Saturday, December 31, 2011

Congress Lets Ethanol Subsidies and Tariffs Expire

Ethanol subsidy expires; local effect unknown

Hooray for some fiscal responsibility!  Congress allowed a $6 billion corn subsidy to expire and a tariff on Brazilian ethanol to die with it.

This is good for several reasons.

*Firstly, with our massive deficit and national debt, cutting wasteful spending should be a priority and this is a biggie in terms of uselessness.  $6 billion is a drop in the bucket as far as cutting spending is concerned, but one has to start somewhere.  After all, many drops and the bucket is filled.  :)

*Secondly, corn ethanol takes crops that could be used for food and turns them into gasoline.  This drives up the cost of corn and makes the poor pay higher food prices, both at home (where it's less of an issue) and abroad (where it is more).  Ethanol production in Brazil, however, uses stuff leftover from processing sugar (cane fibers and various syrups) to make fuel, so real food isn't wasted.  In any event, even if more sugar could be distilled from the stuff used to make ethanol fuel, sugar is much less of a necessity than corn is.  One does not need sugar to survive, but one definitely needs staple grains.  This is one area where I actually agree with Fidel Castro.  And lest anyone think I'm some left-winger, so does The Economist.  Both the bearded tyrant in Havana and The Economist think Brazil's ideas are better.

*Thirdly, this might be a sign the corn lobby and the sugar lobby aren't as strong as they used to be.   According to one of my former professors at the University of Georgia, the sugar lobby has pushed for high tariffs on sugar that made it cheaper to use high-fructose corn syrup in soda.  Here's a link corroborating this.  And some material from the government too, lest you think the first site is too ideological.  Ending a tariff on imported ethanol made from sugar will benefit Brazilian sugar producers--who've integrated sugar and ethanol production--and I'm sure the American sugar lobby doesn't like that At All.

However, without the subsidy, I suspect ethanol made from sugar will be more competitive now and it will be in the American sugar producers' interest to borrow the Brazilian technique and put it to work here.  If they can grab a big chunk of the American fuel market, they won't need tariffs and quotas to protect themselves from foreign competition.  Getting rid of those will in turn benefit sugar producers in other countries, to whom increasing exports is a matter of survival.

*Fourthly, with the tariff gone, the Brazilians will be able to sell us more of their ethanol and use the profits to increase their own production, which in turn might eventually lead to lower gas prices here.  If we're going to be importing energy resources, they should be from responsible countries like Brazil and not unstable or unfriendly places in the Middle East.

So good on Congress for letting some unnecessary spending expire and making our trade with Brazil just a little bit freer.  And good for the corn-ethanol people for not putting up too much of a fight.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thoughts on Animating "Coil Gun."

I'm about one-third or so through writing a screenplay based on my short story "Coil Gun," which was published in September in the third issue of Digital Science Fiction.

In order to transform a 5,000-odd word story into a 90-page (at minimum) screenplay, I'm going to have to expand the events in the story considerably.  This I've done by beginning the screenplay several hours before the story, during the lead-up to the war.

Although this will get me to the proper length and allow for additional characterization, the events depicted would make the necessary budget for the film larger.  Things include space battles in the vein of Battlestar Galactica, the depiction of submarine-launched nuclear attacks, etc.  Anything depicted on a submarine bridge, for example, necessitates an additional set, while the special effects needed to realistically depict WWIII would cost a pretty penny.

However, the thought just occurred to me that this could be donate via animation.  This would be much, much cheaper than doing it live-action, which would require Michael Bay-sized budgets for the action sequences.

The problem is, in the United States at least, animation is generally considered something for kids.  One reason the film Titan A.E. failed despite being an awesome movie is that although it was animated, it was much more adult-oriented--it starts out with the alien destruction of Earth, features the protagonist being subject to racist abuse by other aliens, lots of gun-fights and space battles, an alien getting his neck snapped, and the female lead in a towel answering the door to her cabin and asking the protagonist "in or out?"

However, the more recent Avatar was marketed as an adult science-fiction movie and is now the top-grossing movie on the planet.  Titan A.E.'s failure could be attributed to marketing--if I remember right, it was not marketed as science-fiction for adults but instead a movie for kids.

If "Coil Gun" were adapted into an animated film, I imagine it would be done using Pixar-style 3D animation rather than traditional 2D cel animation.  I much prefer the cel look visually, but apparently The Princess and the Frog (Disney's last big cel-animated project) didn't do as well as Disney expected and that contributed to future Disney projects being digital animation.  Legend of the Guardians did the 3D thing really well, so as  long as it doesn't come out looking like Toy Story or The Clone Wars, great.

And the same rationale can be applied to my earlier project, The Gates of Vasharia.  I've described that one as "Lord of the Rings with tanks" (to say nothing of an extradimensional demonic army), so adapting that one would require a Michael Bay budget as well.  Of course, with animation, it would probably end up with an Avatar-sized budget.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Prometheus" Trailer

Here's the trailer for the movie Prometheus, which I'd initially heard was a prequel to Alien.

However, based on the Wikipedia article, it looks like it'll be about human scientists searching for alien involvement in the early days of human history.  I think the aliens in question are the "space jockeys" whose ship carried the eggs that caused so much trouble in the first and second Alien films.

As I've said earlier, I'm not a fan of the ancient-astronauts theory, although the aliens-help-humans variant is not as bad as the humans-are-aliens version.  A member of my message-board whose handle is 9-Fanged Hummingbird came up with the following, which points out both how absurd the idea is and the racist implication that certain cultures need alien help:

The ancient aliens hypothesis relies on the idea that these guys who mastered space travel are watching us and helping brown people to build tombs for their kings out of stone for god only knows what reason. Also, the aliens pile up random rocks in other places just because.

Seriously, to a civilization like that of the "space jockey," early humans would be little more than animals.  Why bother with us?

Still, it looks like it'll be an entertaining film.  Between that and John Carter and a bunch of other films slated for 2012, I think I'll be spending a lot more time at the multiplex.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" Trailer with Comments

Just found this online courtesy of TOR books, and here's the YouTube video...

It looks cool.  The Dwarven songs in which they mourn for the loss of their homeland to the dragon Smaug are nice.  We don't really see a lot of Dwarf culture in the three Lord of the Rings films beyond them living underground and favoring feasting and axes, so this is nice.

One quibble--Thorin Oakenshield looks too human.  He's too tall and slender for a Dwarf.   I remember hearing that there had been some kind of Twilight-induced attempt to make the Dwarves "sexy," although all I could find was this article here.

I'm wondering how they work Rivendell and Galadriel into the story.  Gandalf and the White Council were active at the time in order to prepare the Free Peoples for the return of Sauron--who at this point was operating under the guise of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur--but I don't think the council dealt with him until well after the events of The Hobbit.

A thought I had was that they might work the White Council's defeat of disguised-Sauron into these two films somehow and have them physically destroy the Necromancer.  He would not be killed, since his essence is bound to the One Ring, but this could explain why Saruman told Gandalf in the first film that "he cannot yet take physical form."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Some Thoughts On Egyptian Elections...

It's been awhile since I've blogged about the Arab Spring.  So here goes...

I'm not one of those people who's terrified of the Muslim Brotherhood, for several reasons.

*Firstly, the way they're hyped as a Big Bad that's going to turn Egypt into a new Iran and start a war with Israel reeks of the whole "justify your tyranny by creating an enemy," especially when it's mixed with the erroneous notion that Islam and democracy (in the colloquial sense of the word) are incompatible.  I'm sure people could make the case Christianity and democracy are incompatible based on how most of the anti-Semitic violence, witch trials, etc. long ago were populist in nature and it took monarchies and the like to restrain them (the king of Poland offered protection to Jews persecuted in Western Europe during the Black Death, frex), and that would be just as foolish.

*Secondly, a former member of my alternate-history message board, though we've had our disagreements on a lot of things (namely the revisionist theory of the Cold War, which is my personal bugbear), made a good case that the Freedom and Justice Party (the political face of the old Muslim Brotherhood) is more akin to the Christian Democratic parties of Europe rather than some anti-democratic death machine.  He even compared it more positively with the Turkish Islamist party, which he described as "peasanty."

*Thirdly, the Freedom and Justice Party's platform at present seems to indicate the MB's priorities at present are more economic than anything else.  Quibbling about social values in times like these is a luxury in a wealthy country like the United States.  In a much poorer country like Egypt, which has had food riots relatively recently, there's even less justification.  Luckily the Freedom and Justice Party seems to be aware of this, based on these comments about Islamic punishments being suspended in a time of famine.

That being said, the fact there's been violence against Christians in Egypt after Mubarak's fall is something to be legitimately concerned about.  Furthermore, the Salafist al-Nour Party, which looks a lot more like the scary fundamentalist entity the Western pro-Mubarak types are afraid of, is expected to do well in the coming second phase of the elections.  Not to mention the Freedom and Justice Party isn't entirely sweetness and light by its own admission--the Al-Ahram article indicates the party doesn't want members of certain Islamic splinter sects to proselytize, which is antithetical to the idea of freedom of religion, while the Wikipedia article states that they don't think Christians or women should be the country's president.

So here's a suggestion for the Freedom and Justice Party.  When the time comes to form caucuses and alliances and such, they should ally with the secular liberal types who kicked off the revolution against Mubarak in the first place rather than the al-Nour Party.

Not only would this show respect to the people who helped make these elections possible, but it would ensure Egypt does not become a pariah trade nobody will trade with and tourists won't visit.  That will in turn hurt Egypt's economy and cause mass suffering among the population, something I'm sure Mohammed and the other early Islamic leaders wouldn't have wanted given the Islamic doctrines on charity and the like.  Plus if al-Nour does really well in the second and third phases of the elections, which look to be taking place in poorer and more conservative areas, the Freedom and Justice Party might need to ally with the secular liberals in order to maintain a majority.

The Al-Ahram article quotes some Freedom and Justice Party types saying they won't caucus with the Salafists, which is a good sign.  The article about violence against Christians assigns much of the blame to the Salafists, so they seem like the true villains anyway.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Battleship" Trailer

The trailer looks surprisingly awesome and there's a good chance I'm going to go see it when it comes out.  Yes, I know it's based on a board game that has no plot.  However, it looks like it's going to be pretty entertaining.

However, one objection: The whole "invincible alien energy shields" thing is overdone.  A friend of mine describe this movie as "Independence Day with ships" and the energy shields go a long way to bolstering his point.  Plus both the 1950s and the 2006-ish version of War of the Worlds used them and they weren't even in the book.

It'd be a lot more creative if the aliens had a nearly impenetrable point-defense capability--perhaps using lasers--that is very good at taking out missiles and aircraft but cannot track artillery shells.  In this situation, the mighty aircraft carriers would be all but neutered and the heavy guns of old-school battleships would be what saves the day.

John Ringo's novels Legacy of the Aldenata novels have used this concept with the Posleen--their defensive weapons are murderous on aircraft and missiles but they're useless in dealing with artillery.

In order to have a big human defeat to presage the final battle, perhaps the carriers launch a massive "Alpha Strike" (a large attack by a carrier air wing) bolstered by huge numbers of cruise missiles fired from the other ships.  The attack is stopped cold with minimal damage to the aliens by a laser point-defense system, but some surviving aircraft pilot points out that when he used his plane's guns, they weren't able to counter it.

Then we get the big naval artillery brought in.  :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ron Paul Rises In Iowa

A couple of interesting articles this morning I found this morning, one via Twitter and one via my home-page.

Paul gears up for long primary slog

Paul stuck through for the entire process in 2008, although his impact was minimal at the end of the day.  However, this time around he's got more money and the recent economic crisis will have bolstered his credibility.  I heard some talk radio host last night who said it was possible Paul could win Iowa, which leads into my next article...

Paul strength may help Romney in Iowa

This could be a problem in the long run, since if all the people in the GOP who don't want a Romney nomination split between too many candidates, Romney will win the nomination by default.  On the other hand, Romney losing a state to a candidate many Republicans deride as having no chance would be a major black mark on his record.

It'd be really interesting if nobody wins a majority of delegates and we get a brokered Republican convention.  According to the Wikipedia, there hasn't been a brokered convention in decades.

Who knows?  Maybe that'll be Huntsman's chance to shine, since although he's been trying to run to Romney's left, his actual governing bona fides are downright Reaganite in economics, which the Republican Party as a whole is likely go for, while his more socially-liberal views will make him more acceptable to the American electorate as a whole.

(Those who disagree should check out The Emerging Democratic Majority and Whistling Past Dixie: How The Democrats Can Win Without the South.  Really hard-core social conservatism is not going to be a winning issue in the long run, at least on the national level.)

Plus Paul might get some of his  more useful views incorporated into the GOP platform.  I doubt it'd be anything radical like the gold standard, but stronger opposition to pork, a more restrained foreign policy, etc. might be doable.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Some "Destroyermen" Fan-Art For You

Here's the first drawing I posted on DeviantArt in some time.  It's based on the boarding action of the Grik ship at the end of the first Destroyermen novel, Into the Storm.

Consider it more true to the spirit of the scene than the scene itself.  If I remember right, there were a lot more Grik and lemur-people involved in the boarding action, as well as more U.S. sailors.  However, the bridge is still there, and I was sure to get the number of the ship right.

Maybe Taylor Anderson will host the image on his Web site?  There are several fan-made pieces of artwork there.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One Area Obama Holds An Insurmountable Advantage Over Gingrich

Here are some thoughts I recently had about the electability of Newt Gingrich.  Don't get me wrong--I think Gingrich is a very smart man and if he were to win the Republican nomination, I'd probably vote for him.

That being said, for Republicans interested in nominating a candidate who can beat Obama in 2012, there is one area where Obama has an insurmountable advantage, and that's the much-vaunted area of family values.

Barack Obama's personal life.

Newt Gingrich's personal life.

It would be very hard for Newt Gingrich to run as a candidate strong on family values with a personal life this...complex.  Especially since it's more than just adultery-divorce-remarriage-repeat--in a book I bought when I was in school entitled Inside Congress, on page 133 of the 1997 Pocket Books edition, it describes how poorly Gingrich provided for his then-wife and two daughters while they were legally separated. A local church had to start a collection to pay for the family's utility bills.  Gingrich was paying $700 per month to support his family and $400 per month on his food and dry cleaning alone.

All Obama needs to do is show he has been married to and remained faithful to one woman since 1992 and there have never been any problems providing for the children and Gingrich will take a major hit.  Especially since Obama has not come from an especially stable family himself--see this article by none other than Bill O'Reilly--and yet he has managed to avoid perpetuating the cycle of dysfunction that often plagues unhappy families.

Now, as a consequence of my religious views I'm a big believer that even the most evil people can change.  Gingrich has, among other things, converted to Catholicism, which is a fairly big break from his earlier religious background and something that likely cost him political support.  If this represents a genuine change of heart, God bless him.

However, though God will forgive a sinner who repents, actions still have consequences, and his prior behavior has made him very vulnerable in certain areas.  Gingrich might make a better Cabinet official or chief of staff or general purpose eminence grise for whoever ends up winning the GOP 2012 nod rather than as the candidate himself.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Huntsman's Daughters Parody "SexyBack"

Jon Huntsman's daughters are at it again.  This time they parody Justin Timberlake.  Some of the rhyming is pretty clever, like when they knock Herman Cain.

Ron Paul Ad Criticizes Newt Gingrich

I'm all for people changing their positions based on evidence rather than being inflexible and rigid, but based on the stuff about money, I think Newt's approach to many of the issues herein is not based on examination of the evidence.

(I'm thinking the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac business and health-care.  I don't think the people who believe global warming is human-caused and a problem have got the money needed to sway him.)

Newt is smarter than the average bear in the Republican field at the moment and I'd support him over Paul (due to the bin Laden raid) and Romney and would probably vote for him over Obama, but this isn't a good sign at all.  And given he has written alternate-history fiction (something I'm interested in), that's saying something.

And Ron Paul's ads have gotten better.  When I supported Ron Paul in 2008, I remember a really goofy television ad featuring a bunch of people who really couldn't act sitting around a restaurant, with one of them rather unsubtly saying "I'm going to vote for Ron Paul."  In TVTropes terms, Narm.