Monday, December 29, 2008

Book Review: The Moon and the Sun

The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre

1998 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

Reading a book you love is one of life's greatest joys. There is something almost transcendent about being transported into another world that grips you. Like most things in life, however, there's a flipside - there are the books you hate. It was this fact that sometimes made high school literature classes, despite my love of books and the excellent teachers I had, miserable. If reading a book you love brings joy, then being forced to stick with one you loathe is utter misery. One might imagine, for instance, that hell consists of an endless reading of Jude the Obscure. Deciding to read all the Hugo and Nebula award winning novels has had many benefits. It has introduced me to new writers, served as a guide to the greats of my favorite genres, and has allowed me to witness of variety of strong writing techniques that will benefit me personally as a writer. It is not, however, without its consequences. Having a goal to read a certain set of books is rather like the aforementioned school assignment in that, rather I like the book or not, I feel compelled to read the entire thing. The Moon and the Sun by Vonda McIntrye was one such miserable book.

The Moon and the Sun is an alternate history novel set in the court of Louis IX of France and involves the adventures of a brother and sister with a certain sea monster. I cannot point to any one single factor that makes The Moon and the Sun a subject of such abject loathing on my part. Ultimately, a number of points of sheer mediocrity, combined with several pet peeves, led to my shunning of this spectacularly bland book. The first fatal flaw of McIntyre's book is its lethargic pacing. I can love a slow book, my fondness for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Pride and Prejudice proves this point, but such pacing needs to be balanced by spectacular prose and brilliant characterization and on both these counts The Moon and the Sun scores poorly

The main characters manage to be mildly engaging, though not in any way spectacular, while the large supporting caste never rises above the depth of a teaspoon. Of particular annoyance is the character of Pope Innocent XII and it serves as a particularly good example. For those of you who don't know (I didn't before reading the book) Innocent XII is a Pope famous for reformation within the Catholic Church. He did much to weed out corruption during his reign and is famous for having remarked that the poor were his nephews. My research on him is extremely limited compared to McIntryre's, but I cannot imagine that her characterization of him comes close to accurate. He is a cardboard cutout of a legalistic catholic: angry at all times and obsessed with the idea of sin. Even had Innocent XII been such a Pope, I cannot imagine that he would have been like this at all times. Supporting characters need not be as dimensional as the main characters, but one should get the impression at least that the dimension is there. Unfortunately, like her characterization of Innocent, the majority of her supporting players never rise above clichés. This across the board negative stereotyping of Catholics is one of those pet peeves I mentioned, by the way.

As far as the writing style goes, there is little to mark it out as either good or bad. There were a few flaws that nagged me, however. One was that she did nothing to indicate when a piece of text was a character's thought beyond having the perspective switch to first person. I would be reading along and suddenly the text would make the switch without any other indication that she was moving into a piece of thought - a very disconcerting experience for any reader. The other major flaw, of similar character, is that she would from time to time switch perspectives without giving the reader much indication she had done so. Once again, when I would realize that she had changed perspectives, I would be jarred out of the story. Often enough, I would have to go back and figure out where the change had happened so I could put the right events and thoughts with the right characters. These flaws are so basic that no professional writer should ever have them in their work.

Worst of all, when the plot finally gets around to unraveling, it turns out to be an utterly predictable and painfully cliché storyline.

There are two minor things, however, that raise The Moon and the Sun very slightly in my esteem. The first is one of the main characters, Lucien de Barenton, a clever noble who advises the king and who happens to be a dwarf. He is not enough to recommend to book, however. Indeed, George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series has a similar character, that of Tyrion Lannister, and is a much superior read. If you want the clever dwarf, check that one out instead. Though, the judges who give out the Nebula Award do not apparently agree with me as they committed the egregious error of awarding the Nebula to The Moon and the Sun over the first book in Martin's series, A Game of Thrones which was nominated in the same year. Sometimes the judges show spectacularly bad taste. The other feature of minute quality in The Moon and the Sun is the way she ends the story of the sea monster. I cannot, however, really discuss this without spoiling the whole plot, and while the book isn't really worth reading, I imagine there are some who might still want to torture themselves and so I will remain silent on the ending. Suffice to say that, in my opinion, the novelty of the ending does not even come close to being enough payoff to makeup for this travesty of a read.

I cannot imagine what compelled the judges of the Nebula to even nominate The Moon and the Sun, and much less to give it an award. This is especially baffling to me in the face of the fact that it was running against A Game of Thrones. Perhaps the judges all voted while drunk. Perhaps they were all struck with temporary insanity. Who knows? It shall always remain to me an arcane mystery, but at least this review was fun to write.

Rating: 2 out of 10

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book Review: Children of Hurin

When I first heard that there was going to be a "new" J.R.R. Tolkien book I was worried. While I knew that Christopher had completed some of his father's work before in the form of the Silmarillion, I didn't want anything to taint the perfection that is Middle-earth. Nonetheless I felt compelled to read the Children of Hurin and I'm glad to say my fears were unfounded.

Children of Hurin falls much more in the camp of the Simarillion than that of Lord of the Rings in many ways. While being the story of one family, it is still written much more in the style of a history than of a narrative story.

It is the general story of Children that is its strength, being the creation of J.R.R. himself. Tolkien shows in this story that he has the capacity to be a true tragedian. While Lord of the Rings is much more a Norse epic, the story of Children of Hurin falls firmly in the camp of the Greek tragedies. There are many times in the story that you might think you were reading the work of Sophocles himself. Indeed Hurin's children have lives that make the stories of Oedipus or Shakespeare's hamlet look positively bright. It is also a story that demonstrates, just as the classics, the terrible danger of hubris.

It's not a perfect book, however. While the universe and plot are as good as one expects from the senior Tolkien, the prose suffers some, as Christopher is not as good of an author as his father.

I prefer the tone and scope of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, and the prose of those books is definitely stronger but Children of Hurin is worth checking out if your a Tolkien fan, or if you're studying the classic tragedy as it is a fabulous example of a modern story emulating that style.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Book Review: The Uplift War

The Uplift War by David Brin

1988 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel and 1987 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

A while ago, I set out to read the all the Hugo and Nebula Award winning Novels. When I started, I was enjoying all of the fiction I was reading, but the last few have been quite disappointing. Thank God than, for David Brin and his excellent novel Uplift War.

This is not to say that Brin's book is of a literary quality on par with Fahrenheit 451 or even American Gods, but it is good classic science fiction. Uplift War has good pacing, engaging story and a fantastic setting.

The story itself takes place on a backwater world of large galactic society of the sort you would find in Star Wars or Star Trek. The setting has its own unique wrinkles, of course, and Brin does a good job of making them important to the story. The galactic society of the Five Galaxies is one of ancient oxygen breathing sentient races with unbending codes of conduct. War is brewing, and humans (who are new on the scene and not very well liked) are suffering greatly. None of these are the most important aspects of the setting, however. Sentience in this galaxy is a gift. Few races since the fabled Progenitors have ever achieved it on their own; instead they are uplifted by already sentient races who they then serve as indentured servants for great lengths of time. Humans themselves have already uplifted chimpanzees and dolphins to sentience by the time the story begins.

All of the details about the setting play into the story in a better than average manner, but at the same time there is definitely a sense of vastness and mystery to the galaxy. Hints about other societies that exist parallel to that of the Five Galaxies and other events going in the background make it seem like this is a real living universe, rather than one engineered to suit the story. This is the perfect balance for a science fiction story of this type, and Brin pulls it off masterfully.

The characters who inhabit it are enjoyable company for the reader. None of them are undyingly memorable, but they are also not infuriating. Also, while Uplift War is the third in a series, you don't have to read the others to follow, which is always a plus.

I highly recommend that anyone with an interest in science fiction pick up and read this book.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Life: Absence, Procrastination and UC Applications

I must apologize to all my readers that I have been absent for such a long time. I have been busy procrastinating on writing my personal statement for my UC application and that's, uh... hard work. However, with the deadline quick approaching, I had to set aside my procrastinating ways and actually sit down and write it. It's now done, and as soon as I do a little bit of editing I'll be turning in my application. Wish me luck!

As for this blog, I'll have posts up in the near future. Look for a discussion of alien civilizations, mulled mead and a review of David Brin's Uplift War, which I finished some time ago.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Book Review: The Gods Themselves, Ringworld and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
1973 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel and 1972 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

Isaac Asimov takes the title of his book, and the subsequent titles of its subsections, from the quotation by Friedrich Schiller, “against stupidty, the gods themselves contend in vain.” Asimov's use of this quotation promises and interesting premise that then book ultimately falls quite short of.

In the story, humanity has discovered a source of limitless power that appears to come without consequence. However, one scientist discovers the terrifying truth that this power source threatens to destroy humanity. The novel sets itself up to be an interesting story of the desperate struggle of a few beings to warn humanity that their doom is eminite when humanity just doesn't want to know. This problem, it seems, is one that science can’t solve. Humanity will have to make a sacrifice or die.

Asimov unravels the novel throughout the course of three poorly connected sections. The ultimate climax of the story proves, to my mind, incredibly disappointing in the face of the novel's promising setup (and initially apparent theme). I won’t spoil the way the story ends, but it left a rather sour taste in my mouth.
Another problem with Asimov’s book is one common to science fiction literature written in the 1970s. Asimov, throughout the story, obsessively writes about sex though it has no point to the story. My problem with his portrayal of sex is not from some prudishness on my part (though it does contain a message I happen to disagree with). My problem is that it’s written poorly, serves no purpose to the narrative and feels, as my sister put it, “rather like Asimov is an adolescent boy who just discovered sex”.

My initial reaction to The Gods Themselves as I began the book was one of extreme excitement. The premise was interesting, the science fiction good and the theme promising, but in the end I found it to be a massive let down. This was surely not Asimov’s greatest offering. 

Rating: 5 out of 10 

Ringworld by Larry Niven
1971 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel and 1972 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

Larry Niven’s Ringworld is most certainly not a perfect book, but it was an enjoyable ride in a captivating setting. While the plot ultimately faltered and the human characters were never interesting (and at times repulsive), I still found that I could not put the book down.

The greatest strength of Niven’s novel is certainly his alien characters, who achieve the greatest semblance of true "alienness" I have yet to encounter in science fiction. The Puppeteer Nessus and the Kzin Speaker-to-Animals are enjoyable and exotic. How unfortunate it is, then, that the humans who travel with them ultimately seem bland and obnoxious. I found nothing to like about the main human, Louis Wu. Even less enjoyable was his female companion Teela Brown.  

Throughout the course of the narrative, Louis never struck me as anything but a bored, spoiled brat and Teela never rose above being his shallow sex partner, despite some interesting facts the story reveals about her. Louis Wu goes on the adventure because he’s bored, falls in love because he’s bored, is convinced to bring Teela along so he can sleep with her because he’s bored and does just about everything else because he's bored. The interesting implications of how the paradise of Earth in the far future creates boredom for the human characters is the only thing that redeems them in my eyes. 

Another issue with Ringworld is, as with The Gods Themselves I was bothered by the portrayal of sex in Ringworld because of its emptiness and pointlessness. Indeed, Asimov at least tried to make a point with the sex in The Gods Themselves, where it seems like Niven simply assumes that a 200-year-old man simply couldn’t go a chapter without having sex with his twenty-year-old companion (or another female if Teela wasn’t available). Like any other event, sex should be used in a story only as it furthers the plot or characters, not as method to titillate the reader. 

However, despite the fact that I found the human characters boring, the aliens pulled me through the exploration of the titular Ringworld, and the setting was revealed well. One got a sense of a much bigger world outside of the adventures of Louis Wu’s motley crew without being overwhelmed with needless trivia. Unfortunately, the story, while captivating, does not quite achieve what it’s aiming for. It creates a few interesting mysteries that beg answering, but are never even addressed, and pulls off a twist that struck me as rather lame. 

In the end, I enjoyed Ringworld quite a bit, despite its glaring flaws and I would recommend that fans of science fiction read it and form their own opinions about it.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
2005 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel
Susanna Clarke's debut novel is such a delight to read. The style reads perfectly like a classic Victorian novel, with all the flourish of prose and clever wit. What is more the setting and plot play out like something straight out of Jane Austin, except, of course, that there are wizards.

In many ways Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is an examination of what Victorian England would have been like if their had been wizards. The society gossips about the wizards, and attempts to form strict rules of propriety for them, in an absolutely convincing manner. 

All of the characters in the novel should be enjoyable to anyone with a taste for Austin, Bronte or Dickens. What is more, it has one of the best portrayals of a devilish fairy that I have ever read.

The reader should be warned, however, that the plot is slow moving and the novel is long, and while there are certainly perils which beset the characters, they are not at all of the epic variety. Indeed, one friend of mine commented that I could use the book as a shield because “nobody ever gets through it.” I certainly enjoyed it greatly, but it’s not for everyone, but if you like the Victorian novel, and you like fantasy stories, then you will love Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Friday, October 24, 2008

Book Review: Dune, Ender's Game and American Gods

Dune by Frank Herbert
1966 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel and 1965 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

Frank Herbert, at least in Dune, is a masterful world creator almost on par with Tolkien. Dune is fantastic in its exposition (which is about the first 95% of the book) but falters quite a bit during the finale.

In many ways, it feels like the epic background of the book boils down to a few confused moments in a room, but despite this fact I could not help but leave the book with a high opinion of Herbert’s craft. The textures of his world are rich and deep and you truly feel the living, breathing culture of the Fremen. Unlike many fictional cultures, that of the people of Dune feels genuinely shaped by the world around it.

Ultimately, Dune indisputably deserves both the Hugo and Nebula awards that it won. Not only is it well written, it also contains rich thematic depth. Sadly, Herbert’s fiction seems to falter in the stories that follow after.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
1986 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel and 1985 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

Ender’s Game  is one of the best of the award-winners I have read so far. What makes the story so strong is not so much the world Orson Scott Card creates, but the characters he inhabits it with. That’s not to say the world Card creates in not interesting. The foe humanity faces is both interesting and menacing and the way in which Card unravels the truths about his fictional future is brilliant in execution.

The character’s are amazing, however. Amazing for their intelligence, for their loyalty and most of all for the fact that they are all children. Card treats children with respect. No more needs to be said for the surprising portrayal of children in Ender’s Game than the fact that it forever changed my friend's perspective on children when she read it.

Ender’s Game is a fantastic piece of fiction and one that everyone should read.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
2002 Hugo and Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

I've always had an interest in mythology, particularly that of the Vikings, so reading a book like American Gods, I feel like a kid in a candy shop.

American Gods is a brilliant exploration of mythology and of the nation of America, and has a fantastic plot that will keep you turning the pages and catches you with brilliant twists.
If your tastes are anything like mine, you will be drawn quickly into the compelling characters, vivid locations and thrilling story of American Gods. 

One thing I appreciate very much about the tale is the fact that, unlike many modern tales involving the ancient pantheons, Gaiman's doesn't sugarcoat the personalities of his deities; they are as oversexed, Machiavellian and brutal as their original myths portray them.

I would caution, however, that this is not a book for the young or easily offended. The book has quite a bit of vulgar language, brutal violence and overt sex (including a homosexual encounter) and can also be frightening in parts.

If I had any criticism of American Gods it would be that some of the vignettes dispersed throughout the story don't fit into, or even complement, Shadow's journey.

American Gods is, hands down, one of my favorite books and one I would recommend in the blink of an eye to anyone who thinks they could handle the more disturbing content of the book.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Friday, October 10, 2008

Book Review: The Demolished Man and Fahrenheit 451

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
1953 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel

The very first Hugo winner, The Demolished Man is a clever and exciting book with a somewhat disappointing ending.

Alfred Bester truly manages to create an interesting and elaborate world in which some humans have developed psychic abilities. While many of his ideas might might seem cliché to those familiar with science fiction (particularly fans of Babylon 5) this is the story that was the genesis of many of these ideas (as is acknowledged by the character in Babylon 5 named Alfred Bester).

Aside from being a good science fiction novel, Bester's work is also a powerful crime story that will keep the reader glued to the pages.

Ultimately, the only plot problems are the overly optimistic ending and the questionable and outdated Freudian psychology. The ending, while typical of the times, is rather a let down and the psychology sadly dates the story.

A must read for any science fiction fan, and if I say so myself is a tale just begging to be made into a film (with perhaps some updates to the psychology).

As far as writing goes, not much stood out as either particularly good or particularly bad. There are a few places where Bester uses editing tricks to show the powerful difference that psychic abilities would make in the very structure of the way telepaths think in his world. This is an interesting idea, and it basically works within the structure of his story, but I think in the end it would prove to me annoying if used too much.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
1954 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel, Retro
The Hugo awards began in 1953, but failed to give out any award in '54. In 2004, in correction of this, a "Retro Hugo" was given to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. This is a choice I entirely approve of.
Of all the dystopian fiction I have read (the others being 1984 and A Brave New Work), Fahrenheit 451 is by far my favorite. Bradbury writes with a magnificent prose that ellegently portrays a chilling vision of the future. This is not only my favorite of the dystopias I have read, but is also the best of the award winners so far.

Bradbury masterfully, and almost prophetically, portrays a world in which the desire to avoid offending anyone leads to a horrific dark age.

Fahrenheit 451 is fantastically crafted story that is firmly grounded in mature prose. Everyone should read this one.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Life: The Quest to Read Them All

As a reader of books and a watcher of movies and television, I have always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy. Inspired by my sister’s quest to read all of Newbury award winning novels, I set out some time ago to read all of the Hugo and Nebula award winning novels. I started this for two reasons. The first was for enjoyment. As I stated above, I love books and I especially love science fiction and fantasy. My second reason stems from the fact that I’m a writer, and am primarily interested in writing in my favorite genres. It’s always good to know what the forerunners of your medium have created, what they’ve done right and wrong in their storytelling, so that you can incorporate all of those lessons into your own writing.

This task has been a load of fun, and I’ve read some wonderful books already. It has been, however, a little slow going because of all of the reading I’ve had to do for school, as well as diversions into reading books not on the lists. Nevertheless, I’m going to keep on reading and hopefully, one day, I’ll have read them all.
Over the next few weeks, I hope to write and publish reviews of the award winners I’ve already read and then continue to publish reviews of the books as I read them. Also, as not everything I read comes from the Hugo and Nebula Award lists, my reviews  will not be exclusively of books from that list.
Note: Some of my first reviews will come from one’s I already wrote over on Facebook’s Visual Bookshelf, so if you’ve seen them already I apologize.
Hugo Award Winning Novels
Nebula Award Winning Novels

Friday, October 3, 2008

Politics: Sound Economic Advice

What I quote below is not my idea. It was put forward by forum member shadohrt over at Geekson and I think it sounds like a much more solid idea than any I've heard from the government so far.

"Look at people who are still living in their sub-prime mortgaged homes and change their situation. Foreclosures are devastating to borrowers AND the lenders. Foreclosing on a home that has lost value is even worse for the lender. So, it comes down to a VERY simple question: do you want some money or none at all? If you want some money then the bank should approach the delinquent borrower with the following proposal: "You cannot afford the new payments and are delinquent and we cannot afford to maintain the interest rate you can afford to pay for so why don't we split the interest rate change in half, make the mortgage a 35 (or 40) year mortgage instead of a 30 year mortgage and lock it in at the same monthly payment you were able to afford before your rate went up?" Because of the hassles associated with foreclosures (and the credit rating damage) I am sure that a great many people would take that offer rather than be kicked out of their homes. Likewise, the banks would take a small hit, but no where near the 150% hit that they can incur by trying to go through with a foreclosure."

Politics: Get the Facts

In the muddled atmosphere of the coming election, it can be hard to know who's lying, who's telling the truth and who's just confused. Well, there's no perfectly non-partisan source, but I have found to be a wonderful source of help. If you have questions, check it out. Project Vote Smart is also a great resource for responsible voters. Wherever you fall in the political spectrum, it's important to stay educated.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Life: My Work Begins

Today, I began serious work on a novel I hope to write. So far I have done a general outline of the story and have begun to lay out the characters. The idea for this story has been kicking around in my head for some time now, and it saw a short life as a forum-based roleplaying game over at Geekson

Thanks to its time on the forum, my story has gained a greater maturity than it might otherwise have had, and several intriguing characters have been added into the mix. I will be using these characters with the permission of their original creators: Gjordus, Misspaige21, Mr. Saltine and Justin77. I grateful for the writers generosity with their creative property.

I sincerely hope that this project comes to fruition and will let you all know about its progress. Of course, I'm crazy busy with school, so I have no idea how long this will take.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Politics: How to Fix an Economy

Our economy is in crisis. All across the nation businesses are closing, people are losing their homes and our government is scrambling to find a solution. In the environment of our coming election, the question has been raised, “What will our next President do?”
Throughout the history of our nation, the role of the President has grown in power and influence. There have perhaps been no jumps more substantial than when Lincoln established the supremacy of the Federal government over the States by wining the civil war, and when Franklin D. Roosevelt used his influence in the congress and senate to enact serious economic reform in an attempt to restore our economy from its distressed state during the Great Depression. It was not until Roosevelt’s actions that the President’s responsibility for the state of the economy was considered to be substantially important. That’s not to say that Presidents never before had economic influence. Early on, questions of whether or not there would be a Federal currency or a Federal bank were issues that candidates fought over. These, however, were principally seen as issues of States rights versus the power of the Federal government. Nobody expected the President to have much influence over the everyday ebb and flow of our prosperity. People were expected to take care of their economic situation on their own. When candidates, such as William Jennings Bryan, attempted to run on economic platforms, they didn’t get far. Ever since Roosevelt, however, people have been asking the question, “What will the President do for my wallet?” But let’s face it, no President since Roosevelt has had close to his affect on the economy. Why is this? Roosevelt had an exceptional set of circumstances that allowed him to exert influence far in excess of what is normally possible. First of all, the dire economic situation of the country helped Roosevelt to persuade the house and senate to essentially give him a blank check to pass any sort of economic program he wanted. Second, the coming of World War II created an economically fortuitous situation for the American economy. Finally, Roosevelt had four terms in which to enact his influence. This is not likely to ever happen again. So, in some ways, the question of what our President can do for our economy seems silly. There is, however, something substantial that I believe any candidate would be able to accomplish.
Our current crisis, as I understand it, largely stems from disasters that arose in our real estate market. Essentially, mortgage lenders were pushing low interest, open rate, loans to borrowers because these loans were an easy sell. Borrowers, desperate to get homes, swallowed up these loans. What is more, some individuals discovered that they could use this situation in a get-rich scheme. They would take out an open rate loan on a home, buy it and wait a year for the house’s value to appreciate and would then sell it at a profit. This worked as long as only a few people were doing it, but as more and more individuals learned about this method of “flipping houses” and began practicing it inflation was supercharged. As the economic environment changed, banks were forced to raise the rates on the open-rate loans they had put out. However, many of the people who had taken out these loans had done so barely able to afford their payments even at the low rate the loan had started out. With the raise in rates, many were unable to continue their payments and had to foreclose. The banks, however, had put out so many loans that they could not afford the massive number of foreclosures happening. Rapidly, the real estate market plummeted and everything else soon followed. The foolish actions of people, born out of ignorance, dealt a critical blow to our economy.
Today, a 700 billion dollar bailout is being proposed in the upper levels of our government. Meanwhile, while this is discussed, both candidates for the presidency are fighting over what is the best method to fix our broken economy. McCain believes that the trickle-down economics of Ronald Reagan are the best solution, while Obama says that any solution needs to help the people, more than the lenders who are, according to him, responsible for our situation. Both ideas have their upsides and downsides, though this blogger thinks trickle-down is an incredibly flawed idea.
I have a different proposal. I’m making no claims to being an economic expert. The extent of my training in economics consists of a semester of AP economics and a book. The problem I see, however, with both parties proposed solutions to the economic crisis is that the roots of the problem go far deeper than anyone seems to acknowledge, they stretch through the muddled soil of our economy straight into the minds of its participants. The current proposals are only Band-Aids to serious wounds that will only start to bleed again if we don’t do something about them. The fact is that we’re in our problem because the borrowers were ignorant of basic economic principles and borrowers, swelled up by their own greed, took advantage of them. Individuals in our society are being taught from the time they are born that wanting things is good and getting them is better, and the sooner they can get something the better. Advertisers bombard our minds with the principle that we are, from cradle to grave, born to buy, and there is currently no counterweight to this. Students, on the whole, are not being taught how our economy works. They need to have it hammered into them that in an economy of supply and demand, nothing is free, nothing comes easy and if it seems to be free and easy, it should set off alarm bells in your head. I propose that the very best thing a President could do for our economy is to require the education of our youth in practical economics. Let’s face it, most students, if they get any economic training at all, get a one-semester senior year economics course where they study supply and demand curves. Yet, in our day, high school students are required to take algebra II and physics classes. Personally, as wonderful and important as those things are, they can’t hold a candle to the crucial need to know how to survive in the capitalistic economy we live in. So, why not educate students in this crucial area?
It doesn’t even take much. As I said above, my economic training is far from extensive. Likewise, my good friend Tyler’s economic education consisted, essentially, of one class. Yet, with our limited knowledge, we saw this economic crisis coming. We saw the reckless borrowing and lending and we cried foul. I’m not saying this to claim that we are brilliant, but to say that we, college students at a local community college, figured this out on the basis of a minimal economic education. Imagine what a thorough, well thought out, practical economics education could do.
My proposal is to give people an education in economics a bit more thorough than the one we got. First, I think a candidate should push that it be required that practical economics be woven into students math and history education throughout elementary and high school. Secondly, they should fight to have high schools in all fifty states create a year-long practical economics class and set it as a graduation requirement.
Ultimately, I believe that if everyone were thoroughly trained in an understanding of our economy, the majority of them would not act in the foolish manner that led to our current state, but would instead act wisely in a manner that would generate a stable economy. This, to my mind, is a far better solution to the problem because it addresses the roots of the issue and would have long term effects. What is more, this is a solution well within the powers of the President to achieve.
This isn’t to say that some sort of temporary solution, such as the current bailout, doesn’t need to be enacted. That idea is beyond the scope of this argument to address and is above my pay grade. Certainly, the urgency of our situation needs a solution that is immediate and the beneficial effects of my proposal would take some time to come into effect. Rather, what I am saying is that any solution that our government comes up with will only delay our downfall if we are not taught to be wise. The very best thing that any President could do for the economy would be to educate the people on the practical facts of our economy.
Please, if this idea resonates with you in any way, spread it around. I truly believe that this could have a powerful positive effect for our economy and my dream would be to see it enacted. You don’t even have to give me credit for this idea. Talk about it, improve upon it. Just get it out there. Thank you.
Born to Buy
Deep Economy

Friday, September 26, 2008

Life: Epistemological Writings

As a beginning student of philosophy, my knowledge of the various philosophical studies is naturally limited. While, by my nature, I tend towards philosophical thought, I have not read a great breadth of philosophy. I could hardly call myself a student if I knew it all ahead of time.

 Still, in general I think I come to understand the subjects pretty well when presented with them. I love philosophy, and it's something that I'm good at. I wouldn't be majoring in it otherwise. Nevertheless, there's always a learning curve for any subject. Currently, I'm reading an article for my epistemology class titled, "The Content and Epistemology of Phenomenal Belief" by David Chalmers. This paper is driving me crazy. Chalmers is, I understand, one of the great minds of modern epistemology and, as such, his work is quite influential.

Reading a paper like "The Content and Epistemology of Phenomenal Belief" is frustrating to me, because I know that I can understand the topics presented, but the manner in which they are laid out makes them dense and insanely difficult to process for one not used to reading this sort of scholarly writing. For example, Chalmers makes the following illustration to one of his points

"Take Nancy, who attends to a patch of phenomenal color, acting cognitively as if to demonstrate a highly specific phenomenal shade. Nancy has not attended sufficiently closely to notice that the patch has a nonuniform phenomenal color: let us say it is a veridical experience of a square colored with different shades of red on its left and right side"(Chalmers, "The Content and Epistemology of Phenomenal Belief").
A paragraph like that is so weighed down in vocabulary specific to the register of advanced epistemology, that for a beginner like me it means almost nothing. I'm forced to spend a huge amount of time just deciphering what his terms mean before I can even begin to try and understand what he's saying. Ultimately, I'm studying philosophy to learn philosophy, not to decipher peculiar sentences so the beginning stages of studying the subject can be a tad irritating. I suppose one could call it growing pains.

I understand the importance of specific registers (or jargon) for different fields. Without these linguistic usages a writer would be constantly forced to explain over the terms he was using for concepts. Still, they make these readings much more difficult for a beginner.

Of course, in the end that's part of what schooling is about. Despite my frustrations with Chalmers wording I will get through it and I will understand what he's saying and that skill will serve me in reading what other philosophers have to say, and what a sweet taste it will be when that day comes.

I do think, however, it would be a great idea for schools to offer a class in how to read philosophy that trained one to decipher these difficult texts. No doubt this sort of class would be useful for other majors as well.

Well, here's me looking forward to the day when I can read the works like those of David Chalmers without a second thought.

"The Content and Epistemology of Phenomenal Belief" by David Chalmers

Writing: The Red Ones

Below is a little horror story I wrote up for my Short Story Workshop last semester. It's not my usual genre (indeed I think if I wrote in it usually I'd get very depressed) but it was a fun experience.

The Red Ones

Jason paced back and forth, his bare feet slapping against the cold cement floor. It was the only noise in the dark room, besides the distant sound of pipes. He ran a hand along the rough cement wall for the hundredth time. Where had they taken him? Pulling his hand away from the wall, he put it up to his face, feeling the rough stubble where his wild beard had grown only a few days before. He turned away from the wall and waded through the room, hands out in front of him, until he found the long table at the center. Guiding himself around the table, he found one of the hard plastic chairs and sat down heavily into it. He felt like he was floating in empty, airless space, suffocating. He needed a drink.

            He wasn’t sure how much later it was, a few hours or so, he heard the door creak open and light cast around him from behind, and just as quickly it vanished as the door shut. He heard the clack of dress shoes making their way across the floor. Moments later the other chair ground against the cement as it was pulled back and then creaked as a heavy frame settled into it.
“Can I get you anything?” The man smelled of cigarettes.
“No.” Jason wouldn’t ask for a drink. He heard a rustling as the other man shifted in his chair.
“Well then, I suppose we’ll get started.” Suddenly there was light as the bulb over the table flashed to life, a bright stark white light. Jason blinked; he hadn’t realized the light was there. He had been in darkness ever since he had been brought to the room, and even on his way here he had been blindfolded. The man in front of him coalesced from a vague blurry shape into a meaty, clean-shaven, and pasty faced man in a suit as Jason’s eyes adjusted to the new lighting.
“So soon?” It had been close to a month since they’d taken him in. In that time the only people he’d come into contact with were the ones who brought him his food, the silent man who’d come in a few days before and shaved off all his hair and of course the guard with the huge vice-hand who had escorted him to this room.
“Time alone in the dark has a way of making a man think. You’ve been gone a long time, been running. Hard for a man to think when he hardly has a chance to lay down his head.”
 “Do I get a lawyer?”
            “What do you think?”
Jason nodded.
“What if I don’t feel like talking?”
The man rubbed his huge hands together.  He had a ring on. “Feeling is hardly our imperative.”
            “Imperative – they teach you to use big words like that at Harvard, Otis?”
The man seemed surprised for a moment, then looked down at his ring. “My name is not Otis, Jason.”
“Well, since I don’t know your name, and seeing as how I always had a liking for Andy Griffith, just figured it fit you.”
The man made a mock grin and bobbed his head around like a bad Jay Leno impersonator. “Very funny, now tell us about the events of February 14th, 1993.”
“The events of February 14th- so very formal.”
“Haven’t talked to anyone about it, sure as hell don’t feel like telling you.”
“We already know the facts, Jason.”
“Then why ask me?”
“Facts are just facts. We want the story, we want your truth. After all, isn’t it only fair that someone knows your side of the story before the end?”
Jason ran a hand over his scalp and there was a moment of silence. “Fine. Where should I -?”
 “Wherever you want, we’ll fill in any details we need to know later.”
“Well - It was February 2nd, 1993, my senior year, when things started to get all weird. I remember the date because I saw in the paper the next day that it’d been her birthday and I thought that was strange. That kind of things sticks with you for some reason, I guess.” He paused, it felt strange, hearing himself talk about it. He’d never stopped running through it in his mind, but he’d never talked to anyone about it. “Her name was Mary. Some kids called her Bloody Mary for the time she had her first period, she’d worn a white dress that day. That kind of stuff happened to her a lot, I’d hear. I didn’t really know her though. I remember she was blonde, but not much else really.  “Anyway, I was in history class. It was my last class before lunch and I’d stopped listening to the teacher since it was almost out. Some friends and I were going to cut fifth and six periods and head out of town to race cars. I was really big on that. So I was watching the clock real intently, waiting for the bell like it was the Second Coming. Now, it was so close to ringing that I’d already begun to tense my legs to jump up from my desk, when Pamela from campus security came into the classroom, and she and the teacher began to whisper about something. Pamela was the largest security guard on campus, with a jaw line that’d make an action hero jealous and a personality suited for the Gestapo. The teacher turned to face the class and told us that there’d been a slight emergency and that we’d have to stay over. With that, old Pamela walked to the door a gave a fierce glare to us all, as if to say that anyone who tried to leave would have to go with her to the marvelous little Auschwitz that was her office. At that moment I hated her just about as much as the potheads who spent every day in there did.
“Everyone started loudly wondering what could have happened that we would need to stay after class.  Now, you have to remember that this was before anything like Columbine had happened, so no one was really thinking that anyone had died or anything. Finally, though, we were let out of class and I was, of course, ecstatic.  Fast as I could I ran out towards my car, which was parked in the lot near the gym.  I stopped dead in my tracks. They’d put caution tape up all around the gym entrance, like in one of those stupid police movies, and there were maybe a half dozen police cars and an ambulance. And there was this gurney. They were pushing it out of the gym towards the ambulance, real slow like there was no hurry, and on it was this big long bag. That’s when I knew someone had died. The weird part though, the part that still freaks me out like hell, was the Pale Man. I mean, here was this body bag, someone had died, and what really caught my eye was this dude standing there. He was – he was tall, maybe six-and-half, seven feet, and so unbelievably pale, and he had this long silk white hair. Back when I was a kid, before I got bigger than my dad, my parents used to drag me off to church, and I thought about how when people saw angels, they’d always go all comatose. Well this guy reminded me of that, only where the angels were supposed to be all good and holy, he was – dark somehow. Like some sort of film negative of an angel. I mean, there was this kind of weirdly beautiful aspect about him and a real powerful presence, a – what do you call it? Charisma. But something about him scared the shit out of me. I turned right around and went back into campus.  There was no way I was walking past him to get to my car.
“Over the next few days the news spread that someone had died, and it turned out it was Mary. Rumors started going around about how she’d died too, lots of wild stuff mostly.  Of course, all the folks who’d called her ‘Bloody Mary’ started going on about what a great person she’d been and how their lives wouldn’t be the same without her. Because of all the rumors about how she’d jumped of the top of the gym, or been stabbed by some crazy bum, the principal called an assembly and told us all that she’d overdosed on drugs.
“It was after that, Dan came to me, his skin all clammy, looking like he’d seen a ghost. This kid, I guess you could call him a friend of sorts, worshiped me.  Thought I was the Christ Incarnate or something and. He figured I’d be able to help him, I guess. I remember it started with him stammering for what seemed like an eternity, his fat stupid lips opening and shutting like a beached fish gasping for air. ‘Mary - ’ he started, and I asked what about her, a little annoyed. He stammered again and then got it out. ‘I don’t – I don’t think it was drugs. It was – she – I found her.’ He’d started to get hysterical, weepy, and I tried to back away since I didn’t want to be seen with him like this. ‘I can’t – I’m not supposed to tell anyone. She was – there was blood everywhere, man, just pouring out of every hole in her body and there was all kinds of weird shit on the walls of the gym. Like fucking weird-ass banners. It looked like some sort of crazy human sacrifice.’”
Jason paused and chewed on his lip, a spot on his cheek began to itch and he started to scratch it. The man waited for a moment, his hands folded in front on him on the table, then he leaned back into the chair, which groaned, and he spoke, “Did you believe him?”
“ I sort of felt sorry for the kid, but I didn’t really believe him.  I figured he was probably just trying to get some sort of attention, maybe even on drugs himself. Drugs made a whole lot more sense than human sacrifices. By now I really wanted to get away from him.  He was getting so crazy that his blubber was vibrating obscenely. I told him I didn’t know what to do and that maybe he should see the school counselor. He gave me a look like I’d broken his heart and walked away.
“That was the end of that for a few days, but then the Pale Man showed up on campus again. I was at my locker, getting out some of my books for the next class, when I felt someone brush past me in the hallway and I swear it was like the heat was just sucked right out of me. I just stood there frozen for a minute or so and then finally looked down the hall in the direction the person had been heading. It was him and some government suit who looked like a g-man straight out of a B-movie. The Pale Man left a scent behind him, something sickly sweet, like lavender, that made me gag.
“Over the next few days I kept seeing the two of them around campus, talking with members of the faculty, especially the principal. My dad had been in business and it looked to me as if they were trying to work out some kind of deal.  Things even got heated sometimes. Well, the principal and the government suit got heated, the Pale Man never lost his composure. I could see that the principal wasn’t sleeping much. I tried my best to ignore it, seemed like no one else really noticed. I mean people talked about the strange men showing up on campus, but he didn’t seem to rub them the way he did me and most people just figured he was some stupid government man come down to campus to deal with drugs. So I shrugged it off best I could.” Jason swallowed, his throat felt dry. “Could I maybe get some water?” He hated asking for something from them.
“Very well.” The man got up, his belly sagging over his belt as he rose, and walked to the door. Jason heard it open and close behind him and a minute later the man entered again and sat a glass of water in front of him. All the while Jason’s face kept itching. He took his hand away from his face to drink the water, but then went back to scratching his cheek. “What happened next?”
“Dan disappeared. One day in Biology class, which we had together, Pam marched in (practically goose-stepping) and handed a slip to the teacher. A moment later she had Dan’s fat arm clenched in her fearsome grip and she hauled him, screaming for fear of his life, right out of class. A week went by and I didn’t see heads nor tails of him, and I was really beginning to worry. I don’t know why I remember this, but I was in Bio again and our teacher told us that though it didn’t really relate to Biology, she thought we might want to know that Mars was going to be visible that night, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how cool Dan would think that was. After class got out I walked to my locker, past a memorial that had been erected to Bloody Mary, and inside I found this freaky note from Dan. It was all rambling. He kept writing my name over and over. The handwriting was all over the place.  It got bigger and smaller and didn’t stay on the lines. I can still remember most of what it said. He said the Pale Man told him that he’d save the world, just like Jesus, and he said Ares was coming and that his army, Phobos and Deimos, was going to march right out of hell and into our world to slaughter everyone and that it was going to start at our school if he didn’t stop it with his blood. He told me to meet him in Gethsemane, ‘the Garden where she died,’ and that the key was under the rug.
            Jason stopped, “Sorry, I think I’ll need a minute.”  He’d began to breathe heavily, and shake, this was the hard part. All the while he kept scratching.
            “What!” He snapped.
            “You’re bleeding.”
            The man grabbed Jason’s hand wrist with surprising strength and pulled it away from his face, there was blood on Jason’s hand, and now he felt it trickle down his face. “Well, at least that explains the sores.” The man let Jason’s hand go and as soon as his hand was free Jason began to scratch again. “Stop scratching, Jason.”
“I can’t – it won’t stop itching.”
The man rose and walked back to the door. About a minute later he reentered with a guard by his side and they grabbed his arms and tethered them to the chair with plastic ties. Jason struggled for a moment and stopped. The guard left the room.
“Jason, we need the rest of your story.”
“No.” He shook his head and then began to rub his cheek against his shoulder.
“Fine. Fine, I’ll go on now. I – I didn’t really get what the hell that was, the note. It freaked me out that it was in my locker and I really didn’t know what to do but I was really worried. Worried about Dan,” Jason began to rock in his chair, “I mean, I could be a real jerk to him, but the kid really relied on me. That he’d just disappeared from class had me doubly concerned, so I decided I’d go. I’d figured out the garden at least, he was talking about the gym, since that was where Mary died. Why he called it the garden I didn’t know though.
“It was pretty warm that night, and the sky was clear and real beautiful, lots of stars. Pretty stars. I wonder though, how many of them hate us? Mars hates us. Mars isn’t a star though, is it? Mars was there that night, like a big red star. I was outside of the gym, and I pulled on the door, which of course was locked. I thought about just giving up on it, but then I remembered what Dan said about a key. There was no rug though but a glint caught my eye in the bushes and it turned out to be the key. I remember wondering how much jail time I could get for trespassing in the gym and figuring it couldn’t be as bad as the kind of trouble I could get into for street racing. I opened the door and went in. The gym was mostly dark, and the temperature inside must have dropped forty degrees from that outside. I felt an arm grab me and pull me behind a stack of chairs to the side of the gym. It was Dan, poor Dan,” 
Jason was crying now, not sobbing, but not trying to hold the tears back either, “He smelled like he hadn’t bathed since he’d been taken out of class, and looked even worse. He had one of his meaty fingers lifted up in front of his mouth in a gesture of silence, and he pushed me down behind the chairs. He gestured for me to look out between a crack in the pile and I did. There was – there were these two banners hanging on the wall of the gym, big red tapestries with some kind of bird, probably a vulture, sewn on them. Dan, he just rose and began to walk towards the banners. I should have stopped him but I didn’t, I was scared as hell.
 “God – um – so, yeah he went to the center of the room, between the banners and suddenly I heard this unbelievable sound, like a peal of thunder, and the gym began to shake. On the wall, between where the banners hung, a crack shot down the center and the wall there just imploded, like someone had pulled it from behind. A wind began to whip at me as the air in the gym was sucked towards the hole in the wall. Beyond the hole it should have been the campus, but it wasn’t, instead all there was - was red dirt and sky as far as I could see and them, standing there.
“They were taller even than the Pale Man, and they were covered in obsidian black robes and had tight black hoods drawn up over their skulls and over their face were crimson masks with two deep black holes for eyes and no mouths.” Jason hung his head forward and ground his teeth. His mouth tasted like salt from the tears, he didn’t want to go on. He looked up through bleary eyes to see the man across the table starring at him expectantly. Jason swallowed.  “They walked slowly, and the ground seemed to ripple away from them like they were walking through water, everything in me screamed to close my eyes, or to turn and run.  I couldn’t bear to look at them but for some reason I couldn’t turn away. It was absurd, they were shaped like men but something inside told me they didn’t belong, couldn’t be here. I really hadn’t thought anything could scare me as much as the Pale Man had, but they – they were so much worse.
 “I didn’t stop staring at them. I wish I had. Dan kept looking at them too. He stood there, frozen in the middle of the floor, quivering like some giant bowl of Jell-O. He was a little miniature doll of a human, dwarfed before the height of the figures. And then, and then – I don’t know if I can –“
“You can.”
Jason nodded, “One of them raised two black gloved hands to its masked face and pulled, removing the mask. I couldn’t see what was under it from where I was, but Dan could and as the blood began to seep out of his eyes, nose, ears, everywhere – I thought about what he’d said Mary had been like.
“I think I might have heard him scream, a terrible blood curdling sound, or maybe it was me. It didn’t really matter. I knew I was next, that they knew I was there. I sensed such incredible power in them, you can’t imagine. The whole world retreated before them, everything sane and ordered and – and right. I mean – just looking at one of their faces had killed Dan. Somehow I knew that nobody, no human, could ever stop them. It was the end of the world.
“But then, the door of the gym flew open, and he walked in, tall and pale, and from him emanated terrible power, like snapping electricity. The Pale Man stood there before the Red Ones, and he stared straight into the hood of the unmasked one. Something happened there, what I’m not entirely certain, but there was a sense that they were fighting each other, like two storm fronts meeting, bringing their powers to bear on some plane that I couldn’t see. It seemed like an eternity that they stood there, locked in their terrible struggle and then, in an instant, it was over.
“The Red Ones turned and fled back through the hole and seconds later the wall of the gym just closed up and it was undamaged. The Pale Man turned and seemed to glance at where I hid, and then the government suit who he’d been dealing with walked into the gym.
“The government suit spoke first; he asked the Pale Man if it was done and he replied in a bizarre evanescent voice that it was. The suit said that he supposed it was time to keep up his end of the bargain and he pointed at the body of Dan, said he figured he could be the first. The Pale Man shook his head and replied ‘The boy was the balance, a life for a life. The followers of Ares opened the star path with the girl’s blood. The boy’s blood, and a little effort on my part, shut it. Life for life. Jesus for Adam. Don’t you see? The rest of them will be the seal on the door.’ I just darted straight out of the gym right there, and ran like I couldn’t believe, jumping in my car and – and then disappearing. After that I just kept running, half-way round the world till your men found me in Tibet. You finally caught me, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. We’ll all be corpses when the Red Ones come again.” He had stopped crying, and he just stared blankly at the floor, his cheeks wet with tears and blood.
“When?” Asked the man across the table.
“Yeah. The Pale man, he stopped them, right? But how long till we get tired of fulfilling our end of the bargain? You were wrong you know, about me not thinking when I was on the run. That year at my high school, ten other kids died. They said it was from meningitis, but every year after that, same time of year, ten kids would die. Not always at my high school, but always together they were from the same school. People who didn’t know what I know wouldn’t have seen it, but I did. That was our price wasn’t it? The Pale Man, he gets ten kids a year and he keeps the Red Ones away, keeps them from killing us all.”
The man across the table didn’t respond, but Jason heard the door slowly creak open behind him, and, mixing with the smell of cigar, came the scent of lavender.

Politics: Russia

I was sitting in the Social Science building during a brief break from my Symbolic Logic class. The teacher had left the room to go get a drink, and I was reading BBC news on my lap top. Specifically, I was reading stories about the recent Russian invasion of Georgia. I expressed deep concern over these events to the classmate behind me.

“Eh,” he shrugged, “It’s their problem. Let Russia and Georgia deal with it. It’s no concern of ours.”
I was speechless.

On September 30th, 1938, Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich after talks with Hitler and declared “Peace for our time.” This declaration was the beginning of a policy of appeasement that would allow Hitler and his war machine to gear for massive invasion of Europe. In the end, Germany invaded Poland under the pretense that Poland had attacked them. Chamberlain wanted to chide Germany, but not go to war. Only the pressures of the British Parliament led the British into war against the Reich.

Meanwhile the U.S. stood by, we continued to isolate ourselves and ignore the actions of the Axis of imperialist nations. We just shrugged are shoulders and said, to effect, “Eh, it’s their problem, let them deal with it.” We would sit by and nurse our wounds and grow rich of selling weapons to the Allies. Then Pearl Harbor happened.
The hunger of imperialists is like the grave, it is never filled.

Fast forward to the present. Russia has invaded Georgia with sketchy claims of provocation, and is now threatening an attack on Poland (possibly a nuclear one) because of an American missile interceptor base that is going to be built there.  Furthermore, on September 22nd, Russian Warships set sail for US-hostile Venezuela, for joint exercises. (BBC News, America)

Finally, a recent BBC news article I read reveals that Dmitri Medvedev has claimed “‘[w]e plan to start serial production of warships, primarily nuclear-powered submarines carrying cruise missiles and multifunctional submarines’”(BBC News, Europe). In light of their stated “opposition to US global dominance”(Ibid).
It is certainly not yet time for a costly war, but we also cannot afford to ignore what Russia is doing. I also fully admit that America has been far from perfect in this arena. There’s no easy answer, and I don’t envy the World’s leaders right now, but this is certainly not just Russia and Georgia’s problem. I’m glad it’s not being treated as such. One thing is for sure, those of us who pray should be praying hard about this one.

Russia to Build Up Nuclear Systems:
Russian Navy Sales to Venezuela:
Russia and Venezuela Boost Ties:
Poland Threatened:
Photo taken from Wikipedia article on Neville Chamberlain  <>

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Writing: Interception

Last semester I took a short story workshop. It was an informative and exciting experience and I would recommend it to anyone. One of our assignments for the class was to write a short story ending in the line "...and then she closed the window." This was my take. It's quite a bit out of what I normally write, as my stories tend to be more plot focused and usually have a science fiction or fantasy bent to them. I hope you enjoy.


Wind whistled outside of the small lighted kitchen where Rachel sat reading her magazine, and across from her mother drank an herbal tonic ­­and stared blankly at the table.
Her mother looked up, “I wish you wouldn’t read that trash.”
Rachel pursed her lips and kept staring at the magazine, and her mother went back to staring at the table.
“Where’s your brother?” Her mother asked.
“What?” She didn’t even look up from the article in front of her.
“Your brother. Where is he?”
Rachel shrugged, “I don’t know. Probably in his room.”
“I’ll go check.” Her mother started to rise and Rachel’s eyes darted up from an sage article on supple skin.
“Uh – I’ll check mom.” She got up and put a firm hand on her mothers shoulder, “You just sit right down here and relax.” She adjusted the afghan on her mother’s shoulders and kissed her on the cheek, and then turned and walked to the stairs. They sang a groaning song as she walked up them.
Her brother’s door was closed, and beyond was silence. She knocked. No answer. Again. No answer. She grasped the door handle and turned and cracked the door open. “Timmy, I’m coming in.” She pushed the door open all the way and cold air rushed past her, scrambling to get into the warm house. The room beyond the door was dark; moonlight poured in from outside and turned the furniture into empty silhouettes.
“Is he up there?” Her mom called from below.
“Just a minute.” Rachel flipped on the light and looked around the room. The David Bowie and Elton John posters gazed with her at an empty room. She sighed and walked over to the open window.  Outside a willow tree bent and swayed in the cold winter wind. She turned back to the house and shouted down to her mother. “He’s just getting to bed,” and then she closed the window.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Politics: Obama and Iraq

I admire Obama, I believe Obama. I think that Obama is a man dedicated to America, dedicated to bringing about what he sees as the best possible world for peace and freedom. I find the offensive and libelous talk that has floated around the internet about Obama being a Muslim, being a racist, or being anti-American to be as disgusting as it is false. In the end though, I can’t vote for Obama.
My friend and mentor Paul Martin has made much of Obama’s stance on abortion on his blog at I think this is an issue that voters should pay attention to, but there’s something that is of at least as much importance to my mind.

“Nothing to gain from an endless war”
John McCain has gotten a lot of flack for saying he will stay in Iraq as long as it takes to finish the goals we set out to accomplish. Obama on the other hand has made us eloquent and clearly laid out promises. He has rightly stated that we should not have gone into Iraq in the first place, that our entrance into Iraq was a distraction from the necessary war in Afghanistan, and that the situation in Iraq seems intractable. Obama has promised the American people that within 16 months of his becoming President, he will have removed all but a residual military force from Iraq. I believe this decision is likely to lead to thousands of deaths (if not more).

A Terrible Kind of Hate

There’s no denying that Iraq is a mess, no denying that since the war began over 4,000 American troops have lost there lives and over a million Iraqis have perished from violent deaths. It’s hell over there. It’s damn ugly. A lot of people think that what’s going on in Iraq is that the people there hate us and want us out because we went in there and invaded their homelan
Publish Post
d. For some that may be true, but for the most part the fact of the matter is that it’s not about us. The fact is that the Iraqis hate each other.
The two major religious groups currently living in Iraq are the Sunni and the Shi'a, two sects of Islam that in the Middle-East often harbor a bitter and seething hatred of each other. This is not the kind of hate you feel for the guy who cuts you off on the road, it’s the kind of awful hate that led the KKK to lynch blacks in the South or the Nazis to kill six-million Jews. And, just like the KKK and the Nazis, it’s a hatred they perceive to be righteous.
This reason, more than any other, is why we shouldn’t have gone into  Iraq in the first place. A country where half the citizens harbor a bitter hatred for the other half is not the kind of place democracy works in. But, in the end, we did go in. We overthrew the power that, however abominable it was, kept the Sunni and Shi’a from killing each other. Now we’re the power there. The current government of Iraq lacks the strength to stop these two groups from butchering each other. For one thing, whatever military Iraq builds up for itself will be composed of Iraqi citizens, most who will be Muslims and that means Sunni or Shi’a. Some of these soldiers may be more dedicated to the government than their religion, and others will see past the hatred that’s been bred into them, but others won’t. That means within the entire Iraqi military structure there will be soldiers who will turn traitor to the current government to fight for the side of their faith. In the end what you have is a perfect situation for a genocidal civil war to erupt. Our soldiers are the only force keeping the lid on this storm.
Obama and Biden have promised to retain the right to reenter Iraq with our allies in the case of a genocidal situation. To my understanding of the situation, a genocidal situation is far more likely to happen than not. So, their promise to reenter if a genocidal situation occurs means that it’s almost certain they will have to reenter, making the pullout a pointless waste of lives. I suppose they could decide to just let the genocide happen and fail in their other promise, but I don’t believe Obama would let the genocide happen – it’s not in his character. In the end we’d be back in Iraq anyway.
Perhaps there is nothing to gain from an endless war, but we entered into Iraq and we have a responsibility to the citizens of that nation to finish what we started. If Obama is elected President, it is likely that far more Iraqi citizens will die. There are other reasons that I’m not voting for Obama, but this potential loss of life is a serious concern for me.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Life: Nadawa Outreach

My time in Fiji had its ups and downs, but it was, in the end, a triumph. I went in early August with Teach Us to Pray, my dad’s mission organization

to help pray for people coming through the free medical clinic Teach Us to Pray and Window of Hope would be running. In the end, lives were impacted and the love of Christ was shone in the darkness. You’ve already seen the statistics, the numbers of people who were touched. It would be impossible for me to tell all of their stories, but here are just a few that stood out to me.
I was walking through the village on the second day, going from door to door, letting people know about the clinic and seeing if anyone wanted prayer. With me was Sylus, an Indian man from Canada who was serving as my translator. It was nearly time for us to go back to the church where the clinic was being held. Sylus and I walked up to one last house and knocked on the screen door. A middle-aged Fijian woman sat inside with a young boy on her lap and another playing on the rug. A young girl of maybe five years also sat inside.

“ Bula, come in,” the woman said as she opened the door for us to come in. We told her we had come to let her know about the clinic and to see if she wanted prayer for anything. The woman told us she had already been to the clinic, but would like prayer for her twin sons - who had chicken pox. As she spoke, the little girl ran out of the house. At there invitation, I sat down on the couch and we chatted for a few moments before I began to pray for the children.
As I prayed, the little girl came back into the house, followed by an elderly woman who smiled and waved at me.
“This is my mother,” the woman who had let me into the house told me. I recognized her immediately as a woman that I had prayed for the day before in the clinic. She had been suffering from back pain at the time and it had gone away when I prayed for her. To my delight she told me that her back was still well. I finished praying for the twins
and unfortunately we saw no improvement in their condition.
We told them they should go to the clinic so the doctors could give them medicine and thanked them for their hospitality. “Before you go,” the mother of the twins began, “Can you pray for my daughter. Every night she is waking up, she is itching and she wakes up my father to scratch her so that neither of them can sleep. This cannot go on, my father must work.” I nodded and the little girl came over to me and I placed my hand on her shoulder and began to pray. I finished my prayers and as we got up to leave, the grandfather came into the house. He asked us who was in charge of the outreach, and told me he wanted to write a letter from the community thanking the man in charge. “My father is in charge.” I told him, and I invited him to come to the healing prayer service that evening meet him.
I was not able to make the prayer service that night, but I saw the grandmother and grandfather waiting in line at the clinic. They told me they had not been able to make it either but joyfully proceeded to tell me that their granddaughter had slept well the night before for the first time in three months. We praised God for this and the grandfather asked after my father. My father was gone at the time, but I urged them again to come to the prayer service.
That evening at the prayer service, Ratu Osea one of the paramount chiefs of Fiji, and a man
who has partnered with my father in his ministry to the country, brought some of the youth from his church to do a dance for the people assembled. Most of the family did not make it that night, but the grandfather came and it turned out that Osea and the grandfather were old friends from the government, who had both worked on projects to improve the community. My father met with the man, who revealed that he was the leader of a local committee and wanted to help Dadin his outreach work. A new and potentially vital connection in the community was formed.
I met the little girl again several times during the week and she was always happy to see me. Last I knew, she was still sleeping well.
Later in the week, I was in the clinic praying for people waiting in the queue. The woman nudged her friend and they spoke together in Hindi. A moment later she caught my attention. She looked up to me with hope in her eyes and told me in a quiet voice that she had a headache and would like me to pray for her. I had been praying for some people around her and they had been healed. I think if it had not been for that she would have asked me to pray for her – I could tell by her head wrapping that she was a Muslim woman. I smiled and asked her if I could lay my hands on
her head to pray for her. It’s always important to ask before you touch someone, but it is especially important if she is an Islamic woman. She nodded her assent, and I placed my hands on her head and began to pray. After a time I took my hands off of her head andasked her if the headache was any better. This is always the hard part for me, asking if God has worked. Even though I know I’m not the one doing the healing, I’m always afraid that they won’t be healed. When that happens I feel as if I have failed them somehow. She nodded and I smiled. “Praise God,” I said and she smiled and said, “Praise the Lord Jesus Christ!”
The final story happened towards the end of the week. It was getting to be later in the day and I was getting tired
An Indian lady standing in the line touched my arm and asked me to pray for her daughter, who she said had a sore throat. Her daughter, a young Indian girl in a white dress, smiled timidly up at me. I prayed for her and, as always, asked if she felt any different. The girl's smile widened and she excitedly told me that the pain was gone from her throat. A look of hope began to kindle in the mother’s eyes and she asked me if I could pray for her now. She told me, with tears in her eyes, that her husband had left her years ago, that he was an abusive man and called her often the threaten her. She wanted to move to be with her sister and wanted me to pray that it would be possible. Again, I prayed for her, that her prayers would be answered and that God would give her strength. As I stopped praying and opened my eyes I saw a shift in her expression, a light kindled behind her eyes and she spoke to me with boldness. “When I came in here, I had no hope and as you prayed for me I felt this darkness lift off of me! I can face anything now. I know it; my husband does not scare me anymore!” When she said this, her daughter’s face lit up even more vibrantly than it had when her throat had been healed.
The following Sunday I saw them together at the local Assemblies of God church. She told me she had been a Christian but had long ago stopped going to church and that she would now be going again. She said my prayers had worked, that she had hope again and that her daughter was still without pain. God had moved in her life.
God moved in the lives of the people of Fiji, and I was blessed to be a part of it. Coming together with Christians from all around the world, from many different callings, we got to bless the citizens of Nadawa. Through the ministrations of the doctors, nurses, counselors, the prayer team and all the other volunteers we worked to touch every part of their lives. I cannot begin to tell you the joy of my experience, but hopefully the stories I have told you give you some insight into what I saw in Fiji this year.

More Pictures can be found on my facebook at:
A final request: My time in Fiji this year was a wonderful and rewarding experience, but nothing is free, alas. Before going I managed to raise about half the funds that I needed for the trip, and because I already had the ticket and the hotel had been purchased, I went
Now, I need to raise the rest of the funds to pay back Teach Us to Pray, which fronted the money. Any amount you would like to donate would be appreciated. You may click below to donate. Currently, I need to raise $1,300.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Life: Fiji Statistics

Here are the statistics for the work we did in Fiji. I'll be posting up soon about my time there.

Total medical patients served--    469
Total Dental patients served--       143
Total optical patients served--     1300 (number of glasses distributed--both reading glasses and sun glasses)
GRAND TOTAL--                              1912
Prescriptions filled--                          2076
1st time commitments to Christ --     142
Rededications--                                      41
Want to know more--                            128
Healing miracles--                                100+