished now. 17,231 hits and 151 reviews. Hope y'all enjoy it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

An Interesting Story (Well, Part of One)

John Joseph Adams (he who liked "Palma" but rejected it) is putting out an anthology entitled Seeds of Change in which science-fiction is used to take on issues like global warming, peak oil, racism, etc.

On one of my Internet forums, someone posted an article about the possibility of cloning the Neanderthal Man and whether this would be practical or ethical.

Here's the article:

Should We Clone Neanderthals?

Someone posted a link to one of the stories in JJA's anthology, which covers this very topic (I think it uses the possibility of cloning Neanderthals to discuss racism in our world).

"N-Words" by Ted Kosmatka

It's an excerpt and it's not the "pow-pow LASER" type of science-fiction, but it's really interesting.

About whether or not to clone Neanderthals, I posited on my forum that if you cloned one, had it raised by ordinary parents, and observed the results, that would be doable.

After all, you're not putting something that's essentially human (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis or Homo neanderthalensis) in a cage and poking it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My Farm Subsidies Editorial

Imagine you’re a cotton farmer in West Africa. One day, the man who comes to buy your cotton to be exported does not show up. You go to the marketplace and find there is nobody willing to buy your cotton. In fact, there is cheaper cotton available from abroad.

You now cannot sell your crop, or at least you cannot sell it for very much. You need to buy food and fertilizer, and your children need medicine and money to pay for schooling. You’re in trouble now.

Are these the workings of the free market? No. The reason the foreign cotton was able to price the West African cotton out of the market is because it came from the United States and was heavily subsidized.

Cotton subsidies are one of the most notorious examples of government agricultural supports and it gives American cotton producers an unfair advantage over more efficient producers abroad. For example, in Burkina Faso, it costs one-third as much to produce cotton as it does in the United States. According to the British aid agency Oxfam, the only clear advantage American cotton growers have over competitors in Africa is their ability to get government subsidies.

If American cotton subsidies were eliminated, the income of West African cotton farmers would increase 2.3 to 5.7 percent. This additional income could pay for health care for four to ten individuals for an entire year, schooling for one to ten children, or enough food to feed one or two children for an entire year. American cotton subsidies are more than double the amount of humanitarian aid we send to these countries every year.

Cotton subsidies aren’t the only villain. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, heavily-subsidized American corn has flooded Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement, never mind the fact that “dumping” is illegal. According to The Public Citizen, this corn is 30 percent below cost and Mexican farmers cannot compete with this. This has destroyed much of Mexico’s agriculture and caused widespread hunger among the 15 million Mexicans who depend on the corn industry.

According to the World Bank, if First World nations eliminated all agricultural subsidies and tariffs, 144 million people would be pulled out of extreme poverty by 2015. In the case of Africa, if the continent increased its exports by 1 percent, it would generate an additional $70 billion each year, more than five times the amount the continent receives in foreign aid.

Not only are American agricultural subsidies destructive to foreign economies, but they are destructive to our own. American agricultural producers already received enormous sums of money when then-President George W. Bush added an addition $190 billion over 10 years in farm subsidies to the federal budget. In a time of deficits, recession, and war, this kind of spending to essentially secure the votes of Iowans cannot be tolerated.

Furthermore, the practice of subsidizing agriculture puts the U.S. government in the position of both causing and treating major American health problems. Corn subsidies make products containing unhealthy high-fructose corn syrup cheaper and thus more easily purchased and consumed in enormous quantities.

High-fructose corn syrup contributes to many health problems like obesity and diabetes and those cost money. According to the New York Times, three-fourths of health-care spending goes to prevent “preventable chronic diseases,” many of which are caused by a poor diet. For example, U.S. spends $147 billion to treat obesity and $116 billion to treat diabetes, as well as hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular diseases and other cancers that result from the typical unhealthy American diet. 30 percent of the increase in health-care spending in the United States in the last 20 years can be attributed to obesity alone. If corn subsidies were cut, the amount spent on health care in this country would decline greatly.

Furthermore, by destroying the Mexican corn industry, farm subsidies have also contributed to illegal immigration. The former farmers in Mexico, not content to starve at home, have come to the United States regardless of whether it is legal for them to do so. According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, illegal immigration costs state, local, and federal governments $45 billion to $55 billion per year.

Although the farm subsidies were originally intended to preserve small family farms, the primary beneficiaries of federal largesse are not these farmers, but large agribusinesses. Nearly three-fourths of all subsidies went to the top 10 percent of agribusinesses in 2001. For example, Arkansas Tyler Farms received $8.1 million in subsidies, 90,000 times the average payment of $899. Several Fortune 500 companies like Chevron and John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance receive large sums. These subsidies enable agribusinesses to buy out family farms or undercut them using economies of scale. This produces what one government official has called “the plantation effect.”

In short, Americans are being taxed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, at home and abroad, and to make themselves fatter besides.

President Barack Obama, in one of the few fiscally conservative things he has done, has advocated cutting these subsidies. In his Fiscal Year 2010 budget, subsidy payments to farmers making over $500,000 per year are being phased out, as are subsidies for cotton storage. The elimination of storage payments alone will save $570 million, while eliminating payments to high-income farmers will save $126 million. Eliminating direct payments to farms with sales over $500,000 will save $9.765 billion, while abolishing federal payment of crop insurance premiums and underwriting gains and fees will save $5.184 billion.

The above figures do not include the reduction in health-care costs that the resulting price increases in soft drinks will entail, the reduction in foreign aid that the enrichment of countries whose agriculture we are destroying will make possible, and the reduction in the costs of illegal immigration.

Earlier versions of this column appeared on the blog “Seeking Liberty,” in The Red and Black, and The Griffin Daily News.

“Seeking Liberty”

The Real Cost of Agricultural Subsidies

The Red and Black

Farm Subsidies Create Poverty

The Griffin Daily News

Agricultural Subsidies a Drain on the Budget

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

RIP, Charlie Wilson

Charlie Wilson is dead

Charlie Wilson, he of the film Charlie Wilson's War, party animal and driving force behind the arming of the anti-Soviet mujahadeen during the Afghan-Soviet War, is dead.

I propose a moment of silence for the man who helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union by ensuring the mujhadeen had the tools they needed to give the Communists their own Vietnam instead of just dying fruitlessly as they did in the early days of the war.

(In the book Soldiers of God, written by an American journalist who traveled with the mujahadeen, he described how the Stinger antiaircraft missiles the US gave the guerrillas kept the Soviets from deploying their helicopters in certain areas and how in these places, refugees came back and resumed farming. The Stingers brought the return of life to war-desolated places.)

And unlike many Americans who lost interest in Afghanistan once the Soviets were gone, Wilson advocated the US help the Afghans put their country back together again. We didn't, the Muj started fighting each other, and the Taliban eventually filled the power vacuum, the Taliban who hosted al-Qaeda.

RIP, Charlie Wilson.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My First Real Post

Okay, looks like I'll hold off on changing the template for now.

This blog will primarily be focused on my freelance writing, although I'll likely comment a fair bit on politics and maybe religion besides.

Here's the most recent news on the writing front...

I spent Super Bowl Sunday, when not setting up this blog, revising "Melon Heads" and preparing "Picking Up Plans in Palma" for submission.

I originally intended "MH" to be posted on this blog to expose some people to my writing, but then I found an anthology called "Extreme Creatures" on that pays a half-cent per word for thematically-appropriate stories. I don't ordinarily like to send my work to a place paying that little, but something is better than nothing and may story was appropriate for it.

After all, it's based on this urban legend here:

I found it when I was a freshman at UGA and figured these fellows would make nice, unique monsters. I've been working on the story for the last 6.5 years now. I think I might have come close to selling an earlier, crappier version to the webzine Feral Fiction, but the webzine failed. I'm now running out of places to send it.

"Picking Up Plans in Palma" is a spy story set in my Afrikaner universe, an alternate-history scenario where the Dutch settle southern Africa 200+ years earlier than our world. The 20th Century is dominated by a Cold War between the US and its allies (Europe, Russia, Australia, some democratic African states) and a gigantic apartheidish entity that includes most of Africa, southern Arabia, India, and much of southeast Asia and its allies (Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, Thailand, and a Sikh state located where Pakistan is in our world). I've got various versions of the timeline on an alternate-history forum I've been a member of since 2001-2002 and maybe I'll link to it here someday.

I've sent "Palma" to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed, a new webzine run by John Joseph Adams, the former slush editor at FSF. I got a "didn't work for me" rejection from FSF, which indicates they at least read all the the way through, while Adams said he liked the story but it didn't win him over. He invited me to send him more stuff.

So I sent "Palma" to Analog, which should respond in a month or so. I sent "Coil Gun," another Afrikaner story, to the British magazine Interzone. It's been nearly three months. If they don't respond sooner or later, I'll send it to Lightspeed. It's more overtly SF than "Palma," since it deals with war in space, so maybe Adams will like it.

I'm also going to try to finish my two outstanding fan-fiction projects "Lord of the Werewolves" and the "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Reboot" hopefully in the next few months. I'll probably finish "LOTWW" within the next month or so, since there are only three or four chapters left; "ROTF-R" will take a bit longer, since it's only halfway completed.

Both of them can be found here.

Then I'll be able to focus all of my energy on my original writing projects, including my unfinished steampunk post-apocalyptic Western (try saying that five times fast) "Escape from the Wastelands," which I hope to finish late this year or early next year.

I've added seven pages to it today, mostly in the later phases of the beginning (before the protagonist ends up in the middle of the giant desert by himself, with only nomads and post-nuclear mutants for company).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Just Starting Out...

Hey everybody. Just starting out.

Serious content will be coming later, once I get a better template.