Centrifugal Force: How Many of My Predictions Came True?


Three years ago last month I published my first book, the agorist science fiction novel Centrifugal Force. Though I hate to toot my own horn (there’s some false modesty for you) many of the things I wrote about in this book either have come to pass or are in the process of doing so. The major difference is that Centrifugal Force dealt solely with North America, and these phenomena have been global in scope.

As I predicted in my book, on-line business models are replacing and bypassing traditional regulated industries. Examples of this are Uber, Airbnb, and the online music and publishing industries. Unlike my fictional scenario, these are currently above-ground, legal efforts. However, competing institutions (such as taxi drivers’ unions) are striving to outlaw Uber, and rapacious cities are imposing their exorbitant hotel taxes on Airbnb participants. There’s no reason these businesses couldn’t exist underground, on a peer-to-peer basis. This will become more likely if the current economic situation worsens.

Continued, escalating acts of “terrorism” are giving governments an excuse to crack down on what little freedom we have left, such as free speech, freedom of movement, and financial privacy. The difference from my novel was again that terrorism has been a world-wide phenomenon, particularly in Europe and Africa. France takes the place of the despotic fictional US, where Joel Walter is forced to go into hiding. Since the Paris 11/13 attacks, the country has closed its borders and declared a state of emergency. Thankfully this hasn’t come to America yet, but I’m sure that our government is only one major terrorist attack away from doing the same.

Centrifugal Force featured the Undernet, an unregulated pirate alternative to the Internet. In real life we have the Dark Web and the notorious Silk Road drug marketplace. My book had E-barter, we have Bitcoin and other digital currencies. Politicians are simply apoplectic about these developments, and are even making noise about outlawing encryption. I was not surprised by the draconian punishment meted out to the Dread Pirate Roberts, though in my opinion, he’s a hero! Yet I believe the government’s efforts will fail in real life as they did in the novel.

In my book, several characters went underground to escape harassment or prosecution, staying in the US because of the difficulty of crossing the border. In the real world, many such activists have gone overseas, for example Edward Snowden in Russia or Glenn Greenwald in Brazil. Probably the most analogous real-life equivalent to Nephi Snow’s hacker network is Anonymous – assuming this group isn’t, as many claim, a CIA front.

Secession is a major theme of my book, because I believe this is the most plausible way to deal with the arrogant, rapacious, unaccountable American Empire is to break it up. Considering the roadblocks thrown at any serious reformer (such as Ron Paul), working “within the system” is not an option. Again, this has come to pass in Europe, with Catalonia seceding from Spain and Scotland almost leaving the UK. Here in America, a more current controversy is state nullification of Federal law, which causes many a progressive to shriek in outrage. The recent round of secession petitions at whitehouse.gov – and yes, I signed one for Arizona – gave me cause for hope. This might become more realistic if our Kenyan President keeps trying to rule this country by decree.

Other predictions include surveillance drones becoming commonplace (obviously true) and organized criminals posing as police to rob their victims. The latter seems largely confined to Mexico, but given the lawless behavior or police in many parts of the US, I expect it’s only a matter of time. Has political correctness gone crazy? Check; to the mainstream media, government opponents are evil racists. Also, we have seen curfews, like the one in Boston after the Marathon bombing. This one’s a no-brainer: anti-smoking fascism has definitely increased. Thankfully, though, we haven’t yet seen the activation of FEMA camps. I expect the Federal government will need to take a different approach to detainment of its enemies, due to the justifiable paranoia of the libertarian and patriot communities.

On the other hand, I was wrong about the following:

  • The Draft has not been reinstated, thank God! Not that I believe a slave army is ever necessary in any nation or circumstance, but in this time of drone wars and bombing campaigns, conscription would be especially redundant. Yet it still may happen, because it would be an effective way to control and indoctrinate America’s youth, particularly if females were included.
  • The District of Columbia did not become a state. This movement appears to be dead for the time being, but I expect it to be resurrected if Hillary becomes President, as it would provide two more guaranteed Democrats in the Senate. (And yes, no need to speculate; she’s the inspiration for the evil female President in my book.)
  • 3D printing – I missed this completely. This is a wonderful vector for revolution, enabling home-based manufacture of guns and other contraband items.
  • Ethnic self-defense/vigilante militias did not, to my knowledge, come to pass. In my book, Muslim-Americans banded together to protect themselves from harassment and violence, and to punish those who had wronged them. I haven’t seen evidence of this, even in Europe (if you don’t include terrorist groups, which was not my intent — those are all state-sponsored, anyway.) Even the Donbas rebels in eastern Ukraine, who are wildly popular in their area, are essentially a government-in-waiting.
  • The resurgence of Russia – another thing I missed entirely. There were Russian mafia characters in my book, but I didn’t address the possibility that Russia itself could be the “black swan” that could bring down he US Corporatocracy. This subject is, of course, a matter of great debate in alternative media circles. Is Vladimir Putin a hero, a villain, or a New World Order collaborator? That’s a question I’ll address in a future post.

 Centrifugal Force cover design by Kyle Dunbar.


The Cultural Marxists Set Their Sights on Linux


In Stephen J. Vaughan-Nichols’ recent article in Computer World, he labels Linux creator Linus Torvalds as a “bad boss.” He quotes developer Sarah Sharp’s complaints of a culture of open source development that allows participants “to get away with subtle sexist or homophobic jokes.” Vaughan-Nichols goes on to say that he hopes that companies and organizations can begin to “enforce civil behavior.”

This sounds fair and reasonable, but don’t be fooled. It’s a rallying call for Cultural Marxists and other Social Justice Warriors to enforce their bland, joyless idea of civility upon software geeks like myself. SJW’s are experts at hiding behind noble sounding rhetoric when calling for authority figures to seek out and crush any true diversity of culture or opinion.

Linus Torvalds (despite his legendary blunt personal style) is not the problem; it’s people like Sharp who can’t tolerate a bit of criticism or an off-color joke now and then. Nobody forced her to donate her time to the open-source community. Despite her well-respected technical abilities, the community is better off without people like her.

I predict we’ll see a steady stream of articles such as Vaughan-Nichols’, claiming that the open-source community is being hurt by as exodus of, or a missed opportunity to include, thin-skinned individuals like Sharp. I can’t speak for the community, as I’m more of a cheerleader than a participant, and I’ll leave any official response to the management of the Linux Foundation. But if you ask me, this is yet another SJW lie. I’d estimate that the crude, insensitive computer nerds (such as myself) that Sharp despises outnumber the ‘special snowflake’ diversity types ten to one. There IS no vast cohort of the excluded oppressed programmers, because for whatever reason (cultural, educational, etc.) these candidates are scarce. That’s why Silicon Valley firms hire ‘Diversity Managers’ to seek them out and recruit them.

I’m not saying that we software engineers are all straight white or Asian males, nor should we be. I for one have no problem with having more female, gay, black, and Latino participation in our community. Those statistics are, however, completely irrelevant. As a libertarian, i believe it’s the individual that matters, not the color of one’s skin or the configuration of genitalia. Nonetheless, the culture of the majority should NOT have to adapt to the minority; it’s the other way around, as it should be in any organization. We men would never be allowed to enter a female-dominated institution or industry and redesign it to our liking just because we’re in the minority. That would be like an American moving to Mexico and demanding people speak English, or going to Saudi Arabia for the nude beaches.

Here is my personal view: as long as an organization can function smoothly, and work relationships don’t degenerate into personal attacks, any newcomers need to get used to the heat, or get the heck out of the kitchen. I’m not yet to the point of agreeing with sci-fi writer / game developer Vox Day, who advocates that we purge SJW’s before they can purge us. But I’m leaning more that way every day.

Credit: image “Bad Attention” from www.wpclipart.com,


Armistice Day and the End of the “Great” War

This is the time of year we often hear people claim that the original meaning of the holidays Thanksgiving and Christmas have been lost to commercialism. The same holds true for Veteran’s Day, formerly know as Armistice Day.

Armistice Day celebrates the signing of the treaty that ended World War I, at that time known as the Great War. It was a celebration of peace, though there were also tributes to the men who died (and those who survived) that war. The name change was an attempt to add recognition for veterans of later wars, since 11/11 is a very specific anniversary. The peace theme has been forgotten; it has become yet another day on which Americans glorify war, under the guise of honoring veterans.

November 11th is, in any case, an excellent day to celebrate, because it marks the ending of what was probably the most pointless, idiotic conflict in human history. This mother of all atrocities cost the lives of 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians. There were no good guys, no Allies versus Nazis, just a collection of aging colonial empires (plus the upstarts Germany and America) jockeying for wealth and power.

The so-called Great War normalized the use of conscription (volunteer armies being dismissed as “unscientific”) and censorship of the press, even in the United States. As a direct result of the war’s toll upon Russia, the Czar’s government fell, giving rise to the 75-year nightmare known as the Soviet Union. The venality and greed of the victorious British and French led them to humiliate and punish the German people, and fragment the Austro-Hungarian Empire, creating the fertile soil that gave rise to Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Iron Curtain.

But wait, there’s more! The years 1914-1918 were a time when technology made the old modes of war obsolete, with weapons that enabled murder on an industrial scale. Yet the military leadership refused to recognize this change, treating their slave armies as disposable cannon fodder. British and French commanders ordered their men to charge into German machine gun fire to be mowed down like cattle. Those who refused these acts of suicide were charged with desertion and murdered by their so-called leaders.

Then there was the introduction of chemical weapons such as mustard gas, a horror that plagues us to this day.

It was called “the war to end all wars,” but it led to an even bigger war just 20 years after the Armistice. It was the “war to save democracy,” yet it, gave birth to totalitarianism and genocide in the world’s largest country, and severely impacted freedom in many others. Even the Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed around 50 million people worldwide, probably would not have been as severe if not for the widespread dislocation of peoples, and the diversion of public resources to warfare rather than health.

Had the United States not been foolish enough to join in the carnage, the war might have ended in a stalemate, saving millions from oppression and annihilation in the years to come. The planet-sized ego of US President Woodrow Wilson, combined with the corrupt greed of J.P. Morgan and other anglophile tycoons, guaranteed that the worst possible outcome would result.

Perhaps we humans will someday learn from our mistakes. We, the common people of the world, can reject the propaganda of the psychopathic elites and refuse to fight. In the midst of the bloodshed of the Great War was the inspiring example of the spontaneous, unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914, in which German and British soldiers crossed the trenches to exchange gifts, prisoners, and well wishes.


Another inspiring result of the Armistice was the Peace Dollar, designed by sculptor Anthony de Francisci, which is in my opinion the most beautiful coin ever minted by the USA. (Lady Liberty is modeled on de Francisci’s lovely Italian-born wife Teresa.) Note that contrary to most US coins, the bald eagle is perched, resting, and minding its own affairs. That’s a symbol for the non-interventionist ideals this nation must learn to live by.

For more information, see Wilson’s War by Jim Powell.


Wikipedia.org, http://history1900s.about.com, http://www.threeworldwars.com

Photograph of Peace Dollar is from coinpage.com


The Penguin Makes Music

My fourth and final overview of open-source software for creative people involves music. In my youth I had many years of musical training, which until recently was going to waste. It’s not that I didn’t have the means – I own several electronic pianos – but I wasn’t motivated to play on a regular basis. Linux changed that, by making it easy to compose my own music, which makes things a lot more interesting.


Linux has no shortage of musical tools available on-line. One thing that differs from the other areas I’ve discussed so far is that with music, one must use several tools in tandem. This is more in the spirit of the UNIX/Linux tradition of discrete components, rather than an all-in-one application such as “The Gimp” image editor or Libre-Office Suite. This allows for more flexibility but also makes things more complex. I’ll list the open-source tools I use for creating music, and you can be the judge.


JACK (the JACK Audio Connection Kit) is a sound daemon (server) which provides the backbone of all music applications listed below. It’s like a virtual patch-board, allowing the interconnection of audio and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) data between “JACK aware” applications. Unfortunately, not all programs are configured to use JACK, which is why it’s not yet the de facto Linux sound system. Because it takes control of your system’s audio, you will need to turn it off to play sound from your web browser, for example.

* QjackCtl

This is a graphical tool for controlling JACK without the use of typed commands. QjackCtl creates a list of audio devices, both hardware and software, that can be used as inputs and outputs. It lets the user define input and output connections between them, like a virtual patch bay. It’s not strictly necessary but makes JACK a lot easier to use.

* Fluidsynth

In order to create music on a computer, you either need to record sound from an external device, or to create sounds using a digital specification. “Sound Font 2” is a popular format for the latter; it’s been widely distributed on-line. Like JACK, Fluidsynth doesn’t have its own graphic interface. I found it interesting that Fluidsynth’s default sound fonts contain all the same instrument voices (piano, organ, guitar, trumpet, etc.) as the built-in selections on my Yamaha electronic keyboards. I’ve also found free sound fonts on-line which can produce other sounds such as percussion.

* Qsynth

This is a graphical front-end application for using Fluidsynth, much as QjackCtl is an interface for JACK. I haven’t used Qsynth extensively, except to select sound fonts (voices) for the MIDI sequencer application I’ll describe next.

* Rosegarden

This is the program I spend most of my time using. Rosegarden is a application for music composition and editing. It includes a MIDI sequencer, which can be used as an input to capture notes played on a MIDI instrument (such as my aforementioned Yamaha keyboards.) To do this, I invested in a bit of hardware, the E-mu Xmidi 1×1, a specialized cable which connects the twin round MIDI connectors on my instruments to a USB port on my computer. (I ordered one from Amazon.com for under $30.) If you’re new to this technology, I should note that a sequencer does not record sounds but notes (pitch, duration, attack, etc.) which can be mapped to any sound. This allowed me to make my piano sound like a guitar, ukelele, and an electric bass. As an alternative to Qsynth, you can install the Fluidsynth plugin, which allows you to map an instrument voice to a given track directly in Rosegarden.

Once your melodies and harmonies have been captured, you can edit them in several formats, including the standard sequencer matrix display and old-fashioned music notation. Having had classical training, the latter is my preferred method. This allows me to capture a melody on paper simply by playing it on the piano. Since I’m not very adept in improvisation, it really helps to have the music in front of me. Thus I can improve and embellish on that first performance, re-recording and re-printing it as many times as necessary.

Sadly, I had issues with bugs. In the Linux world, we install applications from the Internet using a command called “apt-get”; this fetches a version of the program created specifically for your current version of Linux. Because I use an older installation of Ubuntu (14.04) and don’t want to update until the next stable long-term Ubuntu is released next spring, I was “stuck” with Rosegarden 13.06. This worked fine for composing, but there were problems when exporting my musical tracks as sheet music. Therefore I downloaded and built a newer Rosegarden (15.12) from source code. It’s a task not for the faint hearted, but it fixed most of my problems.

* LilyPond

If you want to print out the musical scores you create in Rosegarden, the LilyPond program is the best way to do it. LilyPond is a music engraving program, which produces high-quality sheet music from the LilyPond-format (.ly extension) files you can export from Rosegarden. It’s a command line program which accepts a file called “somefile.ly” and converts it to “somefile.pdf” in Adobe Acrobat format, which allows it to be viewed onscreen or sent to a printer.

As I stated earlier, Rosegarden 13 had a bug in producing the lilypond “ly” input files. This caused the Lilypond program to become “confused” about how music was to be broken up into measures, to the point that it would sometimes make a line of music run right off the page! I was able to edit the “ly” files in a text editor to fix these issues, but that was a time-consuming annoyance that made it well worth upgrading to Rosegarden 15.

* JACK Timemachine

If you want to convert your new music into an MP3 file that can be played on your phone or iPod, there are a few more missing pieces. Rosegarden lets you play your music files over your computer’s speakers, but to hear it on another device, you need a “recorder” application such as JACK Timemachine. When you launch this program it appears as a device in the configuration list of Qjackctl. You connect the output of Rosegarden to the input of JACK Timemachine, and then play and record your piece, which is saved as an audio file in 64-bit WAV (w64) format.

* Sox and LAME

Bear with me; we’re on the home stretch. The aforementioned JACK Timemachine is a very simple program that only records music in one format. To change it into a more usable file, you need a music converter such as Sox (Sound Exchange) the “Swiss Army knife” of audio file conversion. Sox is a command-line tool that allows you to convert the w64 files into more playable formats such as WAV and OGG. Unfortunately the popular MP3 file format is patented and technically requires royalties to be paid; therefore Sox (being free of charge) does not include the MP3 plug-in. For do that you must recompile the Sox program from source with an MP3 plugin (requires a fair bit of computer expertise) or better yet, install the “LAME” MP3 encoder to do that last conversion. Why Sox can’t include this function, and yet it can be in LAME as a separate program, I have no idea. Leave that one to the lawyers.

I apologize for this long post and hope it hasn’t been too intimidating. If open-source music tools are complicated, they make up for it in their flexibility and power. Best of all, they’re free, with plenty of help available online. Remember, most of these open-source programs are also available for Windows and Mac. Happy composing!


Review, Book of Mormon (The Show, That Is!)


When I heard that Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame were doing a musical comedy based on the Book of Mormon, I had high expectations. This week I finally saw the show, and they did not disappoint me.For those who don’t know, the play is the story of two American Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda. One is a narcissistic over-achiever, the other an Asperger-ish compulsive liar. This, combined with the hellish conditions and cynical inhabitants of the village they’re sent to, makes for some very hilarious and un-PC hijinks.

It’s interesting, when you’ve been listening to the sound track for a long time, to see what the actual show is like. I ended up going twice, because my girlfriend Arlys’ employer changed the date of a conference we’d been planning around. Rather than trying to sell the original tickets and risk not seeing it at all, we bought two more. On Tuesday night I saw it with family, and on Thursday with Arlys. Both times it was fantastic, with top-notch acting, singing and dancing. Seeing it a second time was an opportunity to notice the details and laugh at the jokes I’d missed the first time. Not that I’d have gone twice otherwise, because even high in the second balcony, the tickets weren’t cheap.

I realize that all traveling Broadway shows are pricey these days. It’s just a shame that when a show appears on a college campus (the Gammage at ASU) that the students can’t afford to see it. My son, an ASU freshman, was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t notice too many other people his age when we were there. In any case, the performers all did an excellent job and deserved to be well paid. They were accompanied by a top-notch live orchestra. It’s worth noting that Parker and Stone are among the world’s richest comedy writers (at least, according to one of those Internet “top ten” lists.) I sure wouldn’t complain as the money rolled in.

The Book of Mormon is probably the most politically incorrect musical to ever win nine Tony awards. Besides plenty of vulgar language, it lampoons a major religion, albeit a religion that’s overwhelmingly white and conservative. It gets an equal amount of comedic mileage from the horrible problems of modern Africa – war, famine, AIDS, and female genital mutilation. To the writers’ credit, they didn’t throw in any lines that blamed this on the white man. They did, however, have the African characters complain that foreign missionaries would tell them lovely stories and then leave without fixing anything. The part about an insane general trying to force circumcision upon helpless women was probably furthest from reality. From what I’ve heard, African women are usually the ones who are the most adamant about subjecting their daughters to this barbaric practice.

It was fascinating how much actual Mormon / Latter Day Saints doctrine made its way into the show. The opening historical background sequences reminded me of time long ago when I went to the visitors’ center of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City (or Sal Tlay Ka Siti, as the Africans call it.) Of course, it’s all presented in a satirical, cartoonish fashion. My favorite song is “I Believe,” in which Elder Price begins by singing about the standard Christian dogma we all know – that God created the universe, that Jesus died for our sins, that there’s some good in everyone. He continues with the more unusual Mormon beliefs – that ancient Jews sailed to America, that God lives on a planet called Kolob, and that in 1978, God “changed his mind about black people.” Another of the best musical numbers had the sci-fi obsessed Elder Cunningham being chastised by Joseph Smith, Lt. Uhura, hobbits, and Yoda.

I’ve heard very little about LDS reaction on the show, which seems to portray Mormons as well-intentioned but bumbling do-gooders. When I first heard of the show a few years ago, the reviewers claimed that it was popular among younger Mormons, though I personally don’t have any close friends in the church I’d feel comfortable about asking. I definitely wouldn’t recommend the show to anybody who’s offended by profanity, sexual humor, or mockery of religion. To everyone else I say, for Christ’s sake, see it!

(Picture of Salt Lake Assembly hall is from Wikimedia Commons.)



Calling All Free Speech Warriors!


Those of you who’ve been following the #Gamergate and Hugo Award controversies are no doubt familiar with the term Social Justice Warrior, or SJW for short. SJW’s are the folks who are easily offended by perceived instances of racism, sexism and homophobia, and relentlessly push for everything to be perfectly diverse and fair. I wish them no ill will, and they have a right to their opinion, but I reject it emphatically!

SJW’s are victims of magical thinking. They seem to believe that if only we use the right euphemisms, the pain of being black, gay, transgendered, or handicapped will go away, and the world will be filled with sunbeams, rainbows and unicorns. Conversely, a dirty joke or a naked picture is like the curse of the Dark Lord, spreading rape, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation in its wake. SJW’s focus on superficial, legalistic “solutions” as opposed to actually doing something to help the victims of discrimination, violence,or other misfortunes help themselves. Mollycoddling the officially designated “victims” with talk of “trigger warnings” and “micro-aggressions” helps no one.

At best, the SJW’s obsession with political correctness is a distraction from real issues. At worst, it’s an invitation to any tyrant who can mouth the right platitudes.

It’s not that I’m opposed to social justice, depending upon your definition of the term. To me, it means equality under the law, tolerance of different ethnicities, viewpoints, and faiths, and the freedom to pursue economic opportunity. However, it’s no justice at all if the welfare of the individual must be sacrificed to the collective. That’s why I hate the idea of favoritism in hiring (dishonestly called “diversity”), or hysterical, overwrought reactions to trivial offenses. A case in point is the silly controversy over Sir Tim Hunt‘s innocent remarks about women in science. You may or may not have found them funny, but the man didn’t deserve to be hounded out of his job over them! As a Nobel prize winner in medicine, Hunt’s contributions to society outweigh all the kvetching of all the world’s armchair feminists. Advancing human knowledge is both social and just!

This is why I’m declaring myself to be an FSW, or free speech warrior and First Amendment absolutist. All opinions, no matter how repugnant, deserve to be protected. Even Neo-nazis, Holocaust deniers, ISIS supporters and Westboro Baptists should be able to speak without fear of prosecution. As my favorite radio host John Holmberg has put it, “We need to know who the crazies are!”

So join me, Free Speech Warriors! You have nothing to lose but your self-censorship!

Illustration: Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States by Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952)

Building the Future: China Homesteads the Sea


In the wake of the controversy over Russia’s intervention in Syria, many of you may have overlooked the controversial events in the South China sea. As usual, our overlords on the Potomac are outraged whenever anybody anywhere takes the initiative without saying “Uncle may I?” The corporate media echoes their allegations that China is a horrible aggressor for reclaiming reefs to create island bases. Not so; China’s island-building is not only justified, it’s awesome!

Normally I don’t support anything governments do, which mostly involves killing people and breaking things. Even when in their constructive mode, they use resources stolen from the people by taxation. Sometimes, however, they create things impressive enough to almost make us forget that: the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Netherlands’ dikes and polders, the Trans-Siberian railway, the International Space Station, and the Suez and Panama Canals. These are astonishing feats of human endeavor, even if some of them used slave labor or forced peasants from their homes.

China’s man-made islands are similarly impressive, and more compatible with libertarianism than many of the other examples. As John Locke advocated, the Chinese are mixing labor with nature to create property. Several Asian nations claim the Spratly Islands, but only the Chinese have done anything significant with them,

The fact that China’s actions are self-interested doesn’t make them wrong. They’ve created several thousand acres of new territory, always helpful for an overpopulated country. Secondly, they’ve established a claim to the surrounding seas for future extraction of oil and gas. Most importantly, they’re building bases to safeguard the free movement of goods through these strategic sea lanes. Washington’s claim that this threatens freedom of the seas is Orwellian nonsense, because only the US habitually slaps blockades, embargoes and sanctions on countries that defy its dictates. China depends on trade for its survival; these bases are a kind of insurance policy.

Contrast China’s activities in the Spratlys to similar projects by America. On Diego Garcia, a remote island in the Indian Ocean, the US built a massive military installation and expelled the entire native population. In the US Territory of Guam, the Pentagon blocks the Guamanians’ requests for increased autonomy. The natives mustn’t have a say in the scope of military operations on their islands.

Furthermore, if China’s claim to the Spratly reefs is recognized internationally, private projects might fare better in the future. In 1972, a group of American investors tried to establish a libertarian nation on the Minerva Reefs in the Pacific, but the neighboring Kingdom of Tonga invaded and stole the fruits of their labor. Hopefully China’s actions will also weaken the Communistic “Law of the Sea” treaty, which restricts development by defining the oceans as “the common heritage of mankind.” Finally, if humans are ever going to colonize the asteroids or terraform Mars, we need to start somewhere. As the proverb goes, even the longest journey begins with a single step.


The accompanying picture is from http://slide.mil.news.sina.com.cn and shows personnel on Fiery Cross Reef AKA Yongshu Island. Here’s an unrelated question for you military folks out there: though the female sailors look adorable in their blue camouflage uniforms, what’s the purpose? People don’t fight battles in the water, except as“frog men” (or should I say “frog persons?”)

Sources: zerohedge.com, wikipedia.org and heritage.org. Image at the start of the article is a LANDSAT-7 image of Fiery Cross, from April 2000. How things have changed!


Don’t Fear the Penguin, Part 3 – Linux Publishing Tools


At one time, Linux aficionados who write – especially self-published authors – faced the hassle of getting access to a system running Windows or Mac to get their books ready for publication. Those days are over. The open-source world offers increasingly powerful tools for writers. Though I’m not aware of a Linux version of the popular writer’s tool Scrivener at this time, I’ve never really felt a need for it, except for its handy e-book conversion feature. Now there are other options.

The first is Calibre, a general-purpose e-book management program created by Kovid Goyal. The program allows you to catalog your e-books, read them on your computer, and synch with your e-reader device. More important to me as an author is the e-book conversion feature. Calibre lets you import your word processor document, apply formatting, and generate features such as tables of contents. It also lets you view and manipulate the raw HTML code that comprises your book, which is really handy for both editing and troubleshooting. I want to give props to the program’s creator, because when I posted a question on the program’s forum, he answered it personally.

At this point I must note that there are two ways a writer can proceed in book creation, One way is to do the formatting in a standard word processor and a conversion application to get it ready. I’ve tried this in the past (on my first book Centrifugal Force) and it was a troublesome approach. Conversion tools inevitably mess up some of the formatting, particularly if you’re using Open Office or Libre Office rather than Microsoft Word. The better approach is to do as little formatting as possible up front, saving if for the publishing program. With this approach it’s helpful to use unique and consistent text markers for specific features of the book, for example, to use asterisks or hash-tags to indicate scene transitions. These can be updated by using the search/replace features of the publishing program. This is how I did my second book, Fidelio’s Automata — and I didn’t have to reboot to Windows AT ALL to do the conversion.

This brings us to the topic of desktop publishing. For those of you have never used one (PageMaker and QuarkXPress ) are popular non-free options), it’s a whole different animal than word processing. Desktop publishing applications are focused on layout, and making the printed matter look good. Word processors do this, but not well. For example, I’ve gone through a rather involved process to make Open Office suppress page headers on the first page of each chapter. Another important consideration is that just-in-time publishers like Lightning Source require a very specific type of PDF (PDF/x-1a:2001) to be submitted for book manufacture. Yes, any good word processor can export a generic PDF, but can they embed fonts and do other necessary setup?

For desktop publishing, the Linux world has Scribus. In the past the program had a number of serious problems. The worst was that the stable version didn’t create the correct PDF formats; for that you had to use an unstable beta version of the program. As of version 1.4.5, this is fixed. Another weakness affects Scribus’ most powerful feature, its scripting facility, which allows you to perform repetitive programming tasks quickly. Scripts must be written in the Python language, which isn’t at all difficult for someone who already knows programming. The difficult is with the program’s library functions, which the script must access to do anything useful. The Scribus help files contain a reference, but it’s not thorough enough. It took me hours of tinkering to figure out how to do search/replace within a multi-page document. It’s also not totally intuitive how to insert or delete pages without corrupting the left/right formatting. As with most open-source programs, there’s an online forum; unfortunately most participants seem to be doing short works like newsletters or fliers, not novels. There are “how to” books for Scribus, but I hate buying a general-purpose book to learn one task. Sometime soon I will convert my notes into a quick step by step guide for novel creation, which I’ll make available for 99 cents on Amazon, along with my custom python formatting scripts.

As you’d expect both of these programs are also available for Mac OSX and Windows.

Next week’s installation, if I don’t get distracted by any wacky news events, will discuss Linux tools for musicians.

About the illustration: some people are crazy enough about Linux to get the Mighty Penguin Tux embedded in the skin. Tattoo by Kyle Dunbar.


Time to Abolish Reality?


I’m a writer of fiction, which means I spend a lot of time inventing scenarios that aren’t real. I also like to think that I’m good at distinguishing an actual news stories from a hoax. Occasionally I’m fooled, because reality itself has become strange – such as the story of a kid being expelled from school for doing PHP, which the administrators didn’t realize was a programming language. Thankfully, that was a hoax. Two days ago, for the first time, I was taken in by a story that appeared to be straight out of The Onion, but was actually real.

It appeared on Alex Jones’ infowars.com, a site well known for conspiracy theories and making innocuous events seem menacing. The headline was “Trannies want you to say ‘birthing individuals’ instead of ‘pregnant women.’” The gist of the article was that LGBT activists had persuaded the Midwives Alliance of North America to adopt politically correct language (such as ‘pregnant people’ instead of ‘mothers’) on their website. A group of midwives complained about this in an open letter, and a transsexual activist in turn accused them of ‘trans hatred.’

I was flabbergasted to discover the story was no exaggeration, but 100% real. The MANA website does indeed contain this bizarre PC language, and I quickly found a post by Trevor MacDonald on the Huff Post Parents blog, called “Transphobia in the Midwifery Community.” Mr. MacDonald, as a parent, don’t you have better things to do?

Being a conspiracy buff, I tend to see everything as connected. Mr MacDonald’s rantings bring to mind one of my favorite topics, magical thinking. Perhaps because we humans are the only animals with language, we ascribe to it more power than it actually has. This is why the ancient Hebrews considered the ‘name of God’ to have immense power; thus they mandated death by stoning for anyone uttering it casually. Likewise, Muslims see the Koran as being more than the message contained on its pages; therefore its ‘desecration’ will provoke violent protests. Millions of people seem to live in a Harry Potter world, where uttering the name ‘Voldemort’ will bring the Dark Lord to their door.

Such beliefs aren’t confined to the religious. Our society is awash with secular ‘social justice’ activists who flip out over mere words. Conservatives see this as the influence of Antonio Gramsci, a Marxist theorist who advocated promoting revolution by attacking the cultural foundations of society. That may be so, however, I blame the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

Sapir and Whorf were two linguists who never actually collaborated. Their ‘hypothesis’ is the idea of linguistic relativity, that a language determines the way its speakers experience the world. Benjamin Whorf is best known for his study of the Hopi language, in which he speculated that its lack of past tense verbs influenced the way its speakers experienced time. This idea was all the rage in the psychedelic 1960′s. It was the basis for Robert Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, in which the lone survivor of a Mars expedition is discovered, having been raised by the spirits of deceased Martians. His knowledge of the Martian language gives him a special view of the universe, as well as psychic powers. As much as I enjoyed the book, it was, alas, fiction. Even Whorf’s theories appear to have fallen out of favor in the linguistic community.

In other words, though language may influence our view of the world, it can’t change reality. Wishing for something won’t make it so. Even surgery can’t change biology. Woman can have babies; men can’t. If the facts of life intrude on someone’s fragile self-concept, that’s unfortunate.

Transsexuals have more serious issues to confront than ‘transphobic’ speech. A 2013 survey found straight Americans to be more accepting of gays and lesbians that they are of transsexuals. Perhaps it’s squeamishness; the thought of a man having his genitalia removed makes many of us cringe. Despite having these feelings myself, I support transsexuals in their personal struggles.The transsexuals I’ve met seem to just want to be accepted for who they are.

On the other hand, if I were an evil doctor bent on destroying the LGBT movement, I would secretly promote the social justice warrior mentality. Nothing scares the straight world more than outsiders who want to ‘corrupt’ their children and forcibly change their lifestyles. This is why Americans perceive ISIS/ISIL as such a threat, and why many people suspect it to a gigantic psy-op – evil, murderous and barbaric, but a psy-op nonetheless.

Yes, I support the LGBT community’s quest for acceptance and equality. But attacking the straight world for being straight is not the way to accomplish that.

Illustration is “Cinny Bun System” by Thunder Falcon on publicdomainpictures.net.