Archive for July, 2021

Beliefs, Facts, And Stupidity

We all rely on beliefs to get through life, but there’s a range of beliefs. There are beliefs based on hard verifiable facts; beliefs based only on wanting to believe; and beliefs that have elements of facts and elements of desire unfounded in hard reality.

Despite the beliefs of billions of people for tens of thousands of years, there still exists no replicable, verifiable proof that there is a god – or supreme deity. There are reports and prophets and scriptures, but there exists no proof of the sort required by science. Obviously, this hasn’t stopped people from believing in various deities, or for that matter, in believing there is no deity.

Every individual, one way or another, decides to what degree his or her beliefs are based on facts, rather than on considerations that cannot be supported by facts.

In this context “facts” present a problem. While the universe is complex, human understanding of that complexity continues to improve, but, all too often, that with that complexity comes a degree of uncertainty.

Covid-19 provides a good illustration. The early tests of the Moderna vaccine indicated an effectiveness of 94% in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 after the second dose. The Pfizer vaccine was rated at 95%. But even most of those few vaccinated individuals who do catch Covid and show symptoms only have mild symptoms. But the vaccines are not 100% effective. No vaccine is.

Currently, the recent cases of Covid-19 are showing that 93-97% of hospitalized cases and deaths are in unvaccinated individuals. Those are hard facts. Yet in some states, such as Utah, barely half the population is vaccinated.

All the “belief” in the world won’t change the fact that 95% of people hospitalized for Covid-19 are unvaccinated.

The problem is that people seize on single “facts,” anecdotes, proclamations by individuals or politicians not based on ALL the facts as a confirmation of what they want to believe. There are almost always exceptions to anything, but wagering your life on exceptions isn’t the best of strategies.

The associated problem with people who do this, for whatever reason, including citing their “freedom,” is that they endanger others… and restrict those others’ pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Which means that they’re not only stupid, but selfish… and in a sense, also criminal because their failure to protect themselves can result in the unnecessary deaths of others.

Thoughts on Climate Change

One universal characteristic of people, even highly educated individuals, is that we tend to prefer simple and uncomplicated answers, even to problems that are anything but simple.

That’s one of the reasons why getting people to understand the danger of global warming and climate change is so difficult, and when you add in the problem that the effects of what world industries and what billions of people choose to do today won’t fully impact the world ecosphere for years, if not for decades or generations, the difficulty becomes much greater.

The heat waves the U.S. is experiencing right now are the result of “normal” summer weather patterns boosted by years of underlying incremental changes, and these changes have impacts in all sorts of interlocking changes. There have been literally thousands of studies confirming these effects, and essentially no reputable ones refuting the overall trend, yet people see all those numbers and throw up their hands.

The article here [] [brought to my attention by a reader] presents those interactions without presenting the myriad of numbers and calculations behind the descriptive analysis. But the numbers do exist, supported by thousands of studies over years. Despite claims to the contrary, there’s no reputable evidence against global warming or against the human contribution to it.

Yet, accurate as I believe the article to be in general terms, there are always outliers that climate deniers will cite, using hard numbers for a specific instance. For example, the vast majority of glaciers in the world are shrinking, but there are a handful that are increasing. Antarctic ice shelves are crumbling in overall extent, but inland build-up of Antarctic ice is increasing in some areas because warmer ocean air around the Antarctic holds more moisture that turns to snow in colder areas.

People also rely more on personal experience and anecdotal evidence than on statistics. But anecdotal evidence and experience only persist as long as individuals live. I can personally testify how the importation and stockpiling of massive quantities of water by the Denver Water Board fueled runaway growth in the Denver Metro area, with a resulting local micro-climate that is far more humid than the dusty plains where I grew up [which are now damper and hotter wall-to-wall suburban houses]. But there are fewer and fewer of us who can testify to those times, and if there’s no one left to relay those stories and you don’t trust statistics and records, the actual facts get ignored… or ignored even more.

“Realistic” Dialogue

Dialogue is a key component of the vast majority of fiction, and certainly of the kind of books that I read and write. While readers and writers can have distinctively different views on dialogue, often what readers, and even some editors, think is “realistic” dialogue is nothing of the sort.

Over the years a small number of readers have occasionally complained that my dialogue is too formal. And compared to the way many people talk today, it probably is, but throughout history, the educated and professional classes in any society have used more formal dialogue. Some languages even had “high” and “low” versions. Ideally, dialogue should be specific to the characters and their culture, not to what’s comfortable or familiar to editors, but in writing there has to be compromise. I’m not about to write in the equivalent of high German, but the word choice of those who would be speaking in that fashion should suggest formality.

What many Americans, in particular, fail to understand is that most cultures have far tighter social customs and restrictions, as did an earlier United States, than the U.S. does at present. The January 6th attempted “insurrection” at the U.S. Capitol reflects this. In no earlier U.S. period would that many Americans ever thought it proper to storm the Capitol. It wasn’t “the way” things were done. And certain phrases and terms just weren’t used in “polite society.” What tends to be forgotten is that in most societies and times, the equivalent of “polite society” is where the power lies.

In practice, that means less formal dialogue belongs to the outsiders, not the insiders. It also means, even in fantasy and science fiction cultures, if they’re to be realistic, that there should be unlegislated or customary restrictions on what is proper to be said in public, and in private, and on what actions are “beyond the pale.” Obviously, customs change over time in any culture, but history has shown that societies without unspoken restrictions seldom endure, while enduring societies have more unspoken restrictive customs and speech patterns than are obvious to the casual or careless observer.

Unconscious Hypocrisy

Over the weekend, I read a letter to the editor in the “local” paper (it’s mainly about St. George, but includes regional news and some stories about Cedar City). The writer was deeply concerned about the rapid and uncontrolled growth in St. George, and how the pleasant and friendly town had changed into a small city with traffic and rude drivers, growing air pollution, runaway building that would lead to water shortages, and other urban problems.

Then the writer went on to describe how the same process had occurred in the Los Angeles in which he’d grown up.

Now, the writer was totally accurate, possibly even understating how much St. George has grown in the past twenty years, but it didn’t even seem to occur to him that he represented the reason why St. George has grown so much. In both Cedar City and St. George, the “immigration” numbers from California are staggering.

When we moved here from New Hampshire twenty-eight years ago, the reasons were purely economic and professional – the only full-time job in her field that my wife could find (after massive cutbacks in the New Hampshire higher education system) was here. Writers are portable, female soprano opera directors not nearly so much. At that time, the move was far from ideal, but there weren’t any other feasible options. We bought an existing house [which we slowly spent twenty years repairing and upgrading] on a street where only one other family happened to be “immigrants” – and he was another academic from the east coast.

For the first fifteen years after we arrived, only three houses in the two block stretch in our area changed hands. Since then, more than half the homes have been sold, and every one of them, except possibly one, has been bought by a family from California, most of them retirees.

This is happening all across the southwestern corner of Utah. I understand why people want to leave California, particularly retirees who can sell homes in California for ridiculously inflated prices and buy a retirement house in Utah (often larger) for far less, but it does mystify me that those who come here don’t seem to understand that, when so many of them descend upon a largely rural and arid area, they’ve become part of the problem, particularly when a good percentage of them oppose local government controls on growth, but then complain about uncontrolled growth.


When I was a teenager, all too many years ago, I knew a few other “guys” [how else can I refer to males of that indeterminate age too old to be teenagers and too immature to be adults] who doted on their cars. Now, I’ve always liked cars, but I never obsessed over them. I once thought I wanted a Jaguar XKE, that is, until I drove one and discovered that its only redeeming quality was the speed it could attain, and that its handling left a great deal to be desired.

And until I was much older, my cars were all used, and, frankly, their original owners had bought them for practicality, except for the cherry red Corvair, and I have no idea why the grandmother who owned it previously had bought it. I got it because it was affordable.

But back in the late 1950s, the car guys all seemed obsessed with lowering and/or raking their vehicles and then replacing their mufflers with glass-packs, which apparently, in those days, met the legal definition of mufflers. The result was, predictably, that you could hear those vehicles coming from blocks away, possibly for a good mile in the then-exurban area where I grew up.

I thought that era was gone, and it seemed to be, except in the last year or so I’ve begun to see giant trucks with lifted suspensions. I can also hear them a good half mile away because they’re even louder than the 1950s vehicles equipped with glass-packs. They vibrate the double pane windows in the house, and set every dog on the street either to barking at the intrusion or whining in terror, depending on age and breed of the canine and the temperament of the owner. These are not old clunkers driven by post-teens, nor are they driven by men of my age and older trying to relive a misspent youth. They’re usually massive late-model shiny pickup trucks, usually either gleaming white with lots of chrome or jet black… and occasionally metallic red. What they pick up is another question, because some of them have a truck bed so high that it would require a cherry-picker or forklift to load it. Oh, and the worst of them belch black smoke.

Now, I can understand the need for hauling things. We have two vehicles. One is an economical 21 year old Toyota RAV, and the other is an 11 year old Tahoe, necessary for hauling such things as opera props, stage furniture and the like, but I still can’t figure out the appeal of the monsters that roar up the hill on which we live… or what else they’re useful for… and for that matter, how they’re even legal under current emissions and noise standards.

I couldn’t see the appeal when I was a teenager, and I still can’t… unless it’s the desire to be as assertively and ostentatiously obnoxious as possible.

More Hidden Costs

The other day we received a box delivered by one of the major package delivery services that looked like it had been through a battle zone of some sort. Despite double-walled thick cardboard packaging and copious internal packaging, the contents reflected serious and repeated impacts of some force. Now, I’m not mentioning which of the three major outfits serving us [USPS, FedEx, or UPS] delivered this package, because I’m not seeing much difference between those carriers. No matter which entity delivers packages, at least one in ten arrives looking that way.

As I’ve mentioned before, thanks to the “success” of Amazon, Walmart, and Home Depot, for us, shopping for much besides basic hardware, home maintenance, and food requires either a three to four hour drive [one way] or online purchases. The only boots that fit my feet are no longer sold here, nor are any shoes my wife can wear. The same is true of my shirts, trousers, and vests, and anything my wife would want to wear, either in public or private.

It didn’t used to be that way, but that’s the result of the undeclared monopolization of the United States, at least for anyone who doesn’t live in a major metropolitan area. And from what my offspring who live in such areas say, it’s even sometimes true there.

That’s one big reason why, all across the country, more and more gets delivered. But the problem with this is that it’s put enormous stress on all the delivery services. Too many people in those services could care less about labels such as “fragile” or “perishable.” So… there’s more and more damage.

As a result, shippers are resorting to bigger boxes, more bracing, and more padding. That increases shipping costs, and those packages take up more space. The extra packaging creates more waste, and there aren’t enough recycling operations to handle it.

But the monopolists aren’t the ones bearing all the additional financial and environmental costs of their operations. Everyone else is, one way or the other.


Earlier this summer, Naomi Osaka, the then number one woman in the world in professional tennis, refused to attend press conferences and then dropped out of the French Open and subsequently decided not to play at Wimbledon, citing her mental health. Officials at the French Open noted that the terms for playing included the requirement to attend press conferences and threatened to fine her for non-appearances at press conferences.

Being a successful professional athlete requires years of grueling preparation and takes a toll on the body, not just in contact sports such as football and basketball, but even in sports that don’t seem as physically damaging, such as golf and tennis. That’s why sports careers are usually short, and why players want to make as much money as they can while they can. This can create personal stress.

I understand that. It’s part of the structure. What I have trouble with is when players get upset with the media, whether it’s in football, basketball, golf, or tennis. Like it or not, without the media there wouldn’t be the money behind professional sports, and that’s because professional sports are entertainment. High-stakes, high-personal-impact, high-stress entertainment, but still entertainment.

Professional musicians get paid for how they entertain. The same is true of writers. Both can face a great deal of adverse public criticism.

Now, no entertainer, athletic or otherwise, should be subjected to abuse from the media or the general public, but neither should athletes or entertainers be exempt from reporting by or meeting with the media, especially when they’ve signed contracts that require media contacts, and particularly when they’re making what top athletes and entertainers earn. A certain amount of press second-guessing and pressure comes with the territory, and not all of it will be favorable. If an athlete or entertainer doesn’t like it, then maybe they should reconsider their choice of profession.

Almost every true professional in any field faces criticism, either from superiors or subordinates, from clients and/or customers, or from media or government regulators. And for most of us, opting out isn’t an option. I don’t see why it should be for professional athletes, particularly given how much those like Naomi Osaka make, and when the terms are laid out in advance.


This August will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the initial publication of The Magic of Recluce. It was not nominated for any awards in the field when it was initially published or thereafter.

The World Fantasy Award for books published in 1991 had six finalists for best novel. Of those six titles, one is no longer available in any form, except possibly through rare book dealers. The other five are available in Kindle, but not from their original publishers. Of those five, the only new print format is trade paperback or print on demand form. Only one of them is selling at even a mid-list level currently.

There were five Hugo finalists for books published in 1991. Again, from what I can tell, all five are available in kindle format. Only one of the five is listed as having a current in-print paperback edition. Three have modest mid-list sales.

The Magic of Recluce is obviously available in Kindle, audio, and mass market paperback, and has been continuously in print for thirty years, unlike most of the award winners initially published in the same year.

Now, I’m far from the only author who can make such a claim. Perhaps the most notable example is Robert Jordan. None of the books in The Wheel of Time were even nominated while Jordan was alive, and the one Hugo nomination The Wheel of Time received was in 2014, seven years after he died.

Betty Ballantine, the co-founder of Bantam and Ballantine Books, once observed that there were other more important honors for a book than immediate awards. Awards are often fleeting, but sales over the years are more likely to indicate, at the least a lasting appeal, and, at times, true excellence unrecognized by awards too often based on “standards du jour.”

“Necessary” Inflation Adjustments

I don’t think it’s any surprise to most thinking people that the federal government is spending too much money that it doesn’t have. Yes, we need infrastructure improvements, desperately. We also need to spend more money on basic, basic research, because that’s the foundation for future technology and it’s the kind of research that U.S. industry doesn’t spend enough on, but we need to pay for that spending by increasing taxes, not by printing money and creating more debt.

And we need to increase taxes now… before we destroy our economy.

Right now, we’re told that the economy is recovering…and it is, but barely, and that recovery is being pushed by increasing debt. We cannot keep funding more and more programs based on debt. While liberal economists claim that these programs will generate more tax revenue, the facts show that the marginal revenues generated by such programs are less than the additional costs of the programs.

So far, the government has been able to manage the debt by artificially manipulating interest rates to keep them low, and, as I’ve also pointed out more than once, the federal government has changed the criteria it uses to calculate inflation. This combination, if continued, will have disastrous several results.

First, lower calculated inflation rates allow the government to pay less interest on federal debt instruments. Those lower “official” inflation rates also reduce cost of living increases on Social Security benefits and military retirement, and any other federal programs indexed to official cost-of-living indices.

One financial expert, Jared Dillon, pointed out this week, “If we calculated inflation the same way we did in 1990, the inflation rate would currently be 8%. If we calculated it the same way we did in 1980, it would be at 13%.”

But… if the official interest rate were anywhere near that, the government would have no way to pay the interest on the national debt – except by printing more money, which would spark runaway inflation. The government can’t afford to do that.

So, in the meantime, the actual purchasing power of Social Security benefits is being even further eroded. The purchasing power of the dollar continues to decline, and that means maintaining federal programs takes more and more inflated dollars.

At the same time, those low interest rates discourage traditional private saving and investment and encourage people trying to maintain the value of their savings into more and more highly speculative investments, which has led to an asset “bubble” and inflated housing prices nation-wide.

Without a significant tax increase, this inflationary bubble will just get worse, and no matter what happens, the U.S. faces turbulent and difficult economic times ahead, times that cannot be resolved by artificially low interest rates and printing more money.