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The Cold Equations

There has been a great disturbance in The Force a recent discussion about the famous SF short story The Cold Equations. You can read it at the link, but the gist of the story is due to a lack of fuel and massive authorial manipulations, a stowaway on a spaceship has to die. Alex Acks thinks its morally reprehensible and shitty writing. Camestros Felapton doesn't like it much either.

I'm willing to concede that the story is flawed, but I want to defend John Campbell's attempt. The story was written in 1954, when SF was in full Space Is Good mode. Campbell wanted a story in which, as in life, bad things happen to good people. He wanted a space version of Jack London's To Build a Fire. (read at the link)

In "To Build a Fire" an unnamed man decides to walk to a different camp in Alaska in the winter. He sets out alone, knowing that its cold but not knowing that it is negative 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The man is told it's too cold to be traveling, but he goes anyway. He gets accidentally wet, tries and fails to start a fire, and dies.

It's a great story, one of the classics of literature. Campbell (I think) wanted something similar. He almost got it with "The Cold Equations." Now, both stories had a ton of authorial manipulations. In "Equations" it's lack of fuel and redundancy. In "Fire" it is the decision to travel and where the man builds his first fire. But because Alaska is a real place, some of those manipulations we as a reader either don't see or are okay with. "Equations" happens in a completely made-up world.

The other big difference, and where "Equations" fails most badly, is moral. In "Fire" the only person that dies is the Man. He made a mistake, one that he had explicitly been warned by the "old-timers" that could be fatal, and paid the price. In "Equations" the "girl" stowaway has no idea she's made a fatal mistake. All she did was ignore one (1) (!) sign that said "Keep Out." What the sign didn't say was "Keep Out or Die."

So there's an opening for us writers - a "To Build A Fire" in space.

Friday Link Salad - Polar Vortex Edition

Have a couple of links:

1) My book The Mars Run is getting some press.

2) An evacuated island - The story of St. Kildas

3) The minimum wage is not just for kids:

Thursday Polar Vortex Update

Another polar vortex has settled over Chicago. (Funny, I don't remember those from my childhood. Back then, it was just cold.) Yesterday was consumed by locusts and today I have a meeting of uncertain duration in the afternoon. Well, I could be outside trying to dig a ditch, so I'll stop complaining.

In other news, my book The Mars Run is getting some well-deserved press.

Lastly, a political thought from Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. He analyzes the Election That Was and has some good thoughts. Key point: The final tally puts Trump ahead by .8%, or 22,748 votes. That's a tiny margin. Any number of things could have shifted the balance. Spending the final week of the campaign talking about a new investigation of Clinton's emails was more than enough to tip the balance. But now look at the shift from 2012. The shift in the direction of the GOP was 7.7%. That is a huge shift over four years.


As readers of this blog know, I found this current election very frustrating. First, had Clinton won narrowly with implications of Russian hackers providing help, the entire Republican establishment would be up in arms over it. But because a Republican did it, it's okay.

Second, this article, entitled Why Obamacare enrollees voted for Trump, also drives me nuts. Beneficiaries of Obamacare are convinced, or have convinced themselves, that Trump and the Republicans won't do what they say they will and take their benefits away. They're also convinced that, unlike themselves, "undeserving poor" are getting freebies that they aren't.

Having said all of this, all I can do is point out the truth.


I have returned from vacation at Gulf Shores Plantation. This lovely resort property is 10 miles or so west of Gulf Shores, Alabama, heart of the Redneck Riviera. Golf was played, seafood was eaten, and some writing was accomplished. Now, I'm back in the land of ice and snow.

Two thoughts on my return. First, my favorite costume-maker has profiled my costumer on her site. Second, one would think that the picture below goes without saying.

Friday Link Salad, or Clearing My Tabs

Stuff I found of interest.

A) Jim Wright on Trump's cabinet: "So far we've got The Idle Rich, Billionaires and Bankers, a couple of Evil Doctors, the Soap Queen sister of a mercenary, a Grand Wizard, Mad Dog Mattis, and Caribou Barbie

It's less like Donald Trump building a cabinet ...

... and more like Lex Luthor assembling a League of Super Villains."

B) The title says it all: Democrats, skip the civil war.

C) On stopping gun violence: Ya gotta go after the shooters.

D) I've met the author and I've pre-ordered the book.

Trump and Tribalism

I remain fascinated, in a "wow look at that train-wreck!" sort of way at the people who seem to think Donald Trump will make an okay President. (Paging Scott Adams, Scott Adams, please pick up a white courtesy telephone.) Now, to be clear, I hope he is okay, or even better-than okay, because he is in fact my President. I'm just not convinced that will happen.

This article compares Trump to Mr. "Bunga-Bunga" himself, Silvio Berlusconi. Since both were wealthy real-estate developers who'd branched into TV and took over their country's center-right political party, I thought the parallel was apt. So, why do so many of Trump's supporters seem unable to see his many failings?

The tl;dr answer is: " their enthusiasm for Trump doesn’t necessarily reflect a misperception that he is honest or that he will eschew greed and corruption. Rather, their view is that he is on their side and that the protestations of his opponents merely reflect the self-interested defensiveness of the establishment. Highlighting themes of racial and ethnic conflict as central to American politics further feeds this dynamic. Trump may be a sonofabitch, the thinking goes, but at least he’s our sonofabitch. (emphasis in original)

In short, tribalism. And as the article goes on, attacking Trump because of ethics won't work. The tribe that voted for Trump thinks everybody is corrupt, and that their choice is who the corrupt person is working for. What (hopefully) will work is attacking what Trump does. Repealing Medicare, kicking millions out of the coverage they have in Obamacare, banning abortion - these are the policies that Trump (at the moment) appears to be implementing. They are largely unpopular, even among the rural whites who are the core Trump voter.

Moving back for a moment to Mr. Adams. He seems convinced that Trump will allow "facts to influence [him] when they do matter." This strikes me as a variation of "if only the king knew" - the idea that Mr. Master Persuader will "pivot." There is no evidence of this happening; but then Mr. Adams is of the opinion that facts and evidence no longer matter.


Chicken Breast a la Gerrib

Posted here for archival purposes:

1) preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2) Take a Pyrex pie pan or other small baking pan and line the bottom with aluminum foil.
3) Take two thawed chicken breasts, lightly coat with olive oil (both sides - about a teaspoon per breast) and sprinkle on some Cajun seasoning (both sides).
4) Bake the breasts. For typical ones, 16 minutes. For larger ones, 20. For Pam Anderson Specials, 24 minutes.
5) Halfway through baking, pull the breasts and flip them. If you have bacon, put half a strip (raw) on each breast. If you have cheese, toss some of that on. If not, just flip and bake.
6) When the chicken is done, put it on a plate and eat it.

Because you lined the pan with foil, cleanup is a snap. Also as you can see above, you can dress up or down the bird to make several variations on a theme.

But They Were Communists!

One of the many irritating features of the current conservative movement is that they frequently say American civil rights leaders and the civil rights movement was "communist." Communists ran the movement, funded it and generally got their fingerprints all over it.

Well, yeah. There's a simple reason. When the civil rights movement got started, both mainstream American political parties would not help the civil rights leaders. So, much like Stalin turning to Britain and America in WWII (and us turning to Stalin) the civil rights people went to whomever would help. Staying in WWII for a moment, the Resistance movement in Occupied Europe was started and, until fairly late in the war, ran by the local Communists.

Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh, although both arguably left-leaning, went Communist because the US wouldn't help. In Castro's case, he was fighting against an American-backed dictator, in Minh's the US merely said "not our problem." The end result was the same - go with those who will help.

Saying "but they're communists!" doesn't prove anything. "But they're communists" doesn't equate to being wrong.

Not That I Really Needed One But...

I went home over the Thanksgiving weekend, where much food was eaten. Dad and I shot skeet on Friday, and on Saturday went to a gun show. I really didn't need to buy anything, but I talked myself into picking up a Ruger LCR. Thanks to the weirdness of Illinois gun law, I won't have it for a few days, but it's mine.

Simply put, I realized that in the unlikely event I need to carry a gun, it will be an improvised situation and I won't be able to "dress around my gun," so small is better.


Things Which I Find Irritating

I'm going to cleanse my palate of irritation prior to heading south for The Big Turkey Dinner.

Irritating Thing #1 - The Clintons

So I voted for Hillary Clinton as the best politician on offer. But I did and do find some of her actions irritating. For example, the Right claims that when the Clintons moved out of the White House in 2000, they stole a bunch of furniture. Well, the truth is they didn't, but if you click the link you'll see it's not cut-and-dried.

And that's what irritates me about both of them, and what I think ended up costing Hillary the election. They run right up to the edge of impropriety, take a good look around, then stop just before the line. Not only that, they do so with high levels of secrecy. This then leaves their defenders making ponderous explanations.

Irritating Thing #2 - The "Roman" Salute

I also note that the various alt-right folks running out of the woodwork like cockroaches in the dark have taken to calling the good-old-fashioned "Heil Hitler" salute a "Roman" salute. Again, the salute's history is complicated (the tl;dr version is it ain't really Roman and it's got fascist fingerprints all over it) but all this wink-nod "Roman" crap ain't fooling nobody.


Clear, Simple and Wrong - Term Limits

Every so often, people who are irritated at the dysfunction of Washington DC and/or their local statehouse propose term limits on elected officials. This is, in my view, a clear, simple and wrong solution.

The fact of the matter is that running government is a skill, just like repairing cars or computers. It takes time to figure out how to do it. Term limits mean that, as soon as Joe or Jane Legislator figures out how to do something, they're gone. So instead of having the needed experience, they have to rely on lobbyists and professional staffers to get stuff done.

There is a real solution to dysfunction, namely, vote out dysfunctional officials and vote in functional ones. That requires voters accepting compromise, deal-making and cooperation. There is no silver bullet.

I Need Reviews!

As we get ready for Black Friday, my books are feeling lonely. They need reviews, so I decided to do a couple of giveaways. Herewith:

The Mars Run

The Night Watch


Monday Thoughts

Thought #1 - Trump

It seems that many of Trump's opponents assumed he would do what he said he would do, and many of Trump's supporters assumed Trump was exaggerating for effect. Given some of his staff appointments so far, I think the opponents were more correct.

Thought #2 - Grocery Stores

When I first moved up to Chicago, I took to doing my grocery shopping at Jewel's. It was close, cheap and nicer than what I was used to downstate. Well, a couple of months ago a new grocery store, Mariano's, opened up near me. It's much nicer, equally cheap, and has better selection. It's my new grocery store.

Thought #3 - Writing

On Sunday, the plot of a new book came to me as if via dictation. Unfortunately, it's a sequel to a book I haven't found a home for yet.

The Spanish Lisp

I apologize for the radio silence. Wednesday and Thursday I was taking a cybersecurity course, and had no time to blog. Today I had to get caught up a bit. Over the past weekend, I was at Windycon, where I was on a panel entitled "Where Did English Get That Word."

As is typical with panels, we digressed a bit and got on other languages, namely Spanish. If you've been to Spain, you'll note that people in the interior of the country seem to speak with a lisp. I told the audience the story I'd heard, namely that this was because a king of Spain had developed a lisp and his people imitated them. (It actually tied into English, as we were discussing how words associated with the common people developed negative connotations while words associated with nobility got positive connotations.)

Well, somebody in the audience jumped up and said "that story about the lisp is wrong!" She had lived for 18 years in Madrid and said that the cause of the "lisp" was just an artifact of language. I thanked her for her correction. When I got home, I did some googling and found out that she was right and I was wrong.

You learn something every day.


On a (Slightly) Lighter Note...


Surprises are for birthdays

I did not watch President-elect Trump's interview with 60 Minutes, instead watching the new movie Arrival. More on the movie anon.

On reading the transcript of Trump's interview, I noted that "deport all 11 million illegals" has morphed to "deport the 2 or 3 million criminals." That number still sounds high, but it's a notable reduction from 11 million. I also note that Clinton is suddenly a "nice person" and staying on one's parents health insurance is okay. In short, on every single one of Trump's policy proposals he's backpedaling! Tell me again why we elected this guy. As one of my former Captains put it, "surprises are for birthdays and it's not mine."

Also, at work today several people wondered why Americans were protesting Trump's election. I remember all the way back to 2008 and the Tea Party's lament about "wanting their country back." I restrained myself from commenting.

In other news, I saw the movie Arrival. It's an intelligent aliens invade movie, with solid characters and actual thought. There's even some science involved! I highly recommend seeing it.


Pundits are gonna pundit, and we hear much wailing and gnashing of teeth that Democrats "need to appeal to working class voters." Well, first off, Democrats are winning working-class votes. They win Hispanic and Black votes, and those are majority working-class people. What the Democrats don't win are white and rural working-class people (hereinafter WWCs).

Speaking as somebody who grew up WWC in a small town full of WWCs, let me suggest that if you want to win WWCs you grab them by the wallet. Show them an economic reason to vote Democratic, and you'll pick off enough of them to win.

Let me further suggest that a large part of what happened in 2016 was the collapse of the Obama voter. Trump got fewer votes than Clinton, and she got fewer votes than Obama in 2012. That one statistic is all you need to understand. Get more people to vote and the Democrats win! Yeah, there was some voter suppression, but Clinton was 4 million votes off of Obama's pace. That's not suppression, that's staying home.

Larry Correia is right (yes, it is getting chilly in hell at the moment) part of that is the Democrats nominated somebody because it was their turn. Now, we did so because the viable alternatives sat this one out, but still, Clinton, although a good person, isn't a strong campaigner.

So, yes, we Democrats have a bug hunt in front of us. But it's imminently winnable.


The Electoral College, Again

Just a quick note on how broken the Electoral College is. If, for example, we allocated the 538 votes strictly on population, that would work out to 592,000 people per elector. That's close enough to the population of Wyoming so that they'd get one vote, instead of the three they get now. California, by that metric, would get 64 votes, instead of their current 55.

More Election Thoughts

Various election-related thoughts:

1) On a politics as horse race level, this election looks shockingly like 2000's Bush V. Gore. We had two flawed candidates, one representing the status quo and one representing change, running ugly campaigns. On both cases, thanks to the Electoral College, the minority vote-getter won. It's no accident that the winner appealed more heavily to rural whites than to city-dwellers, as the Electoral College by design skews that way.

2) Also on a horse race level, turnout sucked. Neither candidate got as many votes as Romney did in 2012. Nor did anybody really expect Trump to win, including Trump. His campaign did not run to court in Nevada to complain about early voting because they felt comfort in the outcome.

3) On a political level, I have no idea what Trump will do or try to do as President. I can't help but shake the feeling that he's a bit like the dog who chased a car and caught it. I do think he's not as good a person as Bush the Younger, and given the number of disasters under his watch, I expect we're in for a bumpy ride.

4) I do think Trump will not be able to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or "Obamacare." Being responsible means acting responsibly, and taking benefits from 20 million people and money from states and hospitals will cause too much pain. There will be enough Congresscritters not looking for constituent complaints to prevent the ACA from going away. It will change, but not go away.

5) Regarding the crowing of Wily E. Coyote, SuperGenius and his fans, this woman said it all: The "alt-right" will claim Mr. Trump's victory for themselves but they're a by-blow, freeriders; Americans have never much liked Nazis and, soon or late, they stop overlooking hateful fascists. Eventually, the white-sheeted bravos kidnap the wrong woman and it all comes crashing down. I'll be watching them closely and calling them out when merited; the alt-right is a greater enemy to freedom than Bernie Sanders could manage on his best day.


Comment Policy

This is the personal blog of Chris Gerrib, and all opinions expressed here are solely his own. Commenters are welcome; however please be polite to me and my other readers. I reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, inappropriate or otherwise objectionable at my sole discretion. The opinions expressed in a comment are not necessarily mine, and if I do not delete a comment that should not be construed as my agreement with the commenter.

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