Friday, March 27, 2015

5 Things on a Friday: Cruz Makes It Official!

Spoiler Alert.  This week’s 5 Things has a lot of politics and specifically a lot on the 2016 election.  If you don’t care about that, it’s fine, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve decided to cover the week’s election events in a bit of detail.
I will say this: my aim here is not to convert you to my point of view. I definitely have a point of view, however, and although I’d very much like to cover this election objectively, I doubt that’s possible.  This week in particular, I got close to asking around to see if I could find a guest writer or two to come in and espouse competing points of view in the interest of balanced coverage, but I ultimately decided not to go looking because I neither want to pay a guest writer nor ask someone else to write for free.  You are therefore stuck with me.
“Congress passed the [Clean Air Act] in 1970 and substantially strengthened it in 1990 to safeguard human health from air pollution generated by power plants, vehicles, incinerators and other sources.
One of the most toxic of these pollutants is mercury, a heavy metal that accumulates in waterways and the fish Americans eat. While mercury is particularly dangerous to the vulnerable, developing brains and nervous systems of young children and fetuses, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that improved air-quality standards prevent the premature deaths of as many as 11,000 Americans each year from exposure to mercury and other toxic air pollutants.”
A beautiful element but highly toxic.  If you spill this in your house,
you might want to think about moving.  It's that bad.
This is one of those issues that shows the banality of the anti-regulation crowd.  Of course, there are regulations that stifle innovation and choke business activity, but unfortunately, we need clean, breathable air.  Mercury poisoning is serious.  Among other things, it is a leading cause of birth defects.  It literally makes kids stupid, and even for healthy adults its effects can be ruinous.  
Honestly, I think that if more people had more information about the impacts of a few common pollutants, the so-called debate over some of these issues wouldn’t be a “debate” at all.  We would simply choose to make our nation a better, healthier place.
Cruz would like to be
your next president.
Because Cruz is the first to announce his candidacy, he’ll get a serious hearing in national media. He’ll attract a lot of news and win a bump in the polls. But we shouldn’t pretend that his is a serious campaign with a shot at success. It isn’t. At best, Cruz will win a Fox News contract. He won’t win the Republican nomination, and he’ll never be president of the United States.
In fairness to Cruz, there’s a logic to his campaign that makes sense. In the last two Republican nomination fights, a right-wing base of social conservatives has vied against a more moderate (or at least more pragmatic) collection of fiscal conservatives, small-business owners, foreign policy experts, and financial elites. And while the two sides overlap—and the differences are often more affect than substance—the divide is real.
Although the author of this piece is without doubt a partisan Democrat, the piece itself is a terrific breakdown of the Republican prospects.  I agree with the author that whichever “establishment” Republican comes out on top, that guy’s very likely to win the nomination—and the election, as well—but I doubt it’s as settled as it might seem right now.  Regardless, I’ve been covering the 2016 campaign for over a year now, so mentioning Cruz’s entry into the race is a necessity.
No, I don’t think Ted Cruz can win the presidency.  But I also don’t think his ceiling is Mike Huckabee’s ceiling, either.  I think Cruz has an excellent chance of coming out of the nomination process with more political strength than he had entering it.  He’s a sitting senator with a chance to demonstrate a national following.  Influential national careers have been built on far less.
While we’re talking about Republican presidential candidates, the Chicago Tribune filed a piece this week about Jeb Bush’s candidacy, which is quite a bit different than Cruz’s.  The following quotes come from the end of the piece, being would-be applause lines in the evolving Bush stump speech:
"If we fix a few big things," Bush said after speaking for 15 minutes in Las Vegas, "this could be the greatest time to be alive in America's history. And I honestly believe that. And I hope you do. And I hope that you urge, and beg, and cajole — however you want to do it, I hope you urge elected officials to begin to lead again."
"If we get this right, we can restore American greatness," he said, "We can create an opportunity society again. It doesn't matter where you came from, where you started in life. You can pursue the American dream just like everybody else. That's worth fighting for."
This, of course, is a very different take on government than the one the bomb-throwing anti-compromise Libertarian wing of the Republican Party spouts, which is why the differences are worth discussing.  I don’t think it’s a secret where my personal feelings lie, but I don’t blame people for wanting a different kind of politics than the politics of compromise.  The race itself is interesting, however, and as a matter of reality, these early months are the best time to get a feel for who the candidates really are.  By the time the main portion of the election cycle rolls around, it’ll be nothing but sound-bites and simple quotes fit for mass consumption.  If you want better, you have to start early, become familiar with the more nuanced positions, and really read or listen.  Listening in particular is not a core American skill.
I get that not everybody wants that level of detail, but I do.  With that in mind, the whole piece on Jeb Bush is worth reading because it gives an idea of who the man really is.  In a week where we’ve seen Ted Cruz debut himself via a mandatory lecture at Liberty University, a small Christian college founded by Jerry Falwell, I find the contrast that Bush offers striking.
This piece is included for the sake of completeness.  Hillary Clinton is apparently set to make income inequality a set piece of her would-be administration:
"We need to think hard about what we're going to do now that people are moving back into and staying in cities to make sure that our cities are not just places of economic prosperity and job creation on average," Mrs. Clinton said, the Associated Press reported. "But do it in a way that lifts everybody up to deal with the overriding issues of inequality and lack of mobility.”
But the Clintons are well known for maintaining strong ties to the financial industry.  None other than the Boston Globe attacked her on it just this past weekend.
“Nothing about her record suggests much gumption for financial reform or tackling the deeply entrenched economic problems that increasingly threaten the American dream,”the Globe asserted.
Believe it or not, I think Clinton is in a really tough spot.  She may have a death grip on the Democratic Party’s leadership apparatus, but the rest of her campaign looks shaky.  Fallout from the nuclear deal with Iran combined with Israel’s recent election results make it at least somewhat likely that Jewish voters will turn on the Democrats pretty soon.  Meanwhile, Jim Webb is running a campaign that specifically targets disaffected working class voters from rural areas—hint: this is an enormous voting block—by contrasting race-based inequality programs with class-based economic outreach programs, and that’s been playing.  Webb has about as much chance of winning the nomination for the Dems as Cruz has of winning it for the GOP, but he may succeed in getting his issue on the table, which is why Hillary has had to go with an urban take on income inequality.  
It’s been a while since rural whites voted Democratic in substantial numbers.  Hillary Clinton isn’t going to bring them back.  Webb might, but no one in his party wants to give him enough air to speak.  This leaves Hillary with a pretty narrow piece of ground on which to base a domestically-themed presidential campaign.  When you add the server scandal on top of that—and the memories it invokes by association—I’d say that the Dems are right to be talking seriously about finding another candidate.
Filed in 2012, the USPTO has granted the aerospace giant a patent for a "method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc"…
The patent describes a system that would detect the shockwave from a nearby explosion and create an area of ionized air -- a plasma field -- between the oncoming blast and the vehicle it was protecting.
The method works, says the patent, "by heating a selected region of the first fluid medium rapidly to create a second, transient medium that intercepts the shockwave and attenuates its energy density before it reaches a protected asset."
By creating a temporary, superheated parcel of air with a laser, microwave or electrical arc, researchers believe that the shockwave would, in theory… dissipate once it hit the plasma field, leaving whatever was on the other side unaffected, or for the blast to at least be mitigated.
Various news sites described this thing as a kind of force field, but it sounds to me more like a new application of reactive armor theory.  Explosives work by directing force against a target.  Ideally, you’d like that force to be focused in some manner to increase lethality, but if you use enough explosives, it doesn’t matter.  However, if we create a counter explosion—not necessarily in the opposite direction—we can theoretically disrupt the first explosion’s destructive effects.  Again, though, this theory works better—much better—against shaped charges.
The article showed a picture of a truck with a force field projector on it, but speaking personally, I have trouble imagining this particular application in use on a land vehicle system.  The power requirements would be enormous.  You might succeed in putting something like this on a ship, or perhaps even on a plane, but putting it on a truck seems unwieldy and needlessly dangerous.  After all, if it’ll fry a high explosive shockwave, it’ll certainly fry friendly dismounted infantry who happen to be standing nearby.  Perhaps you could get it on a tank, but that seems redundant, and anyway, you’re left with this problem of an automatic system triggering with friendlies in the immediate vicinity.
But who knows?  Maybe you get around that by issuing every soldier an RFID chip that disarms the system within a specific range.  That wouldn’t be expensive; it would just cut the system’s efficacy.  This is maybe not a problem if what you’re looking for is convoy protection.  That was the jist of the patent, so maybe they’ve got some way to direct the counter-shockwave with a relatively small energy requirement.  I personally have trouble imagining that, but it’s a crazy world, right?
Read me!
The most popular thing on the blog this week?  My “Beginner’s Guide to Wanderhaven.”  I was surprised because it’s not like there’s been a lot of discussion on my various social media platforms about it, but the Guide was one of the most successful things I’ve ever posted.  As of this writing, 144 people have read the article.  As I write this, it’s Thursday, and the article hasn’t even been in place for three full days.  Clearly somebody’s interested in Wanderhaven.  Now if all of those folks would only follow up and buy a copy of Sneakatara Boatman and the Priest of Loki I’d be a happy, happy man.  If you’re looking for more on Wanderhaven, that’s certainly the place to go for it.
In fairness, though, it’s not like I have much reason to complain.  Save for the fact that I got caught out on my bike in a pelting rain on Wednesday, life has been pretty good to me this week.  Yeah, I want to sell more books, but what can you do?  I just keep hoping that if I plug away, eventually folks will get excited to see what else there is to see.  But maybe they’re waiting for the second volume of Sneax’s story to drop?  I don’t know.  It would be nice to believe that, though.  
I will say this: I’m not sure I can label The Crown of Pluto a Young Adult novel.  I thought Priest of Loki was borderline in terms of its action and violence--it’s every inch as violent as The Hunger Games, for example--but one of my friends flat out told me this week that I’d gone too far in the new book to unleash it on unsuspecting children without any parental warnings whatsoever.  Crown of Pluto starts as a war story, but it becomes a kind of horror/fantasy adventure, and it’s got a lot going on.  
This should come as no surprise if you’ve seen some of the stuff I’ve written lately for various gaming platforms.  ”The Mystery of Malvern Manor is a good example of where my head is right now, but Crown of Pluto dials the sort of thing that’s inherent in “Malvern Manor” up to an 8.5 on a scale of 10.  That’s certainly not too much for adults who are into fantasy fiction and/or gaming, but it leaves me with a bit of a marketing problem--or it would, if Priest of Loki had built a true Young Adult following, anyway.
Anyway, I have no idea how to position the new book, nor am I sure how to market the combined whole.  This is one of the reasons I decided to self-publish, but it’s still a conundrum that’s in need of a solution.

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