Ice or Fire

Some say the Fed will inflate,
Others expect deflation.
From reading the Z1 report

I’ve seen debt-disinflation.

But when the funds run out at last,
And there’s no more to spend,
We know the pattern of the past
Repeats again.
The die is cast.

Over the last four years, our national debt has grown by more than $5 trillion to over $16 trillion. We have to service that debt. The Federal Reserve is keeping rates historically low but here’s the cost of paying interest on the debt for fiscal 2012: $359,796,008,919.49

What do you get for that? Nothing.

The greatest fiscal challenge to the U.S. government is not just its annual deficit but its total liabilities. Our federal balance sheet does not include the unfunded social insurance obligations of Medicare, Social Security, and the future retirement benefits of federal employees. Only in the small print of the financial statements do you get some idea of the enormous size of the unfunded commitments. Today the estimated unfunded total is more than $87 trillion, or 550 percent of our GDP.

The interesting thing about this information isn’t that it is news.  It isn’t.  Karl Denninger and I, among numerous others, have been attempting to draw attention to this for years.  What is interesting is that it is now beginning to appear in mainstream organs such as US News and World Report.

What does this mean in practical terms? Well, for one thing, you can be certain that either you won’t be collecting Social Security or what you’ll be collecting will be dollars that are worth pennies in real 2012 dollars.

The final WND column

11 Years of Failure

On Sept. 14, 2001, WND published my first political column, “Yield no more freedom.”
I wrote it in response to the Sept. 11 attacks in an attempt to warn
Americans of the assault on their rights and liberties by the U.S.
government that I believed would soon follow. Unfortunately, despite
being correct, my warnings largely fell on deaf ears, as conservatives
and liberals united in an attack on American freedom that culminated in
the Patriot Act, drone killings and secret assassination lists.

Over the last 11 years, my predictions have been both eerily
prescient and ludicrously inaccurate. While I did correctly foresee the
financial crisis, the global economic depression and the collapse of the
housing market, my ability to anticipate election results was reliably
poor. Unfortunately, the one area where my expectations seldom went
unfulfilled was the way in which the federal government continued to
expand its intervention into the U.S. economy and the lives of America’s
citizens almost unchecked by resistance on the part of the people or
their elected representatives.

VPFL Champion 2012

It gives me great pain to announce that the Bane Sidhe are the 2012 VPFL champions.  I am the Minnesota Vikings of fantasy football.

84 Bane Sidhe
70 Mounds View Meerkats

In other, happier news, best of luck to AD today.  Here’s to him going for 300!

An SFWA coverup?

Former SFWA president Michael Capobianco denies that the Nebula Award rules were changed in 2010 due to a perception of corruption.  He writes on Black Gate:

“The Nebula rules change was instituted not because of the
perception of corruption, but to change it from an award with multi-year
rolling eligibility to an annual award coinciding with calendar year.”

Is that so? Then why are the nominations no longer an open process and hidden from public scrutiny?  Why are nominations now capped at five per member when previously Active members were allowed unlimited recommendations? And, if we are to take Mr. Capobianco’s explanation seriously, how on Earth were those two changes required in
order to make the award coincide with the calendar year?

Since Mr. Capobianco claims that there is no issue of perceived corruption, I will send a request to the current President to post the full record of all the nominations for the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel on the SFWA web site on a page that is open to the public.

Technopocalypticals rejoice!

Sweet Vernor Vinge, alert the media!  Thomas Friedman has gone singular! Someone finally figured out that the famous New York Times columnist IS AN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE!  And now we can tap directly into it:

An interesting thought occurred to me
today—what if academics sat down with ordinary people like you and me
and ironed out some real solutions to our health insurance crisis?
With the election season over, maybe
you’ve forgotten about health insurance, but I certainly haven’t. It
would be easy to forget that the problem even exists, when our headlines
are constantly splashed with the violence in Brazil, the authoritarian
crackdown in Cape Verde and the still-unstable democratic transition in
Saudi Arabia. But the health insurance problem is growing, and
politicians are more divided than ever. Republicans seem to think that
health insurance can just be ignored. Democratic politicians like Dianne
Feinstein, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will
substitute for a compromise.
But the Democratic party of Dianne
Feinstein is not the Democratic party of Bill Clinton. Clinton wouldn’t
refuse to budge, he’d compromise because he’d understand that the fate
of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting
solution to the problem of health insurance.

 I may have ended my WND column too soon.  All I had to do was log into THOMAS once a week and let it all do the work.  Step two: profit!

A candidacy is announced

Yesterday, I sent a notice to the SFWA’s head of the election committee, announcing that I am running for the office of president of the organization.  It is highly unlikely that I will win, of course, but I would like to be able to say that I at least attempted to do my part to salvage an organization that is speeding rapidly into irrelevance.

One reason I am running is to restore the independence of what appears to have become a captive house award that Tor Books authors give themselves on an annual basis.  This may not be the case, but the statistical evidence suggests that there has been considerable corruption in the awards process in the past and that the 2010 rules changes have actually made the problem worse.

The other reason can be seen in these two quotes by its current president, the Tor Books author John Scalzi.  He condemned himself in the very words with which he criticized his predecessor, Michael Capobianco back in 2007.

“Simply put, the professional organization of speculative fiction should
not be headed by people who believe their job is to hold back the
future. I believe strongly that Michael Capobianco sees it as his role
to hold back the future and to maintain the status quo in publishing and
in speculative fiction. That battle has already been lost; the
publishing world has already irrevocably changed from when Mr.
Capobianco last published. It’s time that SFWA moves forward with
leadership who understands this….  

[T]he answer to whether I support membership in SFWA for people who are
not published writers is no.* That’s not going to change. I don’t think
it’s useful and I don’t think it’s needed. SFWA should certainly make
itself useful in helping aspiring SFWAns make the transition into
published status, and to a good extent, it does that now. But at the end
of the day it’s an organization for professional writers, and needs to
be composed of professional writers.” 

Scalzi is a dinosaur.  He fails to understand that “professionally published” has been rendered a meaningless term by technological development and that science fiction writing now goes well beyond the simple medium of printed books.  The most influential science fiction writers don’t even write books, they write games.  Scalzi should know this, considering that he very recently got involved working for a company in the industry in which I have been active for 22 years.  And under the current qualification requirements, some bestselling SF/F novelists, whose work outsells most SFWA members, cannot qualify.

Scalzi is also a fascist ideologue who actively attempts to shut down all debate he personally finds distressing at every opportunity.  Consider the way in which he proudly declared that in 2012, he managed to avoid permitting anyone to present facts or arguments that might have disturbed the tender sensitivities of the rabbity readers at Whatever.

This year I also managed to arouse the ire of a whole stack of racist, sexist, homophobic dipshits with the above posts as well as several others. If I did nothing else with my year, this would have made it delightful to me. They also gave the Mallet of Loving Correction plenty of use when they would drop by the site and learn to their surprise that the sort of smug trollery that passes for thought in the land of epistemic closure doesn’t get past the door here. This is not a delight to me — trolls are always irritating — but whacking them so that the conversational level here remains high has its own grim level of satisfaction.

There is something deeply amusing about a man who claims that people pointing and laughing at him in contempt somehow translates to “ire”.  But it is deeply problematic for an organization to have someone who actively prides himself on the overt and intentional silencing of dissent – and is either delusional or dishonest enough to project his own closed-minded perspective on his critics – as its head.

As proof that it is John Scalzi who dwells in the land of epistemic closure and not those who disagree with him, I note the subsequent comment from one of his readers: “Thanks again for making this a safe place to visit and comment.”  Whatever is a safe place for the Rabbit People to visit and comment precisely because Scalzi practices the very epistemic closure that he feigns to decry. The quoted statement is virtually a textbook illustration of psychological projection.  He sees ire on the part of those who feel none because he is angry with them.  He sees closed minds and smugness in others because he is smug and his mind is closed to competing ideas.  He can’t conceive of honest dissent because he is himself dishonest and inclined towards conformity.

Now, it should be made clear that John Scalzi is not the problem with the SFWA, he is merely one of the symptoms of the ideological disease that has been gradually killing science fiction and fantasy in the print world for the last thirty years.  Thanks to technology, SF/F will survive, but not in its traditional form if its self-appointed gatekeepers continue to stress mediocrity and ideological conformity over the dangerous new visions that once characterized it.

It is unlikely that I will win the election; even if I win it is unlikely that I can do anything to salvage the situation.  The myopic Neo-Luddism and anti-intellectual ideology in the organization appears to be both deep and wide.  But I will present my platform to the membership on February 1st so that at least no one will be able to say that things could not have been different if the organization, and the literary genre, continues its downward spiral.

NebulaGate: the 2012 winner responds

Jo Walton, winner of the 2012 Best Novel Award for Among Others, writes at Black Gate: “I am not a member of SFWA and never have been.  I think that disposes of your accusations of my logrolling for a Nebula.”

I responded thusly: “I never made any such accusation. Furthermore, your non-membership in SFWA says absolutely nothing about the possibility of others logrolling on your behalf, especially given that the nomination process was a closed one. The fact that your book was published by Tor Books is enough to make
its Nebula Award suspicious on its face, given that the SFWA President
and Vice-President are both closely associated with Tor.

Dating back to its first Nebula nomination in 1986, Tor Books has
accounted for 24.4% of all Nebula Best Novel nominations. No other
publisher has even half that many.

Now, it is certainly possible that Tor is simply an excellent
publisher. However, given the unusually heavy involvement of its
authors in the awards process, their representation in the
organization’s offices and the confirmed logrolling in the recent past,
logic suggests that Tor has been gaming the awards system for a
long time.  In 1990, for example, 5 of 6 Nebula-nominated novels were published
by Tor. Only 2 of 5 Hugo-nominated novels and 1 of 5 World Fantasy
Award-nominated novels were.”

I have not yet read Among Others, so I cannot say that its victory over China Mieville’s Embassytown was unjustified.  I will read it, review it, and opine on the matter in January.  I don’t have to read it to know that it merited beating out George Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, and is not Ms Walton’s fault that her affiliation with Tor Books renders her award suspicious in a way that it would not have been if it had been published by another, less-decorated publisher.  That being said, the reviews of her book indicate that readers who read the book after hearing of its award-winning status tended to find it to be less than expected, a pattern that has been observed with past Best Novel-winners whose awards are known to be questionable.

The behemoth lives

I haven’t had the chance to see it yet, but Jamsco was kind enough to send me a picture of the hardcover.  Interesting to see the progression from the days of teaming up with the OC to write a little paperback.  It would be nice to think that the quality has improved in line with the quantity.

Free will and fiction

Mike Duran lists the top five cliches of the Christian writer:

Having frequented Christian writing circles for some time now, I’ve
heard all the spiritualized slogans we believers like to regurgitate. Here’s my Top 5 clichés that Christian writers use.

5.) “God’s called me to write.”Funny
how God never “calls” Christians to be sales assistants, lay reviewers,
work in circulation, be an advertising manager, or write obituaries for
the local newspaper. You’d think that writing novels was the top of the
Christian publishing holiness hierarchy.
4.) “It just wasn’t God’s will that I… (fill in the blank).”
“God’s will” is a favorite “out” for Christian writers. Most often, the
saying is followed by things like “find an agent,” “sell a lot of
books,” “finish the manuscript,” or “advertize aggressively.” Poor God. I
wish He’d get His act together so your career can finally flourish.

I find the public profession of “God’s call” to be about as credible, in most circumstances, as the way in which people who recall their past lives always seem to have been some Egyptian princess or European queen; no one ever used to be a peasant girl who died of malnutrition and smallpox at the age of twelve.  It’s remarkable how often God is said to call people to do what they quite clearly want to do of their own accord.

As for God’s will, in this, as in so many things, we see the idea of divine omniderigence tends to remove both agency and accountability from the individual. 

Writing fiction is, in its own small way, an act of creation.  The author is the god of his own little world, which may be why the idea of writing fiction is so much more appealing to many would-be novelists than the actual act of writing it.  And yet, even the human author, who has complete and total control over his characters, often finds his control constricted by the desire to make them behave in a self-consistent manner.

In like manner, perhaps an all-powerful God might find Himself constrained, not by any external limits on His power, but rather by His desire for artistic consistency and aesthetic integrity.

The pig, she flies!

In which I actually agree with Ed Brayton for once:

I tend to bristle at the idea of judging a blog by its
comment section. As Jamie Kilstein said a few months ago, the comment
section at PZ’s blog is the 7th circle of hell. The one here is often
scarcely better. Even I cringe at what is clearly — yes — tribalism that
goes on in the comments section. It’s just the nature of the beast and
it’s happened to me on both ends. A quick story:

A few years ago I criticized Richard Dawkins for signing a petition
that would make it illegal for parents to teach their kids about
religion. The comment section was descended upon by hundreds of his
acolytes, saving me up one side and down the other. I was
misinterpreting the petition, they said, and how dare I criticize
someone who had done so much for atheism when I was just a lowly
blogger, and so forth. After a while Dawkins himself showed up and said I
was right, that he hadn’t read the petition closely enough, that he did
not favor such a law and he’d asked them to remove his name from the
petition. Even after that, many of his followers continued to excoriate

I’ve had the same thing happen here on the other side, where someone
has shown up in the comments and criticized something I wrote. They were
hammered like mad by many of my readers and I had to jump in and say,
“Wait a minute, he’s actually got a point.” That makes me even more
uncomfortable than being on the receiving end of it. We are all prone to
tribalism and to shallow thinking, including those who regard ourselves
as skeptics who are above that sort of thing.

I’m not keen on judging a blog by its comment section either, except in that one can judge the character and self-confidence of the blogger by how he manages his comment section.  Here at VP, for example, there is actual debate among people who disagree with each other and with me.  In the posts this week alone, there are numerous regulars disagreeing with me about the limits of the Constitution’s ability to guarantee God-given rights as well as a vigorous debate on the permissibility of gun control between commenters.

PZ, as far as I have seen, is actually quite good about permitting critics to comment freely at Pharyngula, the problem there is not that he cannot bear dissension, but rather that his commenters are such a clueless collection of mid-witted ideologues that most critics stop uselessly banging their head against the wall of idiocy there before long.  I actually respect him much more than many other bloggers in that particular regard.

But Brayton is entirely correct to point out that the self-styled skeptics are every bit as tribal and superficial as those they make a habit of denigrating.  This is a point I have been making for literally years, and it is good to see that some of the more vocal members of the skeptic community are willing to openly acknowledge it.