Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Brief Retraction Re: My Birth-Control Article

I posted the NYT link and the link to my blog in the Chat forum of my alternate-history site, in order to drum up discussion and hits for the blog.

The user whose handle is Blairwitch749 works in the health-care industry--and has gotten in some mighty battles with the pro-national health care contigent, which is mostly European--and he didn't think making hormonal birth control over-the-counter was such a good idea.

He went into a great deal of detail about how doctors do extensive blood-testing, calibration for the recipient's weight, etc. to ensure they've got it right when they prescribe hormonal birth control.  If a doctor's involvement is required to that degree, keeping it a prescription drug might be prudent, or at least the matter should be discussed more thoroughly first.

Due to the fact I am not 100% sure BW is correct on the matter (I have not independently verified the process) and the fact that a large thrust of my earlier comments were a defense of secularism in government from a Christian perspective, I will leave the older article up.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Food and Drug Administration Being Stupid


The FDA has refused to allow a boy who was recently very badly burned to undergo a procedure in which his own skin cells are cultured and transplanted.  Instead, they will try to fix his burns with skin from his scalp and scrotum.

(Speaking as a male, the latter part doesn't sound healthy.)

I cannot think of any legitimate reason for the FDA to refuse to allow the boy to undergo this experimental treatment, especially since the family wants it.  If they're concerned about the boy's well-being, they can always make the family sign a waiver.

This is so aggravating I rejoined http://www.congress.org/, which enables one to write one's state and federal representatives with just one click, in order to write Obama, both Senators, and my U.S. Representative (Lynn Westmoreland) asking them to put pressure on the FDA to reverse their decision.

If the rest of you can do that as well, we might see the idiocy logjam being broken.  It strikes me as a case of bureaucracy, so sufficient public outrage should be enough to force them to change their minds.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Revisions and Feminism

Just revised and re-submitted my story "Westernmost Throne" to Daverana Enterprises for inclusion in a possible eBook/print collection.  It's now twice as long (2,181 words vs. 1,004 words) and features a stronger female protagonist.

The story was first titled "He Who Sits on the Westernmost Throne" and told the tale of a campaign secretary who discovers her boss--a senator named Richard Sanchez who is on the verge of being elected president--is really 3,000 years old and has made a covenant with some kind of evil supernatural entity in exchange for immortality and supernatural powers.  The following prophecy is made by the evil power...

“He who wields the Amulet of Fire and sits in the westernmost throne shall rule the wide world forever. I will live in him and he will live in Me."

The story was originally written for a "political horror" contest the Athens alternative paper Flagpole was putting on around the time of the 2004 election.  Therefore, I had a strict word count of 1,000 words.  The original story ended with the senator announcing to the secretary that she would be his queen when he took over the world and leaning in to kiss her.  She screams when she sees his tongue is forked...

Thing is, the stories in my collection are very male-dominated.  There aren't many female characters and a significant number of them are damsel-in-distress types (some English girls abducted by Vikings, a woman attacked by an evil immortal hoping to corrupt her boyfriend, and a teenage noblewoman kidnapped by an oceanic snake-prince who hopes to marry her).  The latter I deliberately wrote as a subversion of that trope (I have her throwing the protagonist a dart when he is being beaten by the villain, enabling him to turn the tables, and then she quizzes him to make sure he's whom he claims he is), but that's one story out of around 10.

(Part of this has to do with the fact I hold men who abuse women in special disdain and writing them as villains enables me to kill them in various creative ways, but this could be interpreted as me thinking women weak and in need of saving, which is both insulting and commercially-unviable.  This isn't the 30s with its brass-brassiered heroines menaced by tentacled beasties anymore.)

In the revised story, protagonist Karen Hutchinson physically resists Sanchez's advances and a brawl breaks out.  She tears away the Amulet of Fire and then smashes it, causing Sanchez to age 3,000 years in a few seconds and die.  She then realizes that if Sanchez is found dead, she will be a suspect in his death and by telling the police that he was 3,000 years old, had made deals with demons, attempted to rape her, and then was going to take over the world would make her look like an insane murderess.

Then the evil power starts to speak to her.  Tempted by her desire to avoid jail (and to be free of the fear of violent men many women have and possibly implement Sanchez's political agenda, which she agreed with), she takes up the ruby from the amulet and becomes the evil power's new agent.

I suspect someone will say that she's not really a strong woman because she gives into temptation rather than doing the right thing, regardless of the consequences, but at the same time, she is much less passive (saving herself rather than waiting for someone else to save her) and becomes much more physically powerful.  Assuming she becomes like Sanchez, this means living for thousands of years, being able to teleport, greatly augmented physical strength, etc.  Female empowerment, literally.

In You Suck: A Love Story, the female protagonist (who was transformed into a vampire in the previous book, Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story) wanders the streets in a bad part of town at night and, when cat-called by some gang members, talks trash right back.  She ponders how before, as a woman, she was always afraid of being robbed, raped, etc., but thanks to her transformation, she doesn't need to worry about that anymore.

(In the prior book, three street criminals attack her at a laundry at 3 AM and she proceeds to tear two of them apart and seriously wound a third.  You go, girl.)

My protagonist undergoes a similar transformation--although not a vampire, she doesn't need to fear odious men anymore.  I pity any D.C. hooligan who tries to bother her on her way home at night.

I also upgraded her job.  Originally, Karen was a secretary of some indeterminate sort, a stereotypically female job.  In the new version, she's Sanchez's press secretary (or at least one of them), a very powerful position.  Furthermore, she is described as having gotten the position rather young, indicating talent on her part.  Hopefully this will make her a stronger female character.

Also, my friend Rob sent me an article about how fantasy is becoming more successful than science fiction because it is more inclusive of women and strong female roles, while SF is becoming increasingly male-dominated and militaristic.  Having a heroine who kills a would-be rapist and takes his place as a powerful supernatural being strikes me as something many women would appreciate more than damsel-in-distress roles and hopefully this will increase my sales.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In Defense of General McChrystal...

General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has been summoned to the White House after Rolling Stone published an article in which McChrystal's aides mock various federal officials and claim that McChrystal said certain unflattering comments about Obama himself.  The two will be meeting today and it is possible the meeting will endw ith McChrystal's resignation or even his firing.

Here's the article:


Many people believe he should be relieved of command, as Douglas MacArthur was when he attempted to go around President Harry Truman in order to attack targets in China during the Korean War.  They say this is essential toward maintaining civilian control of the military.

Thing is, MacArthur's situation and McChrystal's situation are two entirely different things.

For starters, it is indisputable that MacArthur appealed to Congressional leaders after Truman vetoed his plans.  However, from what I've read, the aides are saying McChrystal said these things--McChrystal is not on-record as saying these things himself.  Although healthy whistle-blowing should be encouraged to prevent wrongdoing, we don't want to have a culture of denunciation like existed in Stalin's Russia during the purges.

(This was something I learned in my Modern Russia class in college--the purges weren't just Stalin commanding people be killed or imprisoned, but a full-blown popular hysteria, a witch hunt, against "wreckers" and spies.)

The most damning, insubordinate comments are not even alleged to have come from McChrystal.  They come from his aides.  The aides allege McChrystal said Obama looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" at a meeting with his generals, but it was someone else who went on arant against Joe Biden.

A member of my alternate-history forum whose handle is Skokie cited this regulation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice online yesterday:

Punitive Articles of the UCMJ

Article 88—Contempt toward officials

“Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
McChrystal made some unpleasant remarks about an ambassador, but an ambassador does not fall under those rules.  Furthermore, McChrystal's alleged remarks about Obama are not necessarily "contemptuous."  In and of themselves, they aren't insulting, plus, in context, he might not have been criticizing Obama himself.
(Perhaps he was criticizing the generals for making Obama uncomfortable?)
However, the above regulations definitely nail the aides.  If McChrystal is punished, it should be for allowing his aides to get themselves into trouble (or, if the article accurately describes him as usurping the prerogatives of the State Department, for that), not for alleged insubordination on his part.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Case for Making Birth Control Pills Over-the-Counter

I was reading the New York Times today and I came across the following opinion column:


I think it's time for my regularly-scheduled controversial opinion, so here goes...

I think it would be a good idea to make birth-control pills over-the-counter instead of requiring a doctor's prescription. 

In my opinion, drugs should be prescription-only if they're dangerous enough to need a doctor's guidance in their uses or if misuse would cause large-scale problems--think all these diseases we've thought we'd conquered becoming antibiotic-resistant because people don't finish their antibiotic prescriptions or badger doctors into prescribing them unnecessarily.

According to the article, which was written by someone who knows what they're talking about, the first situation is not an issue.  I've googled progestin, the one the author believes should be made over-the-counter first, and I can't really find anything about dangers from it.

Since there aren't any negative effects to the wider society I can think of, I do not think whether or not one can buy birth control pills over-the-counter or not is really any of the government's business.

Now I'll discuss something that will inevitably come up if someone proposes this--religion and its associated morality.  I'll stick with Christianity, since it's my own religion and the most influential religion in the United States.

If birth control were more widely available and people knew how to use it, there would be fewer unplanned pregnancies and thus fewer abortions.  If abortion is morally equivalent to killing (aka unjustified in most circumstances), it is imperative that abortions be reduced.  This will help accomplish that.  Fewer unplanned pregnancies means a smaller burden on both public and private charitable assistance, making more resources available for people in that unfortunate situation.  This in turn will make abortion--something few women contemplate with relish, based on the reports I've heard about women coming out of these clinics crying--less attractive.

Now, onto sex.  It is true that Christianity teaches sex outside of marriage is immoral and it is true that, if oral contraceptives were more widely available, I would imagine more sex outside of marriage would occur, since it would reduce the danger of unplanned pregnancy.

That being said, I don't think the number of people deterred from having sex outside of marriage by merely having to get a prescription for birth control pills is all that large.  It strikes me as more probable that people simply take the risk, which circles back to my point about abortion.  Basically, they're for the most part going to sin anyway and cause more problems for both themselves and others without oral contraceptives than without.  It's a lesser-evil argument; although an individual may choose to reject both the lesser evil and the greater evil and bear the consequences, this is not practical for governance.

Furthermore, it's not just people having sex outside of marriage who use oral contraceptives, but also married people who, for various reasons, wish to delay having children.  The Bible condemns sex outside of marriage; beyond 1 Corinthians 7:5 (in which spouses are told not to deny one another sex, lest the other partner be tempted to commit adultery), I do not recall any New Testament commandments pertaining to sex within marriage.

(There is the Old Testament case of Onan, who "spilled his seed upon the ground" and got zapped from on high, but he didn't want to father children in his brother's name AT ALL, not just at a more convenient time.  Claiming that story is a commandment against all birth control is reading too much into it.)

On a wider note, it is imprudent to have the government serve as an enforcer for our particular theology or moral code.  After all, someday we might lose our cultural and political dominance (some of the long-term trends don't look good) and we don't want the precedent we set to be used against us. 

The Founding Fathers created a secular government for this reason; they saw the wars of religion in Europe and the mutual persecution depending on which sect was in power (England, in which the Catholic Henry VIII persecuted Protestants until he became one himself and then began persecuting Catholics, comes to mind).  Unless it is a public matter--and for the reasons I've outlined above, oral contraception is not--the law should not be involved.

Let us remember that the secularly-governed United States is the most religious developed country, while the European countries that had state churches of one flavor or another have become extremely secularized.  It was our ancestors' tendency to use government to enforce the predominance of their sect that contributed to the decline of Christianity in Europe--let us remember that Deism emerged in the aftermath of the religious wars.

Furthermore, nowhere does the New Testament suggest that Christians should seek to take control of the government and use it to serve "Christian" ends.  In fact, in 1 Timothy 2:2 in which Paul exhorts his associate Timothy to pray for "kings and all those in authority," it is not so that they may become Paul and Timothy's enforcers, but so that they might leave the early Christians alone.

Friday, June 18, 2010

News Article Round-Up

I periodically send myself Internet links home to blog about, but they stack up in my Inbox because I find something else more immediately interesting before I can get to them.

So I'm going to put all of them together in this entry, with commentary.


This article compares the Drug War to Prohibition and does a good job proving why the Drug War, like Prohibition, is a bad idea.  The author also compares the end of Prohibition during the Depression--to get tax revenue from alcohol--and said the current economic climate provides an incentive to legalize and tax currently-illegal narcotics.


An offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes.  This would be a really good idea.  It might cost a bit in the short run, but it would reduce coal/fossil fuel consumption in the long run and provide high-tech jobs.  And luckily, there aren't any Kennedies to muck up this project like they did with Cape Wind in Massachusetts.


Okay, this is getting ridiculous.  We can't go into our bloody parks because hooligans have taken it over.  Although legalizing and taxing drugs will take business away from the cartels, getting that accomplished will take far more effort than changing the laws to allow the Border Patrol and other law enforcement to use vehicles in national parks.  The criminals are already damaging the environment in the parks and are going to keep on doing it, so it's not like avoiding using vehicles in this scenario is going to be a net benefit for the environment.


Some good news from Afghanistan.  The Iraq War was an unnecessary distraction from fighting al-Qaeda and other Islamists, but copying the successful "Sons of Iraq" model used to help quell the Sunni insurgency seems to be working in Afghanistan.

Of course, we need to be sure these militias are being integrated into the Afghan government as to ensure long-run stability after we leave.


This deals with one of the problems with electric cars--where to recharge--rather nicely.  Some privacy concerns, but electric-usage data is something the power company already collects (and the government could subpoena if it wished), so no need to flip out.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Just Ordered Two Books

Just ordered Hiero's Journey and The Unforsaken Hiero off Amazon.com's ZShops, where one can buy used books cheaply.

I read both of these books when I was in high school, if I recall correctly.  Back then, I was a regular haunter of the Cobb County Public Library System.  I think I found Hiero's Journey at the Mountain View Public Library, where I went if the now-defunct Merchant's Walk library was closed (Mountain View was open on Sunday) or if I wanted access to more books.

The series takes place 5,000 years after "The Death"--a 1970s-era nuclear war--and follows Per (Father) Hiero Desteen, a telepathic Metis (mixed French and Indian) Catholic priest from present-day western Canada, as he travels into the post-apocalyptic US (which was affected much worse than Western Canada) in search of computer technology.  He needs this so his abbey can organize its hard-copy files (of which it has a lot) to glean militarily-useful technology and fight off the Brotherhood of the Unclean, a coalition of of evil descendants of defense-industry scientists intent on ruling the world.

(That this organization would maintain its purpose for 5,000 years is a bit ridiculous.  I would have set the story perhaps 100 to 200 years after The Death.)

Hiero's Journey was better than The Unforsaken Hiero, but they're both part of the same series (and the second book wasn't bad--there's an ancient intelligent telepathic giant snail named Solitaire who became self-aware as a result of The Death and is kind of cool), so I felt like owning the whole thing.  Both books have been out of print for a long time, so I was able to snap up two copies for around a buck each, plus shipping and handling.

It is unfortunate Sterling E. Lanier lost interest in the series, never finished it, and now will never finish it (he's dead). The second novel ends with Hiero and some friends setting off for present-day Florida, where some evil power has taken his girlfriend (priestly celibacy is no longer required) and some others captive. I would have loved to read a third book and it would be nice if some of his family members have access to his notes and can finish his story.

(Heck, the time may come where I may produce a movie based on those books.  The remnant technology depicted might need to be updated a bit, but it's doable.)

The first book exerted some influence over my novel Escape from the Wastelands.  I was at the Lawrenceville writing group once and, bored with a particular submission being discussed, wrote a scene for later in the story where my protagonist Andrew Sutter confronts a "thirsty ghost," some kind of post-apocalyptic nuclear mutant vampire, in the sandy ruins of an Old World city after he becomes separated from the army of Karras Merrill.

My inspiration for that scene was from Hiero's Journey, where Hiero encounters some kind of evil telepathic humanoid in the swamps and narrow escapes what is hinted to be a Fate Worse Than Death (a fate described as both physical pain and psychological bondage) thanks to the help of a bear with whom he'd telepathically established a friendship.  The Dweller in the Mist, the evil in question, was pretty creepy, and even the villainous Brotherhood of the Unclean fear it as something older and more powerful than they.

The "thirsty ghost" that Andrew encounters is a bit less tough of a customer than the Dweller in the Mist, but then, Andrew is on his own except for his horse, which is terrified of the creature and is little help.  I hope I can write a sequence as good as author Sterling Lanier did.

Unfortunately for my readers who are members of my Kennesaw and Lawrenceville writing groups, we won't meet the "thirsty ghost" until many, many chapters from now.  I just finished the first draft of Chapter Six, which will be my contribution to the 6/26 meetup of the Kennesaw group.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Ultramarines" Teaser Released

On my alternate-history forum, where I first learned about the Ultramarines film I blogged about earlier, the user whose handle is BlackWave posted the following trailer.

He didn't think very highly of it.  He flat-out said "it sucks."

I disagreed.  The credits sequence is a bit trippy and shoddy and the animation quality could be better, but they assembled a very good voice cast.  Terrence Stamp, John Hurt, and Sean Pertwee are fairly well-known actors; Stamp himself has been active since the 1960s at least.

I'll wait until I can see more to state whether or not this one is good or bad, but I am inclined to reserve judgement.

A Possible Home for "Coil Gun" and "Picking Up Plans in Palma"

On my alternate-history Internet forum, one of our members posted a link to an anthology publishing stories dealing with alternate-history and time travel.


I currently have "Coil Gun" under consideration at Tales of the Unanticipated and "Picking Up Plans in Palma" under consideration at Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, both of which pay better and are more prestigious markets than this anthology.

However, Tales will have its response back to me by August 31 and IGMS should respond by August or September.  Since the anthology's deadline is mid-October, I'll have time to tinker some more and send them one, since they don't accept multiple submissions.

Still pondering writing a screenplay version of "Palma," but I haven't done anything on that end yet.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Revising "Escape from the Wastelands," Self-Publishing, and a Character's Blog

I've spent the last couple of hours waffling between surfing the Internet (including an earlier update on this blog) and revising my novel Escape from the Wastelands.

At my Kennesaw writing group yesterday, in addition to pointing out some issues with the latest version of Chapter Five, one member said that my sentences tending to be long and have a lot of commas.  This slowed the reader down.  This is rather ironic, given how in both the Kennesaw writing group and especially in my Lawrenceville writing group, I regularly leave comments on manuscripts with such advice as "break up this sentence" or "this should be its own sentence," in order to make things punchier.

So I've been going over the first five chapters of Escape, practicing what I preach.  This issue is particularly bad in the earlier chapters, although it is less so in the later chapters where there's more violence and, consequently, shorter, punchier sentences.

I'll finish this process with Escape (and make the last revisions to Chapter Five) this afternoon.  I'll apply this to my other writings later on.

Also, when I was hanging out with my folks yesterday, my Dad gave me a Wall Street Journal article he'd saved about Print on Demand, self-publishing, eBooks, and other related topics.  I was already aware of this topic to some degree, since I used it as the basis for my blog post on the possible return of the pulp magazines.  However, this one had a lot of specific information on different entities like Apple and Amazon, who publish eBooks for their respective electronic platforms.  Amazon currently offers authors who publish with them 70% of the money, while Apple is going to do the same.

I'm currently working on a collection of short fiction with Daverana Enterprises, but if that project falls through, I might give Amazon or some similar service a try.  Between my own theories, the stuff my Dad gave me, and an e-mail from my friend Nick last week, this is starting to look interesting.

Here's the article:


Also, I came across this blog I'd read a long time ago and I still think is rather cool.


Basically, Darth Vader is telling his life story--and, more particularly, the events of the original trilogy--via the mechanism of a blog.  It's funny in places and quite interesting in places.  For example, the entry "The Tao of Sith" is a fascinating look at Sith philosophy.

I've got another unfinished novel entitled The Gates of Vasharia.  This project is a significantly more complex than the Wastelands novels and deals with issues I don't have a lot of experience with, like marriage, the trauma of civil war, etc.  That's one reason I've decided to put it aside and finish Escape first.

As a means of viral marketing for the Vasharia novels when I finish them, I wondered if I should have a blog from the perspective of Patrick Sain Rassam, the Dux Primoris of the armies of Mahonistan (one of Vasharia's two continents), known by his supporters as the Wolf King and by his enemies as the Dark Lord.

Patrick is not a villain like Vader, but an anti-hero.  He has virtues (bravery, loyalty, honor, intelligence, martial skill, vision, and a strong sense of fairness), but many character flaws (social clutziness, holding grudges, a quick temper, a guilt complex, insecurity, pettiness, a bit of an ends-justify-the-means mentality, and a propensity to, in TVTropes terms, to Pay Evil Unto Evil) that contribute to several acts that are, how shall I put delicately, extremely ethically dubious.  The fact he surrounds himself with the trappings of supervillainy as means of dealing with his insecurity and intimidating his enemies doesn't help.

A blog from his perspective could be used as a viral marketing strategy (much like how the creators of Cloverfield created web-sites for a soft drink that plays a role in the film), provide insights into Patrick's past and mindset that aren't revealed in the books (most of the first novel is told from the perspective of Patrick's comrade-turned-enemy Dux Cal Grenville, who is the real protagonist of the story), serve as another creative outlet, and possibly even serve as the basis for another book. 

After all, Stephanie Meyer has started writing another book, telling the tale of Twilight from the perspective of Edward, as well as a novella telling the tale of one of the later books from the perspective of another character (The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella).  Assuming I'm successful and can generate even an eighth of the fan-base she's got, they'd love this.  And although Cal is higher on the moral food chain than Patrick is, Patrick as I envision him has got enough bad-boy appeal that I expect the project would get a lot of attention.

Help Support Charitable Work in Rwanda

My friend from high school Meghan Goyer and a girl I don't know are doing relief work in Rwanda right now, with Meghan doing some research for her master's thesis as well.

They've raised some money already, enough to go on the trip, but they'll need additional funds as well.  They're been soliciting donations on their blog, which also describes what they're doing over there on a day-by-day basis.

Here's a link where you can donate via PayPal or find an address to write a check.


Here's the main blog site:


I think the blog itself will be interesting enough, considering all the cultural information I can copy down into my "Character Sketches" file.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Return of the Pulps, Online?

On more than one occasion, I've pondered the media markets of the pre-television era and wondered if my fiction-writing career would have been better if I'd been born in, say, 1900 or so. 

Assuming of course I didn't die of the Spanish flu (or some other disease curable by antibiotics, as I think happened to a distant relative who died of pneumonia that could have been treated today) or didn't get drafted and die in a trench during the First World War, I could have had a full-time job writing for the pulp magazines of the era, so named because they were printed on rather cheap paper.  Robert Howard, Robert Heinlein, and H.P. Lovecraft did, after all, as did many other well-known sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers.

Of course, television and other socio-cultural changes helped destroy the pulp magazines.  However, I am now wondering if, thanks to technological advances, a media market similar to the old days could be coming back.

My only two fiction sales have been made, not to the significantly-fewer (and thus choosier) print markets of our day, but to two web-based publications, the now-defunct Chimaera Serials and the BattleTech site BattleCorps, which has a $10 per month subscription fee and sells individual stories as PDFs for around $2.00 each.  When I was in college, I also "sold" a historical piece called "That Dreadful Day" to the online publication Cry, Havoc (I say "sold" because I would have only made money if a certain hit threshold was reached and that did not happen), which was released in PDF form.

I'm working on a collection of short stories with Daverana Enterprises, a small press that's moving away from print and towards eBook markets centered around Kindles and similar technology--I believe the current policy is that a print run will only be considered if one sells 100 eBooks.

Thanks to the digital revolution, one does not need big printing presses, elaborate distribution networks, etc. to have a publication anymore.  One can keep it entirely online, with print-on-demand for print copies if you feel the need.  It is now much cheaper--and thus easier--to start one's own publication, just like how it used to be.

Unfortunately, thus far, the pay rates of the old days--when $0.01 per word was a decent chunk of money--have not returned. Most of the web-based markets are in the lower pay scales at Ralan.com.

Still, we're at the early stages of the trend.  Stephen King released one of his books, The Plant, as an eBook and if I recall correctly, it failed.  The eBook market is now significantly more advanced.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Brookings Institute Report on Passenger Rail

For the last few months, the Spalding County branch of Georgians for Passenger Rail has been raising money to pay for a report by the Brookings Institute on the feasibility of a passenger rail line from Atlanta to Macon.

Here's the full PDF of the report, which is posted on the state organization's web-site:


Looks really interesting, and if it takes a lot of cars off the road (primarily people who work in only one place the entire day--if I wanted to do this, I'd need to live near a station and leave my car at the office most of the week, which would be difficult if I wanted to drive somewhere in the evening), it would do wonders for Atlanta's notorious traffic and (so I've heard) air pollution.  Plus it should reduce gas prices, if many cars are taken off the road.

One issue people who don't support passenger rail have raised is what to do transport-wise when one gets to the city.  In Atlanta, this could be less problematic due to the presence of MARTA rail lines to other places (if I took the train to something in Atlanta, I would probably use this) as well as the bus system. 

However, I am not aware of there being similarly-convenient public transportaton options in some of the other cities along the line.  Macon and Clayton County look to have a respectable bus system, but it seems Henry County (site of the Hampton station) and Spalding County (site of the Griffin station) only have on-call bus service, not a regular bus system in the mode of Athens (whose bus service I sometimes used when a student at UGA).

One praise for the report--clearly whoever wrote it has read How To Win Friends and Influence People.  He acknowledges the usefulness of the car-centric 20th Century mode of development rather than mindlessly attacking it, but said that this needs to be updated for the 21st Century.

Thing is, between capital costs from 2016 to 2018 (construction) and maintenace/operations from 2018 to 2030, it's going to come out to $725 million.  That's quite a pretty penny there.  There's a federal earmark for rail on the Southside that the state has held for several years, but it's not going to cover all or even most of that (IIRC it was around $37 million).

Paying for that is going to be tricky, especially since the majority of public-transit does not pay for itself at the fare-box (if I recall correctly, for example, the only profitable AMTRAK line is one of the ones up north).  This means the project will have to be subsidized by taxes.  The goal is that economic development brought about by the rail line--people moving to areas served by the rail so they can take the train to work, for example, increased travel to Atlanta due to reduced traffic issues, money that would have been spent on gas elsewhere, etc--will provide the increased tax revenues needed to get the project going without it burdening the taxpayers.

However, the report does suggest that conservative estimates of local revenue could pay for a significant--$400+ million--chunk of this project.  Other sources of revenue include public-private partnerships, for example.  If the train has got a fair number of passengers, this could mean advertising and businesses setting up there, much like how the Atlanta airport has got all kinds of restaurants and the like there.  The TSPLOST I mentioned in my blog earlier, if it passes in 2012, could be used to provide funds as well, although the report acknowledges that the cities where the stations will go are in different tax jurisdictions and this will require an intergovernmental agreement on spending the tax monies.

Now for the ideological issue.  It may seem odd for me, a Libertarian and/or conservative (I tend to view Libertarianism as a type of conservatism, a view not universally shared), to profess support for this project, which is in effect a very large tax-funded program. 

However, I think that as far as the constitutionality of the project is concerned, it's up there with the Interstate Highway system.  Transportation infrastructure has historically been something the government has done.  The Atlanta airport is public, for example, even though it is used by private airlines and has a significant number of private vendors.

In fact, this project on even sounder constitutional footing than the Interstate system, since it's a state project, with the feds only chipping in some funds and not doing it themselves.

I wonder if there's a Henry County chapter of Georgians for Passenger Rail I could join?  Convincing the more rural sectors of Metro Atlanta to support the project is going to be more difficult than convincing Atlantans, I imagine.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Draka/Stargate Follow-Up

In an earlier post, I included the link to "Snakepit: A Stargate/Draka Crossover" in which a Goa'uld in a crippled starship blundered into the world of S.M. Stirling's Draka in the aftermath of the Final War in which the Draka defeated the United States and our allies. 

It's really quite interesting and well-thought-out.  The author makes the Draka timeline a "butterfly" of the death of Ra in the human revolt that drove the System Lords off Earth (as opposed to Ra surviving and being killed by American soldiers in the mid-1990s, as happened in the movie).  There are other interesting spin-offs, like the Tollans using their advanced technology to conquer and rule over other human societies and the alien called Loki being the one behind the Draka's rise to power.


Well, D.S. has made two additional stories that take place in the interlude between "Snakepit" and the planned sequel, "Stars of Iron," both of which are based on story arcs from "Snakepit."

Here's the first one, "The Rebirth of the Janissaries."


In this one, the Tollans make an arrangement with the Draka to loan them former Citizen commanders of Janissaries (soldiers raised from the slave population, who at this point have been largely replaced by genetically-engineered ape creatures called ghouloons) to train a new, larger Tollan army according to Draka standards.  The Draka Archon Eric von Shrakenberg approves it, much to the aggravation of the Draka secret police who don't like the idea of future "Yoke-fodder" getting too strong to handle.

(That's the point--Eric hates the slave system and basically had to have his hand forced into launching the Final War.  He's making the Tollans harder to enslave in the long run, all while making it seem he's building a strong bulwark for the Draka against the System Lords.)

So the Draka send their officers, who start training the Tollans Draka-style--rather brutally, and with encouragement to commit war crimes.  In this story, the Tollans did not enfranchise the peoples of the conquered worlds until about 40 years before and a lot of the Tollan political elite don't think that was a good idea, so the Tollans don't need a whole lot of encouragement.  And one young Tollan man, who was subjected to various indignities by Goa'uld soldiers along with his fiancee, is showing signs of slipping into the Dark Side.

The second story covers Ann Rayner, a Draka soldier who was essentially killed by an incursion of some kind of advanced silicon-based life-form through the Draka-controlled stargate on the moon.  The Draka and Tollans used a captured Goa'uld sarcophagus to essentially bring her back to life, but she was so damaged, the sarcophagus couldn't rebuild what was there and instead had to rebuild from the basic human template.

There's a slight problem with that, as Rayner is a Homo drakensis, not an ordinary human.  She comes back "funny"--in this case, with her built-in dominance drives dialed down significantly.  She comes to realize that the Draka system is evil as well, at least as far as enslaving ordinary Homo sapiens is concerned (she doesn't mind a symbiotic relationship with the passive, biddable Homo servus because both species are designed for this). 

On leave in the Tollan capital, she ponders a lot while engaging in romance with a Tollan artist (who I was hoping was part of Tollan Intelligence and they'd find out the truth about their new allies, but that's not the case).

Here's the link to that too:


Here's to hoping the secret police don't find out what she's become and try to "fix" her or kill her.  Given that she's still an immortal drakensis, she can steer the Draka in a more moral direction for centuries to come.

If I had the funds and could get the Draka rights from Baen and Stargate rights from MGM, I'd love to produce the "Snakepit" universe as a TV series.  Think SG-1, but far darker, with full-blown villain protagonists.  Given the content, it'd have to be on HBO, Showtime (as SG-1 was, for while), Cinemax, or another premium channel.  Given how much controversy the concept could raise (victorious bad guys rampaging around, lots of sex and violence, etc), getting permission to do this would cost a gigantic sum of money.  And then there'd be the cost of actually making it...

Still, a man can dream.