Archive | October, 2020

“I’d probably bear false witness.”

31 Oct
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Yesterday, I was questioning how useful the Declaration of Human Rights in the modern world. Today, I wanted to play with this idea further – what if mission statements were law?

I’ve been thinking about this as part of a sci-fi university; it’s a story idea for NaNoWriMo. Imagine that when space exploration was about to expand, a UN commission met to come up with rules for the proper and equitable use of new worlds. On Earth, we’d laugh about it, and do what we’re going to do anyway. But what if the programmers decided to put those UN rules in the software, so that the new colonists, like it or not, would have to follow it or their tech would fail. Not so funny now, huh?

Article 1 of the DoHR

So apart from the UN rules (which are based on the US Northwest Ordinance of 1787), I thought, wouldn’t it be funny to have the Declaration of Human Rights included in the programming as the law of the colony. This instantly got me thinking of a West Wing quote (because the best ideas usually come from there), which goes:

Sam: Leo, did you know that there’s a town in Alabama that wants (to make the Ten Commandments into law)?
Leo: Yes.
Sam: What do you think about that?
Leo: Coveting thy neighbor’s wife is going to cause some problems.
Sam: That’s what I said. Plus, if I were arrested for coveting my neighbor’s wife, when asked about it, I’d probably bear false witness.

The West Wing, Take Out the Trash Day (2000)
Sucks for you, spaceman.

If you actually look past the prologue, some of these could be put into law without too much difficulty. Others, not so much. For example:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 1 of the DoHR

How do you act in a spirit of brotherhood? I’ve seen brothers beat the crap out of each other as well as hug.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 13 of the DoHR

Let’s say that our enlightened settlers don’t believe in the death penalty -and in my universe, there’s no jails – then exile is the highest level of punishment. If you can’t refuse them to return, what’s the point? I guess this is where it runs in conflict with Articles 10 & 11: Public Trials, but you could argue that Article 29 (2) creates a necessary “limitation” on these rights and freedoms.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 25 of DoHR

After a while, children can stop listening to their parents. After all, if Article 12 says “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence,” then a teenager can say, “Screw you, Mom, I’m going out tonight. That’s where the “special care” rule would probably apply, but it does bring up the legal question.

Like I said, this is part of the problem with mission statements – if they aren’t intended to be binding, then what’s the point? It’s great and inspirational, but if someone says, “What about my right to happiness?!” They need to be smart enough to realize that the Declaration of Independence is not a law – it’s a statement of grievances with an action at the end.

I’m going to have a lot of fun with this during NaNoWriMo. But am I missing the point? What do you think about the DoHR? How would you program/sabotage future colonists? Let me know in the comments below!

Thirty Articles

30 Oct

I don’t like mission statements. No one reads them, you spend hours on them, and people make the mistake thinking they’re important. After WWII, the United Nations was transitioning from a military alliance to a replacement to the League of Nations, so they wrote their own, called the Declaration of Human Rights in 1947. Important, yes, but are they useful?

When you’re working on a story idea, your mind goes to some weird ideas. Since my day job has currently dealt a lot with international law, naturally I’ve been reading a lot of conventions and declarations by the Conference on Weed Wackers, or the Protocol to Stop Bad Things Ever. Before I did this, I condensed International Law into one sentence, “This is the law agreed by all countries, until one of them decides not to.” As I learned, this is not precisely true. Now I’ve learned “this is the law as we enforce it.” India can sign the UN Framework on Climate Change in 1992, and the Paris Accords in 2015, but it’s up to them to enforce it. They did create the National Environment Policy (NEP), but I’m not sure how much the policy has been translated into law or action. Having lived in India, my guess is… not much.

Here’s Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady and generally considered all around smarty, with the copy of the declaration she helped write when she was at the UN at its founding. So we’re trying to transition from a post-war world and get nations to sign on. So instead of NATO, whose mission statement was “let’s keep the Soviets from conquering Western Europe,” the UN was trying to say, “Let’s create a fair and just future. Don’t you wanna be a part of that?”

And it worked! The problem was this was just a declaration, not a law, not an agreement… NOT international law. The Virginia House of Delegates can pass a resolution that the Republic of Vietnam flag is the only Vietnamese flag that can be raised in Virginia (and they did), but they didn’t pass a law enforcing it. This was to appease the Vietnamese exile minority in that state who obviously gave a lot of support to a state legislator.

Nothing like Turkish law books. At least, I -think- these are Turkish law books.

Okay, I hear you saying, so where are you going with this? Why I hate mission statements like this is because people think they have the force of law, when in actuality, they don’t. Take a minor example – I used to work for a giant insurance company, and my job was to be a secretary in Projects… all the IT programs that this company had going. This particular project wrote up their mission statement which had a two sentence statement basically saying, “This project is to maximize efficiency with the widgets. These widgets allow us to help our company grow more profitable.” You know there was a meeting where someone was upset that the widgets weren’t doing something, and even though the tech monkeys explained to this executive why the widget couldn’t do something, this executive pointed to the mission statement and said, “I don’t see how this maximizing efficiency.” We didn’t either, Chuck, but you wanted to use your damn personal iPhone for business purposes, so we had to create the security protocols for it. (shrug)

So the Declaration of Human Rights was used in the same way. I read Sharing the Land of Caanan by Mazin Qumsiyeh, which was the only non-raving version of why the Palestinians should exist as a country. Usually both Israeli and Palestinian arguments involve long-winded historical and religious statements which read like rally speeches, but this one avoided all that. However, even then, he would fall into “But the UN Declaration of Human Rights says…” and I would roll my eyes, because he obviously didn’t get the memo that the DoHR is not law, it’s just a bunch of flowing words.

Later on, when my wife started diving deep into indigenous rights and philosophy, she pointed out, “It’s not that they believe they’re law, it’s just one of the few weapons they have!” In other words, Mr. Qumsiyeh is just saying, “You guys say that you believe that everyone has the right to nationality – why don’t you recognize the Palestinian Authority’s passports?” He knows the DoHR is not law, but he’s using the weapons he’s been given to make a firm and coherent argument to a jaded world.

I guess I’ll have to explain how I’m going to use this in a future story in the next post, but I have to ask, what do you think? Am I too jaded? Do mission statements and the DoHR have a purpose in this world? Let me know in the comments below!

What Editors DON’T Want

29 Oct

Today’s blog post is brought to you again by my good friend, Ed Stasheff, who has been working as a small press publisher, editor, and author for years.

I’ve written several guest posts about what editors are looking for in short stories when reading through the slush pile.  This time, I’ll list things we’re never looking for.  Submitting any of the items below is almost certainly a waste of both your time and the editor’s. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I have, all of them.

DOESN’T FIT THE SUBMISSION GUIDEINES

Submission calls are always accompanied by submission guidelines—they may be long and detailed or short and simple, but they’re there.  If your story doesn’t fit the submission guidelines, don’t submit it!  If you submit a 10,000-word story when the required word limit is 5000, it will get rejected.

WASN’T PROOFREAD

I think most editors don’t mind a few minor typos (almost everyone gets “its” vs. “it’s” wrong at some point).  But reading a manuscript filled with errors is jarring, annoying, and will almost certainly bias an editor against your work.

THE FIRST CHAPTER OF YOUR NOVEL

…is NOT a short story. It’s all exposition with no resolution. Readers will be annoyed by the “short story” not really going anywhere, and wonder why they wasted their time reading it.  There are always exceptions, of course—the first chapter of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, for example—but they’re few and far between.  So unless your first chapter is essentially a self-contained short story, don’t both submitting it, it will get rejected,

WRONG GENRE

Wow, that’s a truly excellent romance story with a five-handkerchief ending.  Unfortunately, this is a horror anthology.

RESUBMISSIONS

Editors can tell when a story wasn’t originally written for our magazine or anthology, but was hastily rewritten to “fit” by changing a few key names here and there.  It’s kinda obvious.  Besides, do you really believe simply changing the name of your magical school from “Starlight Academy” to “Miskatonic University” automatically transforms your urban fantasy into Lovecraftian horror? (HINT: It doesn’t.)

POLITICAL RANTS

I’m not talking about a “moral of the story” or even a “message”, but a full-on lecture about the author’s personal (often controversial) socio-political views, either by using a character as a mouthpiece (bad) or speaking directly to the audience (worse).  Even if the editor agreed with you 100%, why would they risk publishing your story if it might alienate half their audience and lose all those sales?  If you absolutely cannot stop yourself from including contemporary political opinions in your short stories, then for God’s sake at least keep them subtle, nuanced, and preferably metaphorical—or better yet, write a non-fiction opinion piece for a newspaper, magazine, or blog.

FAN FICTION

It may be the best Star Wars story ever written, but the editor CAN’T publish it unless they own (or leased) the copyright to that franchise.  If they do, they’ll definitely mention that in the submission guidelines.  Otherwise, assume they don’t, and post your story on www.fanfiction.net instead.

EROTICA

A brief, tasteful sex scene in your story might be acceptable, but erotica (a story revolving mostly around a long, detailed, graphic sex scene) is almost never a good fit. Unless the editor is specifically requesting erotica stories, assume they don’t want them.

FAN FICTION EROTICA

Do I even have to explain why?

There are always exceptions to these general guidelines, of course.  Fan fiction that uses characters in the public domain (Don Quixote, Frankenstein, Tin Woodsman, etc.) is acceptable.  Sometimes a resubmission IS a perfect fit for a different anthology.  Some magazines or anthologies DO want fiction with a prominent political slant (like Trumpocalypse).  So take these guidelines with a (tiny) grain of salt, use your best judgment (and common sense), and hopefully you can save yourself some wasted time, wasted effort, and the pain of an unnecessary rejection letter. 

Do you agree with Editor Ed? What do you think he missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Making Aliens Believable

28 Oct

Starfish aliens, rubber-forehead aliens, or intelligent gerbils? Sci-fi writers are always faced with the problem of making aliens believable. Usually, this is passed off because the aliens are in the background. But what if your main character is an alien? How do you create an entire believable culture?

This was the challenge that my friend Edward Stasheff, known to my readers as frequent poster “Editor Ed,” when faced when he went to write his story. This was a collaboration with me and a group of other writers in the “Tech Infantry” play-by-email game that we played… gosh, ten years ago? Yeesh.

Anyway, we had a group of really good writers, and Ed thought, “I did a good job with this story – why don’t I publish it?” So he edited the heck out of it (because you have to explain the universe) and gave me co-author credit (because I did write some of it) and that became Predatory Practices.

So in that universe, the K’Nes were a floating cat-like species that was known for being incredible merchants but not the best fighters. Ed decided to take this race – which no one else had bothered to expand on – and really developed it well. He started with the merchant angle and extended it. What if all the cats were hyper-capitalists? Imagine government run as a business. In this case, he had a character that was part of a clan that was also a business. He also asked, “What happens to cats who aren’t good at business? Or who aren’t part of a clan?”

At the same time, he took his part of this massive space opera and really shifted it to become the cause of his character’s species. While he’s trying to save the universe, he’s also trying to woo his mate, and figure out who’s out to stop him – it made for some great subplots.

Plus there was the “floating” thing – he had to address the physiology we had established. Why do they float? What does that mean in terms of military tactics? How would that affect their architecture?

At the same time he was addressing these questions to make the K’Nes culture believable, Ed had to keep it connectable with the readers. The capitalism he talks about are terms that readers could understand. Although the wooing was done in terms of contractual obligations, it was still romance.

All in all, I think it turned out great and I really encourage everyone to read Predatory Practices. It is a great balance of sci-fi, humor, great world-building, wonderful characters, and a great romping adventure. Check it out!

What do you think are the main obstacles that you as the reader face to believing that an alternate world works? What are some of the things that would make you stop reading a book? Let me know in the comments below!

Getting Over the Hurdle

27 Oct

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation about blowing up the established reading canon. Matt Ryan disagreed with my guest, so I invited him to also talk. Matt is a high school English teacher from Massachusetts, as well as the host of #CanonChat on Twitter. You can follow him at @MatRyanELATeach.

Marcus: How do you deal with students who have difficulty reading “canon books,” but have no trouble with other books? For example, my son (dyslexic and ADHD… whew, what a combo!) will devour Keeper of the Lost Cities and Harry Potter, but has to be forced to sit and read Fahrenheit 451.

Matt: I’d say that many students have trouble reading canonical books. This is where good teaching comes in. We need to provide background knowledge necessary for understanding some texts. We have to walk some students through the text, modeling how to read. If we simply place the books in the hands of students and instruct them to read, it’s no surprise they will resist. Another approach is to build up to classic texts. There’s a reason I teach The Scarlet Letter later in the school year. I build their skills and stamina before I expect them to read Hawthorne’s novel. Ultimately, to put it simply, it’s really hard work to teach some classic texts. 

Marcus: I think your phrasing that “modeling how to read” is really key. My wife struggled with teaching her college online course this year because although she had a great live-course modeling how helping her students learn how to write a proper research paper, this year it completely failed because the students didn’t bother actually reading / watching her lectures… oh, and ignoring her comments. So… more the fool them.

But I liked your phrase “Building up their skills and stamina.” It’s a good goal and I like that perspective of it. What are some of the tricks that you like using in your class?

Matt: The most significant decision I make is the ordering of the books I teach. I strategically begin with books that I know students will enjoy and will be easier to read. So in my American Lit course where I teach The Scarlet Letter and Huck Finn, I open with Station Eleven and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and some short stories. They learn that they can read book and they actually enjoy it. And then when it comes to the more challenging texts, I have buy in. Also, by pairing books, their themes help to illuminate each other. For instance, I pair The Scarlet Letter with a contemporary novel by Silas House called Southernmost. And I pair Octavia Butler’s Kindred with Huck Finn. By pairing books, suddenly these old classics seem fresh.

Marcus: Do you also encourage reading outside of class? How?


Matt: So this is the most controversial part of my teaching, although it really shouldn’t be. When teaching a novel, I give my students daily quizzes on their reading. The quizzes can’t be passed using summary sites because the questions focus on details; not obscure details, but points that would be remembered but are just not included in general summaries. These quizzes have completely transformed my classes. Students quickly learn that they can no longer get along fine with fake reading. Those who typically read continue to read, while the more reluctant readers start to see success. Then they realize that they actually like reading and class is much more exciting when they can actually participate in the discussion. The change has been remarkable. Students want to talk to me outside of the classroom about the books. They come into class asking to be quizzed. Students are vocal about their opinions of the book, both positive and negative. During class discussions, most of the students are engaged in the discussions. In short, the reading checks work. Yes, students will occasionally not read and score poorly on a quiz. But overwhelmingly, they are reading more than they ever had in school. At the end of the year, over and over again my students have shared how, by holding them accountable for their reading, I’ve helped them to rediscovered their love of reading. Compliance isn’t always a bad thing. 

So… what do you think? Is Matt on the right track? Or is his defense of the canon flawed? Let us know in the comments below!

Preserving the Canon

26 Oct

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation about blowing up the established reading canon. Matt Ryan disagreed with my guest, so I invited him to also talk. Matt is a high school English teacher from Massachusetts, as well as the host of #CanonChat on Twitter. You can follow him at @MatRyanELATeach.

Marcus: Why do you believe the existing canon is important for students today?

Matt: Why wouldn’t we want students to read the greatest books humanity has to offer? If I were to study painters of the Italian Renaissance, would I not study the works of da Vinci and Michelangelo? The same can be said about literature. When I teach American literature, I would be doing my students a disservice to not expose them to some of our most influential writers. The same writers, by the way, that our contemporary writers have all read. Additionally, classic texts teach universal truths, truths not defined by race or gender, but by human truths. They don’t reflect a particular ideology. They disrupt our own ideologies and nurture our own intellectual independence.

Marcus: What books are “canon” with the kids you work with?

Matt: I don’t teach every single one of these every year; some rotate in and out, depending on a few factors.

  • Freshmen: The Odyssey, To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, A Raisin in the Sun
  • Sophomores: Chronicle of a Death Foretold, The Crucible, The Awakening, The Great Gatsby, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Scarlet Letter, Sula, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Fences, East of Eden
  • Juniors: Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Macbeth, Pride and Prejudice, Lord of the Flies, Waiting for Godot
  • Seniors: Hamlet, Othello, Antigone, Oedipus Rex

It’s important to note, however, that I teach a number of newer titles that aren’t canonical. I’m not advocating that we teach only from the canon. What I typically do is pair texts together, usually an older text with a newer one.

Marcus: You reminded me – yes, we read To Kill a Mockingbird (great), The Crucible (eh), Beowulf (read later with a better translation), and Antigone (okay). From my perspective, I think that it’s often the language that throws me off. As I’ve mentioned before, I turned 180 on Homer once I found a better translation. I was able to read Sherlock Holmes as a teenager, but as I got older, I found I couldn’t read anything written before Hemingway. Nathanial Hawthorne, being a Romance / Victorian writer, uses a lot of phrasing which dates back to a time when people wanted more descriptive terminology… and now, not so much. The old joke that Dickens got paid by the word makes it difficult to wade through the verbiage to get to the story.

Matt: Language is most often the stumbling block with older texts. Knowing this, I generally approach these books differently. I’ll often start a book by reading it in class and discussing the language. Hearing me read the book is often a bridge to greater comprehension. I also share audiobooks with the students and encourage them to listen as they follow along with the text. And I assign fewer pages in a book I know is more complex.

Another stumbling block can be a lack of background knowledge. To give a specific example, when I teach Pride and Prejudice, I use the annotated edition by David M Shapard because it contextualizes a lot of elements foreign to a reader in 2020. Additionally, I work hard to make connections to their own lives. For instance, students often say that the rules that govern how people behaved in society are confusing and silly. So we talk about all the unwritten rules that govern interactions among teens, especially when there are romantic feelings involved. We’ve had some great conversations about how students “date” and promposals. Then they realize that we’re not all that different from the characters in the book.

We’ll finish our conversation with Matt tomorrow. Meanwhile, what do you think? Is Matt on the right track with his students? Or is he off base? Let us know in the comments below!

Sownynge in Moral Vertu was his Speche

25 Oct

When I used to teach World History, one of the things I would demonstrate is how much English as a language changed in just 600 years… but I’m realizing that English hasn’t stopped changing, and will continue to do so.

So in my class, I would start with Beowulf, circa 1000 CE, and quote:

Hwæt! Wé Gárdena in géardagum
þéodcyninga þrym gefrúnon
hú ðá æþelingas ellen fremedon.

Listen! We –of the Spear-Danes in the days of yore,
of those clan-kings– heard of their glory.
how those nobles performed courageous deeds.

It’s unintelligible – it doesn’t even sound like English. You catch maybe two words that you recognize. That’s only a thousand years old.

Then I would go to Chaucer. Since the motto of my alma mater, Illinois State University, had a quote from the Canterbury Tales (circa 1400), I memorized the Clerk’s introduction in the General Prologue:

Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche,
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly tech.

Filled with moral virtue was his speech;
And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.

This time, it sounded more recognizable, but still foreign. It’s also rather cool and appropriate for a teacher’s college. Side note: right before I graduated, ISU decided that their motto wasn’t gender-inclusive, so they asked their professors to suggest new mottos that didn’t have he or she. Instead of going with any of those, the committee went with “Gladly we learn and teach.” Seriously? (groan) That’s why the unofficial motto of ISU is “I Screwed Up.”

Then I would advance two hundred years and hit them with Shakespeare. However, only recently did I learn about The Great Tonal Shift ™. So even Shakespeare – 400 years ago – didn’t sound like Shakespeare, it sounded closer to Middle English. We softened some vowels around 1800, changed some pronouncations – I can’t help but think that had more to do with London English suddenly getting deluged by all the countryside accents that combined when their owners came in to work in the factories. So what sounded closer to what we think of as Cockney accent – or more likely, West Cornish – was closer to how Shakespeare sounded.

There’s a particular actor named Ben Crystal who works in London whose made performing in OP (Original Pronunciation) his particular niche. It also helps that his dad is a linguist, so he grew up with this, however, it’s amazing to hear him perform:

Of course, it doesn’t stop with Shakespeare. Every year, thousands of high school sophomores are subjected to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which was only written 150 years ago… and it’s very difficult to read. Not unintelligible, but written for people who had a very different expectation from their books… a very different worldview than a modern-day reader. I used to love Sherlock Holmes stories as a teenager – only 100 years old – but now I cannot enjoy them at all. It’s difficult to read anything written before Hemingway (70-90 years old).

I find this incredibly fascinating – and should expect to change in the future. Did I miss something? Is there a better example of changed English? Let me know in the comments below!

Swedish Fish Sushi

24 Oct

Talking about candy no kid wants for Halloween, someone mentioned Swedish Fish, so this segued into a joke about “Swedish Fish sushi.” However, if Rule 34 teaches us nothing, it’s if you can think of it, someone on the internet has made it. Oi mekheye.

Yes, as the picture above indicates, there is a recipe for Swedish fish sushi, and I have to admit, it looks really good! Swedish Fish on top of Rice Krispies and wrapped by Fruit by the Foot. Although I’m not a big fan of the gummy candies in general, having it cut by the more appealing Rice Krispie treats sounds really worth trying.

Of course, that’s not why I brought this up – it’s the sheer absurdity of it that caught my attention. I could go in many directions from here, but let me think about the infinite creativity of man. It’s very easy to say that “there’s nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), or that there’s only ever four types of stories, but I’m pleased to see that there’s infinity diversity in infinite combinations. (Star Trek)

Sure, sushi and Swedish fish are not particularly new concepts, but combining them in a new way is really exciting. You shouldn’t get discouraged because your story is one of many military sci-fi space opera stories (which it is). What can you bring to the table? What about your voice makes the story exciting?

What I’ve discovered is that I enjoy combining sci-fi and humor. Since I enjoy universes where “things fall apart,” it seems natural that I like goofy situations to occur, because if it can go wrong, it will, and at the worst possible moment (Murphy’s Law). So my universes tend to be goofy places and I have a lot of fun with them.

Easy example: names. No matter how wacky the name you give a character, I can guarantee, someone has topped you. For example, in Defending Our Sacred Honor, I named a character Megalicious Jones – or Meg for short. Ridiculous? Sure. On the other hand, a hundred years ago in Iowa, there was someone legally named “Though I Walk Through the Valley of Death, I Shall Fear No Evil Smith.” I always wonder what his nickname was. Ship names are great, because non-Western navies have no compulsion after naming a ship “The 39th People’s Congress.” You can never go TOO far and pass reality.

What’s a wacky combination you can’t believe exists? What an unusual sub-sub-subgenre you find appealing (or disgusting)? Let me know in the comments below!

“I’ll geolocate your ass!”

23 Oct

Conversation moves to the extremes because it gets the most attention; it’s the most interesting. After all, who wants to listen to a reasoned debate on water storage when “You’re killing the delta smelt!” But it has a secondary effect: people hide their true feelings in the face of extremism.

I was going to write a post about trolls, after I heard a radio guy say, “I’m gonna geolocate your ass!” jokingly, but upon reflection, trolls dominate the conversation in many situations. Or at least, we don’t call them trolls when we agree with them.

BTW, this is what a Delta Smelt looks like. It’s an endangered Californian fish.

Take something banal – “Next Generation is the best Star Trek of them all!” I’m actually a huge fan of Deep Space Nine. I also know I am in the minority. Most Trekkers hated that show and I know why. For most of them, Star Trek is gleaming spaceships, boldly going, and science solves all problems. For me, DS9 rings more honest to me. Everything gleaming falls apart eventually, people DON’T get along, and you can’t just technobabble your way out of this one (although, let’s be honest, they still do). Because they were in the same place, they had the best recurring villains, and the more interesting plots.

I might say that in a small group of Star Trek fans, or even a small group in a friendly conversation, but I’m not going to get on social media or in front of a group of Trekkers and say that. Why? Because I don’t like conflict. With my ADHD, I feel emotions more. I think this makes me a better listener, but it also means that strong emotions bother me, so I try to avoid them. So if you profess a strong stance on something, most likely, I’m going to stay silent, even if I completely disagree with you.

What’s scarier to me is not the “silent majority,” but rather the “wannabes.” The people who disagree with someone’s strong opinion, but pretend to agree with them because they really don’t want the argument. They figure the best way to avoid it is to agree with them. It’s effective, but it gives the trolls power. More importantly, it gives the false illusion that everyone thinks the same as you. We create the bubbles we live in.

And the trolls want us in those bubbles. There’s a debate theory called the “motte and bailey,” which are the two parts of a castle – the strong fort inside and the walls on the outside. You start out with an easily defendable premise and then expand on it. If someone questions you on the expanded premise, you retreat to the easier point. For example:

A: “I believe that every child has the right to education. So we should instill mandatory attendance for all children in public schools. That means raising property taxes to have the best schools, and of course, to keep them safe, we need to have mandatory vaccination…”

B: “Hang on, parents have the right…”

A: “What! You don’t believe children have the right to education?!”

This is why I’m seeing people being more willing to be vocal. Because you can only be stomped down with debates so long before you crack. You will either then become the “wannabes,” or you’ll embrace the blatant “wrong.” It’s never been a better time to be a racist because when the trolls put the “racist” label on everything not theirs, you start to think, “#*($ it! I am a racist. Deal with it, brown boy!”

Is that better? No, but inevitable. But I could be wrong. What do you think? Are the trolls winning? Are we becoming more troll-like? Or will the silent majority surprise us all? Let me know in the comments below!

Just a Spoon Full of Sugar

22 Oct

Modern medicine provides miracles, but the sad truth is that medicine only provides miracles because there’s money behind it. So should we expect miracles in our health care? How much are we willing to pay for it?

There’s an easy answer that most people (usually my wife) give: “then we need public health care funded by our taxes! Make it free for all!” First of all, it’s not free – at present, Medicare/Medicaid/CHIP (America’s version of free health care) already covers 25% of Americans and takes up a huge amount of the existing budgets at the federal and state level. Here in Arizona it was 30% of the state budget five years ago; at the federal level, it costs $555 billion/year in matching funds to states. All of that amount goes UP when you add the other 75%. And Americans complain about taxes now.

Second, money drives people. Any family practice doctor will tell you that Medicare pays terribly compared to regular insurance; in fact, many family practice stop seeing Medicare patients for precisely that reason. (Well, most family practice is pointless in my opinion anyway.) “Well, if it’s all public health care, they won’t have a choice. They’ll have to see patients.” Really? To be a surgeon requires 20 years of schooling, 3 years of residency, and 2 (or more) years of fellowship before you’re considered qualified. Sure, they love cutting into people, but the reason they put up with the extra crap involved is because they get paid two to three times the amount of an emergency room doctor.

Now take money out of the equation – doctors get paid like teachers – based on length of education and time in grade. You might say that’s a false argument – specialists would still get paid more for their work… but if you look at Medicare rates, it would still be a lot less. If you’re a new doctor, you might say, “hell with surgery, I’ll be a urologist.” Why? There’s almost never an emergency in urology, so you’re never called in, and you don’t have to work weekends. (That was what my neighbor, the urologist, told me when I asked why he picked his specialty.)

Don’t believe me? Here’s my story – I was trained as a history teacher; I really like teaching history. I worked as an instructional designer (corporate teacher) in hospitals because it pays twice as much. It’s not because I had a great love of medical software – I needed a job and it paid great. After five years, I became a travelling consultant and travelled the country, working in hospitals because (wait for it), it paid twice as much as being an instructional designer. It wasn’t because I had a great love of flying to Allentown, Pennsylvania; I do like flying, but I went to these not-tourist destinations (or tourist destinations in the off-season) because that’s where the job was. If I got the same pay for medical software versus history, hell, I’ll teach history. I get to come home every night and I don’t have to deal with doctors. So you’ll have to wait on that medical software training.

And we can see that in Canada, in the UK, in any place with public health care… you have to wait. Six months for a routine appointment, years before surgeries, and many patients die because there’s no bumping the queue just because you need it more urgently. If you’ve got the money, you fly to somewhere else to get the surgery done faster. There’s a whole industry in Thailand dedicated to cheap surgery for western patients; their hospitals look like frickin’ palaces.

My wife likes to say, “People are willing to pay higher taxes if they see the benefit they get from it.” I agree – in Finland, you’re willing to pay 80% taxes if you get free and quality health care, education, infrastructure… sure, it’s great! My experience with any level of government in the United States tells me you might get free, but you will not get quality. And Americans won’t accept raising their taxes sky-high for not much benefit.

But I could be wrong – what did I miss? What oversimplification did I make? Let me know in the comments below!

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