Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Politics of Climate Denial

Following on the heels of my "Warming in a Winter Wonderland" post of a couple weeks back, my fellow blogger at "Fracked Again" has posted a great video from the Rachel Maddow show connecting winter snowstorms to climate denial to the new Republican House leadership to the oil-funded organization Americans for Prosperity to . . . well, you get the picture. Thanks to the aforementioned blogger for this video, and watch it if you don't mind weeping profusely over the future of our planet and our species.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Putting the "Christ" Back in . . . The Movies

It's the end of the year, which means it's time for the big blockbuster serial kiddie fantasies that have become Hollywood's mainstay since the dawn of the Star Wars era. I saw the first part of the seventh part of Harry Potter with my son and daughter, and I'll probably go see the latest Narnia installment with them as well; I might even check out the Tron remake (sequel?) for kicks.

But I'll tell you, I'm starting to get a bit annoyed by the way in which the studios, influenced by the likes of Walden Media, are inserting subliminal Christian messages into all these kids' films.

With Harry Potter--not a bad film, by the way, though it could have used a couple fewer scenes of Harry and gang looking scruffy and confused out in the British countryside--there's the whole Savior/Satan thing, with Harry being "The Chosen One" and Voldemort being, well, a snake. With the Narnia films, there's the C. S. Lewis Christian allegory (which was the main reason J. R. R. Tolkien, as stauch a Christian as his friend Lewis but a far better fantasist, hated the books). A while back, there was Bridge to Terabithia, with its really unsettling discussion of whether one of the main characters was going to hell or not because she didn't attend church regular; earlier this year there was the final Toy Story installment, with its title characters very nearly being consumed in a junkyard incinerator that was as vivid an image of hell as can be. So we're getting a good number of veiled Christian stories in our children's films, and I for one find this troubling.

Mind you, I'm not knocking Christianity. Nor am I arguing that there shouldn't be films with Christian themes. Christianity is a powerful and pervasive cultural force, and movies need to deal with it. What I object to is the use of children's fantasy films as a "wedge" to introduce Christianity into secular culture, much as Intelligent Design has been used as a wedge to insert creationism into the science curriculum and the Institute for Historical Review has used historical revisionism to insert Holocaust denial into the scholarly community. I don't have a problem with The Passion of the Christ (though personally, I couldn't watch it till the end; its depiction of torture was just too gruesome). I do have a problem with The Passion of Harry Potter.

If Christians want to disseminate their message, they are free to do so. I even encourage them to do so--if their message is to love one's neighbor, to do good, to forgive others their trespasses, to judge people by the content of their character not the color of their skin. But Christianity doesn't, or shouldn't, need to proselytize on the sly, through seduction or misrepresentation; if it's really as good as it claims to be, it should present itself openly, with no disguises, and let its audience judge for themselves. That was Christ's method, after all: he told it as he saw it, with no concessions and no prettying-up of the sacrifices entailed, and he let people choose for themselves.

A sermon should be a sermon. It shouldn't be a toy, wrapped like a Christmas present to tempt the young and unwary.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Frogsong" (Officially!)

My sci-fi story "Frogsong" is now officially available in the anthology Farspace 2. It's an interstellar environmentalist love story of sorts, with a dash of Heart of Darkness thrown in for kicks. Ya gotta love it!

So check it out, buy lots of copies for Christmas, and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Warming in a Winter Wonderland

It never fails. The first spell of bad winter comes along (we’ve currently got four inches of snow and temps in the teens here in Pittsburgh), and questions start to arise about the validity of global warming. Last year, when two feet got dumped on us in a single night, the naysayers, conservative talk-show hosts, and industry lobbyists had a field day. How, they asked--and expected only one answer--can the planet be warming when it’s so gosh-darned cold outside?

Never mind that there’s nothing in the science of global warming that says anything about cold days vanishing from the globe. Never mind that increased precipitation is one of the expected results of warmer air, which holds more moisture than its colder cousin. The real problem is that most people get all confused--and the skeptics thrive on seeding such confusion--about the difference between weather and climate. The former, since we live with it on a moment-by-moment, day-by-day basis, might seem like the thing to focus our attention on. But it’s not.

Weather--the atmospheric conditions in any given place at any given time--is, as we all know, wildly variable. The proverbial butterfly’s wings can change it, and meteorologists struggle to predict it as little as twenty-four hours in advance. It would be foolhardy to attempt a weather forecast of more than a few days--to predict, say, the weather in Pittsburgh a year from now. Chances are you’d be off by as much as 30 or 40 degrees in either direction--to say nothing of clouds, precipitation, wind, and all the rest.

Climate is different. As the composite of weather averaged over space and time, climate is remarkably stable, and can be forecast with considerable confidence years, even centuries, in advance. In the case of global climate, human beings have enjoyed roughly the same one for thousands of years. The last time the planet’s climate looked significantly different, Cro-Magnons were hunting mastodons and a mile of ice flattened Manhattan. The time before that, when the planet was appreciably warmer, tyrannosaurs roamed North America and crocodiles cruised the poles. The stability and predictability of our present climate is what enabled human civilization to become what it is today.

And that’s the ultimate irony: for the past two centuries, human civilization has tampered with the very climate that, for the past two millennia, made human civilization possible. The planet is warming--and more rapidly than ever before. (Indeed, even with its unseasonably cold December, 2009 is tied for second hottest year on record, and at the end of the day the past winter, on average, was warmer than the one that preceded it.) We’ve made great, and undeniable, advances as a species: advances in technology, in medicine, in science, in human rights, in art. Since the dawn of the Hydrocarbon Era, we’ve made those advances with ever accelerating ease. But in so doing, we’ve degraded the planetary climate (not to mention the planetary soils, waters, and affiliated organisms) perhaps beyond recall.

We have a couple choices here. We can acknowledge the reality of climate change, and respond appropriately. Or we can deny that dire reality and continue to dig ourselves deeper into a hole.

If we choose the first option, our choosing can’t be like the weather, which changes every day. It has to be like the climate, which steadies us and survives deep into the future.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"The Burning of Sarah Post" Hits the Stands (for Real)

I received my copy of "The Burning of Sarah Post" in the mail today; apparently, the printer was running a bit behind schedule, but it's available for purchase now. If I do say so myself, it looks great! There's one part of the story (you'll know which part I mean when you see it) that I had some concerns about, typographically, but the printer did a great job with it. I'm looking forward to reading all the other great stuff in the collection too!

The publisher, Sam's Dot Publishing, also alerted me to their online newsletter, which contains information about their publications, plus some excerpts therefrom. If you're into fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, it's worth checking out!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Making a Killing

Let's imagine you could kill people and make a profit from it. Not only were there no negative consequences to killing people, there was an economic incentive. Would you do it?

Maybe, maybe not. You're a moral person; you read your Bible; you know that killing is wrong. For most of us, the moral disincentive to kill would outweigh the economic incentive to kill. Even in the absence of materially negative consequences--jail time, our own potential execution--the negative effect on our consiences would be sufficient to prevent most of us from killing.

But let's imagine that economically profitable, consequence-free killing had been the social norm for 200 years or more. Might the situation be different then? Might not many of us be socially conditioned to accept killing-for-profit as a positive good, or at least an inalienable right? Might not many of us ignore the Bible (or whatever religious or ethical text we currently subscribe to) in light of the powerful cultural message that killing for profit is a-okay? Indeed, might not the Bible itself have been rewritten--or never written at all--to sanction such killing?

To help answer these questions, let's consider a real-life analogy.

For the past 200 years or more, it's been socially sanctioned, wildlly profitable, relatively cheap, and (at least as most of us imagine it) absolutely risk-free to burn fossil fuels. And guess what? The vast majority of us burn fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow.

Maybe this is a bad analogy. Maybe gutting the earth, poisoning the soils and waters, devastating habitats and their inhabitants (both human and non-human), and pumping pollutants into the atmosphere isn't comparable to kiling other human beings.

But if you look at all the costs of fossil fuel extraction and consumption, they're pretty significant. The only problem is, these costs don't strike us as costs, because they're "externalized"--they're not built into the market price of the thing. Health care costs, loss of species and habitat costs, community degradation costs, planetery climate collapse costs aren't reflected in the price we pay at the pump, so we get to engage in incredibly risky, damaging behavior without (apparently) suffering any negative consequences for it. Quite the contrary, we benefit from it economically (some of us, such as BP executives, more than most, but all of us to a considerable degree). And as a result, most of us engage in this behavior--a lot--without a second thought.

All of which suggests not only that we're incredibly malleable beings, capable of being socially engineered for better or for worse, but that if we're really serious about getting a handle on our current bad behavior, we need to acknowledge it as such. Even if doing so might prevent us from making a killing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

On Being Rejected

Aside from the one essay I've had accepted recently--the aforementioned "Last Days of the Frog Prince"--I'm currently in the midst of a string of rejections. My sci-fi story "A Very Small Child Called Eugene" can't seem to find a home, my essay "The Toad Garden" (yes, I like amphibians) just received its first rejection slip, and my short story "Scarecrow," a retelling of the Oz story from the Scarecrow's point of view, has pretty much exhausted the possibilities. (I might publish it here, just to give it a shot at being read by someone other than my wife!) Using the tools on Duotrope's Digest, I can chart my progress; the figure 17% popped up, meaning, I guess, that out of every 100 submissions, I'm garnering 17 acceptances. This is, once again according to Duotrope, a healthy number.

Which just shows how tough it is to get published. If that were my batting average, I'd be sent to the minors; if it were my score on course evaluations, I'd be in the Dean's office. But for the majority of us trying to publish our writing, rejection is by far the norm.

So how does it feel, being rejected? Really, not that bad. It might be different if I had aspirations to immortality; it would certainly be different if I had no compensating acceptances. But the fact is, there's an awful lot of good writing out there (as well as a good lot of awful writing), and if you're going to play the game, you have to live with the odds.

We all wish the rejections could be more personal, something to help us the next time around, something more than a preprinted quarter-page sheet saying, "We regret that your submission does not meet our needs at this time." (You could drive yourself crazy interpreting that: "Hey, maybe I'll send it again at another time when their needs have changed!") But I've received only one truly obnoxious rejection in the two years I've been sending stuff out, and I'll chalk that one up to the publisher having a bad day. So long as everyone is striving for the same outcome--the discovery and publication of truly deserving work--I can deal with the form responses.

Being rejected isn't so bad. Not trying for fear of being rejected is a whole lot worse.