Archive for November, 2015

A Moderate Religion?

One of the problems that tends to get overlooked with belief systems, particularly religious belief systems, is their inherent hypocrisy, which can be illustrated simply by taking given tenets of the belief system and comparing that tenet to actual statistics. I’ve seen a number of articles and statements that claim the violence we’ve seen from Islamic terrorists is not typical and certainly not representative of what the Koran says.

Such violence may in fact not represent what the Koran states, but a wide range of statistics show that such behavior is in fact typical and highly representative of the beliefs of a majority of Muslims, particularly in the Middle East.

In addition to such attacks as the 9/11 attack on the United States and the recent terrorist killings in Paris and Mali, not to mention the horrific violence perpetrated by ISIS, last year there were over five thousand so-called “honor killings” of women internationally, with over a thousand in Pakistan and another thousand in India. Even in the United States, there were at least thirty, and probably more, given that some of these killings were simply reported as “domestic violence.”

Almost one in five Muslims in Indonesia, considered a “moderate” Islamic nation and the largest predominantly Islam nation in the world with a population of 250 million people, with 87% of the people being Muslims, believes in the honor killing of women who have been raped or otherwise “dishonored” their families.

According to a BBC Poll, one in ten British Muslims support killing a family member over “dishonor,” and a Daily Mail survey reported that two-thirds of young British Muslims agree that ‘honor’ violence is acceptable.

A 2013 Pew Research poll reported that, among Muslims, stoning women for adultery is favored by 89% in Pakistan, 85% in Afghanistan, 81% in Egypt, 67% in Jordan, 58% in Iraq, 44% in Tunisia, 29% in Turkey, and 26% in Russia. Also, a 2010 Pew Research report showed that 84% of Egyptian Muslims, 86% of Jordanian Muslims, 30% of Indonesian Muslims, 76% of Pakistani Muslims, and 51% of Nigerian Muslims support the death penalty for leaving Islam.

In addition to the murder of those who are not believers in Islam in the ISIS controlled areas of Syria, the ISIS “modesty police” in Syria are now beating [and most likely doing worse to] women whose garments are too tight or who wear make-up.

This is not a “moderate” religion, nor is it one that respects women, no matter what the Koran says, and while extreme religious believers in the United States also have problems with respecting women, for the most part, they aren’t murdering them wholesale. So, while the Koran may say that men should respect women, that’s definitely one tenet that’s being ignored by the majority of Muslims… and they’re ignoring the fact that they’re ignoring it… and many appear to be proud that they are.

The Deeper Problem of Fanatics

The terrorist attacks in France illustrate that there exist within the human population people who are not only willing, but apparently eager, to lose their lives for a “cause” so that they can slaughter hundreds of people even if the actual victims of their efforts are innocent bystanders who personally have not fought against them and whose only “crime” is being a citizen of a country fighting against those terrorists, or in some cases, only being present in that country. In the case of ISIS, what makes it worse is that ISIS and its sympathizers believe, or at least publicly declare, that their struggle is to create an Islamic Caliphate. Unhappily, this struggle for “freedom” is to create an “Islamic State” in which they are free to kill or enslave anyone who does not believe exactly as they do and in which women are slaves and brood mares.

Tens of thousands of angry young men who feel disenfranchised and marginalized have flocked to this cause, and it’s clear that a great many of them, if not a majority, are fanatics in every sense of the word. As history has shown, negotiating, talking, or compromising does not change the mindset of a fanatic. Most people cannot drastically change their mindsets once they become adults, and that means changing the mindset of a large body of extreme fanatics, i.e., those willing to kill repeatedly for their cause, is highly unlikely, to say the least.

The only successful remedies in dealing with such fanatics are either isolation from those fanatics or the application of greater force. In the modern high-technology world, as events in France and elsewhere have demonstrated, complete isolation or containment of fanatics is not possible, and since fanatics don’t ever give up, greater force essentially means large-scale slaughter of those fanatics, because small-scale slaughter only creates more anger and more fanatics.

This leaves the “West” with in an extraordinarily difficult position, either to beef up security and containment measures almost to the level of a police state, and still recognize that such measures will not stop all terrorist attacks… or enter into an all-out war in the Middle East, in which millions will likely die.

But then, all those ISIS fanatics will go to Paradise, while all the other combatants and non-combatants who perish will just die ugly painful deaths because the ISIS fanatics KNOW that anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs deserves to die for their apostasy, just as less violent fanatics know that everyone else’s beliefs are wrong and that non-believers should be required to comply with the beliefs of “the chosen.”

The Founding Fathers, of course, drawing upon their knowledge of past centuries of European religious fanaticism, designed a Constitution to keep the fanaticism of religion out of government and law, for exactly these reasons, reasons that American religious extremists seem to ignore, even as ISIS provides another example of the evils of extremism in pursuit of the true faith, whatever that may be.

Another Reason for Pseudonyms?

The other day, I read a reader review that gave my new book a one star rating, and the reader declared that she was terribly disappointed, that she’s read all of my books, and had loved them all, but that Solar Express was dull and boring, not at all like the Imager Portfolio books.

I would be astounded if she has indeed read all of my books, but she likely has read all of my fantasy novels. Some of my science fiction is very different in subject matter and depth of technical aspects from my fantasy, and while I would like all readers to devour everything I write, in the real world that doesn’t happen. I know that I have readers that do indeed read and generally enjoy everything I write, but there are also those who only read and like the fantasy, those who only read and like the science fiction, and there are even those who only truly enjoy the Recluce novels. This is anything but surprising, because I do write a wide range of speculative fiction, including near-future political thrillers, very hard science fiction, and of course four very different fantasy series. I’ve also written technical non-fiction and published poetry as well.

I’m one of a comparative handful of writers still publishing both SF and fantasy (and everything else) under my own name and not a pseudonym… and that reader review, and others like it, is exactly why there are only a few of us who do.

When readers of a certain mindset read a work of fiction that they like, they tend to want that author to write everything else that way, and if they pick up another book by the same author they automatically assume the next book will be like the last one they read. And they get disappointed, sometimes even angry, if the second book doesn’t meet that expectation, even if the dust jacket describes the book accurately.

Publishers and editors are well aware of this tendency, as are writers, and that’s why the majority of newer authors tend to end up with pseudonyms for books or series that are markedly different.

Solar Express is a very science-oriented novel. All the events in the book are constrained by reality. No simple faster-than-light travel, no instant video communications anywhere and anytime, because that technology doesn’t exist, and probably never will… and if it does the costs and energy requirements will likely make it prohibitively expensive except for the highest priority communications, something that another reader didn’t seem to understand. The book is focused on people who live in that future and their problems. So far, at least, most of those with a solid science background who have contacted me have enjoyed the book. It’s also clear that some readers without such a background and without a true interest in real science have not enjoyed the book. It’s fine with me that different people with varying interests and backgrounds respond differently to dissimilar kinds of books.

What does bother me is when readers pick up a book that is obviously different in scope and approach from my other books and then complain that it’s not the same. Of course it’s not the same. The cover copy and dust jacket indicate that. So does the very first sentence. I don’t mind it if readers don’t like certain kinds of my books, but I can’t help getting annoyed when they post horrible reviews, not because the book was bad, but because they thought it was bad because it didn’t meet their personal expectations, especially when they’ve been warned that it might not.

But the fact that people are tending more and more to see authors as predictable purveyors of the same sort of satisfaction, rather than actually reading the cover copy and the dust jacket, is one of the main factors behind the proliferation of pseudonyms.

The Sins of the Parents?

Just a little over a week ago, the regional theocracy more widely known as the LDS Church announced changes to Handbook 1, the guide for its lay leaders, not that the LDS Church has any other kind, since a degree in theology is not required for any of its “bishops” or other church functionaries. The changes state that same-sex couples who are married are “apostates” and are unwelcome in the church. This is essentially an official affirmation of a long-standing unofficial policy.

But that wasn’t enough. In addition, the new policy states that the children of same-sex couples cannot be baptized in the church until they are eighteen – and then only if they repudiate their parents’ marriage.

This is little more than a power play on the part of church authorities, using the children as weapons against the parents. Unfortunately, most people who live outside of the unofficial but very real theocracy of Deseret [i.e., Utah and sizeable chunks of the adjoining states of Nevada, Idaho, and Arizona] will likely not understand the ramifications, since, if this policy is followed by local bishops and congregations, it will isolate children of such marriages. That’s because the vast majority of socializing, politics, and most after-school activities in LDS communities revolves around the church. This becomes especially important once children reach middle school age and continues through high school, as well as college in Utah and in LDS affiliated colleges and universities.

In effect, the LDS Church has now officially declared that openly LGBT people must leave the LDS church and take their children with them, whether or not the parents or the children wish this. Personally, it’s hard for me to imagine wanting to belong to such a faith, but I know and have known enough LGBT individuals who desperately want to remain part of the LDS faith to see what a difficult choice this is for them.

It’s also incredibly hypocritical, given that the LDS faith has always portrayed itself as a loving, family-centered, and kind religion, but apparently that love and kindness only extends to those who totally disavow the existence of those whose sexual/gender orientations are not hardline heterosexual.

What also makes all of this even more hypocritical is the recent discovery that sexual orientation is at least partly determined by two human genes, which follows earlier evidence clearly indicating that the physical brain structure of LGBT individuals differs from that of heterosexuals. This evidence invalidates the entire LDS/religious argument that human sexual/gender orientation is a choice. Thus, this policy would punish people and their children for the fact that they are different, and punishing people, especially when that difference in itself harms no one, except possibly those individuals, is the last thing that a purportedly kind, family-centered, and loving faith should be doing… especially by using children as a weapon in the process.

Run… or Wait Forever?

Most of the past week I spent at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, New York, not only attending panels, but also meeting with my editors, and my publisher, as well as being a panelist and giving a reading. It’s also one of the few times in the year when I can meet with other professionals in the field, given that my home town has exactly one other professional in the field, and she’s an artist who specializes in dragons, something that hasn’t exactly been a staple in in my fantasy. It’s also why there wasn’t a post last Friday.

More and more, however, I get tired of the same pattern in air travel. While occasionally I do get decent flight connections, more often than not, my connections fall into one of two patterns. Either I have to almost run, if not sprint, to make them, or I spend hours waiting for the next flight. On the flight out from Cedar City, a half hour before the flight was due to take off, the temperature dropped below freezing, and it started to snow. The plane was already a few minutes behind schedule, but when the de-icing time was added, when we reached Salt Lake, the airline was already boarding my flight to Detroit – two concourses away. I hurried and made it, but it wouldn’t even have been a problem if the scheduled time between flights had been even fifty minutes, rather than thirty five. Then when I got to Detroit, I had a four hour layover before the flight to Albany took off. I finally arrived in Saratoga Springs at 11:15 p.m.

On the return leg, my flight from Albany was delayed, and the gate agents told me I’d likely miss the flight from Detroit to Salt Lake. The pilot and ground crew made heroic efforts, and once more a great deal of hustle sufficed to get me aboard with even a few minutes to spare… so that I could wait for almost three hours in Salt Lake for my last flight home.

Now… these connections weren’t made in search of the least expensive fares. They were the only connections possible that would get me from Cedar City to Albany in one day, one very long day. I realize that creating airline schedules is a near-impossibility, but…

I really am getting tired of either worrying about whether I’ll make connections [because a few times I haven’t] or spending endless hours waiting, all of which are reasons why I don’t travel as much as I once did.


Economics has been called the “dismal science” by many people for many reasons. Personally, I’d like to think that it’s because, when employed properly, it reveals the aspects of human behavior very few people want exposed. One of the fundamental and simple principles of economics is that scarce goods are more highly valued and plentiful ones are less valued, and certainly human history continually shows that.

In fact, in that vein, if one applies basic economic principles to religion, the inescapable conclusion is that the wealthy and the privileged benefit disproportionately from religions and cultures that encourage the less fortunate to have lots of offspring.

Am I crazy in saying that? Or anti-religion? Hardly. It’s just the dismal science revealing what too many religions won’t or can’t admit. A few lessons from history might be instructive. After the Black Death ravaged Europe in the 14th century, killing well over a third of the population and possibly as much as sixty percent in some areas, a strange thing happened. Over the following centuries, life got a whole lot better for the working classes. Why? Because there was a shortage of labor, and even laborers became better paid. The higher cost of labor eventually led to the development of more innovations that were labor-saving and resulted in higher productivity and less brute manual work.

While China also suffered from the Black Death, the majority of the deaths were in the west of China, in the area dominated by the Mongols, as well as across the steppes, where in some areas as much as seventy percent of the population perished. This led to the collapse of Mongol rule, and the return to more traditional Chinese social and class structures… and continued reliance on a great deal of low-paid labor, of which there continued to be a great numbers… and no real incentive for the upper classes to build on the innovations that China developed centuries before the west, such as blast furnaces, gun-powder, and ocean trading.

Why did so many immigrants flee Europe for the United States? The ostensible and often-given answer is “for a better life.” But behind that answer lies economics – the fact that there was a shortage of labor in the United States, enough of a shortage that even unskilled workers could do better here than elsewhere.

Areas with high birthrates generally have lower living standards and an aristocracy of sorts that continues to live well and pay labor poorly. They’re generally also areas where women have fewer real rights and opportunities. There may be exceptions, but they’re very few and don’t last long. In such lands, the poor need to have large families just to survive, and the great numbers of the poor insure that wages for the poor remain low. With low wages, education is hard to come by, and that means only a small percentage of the poor ever rises above poverty. It also means that there are plenty of cheap servants, and most services are inexpensive.

When anyone talks about “right-to-life,” they’re really talking about a very selective “right.” They’re talking about the right to be born. The problem here is that these people’s “right-to-life” doesn’t extend to the right to live a decent life, and the higher the birth rate in any area, the more depressed wages tend to be and the fewer opportunities available to women.

So the “sacred” right-to-life really means that whatever divine being is behind it essentially supports misery and oppression. That’s sacred?