Another battle won…


… I have just completed ~75,000 words for National Novel Writing Month 2008, which puts me over the top of my self-imposed target for November: 50,000 words more than I started with.

I had those extra 25,000 words to start with because I had planned to do two Nanowrimos back to back, thinking I could finish Blood Rock in October and start a new novel in November. Foolish mortal, who do you think you are, Asimov?

Blood Rock is the sequel to Frost Moon, last year’s Nanowrimo entry. I have already started work on the sequels, Liquid Fire and Hex Code. I have ideas for many more in this series, but I plan to keep doing them only as long as they’re fun.

Like its predecessor, I expect Blood Rock to top out at just under 90,000 words, so hopefully I will be able to finish the first draft in mid-December. Here’s gunning for it!

-the Centaur

This isn’t going to go away

I bumped into a couple African Americans in a Safeway line the other day.  All three of us were looking at a magazine cover with Barack Obama’s family on the cover.   As the line moved and I turned forward, one of the men behind me said, "Wow, it still hasn’t hit me," and the other said, "Yeah, I know, I can’t believe it either".  I couldn’t help but smile.

Then the first man said "Yeah, and the big thing is, it isn’t the big story—" And his friend jumped in and said, "No, Proposition 8 is. And when that fails in the courts, they’re going to look at it, and say, California, which is so liberal, didn’t pass it twice … so maybe that will make ‘them‘ think twice."

I was dumbfounded, and had bought my pound cake and mouthwash and walked out of the store before I could think of an adequate comeback: "Did getting turned away from one or two schoolhouses make the civil rights movement stop?  No.  And this isn’t going to go away either."

-the Centaur

You’re Smarter Than That

The election season has been difficult for all of us, but especially for conservatives that bring a rational rather than partisan approach to the table. I was speaking to a good friend tonight who’s quite frustrated about how things turned out, and he mentioned how irritated he was at a demand by the ACLU that Obama close Guantanamo Bay “with the stroke of a pen”.

We talked about it for a while, with things getting quite heated, but from my perspective it was clear that our differences about how to treat the enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay were the result of real substantive disagreement on issues that were not simple, as opposed to the frothing cariactures of the right that I have often heard from those on the left.

However, there was one little quip that bugged me. When I said I voted for Obama because “McCain’s choice of Palin demonstrated his values to me”, my friend told me that I was “smarter than that” and that I should realize that the choice of a VP is always a bone thrown to a minority member of the party.

Well, that is one theory, but it isn’t the whole story. In my recent memory, at least two Presidents have picked running mates designed to enhance their experience (Bush+Cheney, Obama+Biden), one picked them to appeal to their fan base (Bush+Quayle) and at least three picked running mates that reflected part of their values.

Yes, Palin was more conservative than McCain, and Gore was more liberal than Clinton, but both McCain and Clinton spoke louder than words by selecting someone that reflected key positions that they held: Palin is a sterling, if even heroic defender of the pro-life cause, and we all know how Gore turned out as a proponent of environmentalism.

I think the best example though is Reagan’s selection of ex-CIA director Bush: to me, that was a clear reflection of the values Reagan expressed after his service on the Rockefeller Commission’s review of U.S. intelligence agencies in 1975, something that arguably later reflected some of Reagan’s actions in office. A VP may be designed to appeal to a group of voters, but the choice of a VP still reflects the P’s values. The candidates can say a lot, but who they pick for that slot says a lot to me about what they care about and what they’re likely to do.

If McCain had selected Condoleeza Rice, I would have voted for him without a second thought — but the slice of the party McCain was reaching out to was not centrists worried about national security (and pleased to have the chance to vote for a black man or a woman or both). The slice of the party McCain picked was the religious conservative wing, a group whose influence I feel is corrupting on the entire body politic. I would feel about the same if Obama had picked an actual Communist, a group that had a similar corrupting influence on an earlier era.

And, admittedly, it’s only because McCain and Obama were such a toss-up up on issues that mattered to me that could I afford to let the decision rest on the choice of the VP. When the case was more clear – as in Bush vs Dukakis – I sucked it up and voted for Bush, even though I didn’t approve of Quayle.

But the candidates were very close. I did a lot of research on this campaign. I read the bios of both candidates. I researched their tax policies, the economic effects, their foreign policy stances, their decisions. I followed up on information provided by partisan friends on the left and on the right, and read sources as diverse as the National Review Online and the New Yorker. I went through the positions of both candidates with a blue pen ticking off what I did and didn’t like, and they came damn near close to even. So I didn’t make this decision blind, or just on the basis of Palin.

But she sure didn’t help. Left or right, you’re never going to win me over appealing purely to your base.

-the Centaur

Sacrifice and Responsibility

I voted for Barack Obama; despite my long-standing desire to see John McCain become president, I didn’t agree with his choice of Sarah Palin as she does not reflect my values. But I don’t agree with Obama on everything either, of course, and there has been a fair amount of back and forth on The Edge mailing lists on what’s good and bad about Obama’s views.

But sometimes it isn’t the politician’s proposals that are scary; it is what the people who are allied with them believe. Recently I came across this commentary by someone more sympathetic to Obama’s views than I am:

Obama raises a long-neglected concept: sacrifice

At some point, higher taxes are inevitable to bring the deficit back in line, and Obama’s plan to limit the increases to the rich aren’t likely to be enough. That is the sort of sacrifice we must make to resolve the crisis. The economy is too precarious to endure tax increases to stabilize our finances right now, and some of the ambitious programs outlined on the campaign trail will have to be sacrificed to fiscal prudence.

We must make sacrifices at the personal level, too, by reducing our use of credit and curtailing our spending, building our savings so that we are better prepared. This is a crisis spawned, in large part, by our own delusion. We wanted to believe in ever-rising stocks, in a shop-till-the-terrorists-are-defeated foreign policy and homes that were worth whatever our mortgage broker told us.

For eight years, our government borrowed to pay for wars, tax cuts and prescription drugs, while we borrowed to pay for HDTVs, iPhones and Xboxes. Buy now, pay later wasn’t just a sales pitch, it was fiscal policy. Later is now. To fix our economy we first must change our views of debt and savings.

That will take sacrifice, the one word from the president-elect’s speech that we must hear before all others. Sacrifice, after all, is the prefix for change.

Now, let me not exaggerate: what Loren Steffy is saying here is not crazy and much of it is very sensible. Even in this snippet, there are many points to agree with that have already been discussed on the Edge mailing list:

  • taxes can’t be raised right now because it will damage the economy
  • taxes should be raised when the economy is more healthy so we can balance the budget
  • consumers and the government should learn to pay their own way and not skate on credit

But the attitude of “sacrifice is required” is what I find disturbing – because deep down I don’t think he isn’t proposing that he make a sacrifice. I seriously doubt he sees himself as one of “the rich” whom he wants to tax, or that he has an HDTV that he paid for on credit. Instead he’s proposing that others make sacrifices he thinks they ought to to make the economy more healthy. As one commenter to the article said:

I agree that in tough times success often requires sacrifices. But the great concern is who will be selected to make those sacrifices, and if it isn’t voluntary, is “sacrifice” really the right word? If it is only the wealthy and companies who are volunteered, then that indicates another round of partisan politics. But if ALL Americans are asked to put some skin in the game, then it will be a chance for bonding, healing, and real change.

This is why I think the language of responsibility is so more important than the language of sacrifice. Most of the issues that Steffy raises in the article have been raised by my friends in The Edge. But if both the language of “sacrifice” and the language of “responsibility” led to similar policy recommendations, why should it matter?

The problem is that sacrifice is easy in a political context, because the people who propose sacrifice rarely have to do it. One of my friends was talking about the BART expansion in glowing concerns about the jobs it will create. But who will pay for this? On another occasion I heard my friend talk about the glories of public transportation, and I know they don’t have a great deal of income. So in the long run they’ll gain more from being able to more quickly get to work than they’ll lose in the (very modestly) increased taxes. So it’s very easy to justify a sacrifice … if you don’t have any skin in the game. (Full disclosure: I voted for the BART expansion too).

Responsibility, on the other hand, never stops. I had to look at many different propositions on the ballot; none of them will raise California’s taxes more than I can pay. From that perspective, I could easily say “we need to sacrifice in taxes to pay for these needed services”. But I couldn’t look at it that way: I had to look at the graph of the debt load of all the propositions on the ballot, and choose: which of these things can we actually afford? Yes on disaster relief, and, (based on my experiences in Japan, London, and Washington D.C.), yes on more extensive public transportation, which costs money but is AFAIK ultimately an economic lubricant. But no on everything else. Looking at the bond load over the next thirty years, I decided California couldn’t afford all of it … even if I personally was willing to make the “sacrifice”.

That’s why I prefer the language of responsibility over the language of sacrifice. Sacrifice is easy to make … it’s something you can do to someone else, after all. Responsibility is something you have to take on yourself.

-the Centaur

(1) The Edge is a private group of friends, not to be confused with the Edge Foundation, even though just about everyone on the Edge would find what Edge Foundation discusses as interesting, and vice versa. Interestingly, the Edge Foundation and the Edge appear to have “officially” started at almost exactly the same time, though we didn’t know about them and I’m pretty darn sure they didn’t know about us.

Studio Sandi Updated

My wife’s site, Studio Sandi, has just been updated with a lot of her new art and many more samples of her faux finishing work.  If you live in Atlanta, New York or California and don’t like the look of your walls, give her a call.

Above is one of her latest pieces in the Gigeresque series, Petrified Coral.  After seeing it hanging in its first showing, I decided to buy it … but Sandi gave it to me for our second anniversary.  How sweet!  Now I own two pieces in this series; the first I bought, Gigeresque itself, was also the first piece in its series, and an offhand comment by me gave it its name:

Both of these Gigeresques are hanging near my desk at the Search Engine that Starts with a G: Petrified Coral over my desk, and Gigeresque in the hall outside my office.  Nice.

-the Centaur

P.S.  Studio Sandi is generated by a Python script I wrote based on the code for Fanu Fiku, and allows Sandi to update her site with no programming – all she needs to do is organize her pictures into folders with a text file listing their names and descriptions, and the software does the rest.  Hopefully I will release this software soon.

National Novel Writing Month 2008 Entry: Blood Rock

So … it once again is National Novel Writing Month, the tenth edition of the yearly “contest” to write 50,000 words in a new novel in one month. I’m going to tweak that a bit: I’ve been working for the last month or so on Blood Rock, the sequel to last year’s Nanowrimo entry, Frost Moon. Blood Rock is a return to the world of “skindancer” Dakota Frost, a magical tattoo artist living in an alternate Atlanta, and it’s quite fun to get back to her universe. I’m already 25,000 words into it … so for my Nanowrimo entry, I’m going to push this through to the end, roughly 75,000 words. The intro:

From the outside, my baby blue Prius looks as normal as can be: a streamlined bubble of a car with an aerodynamic rear-hitch bike rack, humming along on a hybrid gas/electric engine. She couldn’t scream ‘liberal soccer mom’ louder if she was a Volvo plastered with NPR stickers. Peer inside, however, and you see something completely different.

In the driver’s seat, yours truly: a six-foot two woman with a purple-and-black Mohawk – short in front, a la Grace Jones, but lengthening in back until it becomes a long tail curling around my neck. Striking, yes, but what really draws your eyes are my tattoos.

Starting at my temples, a rainbow of tribal daggers curls under the perimeter of my Mohawk, cascading down my neck, rippling out over my arms, and exploding in colorful braids of vines and jewels and butterflies. Beautiful, yes, but that’s not why you can’t look away — its because, out of the corner of your eye, you saw my tattoos move — there, they did it again! You swear, that leaf fluttered, that gem sparkled. It’s like magic!

Why, yes, they did move, and yes, they are magic. Thanks for noticing. All inked at the Rogue Unicorn by yours truly, Dakota Frost, best magical tattoo artist in the Southeast.

Beside me sits a five-nothing teenaged girl, listening to a podcast on her iPod. Normally she’s dressed in a vest and Capri pants, but today she’s in a shockingly conservative schoolgirl’s outfit that clashes with her orange hair and elaborate tiger-striped tattoos.

At first what you see is easy to interpret: an outsider trying to fit in, or a rebel suffering a forced fit. But then your eyes do another double take: are those … cat ears poking out from beneath her head scarf? Did they move? And is that a tail? My God, honey, could she be one of those … what are they called … “were-cats”?

Why yes, her ears did move, and yes, she’s a weretiger. But didn’t your mom tell you it’s rude to point? She has a name: Cinnamon Frost. And she’s my adopted daughter.

Both the Prius and the weretiger in its passenger seat are brand new to me. I met Cinnamon only two months ago, visiting a local werehouse to research a werewolf tattoo, and ended up adopting her after a serial killer damn near killed her trying to get to me. I picked up the Prius right around the same time, a little splurge after winning a tattooing contest.

The adjustment was hard at first: Cinnamon took over my house and tried to take over my life. But my Mom had been a schoolteacher, and I’d learned a few tricks. In the first few weeks after she moved in I put the hammer down, never smiling, setting clear boundaries for her behavior and my sanity. Finally — when she got past the point of the tears, the “not-fairs,” and the most egregious misbehaviors — I eased up, and we once again shared the easy “gee you’re a square but I like you anyway” camaraderie we’d started with.

Now we were peas in a pod; whenever I went out she tagged along, riding shotgun, listening to her audiobooks while I jammed to Rush. The two of us look as different as can be, except for the identical stainless steel collars about our necks, but one minute seeing the two of us laughing together and you’d think I’d been her mother for her whole life.

But today my sunny bundle of fur was feeling quite sullen.

“Don’t worry,” I said, patting her knee softly. One of them will accept you.”

So how much do I need to write each day to do this? Some Python (apologies to the J fans out there, but my J installation was acting cruftly today and I’m just as fast if not faster coding in Python):

>>> for day in range(1,31): print "Nov %d:\t%d" % (day, 25000 + (50000 / 30.0) * day)
...
Nov 1: 26666
Nov 2: 28333
Nov 3: 30000
Nov 4: 31666
Nov 5: 33333
Nov 6: 35000
Nov 7: 36666
Nov 8: 38333
Nov 9: 40000
Nov 10: 41666
Nov 11: 43333
Nov 12: 45000
Nov 13: 46666
Nov 14: 48333
Nov 15: 50000
Nov 16: 51666
Nov 17: 53333
Nov 18: 55000
Nov 19: 56666
Nov 20: 58333
Nov 21: 60000
Nov 22: 61666
Nov 23: 63333
Nov 24: 65000
Nov 25: 66666
Nov 26: 68333
Nov 27: 70000
Nov 28: 71666
Nov 29: 73333
Nov 30: 75000

I’m currently at 26,744 words, so I have a lot to do today. For those people who are starting at word 0, here’s a slight variant of the above you can cut and paste to make your own writing progress chart.

>>> for day in range(1,31): print "Nov %d:\t%d" % (day, (50000 / 30.0) * day)
...
Nov 1: 1666
Nov 2: 3333
Nov 3: 5000
Nov 4: 6666
Nov 5: 8333
Nov 6: 10000
Nov 7: 11666
Nov 8: 13333
Nov 9: 15000
Nov 10: 16666
Nov 11: 18333
Nov 12: 20000
Nov 13: 21666
Nov 14: 23333
Nov 15: 25000
Nov 16: 26666
Nov 17: 28333
Nov 18: 30000
Nov 19: 31666
Nov 20: 33333
Nov 21: 35000
Nov 22: 36666
Nov 23: 38333
Nov 24: 40000
Nov 25: 41666
Nov 26: 43333
Nov 27: 45000
Nov 28: 46666
Nov 29: 48333
Nov 30: 50000

Have fun, everyone!

-the Centaur