The Little Ice Age was even littler than I thought.

It is amazing to realize that I ever thought of the Little Ice Age as an ice age at all. It was so small, in fact, that it really isn’t even a blip in global temperature change.

IFLS has an article titled The Little Ice Age Was Very, Very Little:

In particular, they found that the average temperature in the northern hemisphere dropped by just 0.5°C (0.9°F) during the supposed Little Ice Age period. By comparison, the most recent actual ice age 12,000 years ago saw a drop of 8°C (14.4°F).

That is absolutely amazing. Only a half of a degree C drop? That wouldn’t even counteract the recent global temperature increase that we are facing right now.

And as for the recent actual ice age? 8°C? Wow.

I wish everyone would take the time to learn something about the facts before they dismiss the science behind the problems that we are facing.

Prejudice Poison Clinging to Our Collective Soul

Recently I have been getting to the point that I don’t like opinion pieces. All too often, opinion pieces are used as an alternate to real news. They make claims that aren’t backed up by fact, are completely tainted by ideology, and serve only to try to persuade people to substitute propaganda for reality.

I am making an exception to my hatred of opinion for this piece from the New York Times. This piece, while labeled as opinion, is based on an interview and the events that followed. It serves to shine a spotlight on some of the most basic problems with race relations in the United States. As such, You should read it in an attempt to understand the problems that the United States faces as well as some fundamental strategies that we can all use to move forward.

“I speak for a lot of unspoken people,” he told me. “Maybe millions of white people who are afraid to admit” their racial fears and prejudices. “They’re not bad people. They just don’t know how to behave and how to interact” with people of different races.

It is difficult to admit that we are prejudice, that we are either afraid or unknowledgeable of how to interact with people who differ from us by their skin color. Oh, sure; it isn’t too difficult if ‘they’ go through all the trouble to act like ‘us’, but when ‘they’ don’t change to emulate our expectations, we often have no tools to bridge the gap between us.

I have admitted that I am prejudice a long time ago. Being prejudice isn’t something to be ashamed of in-and-of itself. What we choose to do about it determines whether we should be ashamed of ourselves of not.

Many of us can’t help being prejudice. We were born into a system that was prejudice. We were taught the system before we had the tools to evaluate it. It wasn’t just that we considered the system ‘normal,’ it was the only system that we knew existed. We were surrounded by the system. It was presented to us on television, on the playground at school, around our holiday tables, and reflected in our friendships. No, we didn’t do this to ourselves, it was done to us.

After our childhood was spent processing prejudice as ‘normal,’ we carried it with us like an irrational fear of the dark that we just can’t quite shake no matter how rational we try to be about it.

With Mr. Trump headed to the White House, my now-friendship with the “racist caller” on C-Span seems like a glimpse of a path not taken. Garry makes me believe that even though a man endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan won the majority of white support, people can change. He told me he now notices his own stereotypes and is eager to replace them with something more generous and true about his fellow Americans.

We need conversations like mine and Garry’s to happen across the country, outside of politics. Societies that have been through traumas have embarked on racial reconciliation processes; South Africa’s is the most famous, but there are dozens more. There’s no reason we can’t do that here.

Not only is there no reason why we can’t do that here, it is incumbent on each and every one of us to do the work necessary to see that the system that instilled racism in us isn’t perpetuated. We owe it to people of color that still struggle to be seen as humans instead of stereotypes. We owe it to the white people who have been coerced and polluted by a damaging ideology, and we owe it to our children to save them through the unnecessary torments that we all must suffer through regardless of our race. After all, we are all victims of the same corrupt system. Some of us have suffered more under that corrupt system, but we are all suffering.

A new way to write

I am not the writer that I want to be; never the less, I refuse to give up. I have wasted enough words to fill entire volumes of encyclopedias. I have read many of the popular writing books as well as some books by less well-known authors. Each of those books have given me momentary hope that I was just missing some writing technique that I could learn and I would be back on track. Each time the hope has faded.

Recently I have been piloting my own course (I wanted to say “plotting,” but, joke aside, I didn’t want to confuse the issue). I have recently been discovering that there was this entire process to writing that I was missing. There was a tremendous amount of work that needed to be done that didn’t have anything to do with word counts, character sheets, plot points, or any of the other myriad of things that all seem necessary to creating a story.

The things that I have been discovering about my writing have been working out quite well, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that other people have beaten me to these discoveries. While this might ultimately be a tangent that fails to fulfill my writing deficiencies, it seems to be a critical piece that has been missing.

Lisa Cron wrote an article at Writer Unboxed that said:

That internal battleground [between what your protagonist thinks, what they say, and why they say it] is where your novel’s seminal source of conflict stems from. It’s what gives meaning and emotional weight to every single thing that happens in the plot. Because – as I am very fond of saying – the story is not about the plot, the story is about how the plot affects the protagonist. And, in turn, the internal struggle drives the action, which then further provokes the struggle – back and forth – from beginning to end. That is how the external stakes steadily mount, stripping away every internal rationalization in the process, until, at last, the protagonist has no choice but to change (or, of course, not).

This seems exactly right. At least for me, how can there be any conflict unless the conflict is within the character? If they don’t care whether it is day or night, why is the dusk a problem? Simple questions like that point to a missing part of the story. It is a part of the story that needs to be in place before the opening scene of the novel.

I have been doing something like this for the last story that I have been working on. Whether it actually makes the story better or not, it makes the story writing possible for me. The above linked article is long, but it seems like Lisa Cron is really onto something that seems missing in a lot of stories. The article is the first in a series that she is planning on covering. I really look forward to the next article.

Radical Islam-ophobia

Discussions of “Radical Islam” are back in the news along the terror attack that was suffered in Orlando. Anyone who has paid attention to politics over the last several years has an idea of how infused with meaning this phrase has become. It has taken two words that, when  combined, mean absolutely anything and therefore absolutely nothing. Or, more precisely, it means different things to different people.

For a great breakdown of the phrase and its origins, read The New York Times article:

Shadi Hamid, a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said that before the controversy began, he did not use the phrase “radical Islam” much, but neither did he find it overly objectionable. After two years of politicization, though, Mr. Hamid and other analysts say the phrase has worrisome connotations, potentially maligning all Muslims or Islam itself.

“Why would you feel such a need to use this particular combination of words, when the vast majority of us agree that this is terrorism and that it should be stopped or countered?” he asked. “These terms are being used as dog whistles.”

And, indeed it has become a dog-whistle phrase. But it is a dog whistle that points to a different argument than  you might think.

Throughout late 2014, as the group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, conquered much of Iraq in a campaign of shocking violence, Americans struggled to discern what role, if any, religion played in its ideology. Because only 38 percent of Americans personally know someone who is Muslim, according to a 2014 Pew poll, most have little firsthand knowledge to go on.

That, to me, is a shocking statistic, but it also demonstrates why it was so easy to hijack an entire religion.

President Obama, in an attempt to prevent the entire religion from being targeted by people who didn’t understand anything about the religion, refused to use such an undefined phrase. But by not using the phrase “Radical Islam”, it became defined — by a certain group of people — to represent the perceived weakness of President Obama and the Democratic party toward terrorism.

The New York times article continues:

When I asked Mr. Hamid [if “Radical Islam” was accurate or not], he countered with a different question. Given how many labels already exist to describe terrorists that draw on Islam, why insist on this one?

He listed several — “radical jihadists, Salafis, Islamist extremists, jihadis, jihadi-Salafists” — none of which, he said, carry the baggage of “radical Islam.”

While the phrase “Radical Islam” might be mostly a product originating from (and used in) the United States, there are different phrases that have taken on a similar connotation in various parts of the world. Many of them don’t have anything to do with religion. They have to do with something else.

In every case, the debate is framed as one of pluralism versus security. Pinning terrorism on “multiculturalism” or non-secularism or foreign values or “radical Islam” all portray inclusiveness as somehow threatening and exclusiveness as safer.

For a country that has always prided itself on being the great melting pot of the world, this is indeed radical.

The card reader evasions by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol

The public, as well as some of the legislature, seems to be trying to grasp the latest asset forfeiture plan that the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) has put in place. At the center of the controversy is several portable debit card readers that have been acquired by the OHP. The OHP plans to use the card readers to see how much money you have on your debit card and take it from you — without a judge’s order, trial, or any other due process — if you seem like you are a suspicious person.

So, how can you tell a suspicious person? By looking at them, I guess. Granted, there are other “official” ways of profiling a person to decide whether they are suspicious, but they all come down to what the OHP officer decides is suspicious. If that simple fact alone doesn’t scare you, then you have indeed lived a charmed life.

So what does the OHP have to say about this? News 9 reports:

“The thing is we’re not stopping somebody and grabbing a 25-dollar Walgreens card and running it,” said Lt. John Vincent Oklahoma Highway Patrol. “There’s a reason for us to check what’s on the card.”

Troopers say often drug couriers will use the prepaid cards instead of carrying cash.

“That’s when we’re going to be able to use the ERAD [Electronic Recovery and Access Devices aka debit card reader QH] system to check those cards to see what is on them. And if you can prove that you have a reason to have those cards there won’t be any charges,” said Vincent.

Mr. Vincent seems to be trying to conflate the Walgreens card that you might be carrying with the debit card that you get paid with. The Walgreens card belongs to a type of card called a closed-loop card that can only be used at the store (or stores) where the card was purchased. In other words, it is what is commonly referred to as a gift card.

The ERAD debit card reader works with open-loop cards. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau defines open-loop cards as follows:

What is an open-loop prepaid card?

An open-loop prepaid card is a card with a network logo on it (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover) that can be used at any location that accepts that brand.

That’s right. Any “credit card” that you have in your wallet that has a network (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover) logo on it can be read, and have all if the money on it confiscated by the OHP for no other reason that they don’t like the way that you look.

The OHP claims that the ERAD debit card readers won’t work on any card that isn’t prepaid. Even if we take them at their word on that point, that still leaves a population vulnerable to any prejudices that might have slipped through the Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s training academy as well as any of the other biases that exist in the general population.

Considering that most of the people I know can’t tell the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh, that doesn’t fill me with confidence.