Progress Has Been Made

Finally. Finally, a honest-to-goodness non-ideological post about my writing progress. It was, after all, why I originally started this blog, although it later morphed into other things and almost took on some web programming stuff when I started doing that last year.

So far, I’ve been working on both a short story and a novel, that are completely unrelated. The short story I actually finished a couple of months ago, but I haven’t gotten around to editing it yet before I try to send it somewhere. Meanwhile, I’ve been getting in time working on my novel, and using the awesome program that is Scrivener. One thing I have noticed, however, is that I’ve been using more of it’s basic word processor functions, and haven’t been taking advantage of its project management/plotting functions. I’ve been mostly filling in things I’ve already plotted out, but as I do so, I find the original plot needs significant rework. Which is a good thing, I think, because trying to stay to the original plan is usually not a good thing. You have to adapt to new ideas and new data, and while sometimes that can be a big problem, particularly if you just randomly go off in different directions, often it really improves.

One thing I did was follow the idea behind the book Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between (although, I really haven’t read it yet, just the description, but it was enough.) Write the turning point in the middle of the novel where the hero comes to the critical realization, and then revolve the story around that. I went a step farther and also wrote the ending before I had written the rest, and focused on writing key pieces I will then later string together. It’s a very different and interesting feeling, because the text is now even more fluid and open to revision than it ever has been before. And I’ve never written the ending of a story before I had written the rest of it. I was always very chronological in my writing, seeing where things go as I trundle along. I actually do like some outlines and plotting, but a lot of plotting frustrates me. Stories aren’t history, they’re much more fluid than that. What James Scott Bell has in this book seems to be the ideal balance.

Scrivener has also been a godsend, though one thing that I am trying to figure out is just how to break between scenes. Should a scene end on this line, or the next? It matters because if I move scenes around, will lines be out of place? Well, I suppose it can’t be helped. It will be interesting to see how that will work, however. So far, I haven’t had a real need to actually move scenes around. I actively look forward to the day when I do.

Can we just stop making stuff up?

The title of a recent article at The New Republic reads:

The Period Is Pissed
When did our plainest punctuation mark become so aggressive?

The author then goes on to assume that adding a period at the end of your texts indicates you’re angry.

This is one of the plainest cases of someone just making shit up. Ok, so he cites a professor of linguistics and the editor of something called the Awl (presumably short for “The Awful,” judging by the editor’s comments.) But this guy is definitely smoking something.

Look, a period at the end of sentences is not indicating aggressiveness. It is proper grammar. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, some people don’t do that and use line breaks because it’s more efficient to type that way on mobile phones. Not technically proper, but it’s a convenience to use such a wonderful device. I have no problem with that. But if you start assuming that using periods in a message indicates “anger,” well, then you’re going to have a lot of problems in your life. You’re probably going to end up hating a lot of people or feeling really bad about yourself. And then your life is going to get worse.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t assume. It makes an ass out of you and me.

EDIT: I am now very angry at my high school for making me think grammar is spelled with an “e”.

Not doing NaNoWriMo, but Scrivener is a yes

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo. Again.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t have time and I’m really getting in the way of myself. Perhaps it’s because I just want to move on my own schedule. Perhaps it’s because I always feel NaNoWriMo is extremely gimmicky and gimmicky doesn’t work for me. Perhaps it’s because, at the moment, I want to get out a short story, not a novel.

For whatever reason, I won’t do NaNoWriMo again for the umpteenth year in a row. That’s okay; I don’t have anything against people who do do it. It’s just not for me, and I suspect it’s not for a lot of people.

I have been writing, however, and more than just code. I have been trying out the program Scrivener, and while I’m a bit apprehensive of paying $40 for a piece of software that isn’t a resource-intensive first person shooter, I think I’m going to end up buying it. It’s actually a great word processor combined with a fantastic project management suite. I still want to try it, though, for the next 24 days I have it free. I think I can get at least 3,000 more words out of it on that.

Now, if only Aeon Timeline can be brought over to Windows, that would be excellent.

Finished #GameOfThrones — Now What?

Yesterday I finished reading A Dance With Dragons, by George R. R. Martin, the fifth and latest book in the A Song Of Ice And Fire series. I don’t really need to tell you what happens in the book, as it was published in 2011 and I’m sure everyone who actually gives a damn has already read it and then some. My blog material is spoiler free (largely.)

For me, what is truly unique about the ASOIAF series is how long it took me to read them. I started reading A Game of Thrones in about March, I believe (maybe April.) Perhaps it was because this was the first time I was reading an entire book series on my phone (using the Android Kindle app), and thus it was more strain on my eyes than a paperback book. Or maybe it was because the books were simply so dense. I don’t know. But usually, for me, I rip through a novel in about 1-2 days, maybe 4-5 at the most if I’m not reading constantly. But usually I am reading constantly. Just a few weeks ago I picked up a Kindle copy of Firebird, the latest novel in the Alex Benedict series by Jack McDevitt, who I think is a superb writer and I absolutely love his Benedict series. I read that in less than a day. I went through that thing like a Death Star beam through a moderately sized terrestrial planet. And I loved it, but still.

Dance With Dragons? That was like a month. It’s dense. And to be fair, after the third book, I stopped reading for a month or so in order to recuperate before I dived in again. And I was really reading most of this while huddling in the bathroom, not out in the open, so I would be focusing on my work. But still, this stuff is long. And, as I said, dense. There’s a lot there. I’m certain I’ve missed a ton. (Including the TV series. Bah.) There is just so much stuff you can’t possibly read it in a day, or even a week (or maybe even three.) I think if I sat here and tried to read even one book straight through, it would take me more than 36 hours, maybe even 48.

The other thing about this series–and this interests me as a writer, not as a reader–is how Martin so strongly colors his viewpoint characters’ perceptions. When you’re with a character, you really feel as if this lens has clicked into place in front of your eyes. When you’re with Cersei, you can see everyone distort into these traitorous fiends, their conspiraces billowing up out of the floorboards to choke you. When you’re Jon, you can see the doddering old fools for what they are and the bonds of honor and justice that bind you. And when you’re Tyrion–well, you see everyone for the gigantic joke that they are.

It is truly marvelous. It’s a trick I think every aspiring writer–myself included!–should developed, as it really adds a layer of depth and versimilitude to the world.

The real question for me, though, is what next. Well, in terms of writing, I need to do more of it. Particularly more fiction. Writing about politics is great and all, but it’s not the same. I need to apply the lesson I mentioned above, as well. And I need to tell my internal editor to shut up. (Though, to be fair–to me, not my internal editor–I have been writing lately. Just…not enough, I suppose.)

As for reading, I’ve always wanted to tackle Ayn Rand’s nonfiction–Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Philosophy: Who Needs It, The Virtue of Selfishness, The Return of the Primitive–but also to read J.S. Mill’s On Liberty. I think those would be good breaks from deep fiction, especially since they wouldn’t distract me nearly as much. And might also help with sleeping.

Libertarian Populism and Basic Income

UPDATE: Welcome, reason readers! Make sure to follow me on Twitter at @jdkolassa!

There’s been a new trend in political writing over the past few months: the notion of “libertarian populism.” After doing the autopsy on the Republican Party’s downright pathetic 2012 presidential campaign–something that the GOP should have won handily, but instead lost miserably–many have started to look towards some form of libertarianism as the GOP’s 2016 savior.

There are many, many positive developments from this, namely a focus on economic rather than social issues (which, let’s be frank, is a lose-lose proposition for the Republican Party–even abortion, though that’s more long-term) and directing fury at crony capitalism, that collusion between big government and big business that is the real problem, not any imagined socialism. And unlike some naysayers, I think a “libertarian populist” message would resonate well with voters–as long as the PR packaging is done right.

As far as I can figure out, the genesis of this recent trend began with Ross Douthat, when he wrote a blog post laying out a case for “reform conservatism,” another option for revitalizing the GOP and the larger conservative movement. It has some interesting points, though Peter Suderman over at reason took some exceptions to a few and asked why not adopt libertarianism rather than try and fix conservatism? Douthat then wrote a reply, entitled “Libertarian Populism and Its Limits.” (He does cite a tweet by Ben Domenech talking about “populist libertarianism,” but let’s call that a prequel.) I understand some of Douthat’s points, but as far as I can see he’s wrong on monetary policy and he doesn’t seem to grok how yes, we can sell Rand’s platform as being benefical to the folks on the lower rungs of the ladder (go read BHL for starters.)

(By the way, if you’re interested, Pascal Emmanuel Gobry has written a manifesto for reform conservatism over at Forbes. Not saying that I agree, it’s just interesting.)

The next day, Ben Domenech wrote on RCP the piece that seemed to really start it all, giving us an “agenda” for libertarian populism. The very next day he wrote a second essay responding to his responders, this one illuminating the challenges that libertarian populism faces. These two pieces are crucial, I think, for setting the this discussion up, but it didn’t stop there.

Earlier this month, Conn Carroll at the Washington Examiner, which recently became a monthly publication, laid out a list of policy reforms for “economic populism,” but I think he really means “libertarian populism.” Then, Tim Carney,  “Mr. Anti-Crony Capitalist” himself, laid out a similar list of policy ideas in AEI, a sort of proto-manifesto. Gobry, again at Forbes, wrote glowingly about Carney’s piece.

But then, of course, there are the detractors.

There is, of course, Paul Krugman’s obligatory swipe, but let’s not mince words about Krugman–he’s a loon. More credible is criticism from Ramesh Ponnuru, a “reform conservative” (or “reformocon”) who notes that people won’t necessarily buy into libertarian populism, because folks don’t care about some of the more wonky ideas (a point that Ed Kilgore also jumped on–but who the hell listens to him?)

And where does this end up? With me, of course, adding my own voice into the mix.

Let me first pull together the items from Carney’s list and Caroll’s list, so we have an idea of what the core of a libertarian populist policy might look like:

  1. Tim Carney
    1. Break up the big banks, and/or place stricter safety and soundness rules on them
    2. Cut or eliminate the payroll tax
    3. End corporate welfare
    4. Cleaner tax code
    5. Health-care reform
    6. Kill anticompetitive regulations
    7. Address political privilege
  2. Conn Carroll
    1. Rollback the surveillance state
    2. End the Drug War
    3. End deportations
    4. Break up the banks
    5. Return infrastructure to the states
    6. Return education to the states
    7. End student loans
    8. Revenue-neutral tax simplification
    9. Market-tested health care

Obviously there is some overlap here. But we do get a broad outline for a reform agenda: break up the banks, return powers to the states, end subsidies and bailouts to big business, and enact institutional, structural reforms that benefit the little guy while weakening the big wealthy elites. This is a winning strategy all around.

Now, to issue some disagreement with Mr. Ponnuru. He writes:

I’m sympathetic to most of the items on Carney’s list — and those on the list that fellow populist Conn Carroll has compiled. Taken together, though, they do not seem to amount to a winning political platform. A Republican party that took on the U.S. Export-Import Bank might improve its image a bit, but how many Americans really care enough about the issue to change their votes based on it? Nor does freeing the food trucks seem like it would win many votes, however right it might be as a policy matter.

The libertarian populists sometimes seem to make the same political mistake as left-wing populists: Assuming that because most voters distrust big business and do not believe they share its interests, they are therefore looking for the politician who will most vocally take it on.

Cutting the payroll tax, unlike most of these ideas, would tangibly affect most people’s lives by raising their take-home pay. If Republicans proposed it, though, they would surely be accused of jeopardizing Social Security and Medicare, which seems like a rather large political defect. Other Carroll proposals, such as ending student loans and the mortgage deduction, seem likely to be unpopular even at first glance.

While I sympathize with his concerns, I think they’re misplaced. Yes, people are probably not up to date and therefore don’t really care as much about the Import-Export Bank. But that’s not a problem. All you need to say is this:

You only have $20,000. These big corporations have $20 billion. The government is taking your money and giving it to these big corporations! That’s messed up!

Boom. No in-depth, wonkish policy explanations necessary. Just use basic rhetoric and what is foremost on folks’ minds: the money in their wallets. Great success! And as for food trucks and Social Security, well, food trucks have more supporters than I think Mr. Ponnuru thinks they have, and there is a growing segment of Americans, young and old, who are getting very concerned about Social Security, and sooner or later those are going to have to be addressed anyways, there’s no escaping that.

I think this is a really great start, and indeed, a libertarian populist agenda married to “reform conservatism,” as Gobry suggests, may actually win at the polls. Putting families against big business is sure to get some people onboard. Believe me, I’m still very skeptical of libertarian-conservative fusionism–ultimately, it’s more of a tool for conservatives to boost their voter rolls than anything–but a fusionism where libertarians took the reins, focused more on economics instead of losing, divisive social issues, and focused on the moral worth of the individual rather than blindly talking about “society,” would be one I could get behind.

There are a couple of things I think this growing movement is missing, though, or at the very least, there are some things I think should be coupled with it. One should be a distaste or skepticism for mixing religion with politics. I make no bones about my being an igtheist, a nonreligious person, and I’m a fan of the new Republican Reason Caucus, a group explicitly formed to make the GOP more secular, more tolerant, and more rational (i.e., no more of this crap). Medium to long term, basing all political arguments on religious ones just isn’t going to work. 20% of Americans are nonreligious and that number is growing. Note that I am not saying that the GOP must become completely secular, but it must be become more secular, and just tone down some of the more fundamentalist Christian rhetoric–and yes, in the process, become more inclusive to gays and lesbians, and anyone of “alternative” lifestyles. Look back at recent history and note, when has the GOP won big? When it ignored social issues, tempered the religious rhetoric, and went straight for the economics and defending people’s wallets. When has it lost? When it started talking about “legitimate rape” and other nonsense.

We can definitely agree that individual churches should not have to bend their doctrine to fit a political will, and that they should not be forced to sanctify things that go against their beliefs, but that works two ways. Let’s stop bringing religion into politics and then we can start getting politics out of religion.

Second, I don’t really see anything about the social safety net. Yes, there’s a lot about reforming entitlements, but there’s precious little (from what I can see, anyways, I might be blind) to the more overall system of welfare. It’s a system plagued by redundancies and inefficiences, yet is still growing, all the while punishing people who increase their income and make themselves better off. This is insane. The government doesn’t even know how many are actually there, what they’re actually spending, or if they’re getting taxpayers’ money’s worth.

There is a reform path that I’ve talked about before, and that has been supported by such great minds as Milton Friedman and Jeffrey Miron: the Negative Income Tax. This would essentially create a guaranteed minimum income or universal basic income, ideas supported by Friedrich Hayek and Charles Murray, and would also do away with many other detestable things. First, by combining it with a flat tax (which is how both Friedman and Miron sketch it out) it would effectively do away with a ton of the IRS bureaucracy. Second, because it would be automatic, it would also effectively do away with a lot of the HHS and welfare bureaucracy, which is a good thing. (I would argue that bureaucracy, not government, is our real problem. Most anything which shrinks bureaucracy is a plus in my book.) Third, at the same time it’s helping the poor, it would also promote beneficial habits and behaviors, and possibly also increase entrepreneurship and push these folks to succeed. (As one friend of mine said, people will be more likely to take chances if they know they have something to catch them should they fail.) Fourth, with it in place we could abolish the minimum wage–a policy that hurts the poor more than it helps–and that would get employers to start hiring again. Fifth, it would also be politically successful, as let’s be honest: the vast majority of Americans, even conservative Americans, do not want to live in a country with no social safety net. That’s a view only shared by the most hardcore Tea Partiers, Nozickian libertarians, Randian Objectivists, and anarcho-capitalists. Proposing any sort of view that just cut away welfare without replacing it with something better is doomed to failure and mockery.

An NIT, on the other hand, if marketed properly and not conflated with other idiotic ideas, can be a very strong replacement. In my view, in addition to having the “general deduction” (which would be the threshold you’d have to cross before you starting paying taxes rather than receiving them) and a charitable deductino (don’t leave home without one!), I would also put in a system of tax credits for the five basic needs in modern society: the three classical ones–food, clothing, shelter (including rent, utilities, etc.)–and the two “new” needs I see–healthcare and education. Put that together, combine it with the pro-market reforms listed above, which should definitely make it easier to get ahead and make the prices of goods and services go down, and you have a winner for a more stable, more prosperous society. (And while we’re at it, let’s junk the corporate income tax. Better for the poor, as it turns out.)

That’s a really long blog post. But I think it’s necessary. There’s a very good thing happening here. But it needs a couple more ingredients to make it stick.

Social Media Vacay

Everyone tells me I need to be on social media if I want my stuff promoted. I gotta be on there to be heard, to be seen, to get things done.

If I’ve learned anything in the past few years, though, it’s that that may not be necessarily true. Indeed, social media has some serious pitfalls. My favorite ones are flamewars with trolls. It was one of them, in fact, that led me to this policy of taking a social media vacation.

I’ve learned that I cannot resist getting into arguments; I can’t resist trolls. That something I lost, somewhere, aand I need to reclaim that. How? I don’t know. But a prerequisite has to be stepping back from social media. It’s hurting my productivity, hurting my wider social sphere, and ultimately it’s hurting my brain.

So I’m taking a break from Twitter & Facebook. I’ve downloaded an app that only does Twitter DM’s, and I’ll keep using Facebook Messenger so people can get in touch with me. Other than that, just Gmail & this blog. Thanks to the magic of WordPress, I can still write status updates. And thanks to the magic of RSS, I can autopost these to Twitter and Facebook.

I see this as an extension of some cutting I’ve already done in my life. A few months ago I uninstalled Steam and basically eliminated computer games from my life. Now I need to continue the process and get rid of–at least temporarily–another serious distraction.

I’m not sure why I had to blog this, really, other than to tell my friends who are going to start wondering, but if you stumble across this and read this, that’s what this is about. I will still be politically minded; I will still have strong opinions about political philosophy and government. I will still write, though hopefully not on Twitter (I will maintain my vow, I will maintain my vow…) but through other channels.

That’s all I have. If you know me personally, you can still hit me up through messaging. If you don’t, you can always comment here.

The Brazen Arrogance of Conservatives

Earlier this month, I wrote an essay for Cato Unbound regarding the topic of fusionism, which is a theory of sorts that libertarianism works best when slaved to conservatism. A blogger, by the name of Neal Dewing, took umbrage at this and wrote a response. Now, normally I am perfectly fine with this. But, in this case, Mr. Dewing wrote a very, very uninformed, poorly written blog post that made it clear he had no idea what he was talking about. It was so lousy, in fact, that Cato Unbound didn’t even want to post a response to it. Why bother recognizing such rubbish with a response? Best to ignore it and let it slip into obscure ignominy.

I, however, am of a different mind. While I concur that Mr. Dewing’s blog post is the epitome of stupidity, it is precisely because it is so full of errors that I must respond. Such garbage needs to be addressed, lest people think that, somehow, it is true. Rumors and lies must be quashed. And here I shall do the quashing. It is right. It is proper. It is necessary.

Without more further ado, here is what I wrote in response to Mr. Dewing:

Continue reading The Brazen Arrogance of Conservatives