Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Options for Our Relationship with Iran

The Current Flag of Iran

As I wrote last week, I support the nuclear deal currently on the table between Iran, the U.S., and the U.N.  I know that the United States went into the negotiations wanting to end all nuclear activity in Iran, while Iran wanted permission to not only continue nuclear activity but to research nuclear weapons.

Neither side got exactly what they wanted because they compromised.

I am not certain how it came to be, but a lot of Americans think that "compromise" is a bad word.  As if attempting to reach an accord between two disparate parties through the process of give and take somehow signals weakness of character.  Nevertheless our country was founded on compromises; the biggest one I know about being the legalization of slavery in the southern states.

Point of fact, a two-party political system only works when both sides agree to compromise.  Refusing to yield any part of your demands in order to gain what you really want reeks of arrogance and inflated self-worth.

Looking at the Iran deal, I personally want Iran to not focus on nuclear weapons.  I have no issue with them running a nuclear reactor, because I know that the medical community uses several of fission's by-products, such as providing radiation to cancer patients.  Also, Iran needs electricity and the world does not need more coal mines.

As an aside, I think the U.S. should invest in LIFTR reactors, a type of nuclear reactor that is not capable of creating weapons-grade uranium or plutonium because gamma radiation contaminates all the fissionable material.  But LIFTR reactors do allow for the production of energy, the production of isotypes needed for medical uses, and even the possibility of using up spent fuel rods.

But back on topic, the compromise in the Iran nuclear deal allows the U.S. to gain the most important priority - the stoppage of Iran's nuclear weapons program.  Iran also gets their priority - the ability to run a light water nuclear reactor.  No one is completely happy or unhappy.  But everyone can live with the results.

And to be honest, I don't see any other viable, peaceful options.  Personally, I think we need to begin to seek non-military answers to the problems in the Middle East, because all of our military actions have solved nothing and insanity is dong the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

We Need To Stop Institutional Racism

  • poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race
  • the belief that some races of people are better than others
Institutional Racism:  any system of inequality based on race.

In my opinion, racism is immoral.  People are people, regardless of where they come from or who their ancestors are or what they look like.  In fact, the amount of DNA responsible for how a person looks is infinitesimal compared to our entire genome.  So, really, who cares?

Sadly, a lot of people do.  I think part of a person's racism comes from their environment.  If a person grows up around racists, that person will pick up racism, similar to how the children of smokers tend to be smokers themselves.  Also, if a person grows up in a homogeneous environment, for example a neighborhood where everyone is either black, white, Latino, Asian,..., it is easier for that person to believe rumors and rhetoric about other races.

I don't know what we as a society can do to directly stop individual racism.  I mean, I have a few ideas, but nothing substantial.  On the other hand, I do think that we can do something about institutional racism in our country.

Institutional racism, you ask?  Wasn't that outlawed in the 1960's?

No, no it wasn't.

I know of at least three cases in our current society where institutional racism thrives.

1.  The punishment for Cocaine

Powered cocaine and crack cocaine are two forms of the same drug - benzoylmethylecgonine. So it would be logical to assume that our legal system deals with these two illegal substances in similar fashions, right?

Wrong.  Possession of powdered cocaine carries light or no jail time, with rehab and community service standard consequences of legal actions.  Possession crack cocaine, on the other hand, carries heavy jail time.  The legal system acts as if these are two completely different categories of drugs.  But the biggest difference between powder and crack is that white people tend to use powdered cocaine while black people tend to use crack cocaine.

The disparity in punishments astounds me.  It is the equivalent of giving away iced water to white people, but charging black people for boiled water.  But this instance of racism won't go away unless we the people do something about it.  

2. Getting Stopped for Walking in Your Neighborhood

The law has a concept of a high-crime area.  The police and the courts label whole streets and neighborhoods with this, and the outcome is a serious loss of liberties.

If you walked down the street in my neighborhood or on the sidewalks in adjoining streets, you have the right to walk unmolested.  A police officer might ask you to stop, but if he doesn't have due cause, you can just keep walking.  

If you walked down the street in what the police label a "high-crime area", the police can stop you, frisk you, and ask a bunch of questions with no due cause and no justification.  You don't have the right to keep walking until the police tell you that you may leave.  

And the court system has so far upheld the distinction in types of neighborhoods, which pisses off the police in "low-crime" neighborhoods, and pisses off the citizens in "high-crime" neighborhoods.

Guess what?  Most high-crime areas are black or Latino neighborhoods.  Most low-crime areas are white neighborhoods.

3.  Generational Poverty and Housing

During World War 2, the returning soldiers were told that the government would help them buy houses, as part of their compensation for the time they spent serving the country.  Whole towns were built with government funds, and white soldiers began a new life.  

But all of the new towns had stipulations denying black soldiers the right to buy a house.  In fact, black soldiers could only get houses in previously black neighborhoods. 

As time went on, the provisions against non-whites were challenged in the courts, until the Supreme Court finally said that no one may discriminate against a person buying a house based on race.  But by that time, the white soldiers had increased their net worth while the black soldiers lacked the opportunities.  As the white neighborhoods got older, the white people moved out and the black people moved in.  But the houses were very old, the tax base was poor, the school system was old, and the poverty continued.

Now, we have generations of white people who have moved to the suburbs, buying new houses, giving obscene amounts of money to local schools, and buying up vacant property for parks.  Meanwhile, the black generations have poor schools, old houses, and junky vacant lots.  Poverty begets more poverty.  Lack of education in the parents translates into no respect for education in the children.

Now we have a choice.  Do we turn a blind eye to the situation?  Or do we at least attempt to change the way our society works?

I, for one, think we need to do something.  We need to change how the laws treat cocaine users, regardless of the method of ingestion.  We need to get rid of the "high-crime" label and finally allow people to live their lives without the fear of police interrogation just for walking down the street.  And we need to begin to find ways to end the generational poverty.

Maybe if we take care of the institutional racism, the individual racism will begin to go away, too.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Book Review: "The Science-Fiction & Fantasy Quiz Book" by Joseph McCullough

The Science-Fiction & Fantasy Quiz BookThe Science-Fiction & Fantasy Quiz Book by Joseph McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"The Science-Fiction & Fantasy Quiz Book" by Joseph McCullough is a fun and entertaining book to read. Mr. McCullough covers everything from television shows, to movies, to comic books, to short stories, to novels. In the first few sections alone, I saw questions about "Star Wars", "Star Trek", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Game of Thrones", and the old "Battlestar Galactica".

I could easily see a bunch of geeks sitting around a table, drinking home-brewed beer, and using this book to play a homemade game of trivia.

Also, I like that the questions range from multiple-choice, to short answer, to true or false, to matching related things, e.g. captains with their ships.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars for entertainment value; and I recommend this book to any fans who like to test themselves on trivia.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Review: "Ryker" by Sawyer Bennett

Ryker (Cold Fury Hockey, #4)Ryker by Sawyer Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

"Ryker" by Sawyer Bennett follows closely behind the events in "Zack" (Cold Fury Hockey, #3). Towards the end of "Zack", Ryker moves to North Carolina as a goalie for the Cold Fury team because his soon-to-be-ex-wife had an affair with one of Ryker's teammates in New York. Because Cold Fury made the play-offs, Ryker sat on the bench, waiting for the season to end and with no plans on playing, since the current goalie was excellent at his job. But in the last period of the last game, the Cold Fury's goalie received a game-ending injury that spawned a penalty shot for the other team. With the score tied, all Ryker had to do was to stop the puck. But with no current ice time, Ryker missed and Cold Fury lost. Zack, Alex, and Garrett don't blame Ryker, but Ryker partially blames himself.

Book 4 begins in the off-season. Ryker now has full-time custody of his two daughters, and is close to finalizing the divorce. The team is about to begin training for the next season when the owner calls them in for a big announcement. The owner's daughter, Gray Bannon, is the new general manager for the team.

I loved meeting Gray Bannon. She is intelligent, funny, and knows how to be tough without being a bitch. Oh, and she's also beautiful, at least to Ryker. Gray brings a new perspective to managing the team, using statistics and numbers to make decisions in a very "Moneyball" way. But as the league's first female general manager, Gray has a lot of responsibility riding on her shoulders.

The book slowly revolves around Ryker and Gray, bringing them closer and closer even as they both wonder if they can make the compromises that their relationship will need to work. The obstacles to a relationship include their individual responsibilities to the team, a doting father, an ex-wife, and a stalker. Ms. Bennett draws out the story beautifully; even though I knew how it would end, I enjoyed the journey to the end.

I recommend "Ryker" to all romance readers.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Thought for the Day

I am starting a new posting schedule next week, but I am previewing the new Thursday post today.  It's called "Thought for the Day" and hopefully will contain a quote that makes you think.  Please let me know what you think.

If you can believe in Santa Claus for 8 years, you can believe in yourself for 5 seconds.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why I Support the Iran Nuclear Deal

There is a lot of rhetoric being spewed about the Iran nuclear deal, about how horrible this deal is, how the U.S. will be somehow harmed, about how this deal give Iran free reign to create nuclear bombs.  My two favorite quotes come from Senator Lindsey Graham and Rep. John Boehner, directly after the deal was announced.  Both men claimed that this was the "worst possible outcome" but both men also admit that they hadn't read the deal yet.  In fact, several of the nay-sayers are just spouting off either without knowing the details of this agreement or knowing but ignoring the details.

So, I think we need to disseminate the details of the Iran Nuclear Deal, not the emotional, manipulative balderdash currently inundating the airwaves.

Before the Deal After the Deal
Iran maintains a nuclear stockpile of 10,000 kg of low-enriched (up to 20%) UF6.  This gives Iran enough material to potentially make 10 or more bombs. For the next 15 years, the Iran stockpile is limited to 300 kg of only up to 3.67% enriched UF6 or the equivalent amount in other chemical formulas.
You need approximately 1,053 kg of UF6 at this enrichment level to make a single bomb.  Therefore, Iran would have less than a third of the material necessary to make a bomb.
No limits to how much nuclear development Iran can do. Limited nuclear development for 8 years, then a gradual increase at a reasonable pace as determines by the IAEA.
Iran enriches uranium up to 20%. Iran agrees to limited enrichment to 3.67% or less.
Iran has 19,000 IR-1 and advanced IR-2 centrifuges at Natanz. Iran will reduced the number to 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges, which will be phased out during the next 10 years.
The remaining centrifuges and enrichment-related infrastructure will be stored at and IAEA facility.
At Fordow (the previously secret nuclear research site), Iran has 2,700 IR-1 centrifuges, though only 700 are currently being used to enrich uranium. Iran agrees that no uranium enrichment, research and development, or nuclear material be allowed at Fordow. Instead, this facility will be converted into a nuclear, physics, and technology center. Only 6 IR-1 centrifuges will remain, with none of them allowed to enrich uranium.
Iran has a heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak. Iran will close down the heavy water reactor, including filling the core with concrete. Instead, Iran will build a light water reactor. All spent fuel rods will be removed by IAEA officials and stored elsewhere.

This table only lists the concessions by Iran; I'm not listing the myriad of ways Iran agrees to by monitored by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).  The IAEA will work with Iran and must signal that Iran is following the agreement in good faith before either the U.N. or the U.S. begins to remove financial and economic sanctions.

Yes, that means that Iran goes first in making significant changes before we do anything.

You will notice that the U.S. doesn't agree to changing squat with our nuclear programs, our nuclear reactors, or our nuclear weapons.  We aren't giving up anything.  In fact, removing the sanctions has the potential to stimulate our economy as new markets open up.

Yes, I know that the U.S. and Iran don't have a friendly history for these past few decades.  But we're at a turning point.  Right here, right now we have an opportunity to change the future.  We can accept this deal and have a real chance at creating peaceful relations with Iran.  Or we can refuse to allow the possibility of change, and almost guarantee a new war.

I choose peace.  I support the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: "Grayson, Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral" by Tim Seeley

Grayson, Vol. 1: Agents of SpyralGrayson, Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral by Tim Seeley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this graphic novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

"Grayson, Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral" by Tim Seeley relates the tale of what happens after Dick Grayson is publicly tortured, unmasked, and presumably killed. Lucky for us, he secretly survives both physically and mentally. Now Grayson works for a clandestine organization called Spyral. Spyral masks its agents using technology that erases their faces from biological memories, and makes a strange spiral appear as the face in technological memories. Oh, it can either show a face or show a spiral when meeting an agent in person, but regardless you won't remember the face.

Both the writing and the artwork exceed expectations. To be honest, I expected Grayson to perform some incredible physical tricks that rely on his acrobatic skills, and I was not disappointed. But the novel contains so much more. Introspection on Grayson's part, intrigues surrounding his current employer, and more than I can't get into without plot spoilers. Plus, the artistry shines through here, colors jumping out at you during action sequences while shades of grey dominate private moments.

I strongly recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of Dick Grayson, Batman, Teen Titans, or comics in general.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Review: "Letters to Zell" by Camille Griep

Letters to ZellLetters to Zell by Camille Griep
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

"Letters from Zell" by Camille Griep is a collection of letters from CeCi (Cinderella), Bianca (Snow White), and Rory (Briar Rose, known as Sleeping Beauty) to Zell (Raphunzel) who moved rather suddenly to Oz to raise unicorns with her husband, Jason.

The premise behind this book is that fairy tales are created through human imagination, and that all the people in fair tales must finished their "Pages" before moving on the the rest of their life. I find this an interesting premise, especially because we humans don't agree on who each fairy tale person in specifics. Does Cinderella like cleaning, or is she OCD about dirt? Does Raphunzel adore long hair or does she secretly hate to spend the time washing and conditioning it? Is Snow White built like Twiggy or a 1940s pin-up girl? This book handles these questions by giving each of the princesses personalities outside their known fairy tales, and the conflict in the book stems from the internal conflict in each princess as she attempts to reconcile her required behavior with her own internal wants/needs/desires.

I loved reading about the interactions between the ladies, especially since Bianca uses vulgarities and Rory seems almost prissy. How the women relate the same events through the letters provides insights into each personality.

The only negative about this book is that it tells the entire story, instead of showing the reader the events. As a writer, I know that it is preferable to show instead of tell, but Ms. Griep manages to keep the book interesting and engaging in spite this supposed "writing sin".

I recommend this book to anyone who wonders who these princesses would be as real people.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Author Interview: Hope Schenk-de Michele and Paul Marquez

Today, I have a special post to share with you.  Recently, I spoke with Hope Schenk-de Michele and Paul Marquez, two of the three authors behind the book, "Devil's Daughter:  Lucinda's Pawnshop".  I interviewed them about the book and themselves, and we had a remarkable conversation.

First, a little background...

Hope Schenk-de Michele
Hope Schenk-de Michele and Paul Marquez have been best friends since either kindergarten (according to Paul) or college (according to Hope).  What we do know about Hope and Paul is:
  • have lived in southern California since they met; 
  • both love being in the television and film production business; 
  • both belong to Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS), and International Thriller Writers (IEW);
  • worked on dual language programming, such as producing "Humphrey" for Galavision;
  • both are persistent!
Hope exudes enthusiasm and energy that translates into her entrepreneurial spirit.  Previously, she owned Post Solutions (a video post-production facility), Electronic Location Productions (a mobile television production company), and Command Concepts (a full-service advertising agency). 

Paul Marquez

Paul has worked in television and film production for the past several years (or maybe decades?), as the executive vice president  of operations for Wilshire Court, a Viacom production company, and as president of Paloma Productions, a production company specializing in dual language productions.  I looked Paul up on IMDB.com, and found him as a producer for the movie "El Grito".

Alas, due to technical difficulties I could not record our interview.  So instead of transcribing our phone call, I will relate their answers to you.

Here's the setup:  Hope called Paul, then conferenced me in.  As the virtual center of the call, Hope's voice came through loud and clear.  Paul sounded a bit muted, though his enthusiasm and energy flowed through when speaking about Lucinda, the main protagonist.

 1.  When did you start writing?
Neither Paul nor Hope have written books or literary works of fiction before now, though both have contributed to screen plays for television shows and films.
 2.  What kind of books do you read?  Do you like science fiction or supernatural stories?
Interestingly, neither reads supernatural, fantasy, or science fiction books.  Hope loves to watch supernatural, science fiction, and fantasy T.V. shows and movies.  We could have talked for hours over shows that we both enjoy.  Paul doesn't really watch supernatural stories, and he chooses not to read these types of books because he doesn't want to be unduly influence by another writer's styles or ideas.
 3.  How do you write a book together?  Who does what part?
Well, Hope and Paul worked on "Lucinda's Pawnshop" for over 10 years.  They met every Sunday morning at 10:00 am, went over the week's revisions, talked out ideas for the plot and characters, and then wrote more together before figuring out who would work on what the next week.   So in a sense, they both did everything in the book. 
Honestly, I have no idea how they managed this, but Hope made it sound easy and companionable.
 4.  How did you come up with  the idea behind your novel?
Paul answered this question.  In his mind, the story of Adam and Eve getting kicked out of Eden did not make sense.  Why would God care about a piece of fruit?  So Paul created a sin he considered worthy of the punishment - adultery.  Lucifer tricks Eve into having sex, impregnating her with his daughter, Lucinda.  
 5.  If you're not writers, how did you write a book?
After working on Lucinda and her story for 10 years, Paul and Hope happened to speak to a mutual friend about their story, asking if he thought it would work better as a T.V. show or a film.  The friend replied that Lucinda would make a better novel, and introduced Paul and Hope to Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff.  Being a professional writer, Ms. Bohnhoff assisted in turning their script into a novel.
 6.  Will there be more books in the series?
Yes!!  Hope confided that the second book is ready for publishing.
 7.  What was the hardest part of writing the book?
I laughed when Hope answered, "The marketing!"  As a published author, I must agree. Writing a book is much easier than marketing a book.
  8. Do you listen to music when you work?  If so, what kind of music?
Neither Hope nor Paul listens to music.  Hope said that she can't work if there is noise in the room.  I know what she means - I find myself to distracted if I can hear someone else.
 9.  What happens now?  Will Lucinda and Nick be happy together?
Sorry, but Hope and Paul refused to answer any questions about future plot.  I am both relieved because I love surprises, and disappointed because I want to know more about these characters.
10.  Who is your favorite character in the book?
Hope - Nathaniel, the fallen angel
Paul - Lucinda
Me - Nathaniel (We actually discussed this for several minutes.)
If you get a chance, I hope you read "The Devil's Daughter: Lucinda's Workshop".  The machinations and Machiavellian maneuvers provide a wonderful counterpoint to the characters in this tale of good v.s. evil.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Kim Davis - A Tale of Mistaken Beliefs

Kim Davis: the county clerk from Kentucky who captured headlines news and continues to hold it as she protests the legalization of gay marriages through her illegal actions.

Religious conservatives applaud her actions.  Liberals scorn her actions.  Gay people just want their bleeping marriage certificates so that they can get married.  Actually, everyone in Rowan County wants their marriage certificates, because Kim Davis refused to give out any marriage certificates after the Supreme Court ruling.

What I don't hear a lot of out there are the basic facts.

Fact #1:  The First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the government, or anyone representing the government, from preventing the worship of any established religion and from establishing a state religion or creating laws that favor one religion over another.

Fact #2:  A county clerk is by the nature of the job a representative of the government.  So are police officers, school teachers, mayors,...

Fact #3:  The Supreme Court ruled that gay people have the legal right to marry.  Period, end of discussion.

So when Mrs. Davis refused to marry gay people because of her religious beliefs, she was in defiance of both the Supreme Court ruling and the First Amendment.  As a representative of the government, Mrs. Davis agreed to uphold the law and agreed not to foist her religious beliefs upon others.

The judge in her case was exceedingly lenient to her, bending over backwards to find a way to let Mrs. Davis perform her job and not feel compromised on her religion, going so far as to allow Mrs. Davis to hand off all gay couple to deputy clerks.  Mrs. Davis refused.  In fact, Mrs. Davis forced the judge to put her in jail, after which the judge ordered the deputy clerks to hand out marriage certificates to everyone.  Since the deputy clerks have been doing their jobs, Mrs. Davis was released.

If Mrs. Davis feels as if her beliefs are so strong that she cannot allow gay people to pass through the county clerk's office, then she has the right to quit.  If she doesn't want to quit, then she needs to do her job. No one is saying she has to smile and be friendly, though I hope she would be.  No one said that she personally must approve of all the marriages getting certificates.  But she does need to hand them out according to the law.

As for her personal religious beliefs, I find it extremely difficult to swallow her "holier-than-thou" attitude when she's on her fourth marriage, committed adultery, and became impregnated by a man not currently her husband.  

Wordless Wednesday: Oops!!!!

A West Virginia Fire Truck Accidentally Breaks Firehouse

Freaky Friday News: Unicorn Licenses

Los Angeles County Gives a Young Resident a Unicorn License Last month, a resident of Los Angeles county, Miss Madeline, sent a handwritte...