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.

 

 

Category: Weird thoughts about the concept of Enough

Imagine that you are going to meet one of your friends over at his friend’s house. You get there, and your friend meets you at the front door. His friend, the owner of the house, has gone out to pick up beer. The two of you wander into the kitchen, looking for glasses for the beer.

You open a cabinet, and it is full — stacked full — of chocolate bars. Every imaginable kind. Hershey’s, and Lindt, and Toblerone. There┬ámust be 100 pounds of chocolate in that cabinet. Wow.

So you check the next cabinet. Full of chocolate bars.

You check every cabinet in the kitchen. Every one is full of chocolate bars. You up your estimate to 1000 pounds. Maybe a ton.

You hear a noise, and, thinking it is his buddy coming home, your friend opens the door from the kitchen to the garage, and you both look to see if he has come back. But there’s no car in the garage. There isn’t room. Packed into the garage are dozens of industrial shelving units, and every one of them is loaded — stacked full — of chocolate bars.

Where’s Rod Serling when you need him, right? How much did all this cost? What must this guy have given up to purchase and accumulate so much chocolate? And why? He can’t possibly eat it all in his whole life.

You go back into the living room and sit to wait for your friend’s friend to come back, and you see plans on his coffee table for an addition to the house. There’s a huge new room planned, and it’s labeled “Chocolate Storage.”

This guy’s got a serious problem, right? It’s like he wants to corner the market or something. Become the Guinness Book of World Records winner of “owns the most chocolate”. No matter how much he has, it’s never enough.

That’s exactly the way some people act about money.

The Velocity of Money

The Great Depression was a seminal event of the 20th century. The Federal Reserve, established in December of 1913, was only sixteen years old when the bottom fell out of the stock market on Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929. The Fed’s moves in the 1920s and 1930s exacerbated rather than smoothed the business cycle. They fed the Roaring 20s and starved the 1930s, turning the normal business cycle into a disaster.

The Fed has acknowledged this for some time, if rather quietly. Their mistakes were the result of a fundamental misunderstanding, and led to big changes in their policies.

The Fed had thought that a booming economy needed more money in circulation. There were all these transactions going on, and without more money in circulation, the economy would be restrained by not enough cash to support the level of transactions. Conversely, in a recession, with fewer transactions occurring, less cash was needed, and so cash should be pulled out of the economy.

There was just one little problem — they had it exactly backwards. They fueled the boom, creating a bubble, and, when it popped, they contracted the money supply and destroyed the economy, not only of the United States, but most of the world as well. Subsequent research came up with a useful concept: the velocity of money.

The velocity of money is defined as the number of times a dollar changes hands in a year. More precisely, the velocity of money is the total GDP divided by the amount of money in circulation. If you have x amount of money in circulation, and each dollar passes from one person to another in a transaction n times per year, then the total GDP of the country is x times n.

This concept leads to conclusions that have proved more correct than the Fed’s disastrous exactly-backwards policies of the 1920s and 1930s.

In a recession, when people’s optimism is low and they worry about the future, they are not willing to spend money. They save what they can against the future hard times they see coming. Velocity goes down. Since the GDP is velocity times the money supply, the GDP will fall, perhaps sharply, if the Fed doesn’t inject money into the economy. So the Fed adds money, which helps hold up the GDP despite the reduced velocity.

In boom times, when people’s optimism is high and they see an improving future, they are willing to spend money. Velocity goes up, as people buy cars and appliances and houses they wouldn’t buy in a recession. Shrinking the money supply is the correct move here, because the actual goods and services making up the GDP can only increase so fast. Once the factories are running full-blast making all those cars and appliances, and all the carpenters and trades are working full-time building all those houses, the GDP can’t grow any faster on the short term. It will take capital investment, and time, to increase production.

Since the GDP is stated in dollars, even though it is composed of goods and services, only one thing can balance the equation if the Fed doesn’t shrink the money supply when velocity increases. Inflation makes the dollars worth less, so that the dollar-denominated worth of a fixed amount of goods and services can match the velocity times money supply on the other side of the equation. Another way to look at it is that, if the Fed doesn’t pull money out of the economy when velocity increases faster than production, the value of the money in circulation will decline to make up for what the Fed is unwilling to do.

Since pulling money out of the economy, usually through raising interest rates, is unpopular with both business people and with politicians who like deficit spending, the Fed usually does not pull enough money out of the economy to restrain inflation in boom times.

Maybe it’s time to look into inflation-protected bond funds.

(Note for all you econ types: Yes, I know that this is a very simplified discussion. It’s a blog post, not a graduate-level text on macroeconomics. Get over it.)