Rice

A North Korean doctor, starving, decides to gamble on leaving her country. She doesn’t believe it’s any better outside. Has been told over and over again that it isn’t. But has to do something. Which leads to this stunning moment of cognitive dissonance:

Dr Kim looked down a dirt road that led to farmhouses. Most of them had walls around them with metal gates. She tried one; it turned out to be unlocked. She pushed it open and peered inside. On the ground she saw a small metal bowl with food. She looked closer – it was rice, white rice, mixed with scraps of meat. Dr Kim couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a bowl of pure white rice. What was a bowl of rice doing there, just sitting out on the ground? She figured it out just before she heard the dog’s bark.

Up until that moment, a part of her had hoped that China would be just as poor as North Korea. She still wanted to believe that her country was the best place in the world. The beliefs she had cherished for a lifetime would be vindicated. But now she couldn’t deny what was staring her plainly in the face: dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea.

From, Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea.

Until the moment where she saw it, she couldn’t believe this was true.

That’s what a lifetime of exceptionalism does.

I find that sometimes, when talking to someone who believes something against all facts on the ground, I can’t stop thinking about that quote, that little story above.

This is rice.

People claim Israel and Switzerland are ‘gun toting utopias,’ but this is rice:

Israel and Switzerland are often mentioned as countries that prove that high rates of gun ownership don’t necessarily lead to high rates of gun crime. In fact, I wrote that on Friday. But you say your research shows that’s not true.
Janet Rosenbaum: First of all, because they don’t have high levels of gun ownership. The gun ownership in Israel and Switzerland has decreased.

For instance, in Israel, they’re very limited in who is able to own a gun. There are only a few tens of thousands of legal guns in Israel, and the only people allowed to own them legally live in the settlements, do business in the settlements, or are in professions at risk of violence.

In China, 22 people were attacked. But recovered. Because a knife isn’t a gun. That’s false equivalency. And that is rice.

In the US, tens of thousands die from gun-related violence, and in Japan, 2-20. That is rice.

1997 rice:

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Rice by state:

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Rice.

Rice:

But what will it take to bring that moment of crashing reality that the doctor in that above book has to those invested in a complete denial that the murder-by-gun rate in other, modern, westernized countries is literally a fraction of what it is in the US?

All the arguments against gun control don’t answer that why question. Why is it so much lower elsewhere? The people arguing back online don’t bother to actually engage the truth that it’s lower elsewhere. It’s simply lower elsewhere. It’s lower elsewhere. Can we please have that? Why would you argue against having fewer deaths?

Whether it’s via control, or something else, it’s lower elsewhere. What is that mechanism that makes it lower elsewhere? Please answer me? Because it’s not more guns. Those elsewhere’s have experts, and people, and they all agree arming up further was not how they got to having that lower rate. And everywhere it’s lower elsewhere, there has to be a reason. What’s that reason? They haven’t banned guns (they’ve done something else, limited, regulated, added hoops, much the same as driving a car). You can read about it. Yourself. What they did. Inquire.

So far, the opposing arguments are completely, utterly, ignoring answering this.

Why is it lower elsewhere?

Are 10,000 lives a year worth it your arguments for it? When in some places it’s 2.

2.

2 vs 10,000.

Think about that difference.

Rice.

A quick dash over to London and back

A few months ago my sister mentioned that she was going to London with my mother and my aunt in order to see family out there. In brief, I hold a UK Passport, but have never visited that side of the pond in my life. And I hadn’t seen my mom’s uncle Terry, who visited a number of times when I lived in Grenada and remember fondly, since I was nine. I used to write letters (when I first learned how to write) to mom’s aunt as well, who sadly passed before I ever got to visit.

My sister was kind enough to spot me a ticket as I couldn’t afford one quite yet, and on the 12th I flew out to the East Coast with my mum, joined up with my sister and my aunt. And on Tuesday the 13th then flew to Toronto and onwards to Heathrow on a roughly eight hour flight.

That’s a long haul.

Tired and totally confused by the five hour time change, we landed in London. Terry picked us up, kindly enough, and took us back to his house (where my sister and I would be staying) [cute view of countryside from the window of my room below]:

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Since we had a few hours to wait until we met with more of the family in the London area that I had never met before, I took a moment to slip off to a train station, barrel the 30 minutes into London, and do a little bit of bookish-related business [cross your fingers for me]. Then turned right around to meet Terry’s daughter Karen (my mum’s cousin) and her side of the family, who were insanely welcoming and awesome to us. They lent us a small Vauxhall, and I volunteered to be the Guinea Pig that learned to drive on the left, with a stick shift, with roundabouts [my internal monologue for a day was: left left left lef], and drive us everywhere.

With a car, my sister handling navigation, and some quick reading online of guides to European road signs, we day tripped out to Windsor Castle:

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We couldn’t take pictures inside, but my favorite moment was recognizing a Rembrandt before leaning in to read the painting’s plaque and seeing I was right.

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The next day I led everyone into London and scoped out one of those touristy buses you can just hop on and hop off of so that we could see all the various high points in rapid order, and stop for anything that got our interest:

Big Ben, etc:

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A giant shrubbery! At Covent Garden (I popped into the Apple store for an iPad charger as we enjoyed lunch):

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The London Fog was out in force in this quick pic of The Shard:

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We only had an hour, but we ran through the Tower of London, saw the Crown Jewels:

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Back at Terry’s, there were pictures of my family from when I was just a little kid I had no idea even existed (some were pictures of events I actually have memories of, and some stirred up the feels of remembering what a crazy childhood that was, and others were strange, like seeing my biological father’s face. It’s strange to see my facial expressions and some posture on someone I haven’t seen since I was nine and is, essentially, a stranger). But, seriously, who is this kid (my hair goes blond in the sun):

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The next day we drove a few hours out to Stonehenge:

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And to Cardiff, Wales. Lots of my grandmother’s side of the family came from the Swansea area, I gather. No one is there anymore, so the family all said to go to Cardiff for the shopping (holy shit… the shopping). My mum’s a huge fan of Torchwood, so I took her to Cardiff Bay quickly via taxi for this shot:

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Also, for those of you in Wales, not all the candy in here is American. I just want to say:

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The Cardiff Library was pretty amazing:

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And then, before we knew it, we were packing up and making our way back. A week sounds like so long when you’re planning, but when you arrive in a whole new country, it’s just a whirlwind.

One of the strange things about my life is that my passport is English (mum was born in the greater London area), but I’ve lived in the Caribbean. And then the US. So getting to visit was cool.

Another strange thing is that I don’t have much family. I’m not connected well to my biological father’s side of the family for various reasons. I’m not super connected to my stepfather’s side. And my mum’s side scattered off from pieces of family in the UK that ended up in various places around the world. But getting to visit Terry’s family, my mum’s cousins, and all their family, was something that doesn’t usually happen to me. Outside of a small number of people on the East Coast, this is some of the first extended family I’ve ever really known of or met. So getting to know them, and see Terry again (who I haven’t seen since I was 9), was worth the trip alone.

I didn’t get as much work while in transit as I’d hoped, but I don’t even slightly regret that. It was a rare opportunity, and now that I’ve met the family over there and been, I really hope to get a chance to go back again.

Also, we went out and had drinks at a 900 year old pub that was just down the road from the family.

900 years old, man.

Climate change increasing northern farmland prices

Mentioned in Arctic Rising; increased arable land in northern countries will lead to all sorts of interesting effects:

Corn’s new appeal to Canada’s prairie farmers is based on two things: climate change and price. Growing seasons in the prairie provinces—which border Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana—have lengthened about two weeks to up to 120 days in the past half-century. The mean annual temperature is likely to climb by as much as 3C (6F) in the region by 2050, according to Canadian researchers.

A planned moon mission, I sure hope so

Nasa is rumored to announce a new manned moon mission at some point very soon.

It’s been floating around space blogs for a while, but getting a firm data could be interesting.

Exploration of Earth-moon L2 could get started as early as 2021 with the first manned flight of SLS and Orion, which NASA calls Exploration Mission 2. (Exploration Mission 1 is the initial, unmanned test launch of SLS, slated for late 2017.) “I’m not privy to the specifics of this, but one could conceive of the second SLS mission being the start of activity in cislunar space, rather than just being a lunar orbit mission,” Logsdon said.

I still think 2021, 9 years from now, sounds like forever away. 2019, even if still a while, makes it feel more around the corner. Still in the same decade. For optics, I would push hard for that.

Bigger story of the election is a badly gerrymandered house

I’ve seen a few conservatives maintain that the House remaining Republican demonstrates there is no mandate for Obama.

Yet the reason for this has been some of the biggest redistricting and gerrymandering to maintain that:

Although a small number of ballots remain to be counted, as of this writing, votes for a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives outweigh votes for Republican candidates. Based on ThinkProgress’ review of all ballots counted so far, 53,952,240 votes were cast for a Democratic candidate for the House and only 53,402,643 were cast for a Republican — meaning that Democratic votes exceed Republican votes by more than half a million.

The truth is, without all that maneuvering, you’d be looking at a more balanced House, which I find interesting.

Arctic Ice melting faster than predicted

[via Ramez Naan] Climate models are wrong… as in it’s consistently happening faster than predicted. One thing I learned from writing and researching Arctic Rising. Last year’s ‘worst case’ scenarios constantly turn out to be next year’s average:

The spring snow pack in the Arctic is disappearing at a much faster rate than anticipated even by climate change models, says a new study by Environment Canada researchers.

That has implications for wildlife, vegetation and ground temperatures, say the scientists, who looked at four decades of snow data for the Canadian Arctic and beyond.

Combined with recent news that the Arctic sea ice retreated to an all-time low this summer, it suggests climate change may be happening much faster than expected, said Dr. Chris Derksen, a research scientist for Environment Canada and one of the study’s authors.

Ohio burn

Ouch.

Human beings of vision and vitality will do almost anything to leave Ohio. This urge has benefited America’s space program. John Glenn got as far from Ohio as he could. Neil Armstrong, with better technology, got further.

-A biting TNR article titled ‘Why Ohio Shouldn’t Get To Pick The President.’

Small growth for US rail?

Wired reports on a recent 111 MPH test run between St. Louis and Chicago on Amtrak.

If the most recent run of trials are successful, Amtrak passengers traveling on that route will see trains hit 110 MPH as soon as Thanksgiving. The end goal is to bring that speed of service to 75 percent of the tracks between Chicago and St. Louis in the next three years, reducing the travel time between the two cities by 90 minutes.

I keep pointing out that although Ohio famously opted out of rail, that Chicago and St. Louis, and Chicago through to Detroit, is slowly becoming an interconnected rail area. From Chicago to Detroit they’ve slowly been upgrading tracks to allow 110 MPH rail. Now the same is happening.

The idea is for Chicago to become a major passenger rail hub for the midwest. And once 110 MPH is normal, to increase the speeds.

A good idea, because once you start getting reliable, multiple day service above those speeds, rail completely pwns air travel for ease of use when you add in the time needed to get to an airport early, TSA hassles, and inability to get work done while on the plane.

Signs of growth for US rail travel:

Amtrak’s consistent growth, despite the forces unceasingly allied against it in US politics. Here’s the last 10 years of growth, 49%:

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Amtrak loses money, but is losing less each year. When bolted together out of the scorched remnants of 20 different railways in the early 70s, with differing stock, routes, institutions, and so forth, at the height of car-focused America, it was a loser of a Frankenstein. The routes that were making money are usually ignored by anti-rail people in order to focus on the large, long routes Amtrak has to (well, until very recently) legally run and can’t abandon, because it’s run by congress. In fact, the suggestion is the Acela (actual, high speed rail, which turns a profit) should be *taken* away from Amtrak and privatized.

Here’s a map of all of Amtrak’s lines and which ones make a profit and which ones do not. Click around and you notice two things, the North East rail components all make a profit or are close to it. Secondly, Amtrak/Congress don’t think of short routes between major metro areas, but in long hauls. Stop trying to connect Chicago to LA, and you might profitable lines in the Chi-St. Louis and Chi-Ann Arbor areas with 110 MPH service.

But either way, it’d be interesting to see a simulated growth chart and profit loss estimate run into the future based on the figures we’ve seen over the last 10 years, vs the idea of rail that’s been slowly formed up in many people’s heads that came about from 1970-1990, when the argument against Amtrak was pretty firm (no growth in ridership, little to no profit on any lines).

And a new, what looks like serious, private rail program that will set itself up to run between Orlando and Miami:

The All Aboard Florida project promises not just to revolutionize travel between the two cities — there will also be intermediate stops in downtown Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach — but to transform a long-vacant piece of downtown Miami.

FECI, the real estate arm of the conglomerate that also owns the Florida East Coast freight-rail company, will build a new, landmark station and a potentially massive mixed-use development on nine acres of fallow land it owns just north of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. FECI will also own and operate the new train service, All Aboard Florida, executive Husein Cumber said.

In Japan and South Korea, the ability to develop the real estate and rent it at train stops creates a great deal of wealth that allows for further reinvestment. This will be interesting to watch.

Catching up

It’s 3:30am and I’m wide awake, because I feel asleep for four hours at 8pm. These things happen. I’ve spent the last hour or so working on an outline, and I realized I should pass along an update.

The last update I really gave was in January. It was this post where I announced I was going to be reducing the freelance work I did to just one activity, and use the money from the Kickstarter of The Apocalypse Ocean and other fiction to survive on. Risky. But I felt it was worth a try.

Ten months later, things stand thusly:

I’ve written, drafted, copy-edited, and had proof-read The Apocalypse Ocean. Delivered the eBook to backers. The book is now at an amazing printer and I can’t wait to see it (and to mail it out). It’ll be a beautiful 200 copy limited edition in hardcover. I’m really curious to see what happens after I deliver the copies of it and Mitigated Futures to backers and can sell those via Amazon/BN/Kobo, as I’ll get a better sense for what the whole Kickstart/deliver/sell direct system is capable of accomplishing.

I tore down and rewrote a YA novel, The Trove, and finished it just last weekend.

I was working on a novel called The Infringement up until April. One issue developed, which was a structural one. I could have fixed that. But then a novel came out that nailed everything I wanted to nail with that book, in many of the ways I wanted to approach the subject. So I set aside the words already written. The Infringement won’t be happening.

Instead, there will be a novel in the vein of Arctic Rising called Hurricane Fever. I’ve been doing the research and outlining, and now that The Trove is wrapped up, you will probably hear me on twitter and here nattering on about Hurricane Fever as I try to get to a draft to send my editor.

Ten months ago, I figured I could last maybe nine months spending 70% of my day writing. I’m waiting for some deals to click into place, and I’ve kept my budget thin (the only travel I paid for this year was Chicago Worldcon, and I hitched a ride up there). Ten months of writing like this is more than most people get. I consider myself lucky. I’ve written a whole new novel direct for fans that’s about to come out in physical form. I have finished a new YA novel. I also fit 7 short stories in and around all that. I did this while also spending a month on tour for Arctic Rising, and a month sick with vertigo that made it hard to read a screen.

Productive? I’m as stunned as anyone (and if you’re curious as to how, it’s by following the items I laid out here in a blog post about how I have all but tripled my productivity. I’m not forcing myself to write faster, I’m actually spending less hourly time writing and more time fiddling around, but being more productive during those hours). But it’s been a great ten months. I’m really hoping to do another ten. Or more.

With everything I’ve learned from Kickstarter, I’m hoping to do one for Desolation’s Gap (the final Xenowealth book) after I’ve delivered everything to everyone for the previous Kickstarters. I’m also hoping to have some cool announcements to make about publishing deals and projects that have been secretly winding their way through the pipeline lo these last ten months.

But in the meantime, that silent period of 2009-2011 seems to be well behind me. And if luck holds, and another ten months like this continue, there should be quite a few new books coming out from me.

So keep your fingers crossed for me, okay? I don’t want to get all emotional, but this has been an amazing ten months. Sure I haven’t travelled much and I’ve been cooped up over the keyboard, but it’s been magical to get to tell so many stories that I’ve wanted to tell. The Apocalypse Ocean, after a multi-year wait, it was just fantastic to see it become a book. And I’m head over heels with The Trove. And if you enjoyed Arctic Rising, I can’t wait to show you all some of the stuff in Hurricane Fever I’m writing/outlining.

And that’s what is in the bag. Getting a chance to next year finish the Xenowealth series, and work on some new books, well, I’m crossing my fingers the next couple months line everything up so this can continue.

Authenticity is okay. Really.

When authors ask me about blogging, tweeting, as if I’m some sort of expert, I always say ‘do what you enjoy doing, and be authentic.’

There’s so much advice from people to be nice to every potential reader, try not to upset the apple cart, so that you can keep as many readers as possible.

But seriously, it’s bullshit.

Because here’s the thing. Being an author, you’re putting a piece of yourself out there. So if you put out a fake thing, or if you’re unauthentic, you’re stuck being just like that forever. Because those people you’ve picked up think that’s real.

Here’s the matrix:

There is no guarantee that being that mask of yourself is even going to bring you readers or keep you readers or audience. So you could be doing something you don’t necessarily like doing, and it might fail to help you out.

Or maybe you gain tons of readers by being bland milquetoast, what then? You are doing something you don’t like, that isn’t you. People tend to generally be unhappy in those situations, or at least, somewhat uncomfortable. So you gain success (although, is having lots of social media followers really ‘success?’ but that’s another discussion) but doing something you don’t like. If I wanted to be successful doing something I didn’t like, I’d be… a real estate agent or something.

So then there’s the other choices. Do something you like (be yourself) and maybe no success comes of it. But then you did something you liked, so there’s that. That’s okay.

And then, maybe, you do something you like AND you’re successful. And then it’s on, baby!

But what about losing followers because you’re yourself?

It’s okay. Let them go. They weren’t really followers. This afternoon I complained about an online service that added $230 to my cart without my choosing to do so, leading to me accidentally ordering $230 of something I didn’t want (barcodes for ISBN numbers). I was so furious I twittered about it, while using the word ‘fuck.’ Because it was fucking bogus to do that to a customer.

A twitter follower promptly suggested I watch out for my language, lest I offend dear and delicate readers leading me to wonder to myself:

Have I really not sworn on twitter recently?
That’s a surprise.
Well, it’s been a weird, quiet month of working hard.
Do they read me? I mean, come on.

My next response was a peal of swear words as an announcement and an invite to unfollow me if that was a problem.

It’s combative, and right away three people unfollowed me.

Which is great!

Why is that? One, people who aren’t comfortable with me being me can then not be annoyed by my swearing on twitter. Two, I don’t have to feel accountable to being someone I’m not. My followers are core followers, who will let me be me.

And then something happened, which people who advocate being milquetoast don’t often account for:

Fourteen (almost thirty now) people promptly followed me.

Even if they hadn’t, I would have been totally happy. Because I would have gotten to continue on being myself, which overall encourages me to continue posting happily.

Authenticity is okay.

Look, I am generally a cheerful doofus/nerd/geek, but I grew up on a boat. And in an area that was not prudish and midwestern. I generally oblige midwestern public space standards (because they’re not *my* spaces). But in my spaces, I generally am comfortable with a certain vocabulary. I am who I am.

If you invite me to speak, I will observe protocol and adapt.

But if you sign up to follow me, because you want to hear and interact with the real me, on twitter or my blog.

Then here I am.

And it’s okay.