July 2016 Writing Update

I’d like to take a moment to update you on what I’ve been up to in 2016, and to let you know that I plan on doing these updates once a month to better keep you informed.

Earlier this year I ran a free Kindle promotion on my first book, The Bravest of Souls, and the results were phenomenal.  Not only were thousands of readers introduced to the series but interest in the trilogy as a whole was dramatically increased.

I’ve been getting a lot of people asking me if there will be a fourth installment to The Bravest of Souls trilogy. For now, the answer is no, but I do have tentative plans to revisit Niv’leana and her companions at a later date.  I love the universe and do see room to create more stories in it.

That said, I’ve been working on a new book over the past year or so.  It doesn’t have a title yet, but that should be coming soon as I get closer to the end of the novel.  It will be shorter, about half the length of each of The Bravest of Souls novel, and told in the first person point of view.  In this historical fiction piece, we journey to the 1850’s and follow Isabella and her family as they leave their home in Independence, Missouri, and travel west to build a new life.  Like most novels in that time period and place there will be interactions with Indians and other settlers, but perhaps unlike most pieces in this genre there will be a strong supernatural twist that completely transforms Isabella and forever alters her destiny.  The novel should be finished and available for purchase on Kindle and in print by Christmas.

I’m very excited about this project and I can’t wait to get it into your hands to read.  It’s always fun to write for you and I consider it an honor to receive the wonderful feedback I’ve been getting about my work.

I am very grateful for your support.  Stay tuned for monthly updates as we near the release of my next book.

Original Sin and the Birth of Civilization

I enjoy talking about religion and philosophy with all sorts of people.  I don’t want to argue, I want to learn. While I do see religious as a fixed dogmatic belief set, I do maintain that there is something to learn in every intellectual discussion with well-meaning individuals. I am fortunate to have many of those in my circle of friends.

In one of those discussions today we were discussing the original sin: Eve eating the apple. In the bible it is explained that this apple is from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What does the knowledge of good and evil mean, exactly?

To know if something is good or evil you must first be able to discern. To do this, you must use logic to compare a situation to discern against previous situations or against an existing set of ethical beliefs. This kind of reason is (as far as we know) exclusive to humans. The foundation of ethics made artificial rules necessary for the formation of human civilization.

Without them, we are subject to the whims of the moment.  In other words, without logic, reason, and ethics, we live in the now. Many would consider this a good thing, as far too often our brains are tugged in many different directions – analyzing past actions and contemplating possible futures.

Animals do not have the knowledge of good and evil. They always live in the now, doing what is best for them based on instinct and simple risk/reward equations. Interestingly enough this is also referenced in the bible when Jesus explains that animals do not worry about their next meal – they simply live for the now. This objectivism frees them from the constraints of human emotions. They undoubtedly feel love, joy, and fear, but absent are the pangs of guilt and regret. By living in the now, they do not stop to contemplate the broader consequences of their past actions.

To me, it seems clear that the God in the Christian Bible didn’t want Adam and Eve to have this knowledge. It seems he would have preferred the ignorance is bliss mindset. Without this, judgement would be impossible, and humans could never organize into any meaningful structure of civilization.

Is that the larger message in the tale of Adam and Eve? By breaking the natural order and applying humanistic logic and reason to everyday living, did we create the amazing civilization that we have come to rely upon and seek constant diversion and refuge from? While we laud our successes in splitting the atom, developing antibiotics, and putting a man on the moon, we struggle to find meaning in our life and to understand even the most basic aspects of our existence.

Of course we could look at the wonders of modern civilization and find many reasons to cheer humankind’s success. We created our own dogma, or own belief sets, and our own ethics independent from any creator. Ironically, one of those belief systems tries to absolves us of this sin by reducing the crime to simply eating an apple.

It looks like humans were caught with their hand in the cosmic cookie jar.


Hillary’s Best Bet to Defeat Trump: Quit the Race

Clinton and the #NeverTrump movement are worried, and they have every reason to be.  Recent polls show that it is becoming increasingly obvious that the absolute worst way for Democrats to stop Trump in November is to nominate Hillary Clinton.  Conversely, Sanders beats Trump by substantial margins every time they are hypothetically paired.

Clinton’s favorability rating is astonishingly low – in fact, barely above Trump’s.  Even though she enjoys considerable support from the Democratic party elites that counts for little in a year where wearing the establishment badge of honor is a curse, not a blessing.  Trump and Sanders saw this trend and capitalized on it, while Clinton doubled-down on the same old political tripe that voters are quite tired of hearing.

The Democrats have repeatedly pointed out how critical it is to win this race, citing that the next president will have multiple supreme court picks. If they are so concerned, why not take a hard look at the data and put their best horse in the race?  Continuing to support the idea that its up to the political establishment to coronate the nominee is the exact mentality that wrecked the GOP elite’s chances of installing a “yes” man into the White House.

Given the political climate, the greatest threat to the Democratic party’s agenda and chance at the presidency is Hillary Clinton’s political ambition.

Recreating the Magic

Last week, Religious Texas reported that witchcraft was on the rise in the US.  While it was an interesting article, it struck me as odd that one particular religion’s roles were expanding in a time when religious belief and affiliation is on the decline.  What explains this anomaly?

To answer this question, we need to understand why religious belief and affiliation is on the decline in the US and the rest of the western world. Steven Reiss has an excellent article on Huffington Post that details some well-reasoned explanations, including people fleeing organized religion into more individualized spirituality, a decline in tribalism, a decrease in traditional families, and a lack of faith in institutions.

While each can partially explain the overall decline, two reasons stood out to me the most: the decay of organized religions and lack of faith in institutions.  As humans become more connected via the internet and less dependent on central organizations for information, individuals are more prone to free thinking and deep introspection, leading to an increase in spiritual awareness and a simultaneous decline of participation in organized religion.

We see this freedom from establishment trend taking hold in nearly every facet of our lives, and the once taboo topics of politics and religion are no exception.  The trend now should be clear – the old ways are being questioned in ways that would have never been allowed before and new thought is becoming the norm, rather than the exception.  So then why are some seeking a religion that has its roots in the ancient Pagan ways?

Tradition is key.  Many atheists and agnostics still celebrate Christmas despite a lack of belief in the originating faiths.  They fondly remember holiday seasons from their childhood and seek to recreate that magic each year.  Being raised in a society that is steeped in tradition will undoubtedly yield a yearning for those traditions, even if they no longer belief as they once did.

Declaring yourself spiritual but not religious yields no traditions.  There isn’t a “I like the idea of Christmas but don’t believe in Jesus” tree that you can decorate in your living room.  For those that have the deep need to participate in tradition yet do not want to participate in Abrahamic rituals may find some belonging in the Wiccan/Pagan Yule festivals.

Of course, I do not mean to diminish the sincere spiritual calling some have towards particular belief sets when I give my analysis on overall trends.  Most religious people will tell you that spirituality is a personal journey and though I am not religious I will certainly agree with that statement.

While I was raised with traditional Christian holidays, I have no desire to dispense with them despite my lack of religious affiliation.  It’s tempting to hang a Fox Mulder’s I want to believe poster behind my secular Christmas tree each year because it is easier, in many ways, to believe in something than to question it.  I cannot deny that traditions are nice and comforting, no matter what you believe.

But Wiccans and Pagans are certainly not taking the culturally easy path, especially in America. Some Christians believe their religion is evil and confuse it with Satanism, while the secular world doesn’t accept their belief of multiple gods and goddesses any more than they acknowledge a Christian god or savior.

Despite this, Wiccans and Pagans can surround themselves with ancient traditions that other religions enjoy.  They can join Christians and Jews in declaring they have a reason for the season.

Entropy in Culture, or, The Whole Thing Is Going to Fall Apart Anyway

Entropy is defined as:

a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.

You can simply define it as a gradual decline into disorder.  Everything in the universe will eventually decay.  We see this in everything around us.  Of course, some things seem to defy this rule for a short time.  But in the end, the show of the universe will fade to black.

There is one interesting anomaly in the universe that defies this rule – life.  In fact, that’s probably the best definition of life – that which defies entropy.  Of course, it can’t do this forever.  Eventually it fades.  But for a brief while life flourishes and beats the tremendous odds against it.

Life started as simple cells, but over time it evolved into larger, more organized structures. Life spans and adaptability to environments increased – helping that organism accomplish more during its lifetime. Eventually, these animals became so complex that they started to form social hierarchies.  Humans continued this trend with the creation of society.

Society evolved from being just large enough to help its members through difficult winter to massive enough to support projects like space travel and genetic research.  A complex network of groups, clubs, departments, and other assorted private and public bureaucracies formed to make all of this possible.

As Above, So is Below

Society is a perfect example of recursive spontaneous structure.  Since tissues and organs were logical and useful divisions of labor, small families, groups, and even governments formed.  These organizations acted much like the tissues and organs in our bodies – governing one function of the overall body.  The phrase body politic seems to allude to this not-so-accidental arrangement.

So does that mean society, and the government it creates, is merely a representation of this seemingly complex but useful order that resides with in us?  I would maintain so. This does not, of course, imply that this spontaneous system of order is more perfect than the assemblage of parts that it contains.  It suffers from the exact same diseases we do, just manifested in different ways.

When a government official or office becomes corrupt, it simulates a cancer cell in the body.  When society as a whole holds incorrect preconceived notions despite contradictory evidence, it has an affliction akin to what we might call mental illness.  When part of society is cut off from the rest, or suffers unjustly, it is not to dissimilar from circulatory problems or nerve damage.

Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater

When something goes wrong with government or society its tempting to blame the organizations as a whole.  And sometimes problems are so systemic that they can be related to diseases of the body.  But just because the body is ill doesn’t mean that it is necessarily dysfunctional or not worthy of saving.  We don’t dispose of people at the first sign of illness.  A foreign body may have co-opted cells to do their bidding, but that doesn’t mean that the system is flawed.

Starting over is tempting, but with millions of years of biological evolution behind us, it is worthy to pause and contemplate the necessity of reinventing the wheel.  Is the whole system flawed, or is its current implementation to blame?  These are the questions that politicians and philosophers debate, but can these topics cannot be fully contemplated without taking into account the smaller picture: the biological systems that served as their natural template.

So How Is It All Going to Fall Apart?

No one can answer that with any certainty, even though one of the two possible answers seemingly violates the laws of entropy.

Is societies greatest invention the ability to defy the inevitable grasp of entropy?  Despite efforts to decentralize government, it grows stronger. And from this strength it reinforces the order it desires upon itself in a seemingly endless cycle.

Is this cycle of innovation, greed, and power resilient enough to last forever?  That’s the problem with human perception. We’re generally terrible at predicting the future and almost equally bad at analyzing the past. Given those restraints, it’s probably impossible to know the answer to that question.

We are invariably influenced by the very biological systems (and their societal analogs) and sustain us throughout the day.  How can we possibly be impartial in such a vital, and introspective question?

An Invention That Could Change the World

I just had a great idea for a Kickstarter campaign.  But I don’t have the entire idea fleshed out yet so I’ll run this by you, the reader.  I think the best way to demonstrate how awesome this invention could be is to create a commercial for it, highlighting the benefits of its use and explaining how it could solve many of the world’s common problems.

I’m no screenwriter so forgive the improper screenplay formatting.  The script would go something like this:

We see the invention sitting on a desk in a crowded shopping mall.  A demonstrator draws people in with the promise of making their lives easier. A woman takes a seat and uses the invention.  The dialog might go something like this:

“You’ve never used something quite this easy,”  the demonstrator says.  “Let me show you. Take the mouse and click on that bar at the top of the screen.”

Ok,” she says incredulously.

“Now, type in facebook.com”

“Done,” she replies.  “Oh, wow.  It’s so big!”

She’s is in astonishment as she scrolls through all of her friend’s posts.

“Try it.  Go on…”

She cautiously types on the keyboard underneath the post of one of her friend’s taking a picture of their food at a restaurant, “What a great dinner!.  Wish I was there, but instead I’m stuck at some sales demonstration, lol.”

That was so easy!  No typos!”

Demonstrator flashes a cheesy, salesman-like grin.

Now check your email,” he says.

She types gmail.com and begins reading her e-mail.  Her mouth is open in astonishment.  She almost clicks reply but hesitates.

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

“I can’t reply,” she admits.  “Too much to type.  I’ll just talk to my mom about it next time I see her.”

He challenged her: “Try it.  I think you’ll like it.”

She begins to type.  Eventually, after 5 minutes, she’s typed a full-fledged response to her mom’s email.  

That would have taken me an hour on this stupid thing!”

She holds up her phone.  But this is portable, and that’s not.  The demonstrator closes the lid on the invention and hands it to her.

“You can take it anywhere there’s WiFi.”

She hands him her credit card.

“I’ll take it!”

I hope this gives you an idea of the invention I’m thinking of creating.  I don’t really know what to call it, yet. It could sit in your lap, so I was thinking laptop, but that might be a bit too bland. If you have a suggestion, leave it in the comments below. I’d be glad to consider it!



Another Day, Another False Moral Dilemma

After Bruce Jenner’s very public transformation into Caitlyn, the expected outrage reared its head almost immediately.  While I understand changing sexes can be quite dramatic, I would ask anyone who is “outraged” or “upset” by this one very simple question:

How does it affect you?

Now, if you were a good friend or relative of Caitlyn, I could understand that his transformation could affect you in some way.  You wouldn’t necessarily have any say over it, but there could be small repercussions for you.

But I suspect the overwhelming majority of people who are disturbed by this are neither friends nor relatives of Caitlyn.  In this case, I would pose a further question:

Why does it upset you?

The decisions of a stranger should have no impact on your life.  I cannot understand the anger over something that doesn’t matter to anyone but Caitlyn and her immediate circle of friends and family.

The issue isn’t complex or morally problematic.  It is that simple.




A Model of a Model of a Model of a Village – Confusing Enough?

Jump straight to the gallery of Bourton-on-the-Water Gallery

In programming I love the concept of reflection – the ability of a program (or module in a program) to see outside it self, to examine and even modify its own behavior.

But this is a real world example of such introspection.  The village of Bourton-on-the-Water in England has a model of itself inside the village.  And being a faithful model, it has a model of the model of the village.  This kind of reflection goes deeper until we finally see a model of the model of the model.

It’s a lot to wrap your head around, so its easier to just browse the amazing pictures:

Bourton-on-the-Water Gallery on Imgur