Category: Weird Thoughts About Food

I am going to make what on the surface seems an absurd claim, and then I’m going to prove it. Ready?

The McDonald’s cheeseburger is one of the great achievements of human civilization.

How in the world can I maintain that? Simple. There has never been more nutrition available for a cheaper price — in terms of the amount of work and time it takes the average schmuck to earn it — at any time in human history.

Consider nutrition first. You can pull the numbers yourself if you want, but this is from McDonald’s website.

cheeseburger

That’s not bad. A little high on the sodium, but the government numbers for recommended sodium are stupid-low. Salt is not bad for you, as recent studies show. In fact, sodium is an essential nutrient. 15 grams of protein, only 300 total calories, low sugars, low trans fats, low cholesterol. That’s not bad nutrition numbers right there. It would have been a tremendous boon in earlier ages, and would still be welcome in many corners of the world.

For a buck. Yup. One dollar.

Now in 1960, I recall the McDonald’s cheeseburger being 19 cents. They were five for a buck, including sales tax. They were also smaller than today’s burger. I could kill five by myself. But 19 cents! Great deal, right?

Not so much. 19 cents in 1960 is a buck sixty-five now. Yup. $0.19 in 1960 is $1.65 in 2018 constant dollars. The current, and larger, McDonald’s cheeseburger costs only 60% as much as it did in 1960.

Well, but wages changed, too, right?

Not so much. The U.S. median wage in 1960 was $5,600. That’s about $48,000 in 2018 dollars. The median wage in 2018 is — wait for it — about $48,000 in 2018 dollars. So the median wage now is the same as then. But that wage measured in McDonald’s cheeseburgers went from under 30,000 cheeseburgers per year to 48,000 cheeseburgers per year.

Another way to look at it is that, at median wage, in 1960 it took a bit over four minutes to earn a McDonald’s cheeseburger. In 2018, the time it takes to earn a McDonald’s cheeseburger at the U.S. median wage is down to two-and-a-half minutes.

That is the least amount of time it has taken for the average putz to earn that much nutrition in the history of the human race.

And that’s why the McDonald’s cheeseburger is one of the great achievements of human civilization.

Now, remember all the doomsayers, the people who told you that the human race is overbreeding, and there will be food shortages by 1990? or 2000? or whenever? All those  sci-fi novels, with people in dystopian futures living on starvation rations?

Yeah. It was all a bunch of crap.

The doomsayers are always wrong.

 

My Writing Process

I have gotten lots of requests for details about my writing process. Some people try to outline (plotters) and get so enmeshed in details they get lost in analysis paralysis. (“Does this detail appear in the book? As a reader, do I care about it? Then why as a writer do you care about it?”) Others try to go pure pantser (write without an outline; ‘write into the dark’; ‘seat of the pants’) and write themselves into a corner.

First, read “Writing into the Dark” by Dean Wesley Smith. Seriously. Just do it.

So let me start with a story. In 1928, my grandparents drove their family, including my dad, from Peru, IL to Pukwana, SD to visit my great-grandparents. They borrowed Uncle Henry Schweickert’s brand-new Ford Model A. They necessarily drove mud farm roads (‘section roads’) all the way there, because there were no US highways, like US6 or US34. Those highways weren’t even laid out until 1929. In 2018, that’s a ten-hour drive, all on Interstate highways. Ninety years ago, it was more like four or five hard days each way.

How do you even do that? You have to know where your river crossings are. Where will you cross the Mississippi, for example? Into the 1960s, my dad still thought of long trips in terms of where the river crossings were.

When I write, I have a general idea where the plot is likely to go. For “A Charter for the Commonwealth,” I knew I was going to have a revolution against Earth’s economic and political dominance of its colonies. I knew that there would be a constitution or charter or something like that (this is a prequel, and the later books already published actually said Charter, so that’s what I had to call it). I knew there would be some kind of war with Earth. I knew that the planet Doma had to be destroyed. I knew the Commonwealth had to come up with a space navy somehow in order to fight the Earth.

I also knew that, like every other successful revolution, it would have to start in the upper classes and have money behind it. So I needed sponsors, and I needed to know their motivations.

So I had my big river crossings in mind. I had them sorted in my head in terms of the order they occurred. I also knew how far apart they were, in terms here of how the timeline worked.

One thing I had to keep in mind was the travel distance between planets, so I built a little map of that. This is the actual sketch I used.

timelinenotes1

I also had a little timeline for the second half of the book, when things are happening across multiple planets, and those time lags are important to consider to get it all to work. I mapped things out in terms of weeks from the passing of the Charter. I didn’t actually build this timeline until I was about a third of the way into the book, and, as you can see, it wiggled around a bit as I wrote. Here’s the actual timeline I used.

timelinenotes2

Those are the only outlines or notes I used to write the book.

So I know my river crossings, and roughly when I’ll get to them. What else do I need to have to get started writing?

I need a starting character. I need to know about four things about them, plus I need to know where they are and what their goals are.

For “Childers,” the starting character was Jan Childers herself. What did I know about her? She was almost fourteen years old, she was a malnourished, starving orphan, she was extremely bright, and she was very sneaky from just surviving on her own. Where was she? In the slums of Houston. What was her goal? To pass the Citizenship Exam of the Commonwealth of Free Planets and get out of the slums, and off Earth, forever.

For “A Charter for the Commonwealth,” the character was James Allen Westlake VI. What did I know about him? He was the scion of a very rich ruling family on Earth, thirty-eight years old, the Planetary Governor of Jablonka, and he had classical liberal values. Where was he? On Jablonka, in Jezgra, in the Planetary Governor’s office. What was his goal? To initiate and carry out a rebellion against Earth and set up the colonies as an independent, free nation built on Enlightenment values.

That’s all I needed to start.

The first paragraph of “Childers” is:

“Jan huddled in the shadows of the alley, merging into the darkness. The sky was just lightening now, the long, wild night beginning to recede. She pulled her rags closer about her in the pre-dawn cold.”

The first paragraph of “A Charter for the Commonwealth” is:

“The Honorable James Allen Westlake VI looked south out of the picture window of the Planetary Governor’s office of the Earth colony on the planet Jablonka. His capital city of Jezgra spread out before him, both south and east. To the west was the great sea, the Voda Ocean.”

And from there I’m off and writing, heading for my first river crossing.

One other thing I do as I write. I keep a second Word window open on my desktop. When I bring in a new character, I copy and paste their name into my notes and add a little description. When I use a ship name, or a planet name, or a city name, I put a note in the notes window under ‘Ships’ or ‘Planets’ or ‘Cities.’ When I need to refer to it later, I can refresh my memory about the name I used. Sometimes I’ll create a whole list of potential ship names, for instance, and then bold the ones I use as I use them, and add a little note (like ‘in orbit about Pahaadon’) so I can remember which one it is.

And that’s it. Then I write. I make it up as I go along. And, as the characters develop, they carry the plot along for me. I write slower at the beginning of the novel as I am setting it up. Maybe 1000 to 1500 words per day for the first week or ten days. But once I am about 10,000 words in, it starts to write itself and production goes up to 3000 to 4500 words per day or more until I run off the end of the story.

Category: Weird thoughts about the Declaration of Independence

They are the most radical and destabilizing words ever written, in any language, ever. The distillation of Enlightenment thinking, into just one hundred and ten words.

At the time of their writing, almost all of humanity was ruled by autocrats, whether dictators of recent vintage or hereditary monarchs of ancien regime, and had been for millennia. Within 200 years of their writing, the majority of humanity lived instead under some form, more or less perfect, of democracy. They were imperfectly implemented from the start, but have only grown more powerful with time and practice.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident” — These aren’t opinions, or even facts, true now and under these circumstances. These are “truths”, true always and everywhere. And they are so obvious to us we won’t even argue the point.

“that all men are created equal” — So much for hereditary monarchs, titles of nobility, caste systems, and all the rest of the drivel people use to justify their self-appointed exalted positions of authority and abuse over others.

“that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” — Man is endowed with rights, and they cannot be taken away by anyone or by any government.

“that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — Note that this is not an exclusive list — there are other rights, too. Note that “pursuit of happiness”. Not a guarantee, surely, but people have a right to pursue being happy.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men” — The only reason government exists is to serve the people. Consider the context! In 1776, the vast majority of people in the world were the subjects of some autarch.

“deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” — And the only reason government has any power is because the people let it have power. Not comforting words to most of the world’s rulers at the time, but it gets much worse:

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government” — There it is, the Right to Revolution. In black and white. In 1776. Absolutely remarkable.

“laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” — Once again, happiness. We have the right to a government that will act in our best interests.

We take these words for granted, because they are so familiar, but they shook the pillars of the world. France revolted in 1789. Much of Europe revolted again in 1848-1849. And they kept at it until all the monarchs were gone.

Today, of all days, read these words once again. Read them slowly and savor them, and realize just how radical they were at the time, how radical they remain today, and how much they changed the history of the world.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The Year Of The Pen

Last year I returned from LibertyCon, a science fiction convention in Chattanooga, on Sunday, July 2. On Monday, July 3, I began writing “Childers,” my first published novel.

This weekend is LibertyCon again. Since last LibertyCon, I have written and published five novels in four volumes: “Childers,” “Childers: Absurd Proposals,” “Galactic Mail: Revolution!” and “A Charter for the Commonwealth.” “A Charter for the Commonwealth” was released this morning. I have also published a memoir, “So There’s This Guy: a life in stories,” the 2018 edition of my book on trade secrets, “Trade Secret Asset Management 2018,” and Wendy’s debut novel, “Becoming Mia.”

In one year.

Each of the four Childers volumes took four to six weeks to write, and another couple weeks to pull together the cover, write the cover blurb, do the editing, fix problems, upload the files, etc. That was seven months or so. Publishing the other three took a couple months total. And I spent three months in there staring out the windows puzzling out the next book I was going to write. I don’t actually plot things out or write character back stories or anything. I just write into the dark, but I do have to have some thoughts as to where the story starts, where its headed, and what the possibilities are.

I could probably write faster if I didn’t also have to do all the publishing stuff — editing and cover and marketing. But if I had a traditional publisher, I don’t think my first book would even be out yet.

So how do I write so fast? I mean, it’s not fast compared to some seasoned authors. They’re like machines. But compared to a lot of beginning authors — of which I am one — I write very fast. So how do I do it?

Pay attention — here comes the magic sauce of this blog post.

I decided to enjoy writing. Not to agonize over it. Not to sweat bullets on word choices. Not to do all that plotting and back story and story arc and all that crap. I decided to just have fun: write what I wanted, and let the story go where it would. I grab the tiger by the tail and hang on.

So my novels all read fast. They cover big events in short chapters. I can introduce an assassin, kill off a main character, and complete the investigation in eight pages. Some people would take a whole book for that. I can have a meeting that rewrites history going forward in four pages. Some people would take twenty or thirty pages for that, or more. I’ve been to meetings like that in my career. I didn’t enjoy them.

And that’s the secret. Novels are read for fun. You want the reader to have fun. It’s not the Bible you’re writing. It’s not the Bhagavad Gita or the Quran. It’s not the Warren Commission Report, in 900 pages with 26 volumes of supporting documents.

So cut loose. Have fun writing. The fun will come through. And that’s what you want.

LibertyCon31 Schedule

rich_weyand_dsc3806hiresmediumMy LibertyCon31 Schedule:

Rich Weyand is a computer consultant and digital forensic analyst. He was born in Illinois and lived there almost 60 years before he and his wife engineered an escape to the hills of southern Indiana in 2011. His undergraduate and graduate education is in Physics, and he’s never really recovered. He has co-authored several legal books and articles on automated trade secret asset management, and is currently heading up the launch of a computer software start-up. The 2016 publication of his anthology of Hard-SF and Fantasy shorts, Adamant and other stories, was his first published fiction. In 2017, he published the Childers Trilogy, in two volumes: Childers and Childers: Absurd Proposals.

LC31Schedule

Mailbox Money

We live east of Bloomington, Indiana, on the way to Nashville, Indiana. Bloomington is a college town, the home of Indiana University’s main campus, with 40,000+ students. Nashville is, in contrast, a small arts community. They have artists, and sculptors, and jewelry makers, and woodworkers, and singers, and songwriters, and authors. Lots of artsy types.

Most art, you make and sell. You paint a painting, and you sell it. You make a piece of jewelry, and you sell it. You make a sculpture, and you sell it. Once sold, that’s it.

Songwriters and authors, though are different. When you write a song, every time someone plays it, you make money. Years after you wrote it, you still make money. Same thing for an author who writes novels. Years after you wrote it — assuming it’s still in print, or gets reprinted — you still make money.

Short stories are different than novels, by the way. You write a short story, and you sell it to a magazine, and that’s it. Someone once asked Isaac Asimov, a master of the short story format, why he stopped writing short stories and now only wrote novels. His response: “A novel is forever.” He was talking about the royalties.

Now the people over in Nashville who write songs have a term for royalties that show up whenever someone plays their song. They call those royalties “mailbox money.” You go out to the mailbox, and there it is: mailbox money. You didn’t do anything to earn it, at least not recently. It just shows up in your mailbox.

Now the royalties for one song or one novel won’t add up to much. But if you write a lot of songs, or you write a lot of novels, those royalty streams add up. Do it long enough, and you can end up getting quite a lot of mailbox money coming in.

That’s the secret to making money as an artsy type. Pick something that generates mailbox money, and then do a lot of it.

Weird Thoughts About Russia, Crimea, and the CIA

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. You would think we could have been friends with Russia, and it didn’t happen. Why?

Because the CIA didn’t want it to happen.

A wild allegation? Perhaps. I’ll attempt to explain it. Note that I have just written 16000 words in my latest novel in the last four days, and it is 3:40 AM as I type this, so I am not going to Google everything in this blog. It’s coming from memory. So on to the explanation.

Consider. Russia has six major naval bases. Starting at the top and going clockwise, they are Murmansk, Vladivostok, Sebastopol, Tartus, Kaliningrad, and St. Petersburg. Let’s consider each in turn.

Murmansk is on the Arctic Ocean. It is frozen in for much of the year. The Russians base their nuclear submarines here, because they don’t use the surface outside of port anyway. For surface ships, though, Murmansk is not a viable naval base for much of the year.

Vladivostok is on the Pacific Ocean. It is just a bit north of Russia’s border with North Korea. You remember all those movies about the Korean War and the winters and all the snow? Yeah, well Vladivostok is north of North Korea. The problem there is that the river dumps fresh water into the port, which floats out over the heavier sea water, and freezes on the surface. To combat this, the Russians heat the harbor to keep it clear. The Russian scientists also expect the climate to turn colder because the sun is going into a minimum. The Russians have just completed a huge new heat generating station in Vladivostok to keep the port open in winter.

Sebastopol is the major city in the Crimea, the region of Ukraine the Russians seized in 2014. The Russians have had a major naval base there since the city was founded in 1783. In fact, the city was founded by the Russian navy in order to put a naval base there. The Russian naval base there is older than the United States Constitution. Sebastopol is on the Black Sea, which means Russian ships have to transit the Bosporus Strait and the Dardanelles to reach the Aegean Sea and on into the Mediterranean.

Tartus is a Russian naval base in Syria. It is on the Mediterranean Sea. The Russians have both a naval and an air base there in an agreement with Bashar al-Assad.

Kaliningrad has a Russian naval base on the Baltic Sea. Access to the Atlantic Ocean is through the Denmark Strait. Kaliningrad is an all-weather port. The problem is that Kaliningrad is Russian territory that is not connected to the main part of Russia, sort of like Alaska is not connected to the main part of the United States. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland lie between Russia and its province of Kaliningrad.

St. Petersburg is at the east end of the Baltic Sea. It is not an all-weather port, as it is ice-bound for part of the year.

To review:
– Murmansk — ice-bound
– Vladivostok — major effort to keep open
– Sebastopol — all-weather port
– Tartus — all-weather port; located in Syria
– Kaliningrad — all-weather port; not contiguous to Russia
– St. Petersburg — ice-bound

So in the east, the only all-weather port the Russians really have on their own territory is Sebastopol, in the Crimea. The other reliable all-weather ports they have are Kaliningrad and Tartus, though neither is connected to Russia proper.

As I said, Sebastopol was actually founded by the Russian navy in order to build a naval base there in 1783. The Crimea has been Russian territory for a very long time. So where did the current hoo-hah over the Crimea and Ukraine come from?

When Ukraine was a part of the USSR, the Ukrainians didn’t particularly like being part of the USSR. There was a significant independence movement. They were trouble for Stalin, and Stalin was trouble for them. In 1932-1933, Stalin orchestrated a famine in Ukraine that killed 7-10 million people. Once Stalin had died, Krushchev tried to make nice with Ukraine by putting the Crimea under Ukraine in April 1954. Since the USSR was one big country, this is like transferring the western panhandle of Florida to Mississippi. It was still part of the USSR, it was just changing from one state to another. All well and good.

Then the Soviet Union broke up. Ukraine became its own country, and the Crimea went with it. This was OK with the Russians at the time, as Ukraine remained under Russian influence and the two countries were allied.

Here’s where the CIA comes in. The CIA was founded to keep an eye on the Russians. It was our Cold War agency against the Russians. Sure, they did other stuff, but the CIA’s main job was the USSR. Then, in 1991, the USSR broke up. And the CIA didn’t see it coming. Russia was their one job, and they didn’t see the breakup of the Soviet Union coming. Nice, huh?

But the other thing is that the CIA was now out of a job. Their main business was fighting with the USSR, and now it was gone. The one thing a bureaucracy is good at is self-preservation. The CIA started provoking the Russians.

In Ukraine, the CIA worked to turn the country to the West. It fomented and fueled pro-Western groups and politicians in the country. With a lot of Western guidance and money, the pro-Western forces won the Orange Revolution in 2004. And then Ukraine started talking about joining NATO and the EU. And the Ukraine still had the Crimea.

So in April, 2014, the sixtieth anniversary of the administrative transfer of the Crimea to the Ukraine within the USSR, Vladimir Putin took the Crimea back for Russia. The Russians were not going to lose their 220-year-old naval base in the Crimea, and the city of Sebastopol — which was all ethnic Russians, not Ukrainians — to the West.

And the West went nuts. Because the Russians took back what was theirs. Hey, if you break off the engagement, you’re supposed to give back the ring. Ukraine broke off from Russia, and took the Crimea with it. Naughty, naughty.

OK, so there’s two more all-weather ports the Russians have, in Syria and Kaliningrad.

The United States has been demanding the regime change of Bashar al-Assad for years, but Russia supports him — because of the Russian naval base at Tartus. If the rebellion against Assad had promised the Russians a 99-year-lease with an option for 99 more ten years ago, Bashar al-Assad would have disappeared one night, and there would be no civil war in Syria. The Russians will do anything to keep Assad in power as long as he promises they can keep the base in Tartus and the West doesn’t. More scheming by us to cut off Russian naval bases.

As for Kaliningrad, the only land routes to Kaliningrad from Russia proper run through the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, or through Poland. And the Baltic states and Poland have both been turning west and want the United States to protect them from Russia. And we’ve been being buddy-buddy with both Poland and the Baltic states, without giving Russia any guarantees to Kaliningrad.

So, yeah, the Russians are more than a little miffed at us. And yeah, they tried to “interfere” in our elections, though on which side is less clear. They ran some Facebook posts. Whoopie. If they really wanted to interfere in our elections, they should have been taking lessons from the CIA. In addition to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, you should look up Mohammad Mosaddegh and Patrice Lumumba and consider what the history of Iran and Congo would have looked like without CIA interference.

So why are the Russians a threat to the US? Because the CIA has engineered the situation to make the US a threat to the Russians.

Which keeps them in business.

An alternative solution to “the Russia problem” would be to guarantee Russia access to the sea through its existing naval bases, and dissolve the CIA.