Wednesday, December 26, 2012

1,800 MPH

A bullet traveling in the neighborhood of 1,800 mph is a compelling reason for gun control. Nothing else in our normal surroundings travels near that velocity with that much destructive energy generated by an individual employing a single finger. A car possesses more destructive potential but can’t approach the velocity of a bullet. Nothing in our normal surroundings can. That uniqueness is the reason for unique treatment of guns and gun ownership. Musket projectile velocities in the eighteenth century, when the Bill of Rights was written, were a fraction of current projectile velocities.

Legislation intended for the musket is inadequate for modern weaponry.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A carrot on a stick for Google AdWords

(At the end of their online survey regarding the effectiveness of customer support, Google AdWords provides a text box for any comments the AdWords user would like to make. This was my comment.)

You’re not looking in the right place. Support is very helpful, very effective in getting an issue resolved. The problem is with AdWords’ management itself. You should send surveys to users about AdWords’ policies and procedures, not about Support. That is where the problems lie. For example, I’m never told what websites display my ad impressions—except, once a month I’m sent an email that includes a list of the top four websites for my ads. Four websites a month. When there can be 10,000 impressions per day. Almost every time I’ve received the list of four websites, I’ve seen that the impressions were appearing in the wrong types of sites—game sites and sites where the text is displayed in Asian languages. I’ve responded to each email report by changing keywords, adding negative keywords, and filtering out additional countries, but since the language of my site is only English, no impressions should have appeared on Asian-language sites in the first place. This isn’t an issue I need Support’s help with. I need AdWords to show me every site where an impression of my ads is displayed so that I can adjust my campaign appropriately. Why wouldn’t I want to know where my ads are being displayed? Why wouldn’t you want to provide me with that information?

Regarding the whole AdWords paradigm, I have the best suggestion any user could come up with. Change the business model of AdWords so that your revenue comes from actual sales, not clicks. If that were the case, it would be in AdWords’ best interests to focus impressions on the right types of sites. As it is now, AdWords’ job is done when an ad is clicked on, even if a person clicks on an ad only out of curiosity and has no intention to make a purchase. An ad is clicked, you get paid, and you’re done. If the carrot were held a little farther out, AdWords would focus its efforts on getting its users’ products sold so that AdWords could be paid. But would AdWords/Google ever consider a business model like that? I know that Support is directed to respond to comments like this by saying that more money needs to be spent to be competitive with higher bids. Pour more money into the problem rather than fix the leak where the money falls out. But please, don’t direct Support to say that AdWords has no way of knowing if an actual sale is made or not. Tracking is what you do.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dear Amazon

It would be interesting if, in tandem with sales rank, you could analyze the writing in a book and give it a rank based on how well it’s written. Density of vocabulary, number of words of various types, length of sentences, number of cliches, number of typos, and similar criteria. It would help people find good writers who are buried in the sales ranks. (It would also motivate authors to proofread.) If you set up the analysis so that books by, e.g., Norman Mailer and J.D. Salinger scored well but weighted the ranking toward current writers, it would be an innovation in the industry as well as an alternative to the paradigm where popular writers just keep getting more popular. Offer the customer a choice of how books are sorted, by sales rank or quality rank. The media attention it brought Amazon would naturally result in an increase in sales.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Toes of parchment, feet of clay

(My recent submission to Boing Boing)

The Talpiot Find by John Evan Garvey follows a grad student from Los Angeles doing his required fieldwork in archaeology at a dig site in the Talpiot district of Jerusalem. He uncovers ancient clay tablets while excavating a twelfth-century well, and when one of the archaeologists begins translating the tablets, he realizes that this document may have been part of a deception coordinated by Temple priests and scribes in the seventh century BCE. The archaeologists contain the information as long as they can, but a disgruntled student on the dig team who was the target of an unbelievably offensive prank leaks it to the public in an online video. The archaeological team then learns that anonymous groups want to discredit the tablets and are determined to keep any further information about them from reaching the public.

There are a billion Catholics; add to them all Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Mormons and any other religious group who takes Moses seriously as a prophet; then add to them all atheists and agnostics who have rejected any of those faiths. The sum is the number of people affected by the novel’s proposition that Torah began with a deception in the seventh century BCE. Numerous scholarly books since the early nineteenth century have suggested that the Temple priests and scribes during the reign of King Josiah composed a scroll that eventually developed into Devarim/Deuteronomy (e.g., Finkelstein and Silberman, 2002), which the priests themselves “found” during Temple repairs as described in II Kings 22:8-13 and presented to the people as if it were the divinely inspired writings of Moses from six centuries earlier. The priests’ motivation would have been to redirect all of the worship and offerings to the Temple by getting rid of all the competing shrines and sex temples crowding the Temple courtyard. The priests benefitted greatly by the implementation of the law in the scroll which they themselves had found; even the King subsequently had to seek their approval. Motive and opportunity. Like the Book of Arnold in The Book of Mormon developing out of what the originator knew were untruths but that were accepted by the people beyond what he expected, that one fake scroll may have led to the development of the rest of Torah and Tanakh/Old Testament and then the New Testament and the Qu’ran and the Book of Mormon and so on. The priests who composed the scroll intended only to control the worship and the flow of tithes of their time; they had no idea it would develop into the huge Judeo-Christo-Islamic structure it became and that still exists 26 centuries later and still influences elections and lawmaking.

I really will be mystified if you don’t think this is interesting enough to include in your blog. It’s true that your Buddhist and Hindu readers will find it ho-hum; their faiths are rooted elsewhere. But how many of your readers are attached, loosely or firmly, to a faith that grew out of the law of Moses, or have left a faith that grew out of it? I’d say a majority. A book that strongly suggests that no aspect of any of their faiths can be true because all of the faiths were founded on the belief that the faith that preceded them was true, all the way back to a single forged scroll, isn’t relevant?

The Talpiot Find is available in Kindle and Nook/iPad editions and as a paperback.

The story follows a modern-day archaeology student and a 7th-century-BCE slave manager. It’s even kind of brainy in spots. And none of the central characters take themselves too seriously. Lots of pop-culture references.

(Another submission to Boing Boing)

Assassin’s Creed meets Brokeback Mountain:
Secreta Corporis, a novel, is an examination of what would happen if two knights were placed in a similar sexual-identity crisis as Ennis and Jack. The knights, Rolant and Audric, in this case Templars in 12th-century Jerusalem, see a sea-change in the look-the-other-way policy of the Order as a secret-society-within-a-secret-society, called Lucerna Corporis (“light of the body”), begins purging the Order. Rolant and Audric begin to see knights dying around them and, when they realize they are the next targets, they secretly leave the Order. Their married Muslim friend in Jerusalem, Tariq, takes them in and helps them assess what their options are, since Rolant and Audric would rather be dead than return to the Languedoc in France as dishonored Templars. A seemingly innocuous episode, Rolant finding an ancient clay tablet in a dirt pile as Templars escorted a group of pilgrims to Bethlehem some weeks earlier, leads to Rolant and Audric being targeted again when the Templar leaders, unseen, within the citadel in Jaffa, evidently piece together what the clay tablet’s purpose was. Tariq surmises that Rolant’s clay tablet, as well as others left in the ground, represent a rough draft of a book of the Torah, Devarim/Deuteronomy. It looks like the Temple priests and scribes in the 7th century BCE composed the book to authorize their taking over the worship system in Israel but presented it to the people as the writings of Moses from six centuries earlier. The Templar leaders realize that the tablets would allow them to control the papacy with threats of disclosure of the fraudulent origins of Scripture, but only if the knowledge of the tablets were limited to a few Templar leaders. When Rolant and Audric are attacked by Templars in plainclothes, they piece together that their knowledge of the tablets is considered a threat, and then they learn that their association with Tariq and his family puts them at risk as well.

The inclusion of the tablets was inspired by II Kings 22:8-13 and the thought “What if the rough draft of that scroll surfaced?”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

But New Yorkers call everybody savages

My comment to the article "NYC Subway Ads Call For Defeat of Jihad 'Savages.' The ad: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."
Support Israel? Why? The land wasn't Israel's to take back after 19 centuries. "19 centuries since what?" Find out. Look it up. It's been 19 centuries since Israel was an independent nation governed by Jews. Think about it: It's been only 13 centuries since Babylonia was an independent nation governed by Persians. Who would support Iranians retaking their portion of Iraq? Anybody? Anyone? No? Then why should Israel's occupation be supported after 19 centuries? Why are the rules different for Israel? Are the rules different for Israel? Why? Whatever answer you give...why is [your answer] legally binding now? That was 4,000 years ago. "What was 4,000 years ago?" Look it up. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, what did the West do? When Jews invaded Palestine, what did the West do? No, the rules aren't different for Israel, they just think they are.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Freedoms: Speech = Faith

Muslims!
It’s a poorly made little film!! No one takes it seriously!!


Enough already! Every religion gets trashed by somebody! Even by you!

Freedom of speech allows freedom of religion.

Freedom of religion requires freedom of speech.

React like grownups! View insults in perspective.

Violence is the wrong response. Did the film burn any vehicles?

Make a film insulting the Coptics’ Christ if you want.

Peaceful protests are much more effective than violence.

No one listens to a violent mob.

State your objections. Don’t shout your objections.

You’ve succeeded in greatly increasing the audience for the film Innocence of Muslims.

Almost no one would have seen the film without the protests.

Think about why you, personally, are protesting violently.

Never join a violent protest to prove how faithful you are!

Never join a violent protest because everyone else is!

Never join a violent protest because religious leaders tell you to!

Never join a violent protest for the adrenalin rush!


Peaceful protests are boring, but they work.

Think about why the film was made.

Do Muslims discriminate against Coptic Christians?

Think about why you think that’s all right, if you do.

Do you think Muslims are superior to everyone else?

You despise Israeli exceptionalism. Why would you be the same way?

Get used to being equal with everyone else.

Get used to everyone being equal with you.

Don’t generalize about non-Muslims.

They’re not all the same.

You want respect. They want respect.

To get respect, give respect.

Your protests against corrupt regimes were noble.

These violent protests are just immature.

Admit you’re wrong sometimes. Everyone is.

Think more. Shout less. Talk less.

Conform less.

Trust authority less.

The world will always be evil. It will also always be good.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The visual realism of Assassin's Creed III

(A comment I was going to leave for an Assassin's Creed III trailer on YouTube before I learned about the word limit.)

Eh, the game is all right, if you like chop-fests. No, seriously, the game is phenomenal—the amount of detail in the textures, the smoothness of the animations constructed on the fly, the beautiful lighting, the sophisticated particle effects. The state of the art has really reached an astounding state. It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of the technology from Altair moving among the NPCs in Jerusalem to Connor in the Colonies displacing knee-deep snow as he walks through it. A significant increase in detail and realism at each stage. And on top of the technological advancements is the game’s concept itself—locating the different stages of the game at significant points and places in history so that the user’s experience ends up being effortlessly, invisibly educational. Grand concept, impressive execution.

While watching one of the trailers for AC3 the first time, however, I had an unexpected negative reaction to Connor on the battlefield chopping a path through the Redcoats. The effect was different than Ezio taking on a dozen Templars in battle gear with his sword and retractable knives and all. It was different seeing Connor using a sleek steel tomahawk to actually chop up soldiers dressed in natty uniforms and armed with quaint guns. The game almost seems to be celebrating the killing. At one point, soaring orchestral strings accompany the hacking of British soldiers. At first, of course, I thought he was going after the British, which made the seeming celebration of the beauty of efficient killing even more disturbing. But even after I read that he killed only Templars in that scene, the scene was still disturbing because of the number and detail of the kills.

I understand the need for the kills in the context of the game and the use of the tomahawk in the context of Connor’s heritage, and that episodes in American history actually were as gristly as this. But I feel that things are different with the game this time around. With advancing game technology making characters look progressively more like real people than constructs of uv-mapped polygons, it becomes more significant that players feel a surge of endorphins and dopamine when hacking away at the characters. You can say “Nobody dies in a game” and you’d be absolutely right. They’re just polygons. But it’s also true that a part of the brain does not perceive it as just software moving polygons in response to user input, and that is the part of the brain that motivates the user to play the game. If you were to replace human models in the game with donut models that spurted jelly or creme when stabbed, the effect would be comical and the game would be fun to play for a while. Assassin’s Creme III. But the user wouldn’t have the deep visceral reaction to it that he has to gameplay involving animated models that closely resemble humans. The more realistic the characters look, the more significant that reaction is.

So, Ubisoft, since users would never, on their own, cap the number of kills they make in a game so that things don’t get out of hand, you could do that. You could easily reduce the number of Templars to be identified among the soldiers. As game worlds continue to look progressively more real, you could diminish the importance of the kill in the gameplay and emphasize instead the decision, the clue, the plan. It’s true that movies present very real-looking violence to the viewer, but the difference with realistic games is that the player isn’t a passive viewer of violence, he initiates and propels the violence. Ubisoft, you’re making a killing from a part of the player’s brain processing the game’s visual information the way it does. Play carefully with that part of the brain.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Is It Finally Time to Let the South Secede?

[This article appeared today in Set You Free News. Just a note: I discussed secession briefly in a blog post in January 2005.]
By Joshua Holland | Alternet
The author of a new book challenges Northerners and Southerners to consider the possibility of a friendly divorce.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that cultural friction between the North and South persists to this day. After all, we fought an incredibly brutal, ugly Civil War.
The battlelines that were drawn then continued to divide us through the Reconstruction period and well into the middle of the 20th century, as federal troops were once again deployed to enforce the civil rights acts.
According to Chuck Thompson, a veteran travel writer who toured the American South, a degree of mutual enmity between Northerners and Southerners continues to be a source of cultural tension and political gridlock. We remain divided even as we have grown to become the world’s superpower. In his new book, Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto For Southern SecessionThompson argues that it may be time for a divorce – to shake hands and go our separate ways.
Thompson appeared on last week’s AlterNet Radio Hour to discuss his book. A lightly edited transcript of our discussion is below (you can listen to the whole show here).
Joshua Holland: Chuck, you seem to be channeling the frustration of a lot of Northern liberals. I may have even said myself that we should have let the Confederacy walk in 1860. But I haven’t heard a lot of people calling to break up the Union today. You’re known as a comedic travel writer. So my first question is to what degree are you being tongue-in-cheek here? To what degree are you being serious?
Chuck Thompson: I am being serious. I understand that the meta arguments here that call for secession can be received as somewhat absurd in some corners. I acknowledge that it is probably a remote possibility. Within the framework of that argument I think there is a lot of room to highlight a lot of these problems and a lot of these frustrations that you refer to. One of the goals of this book really was to more or less articulate – to put some facts, figures and research behind a lot of this frustration of Northern and Southern liberals, of which there are many. I encountered many Southern liberals while conducting my research.
There’s this seething frustration people have. There’s this kneejerk reaction to blame the South. The sort of Northern media strafing of the South for a lot of the nation’s ills is a longstanding tradition. What I wanted to do was to get away from the traditional stereotypes of the dim-witted, mouth-breathing, Southern racist redneck and really look at what’s going on today. Find out why people are still having these issues with the South, and put some hard research and some facts and figures behind this general unease with the influence that the South has on the rest of the country.
JH: So we know we have an overtly religious political culture down South, and a culture today that is pretty hostile toward organized labor. What is it in your travels or in your research that prompted you to call for Southern secession?
CT: I get tired of everybody bitching about the problem. It’s like what Mark Twain said about the weather. Everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it. People have been having this problem with the South for my entire lifetime, and as my research pointed out to me, since even before there was a United States of America. Even in the Continental Congress, before the Declaration of Independence was signed, there were a lot of Southerners from South Carolina – particularly a family called the Rutledge family – sort of running the show back then and didn’t want any part of the United States. So a lot of the problems that have arisen between North and South have been around for a long time.
So, as I’ve said, I’ve spent a lot of my life hearing from everybody from Seattle to Savannah. Almost every American, at one time or another, has said that it’s too bad the country didn’t just split when we had the chance. We didn’t let the South go when we had the chance. We would have avoided a lot of problems. We – meaning this group in the north as we might identify ourselves – could take the country we want into a direction that we think is befitting of America without this push and pull that comes from the Southern states. At the same time the South could do the same thing.
What really led to this call for secession was understanding that a lot of people from the South are just as sick and tired of people like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid having an impact on their country as I am sick of people like Newt Gingrich and Jeff Sessions, Eric Cantor, Haley Barbour having an impact on my country.
So why shouldn’t each of these societies that are really very different from each other in the way they approach the fundamental building blocks of society – education, religion, commerce, politics – both sides of the country really approach their problems in the way they want to put their societies together in very diametrically opposed ways. Why shouldn’t people be allowed to live in a pseudo-theocracy if they want to? If the majority of the people in a very large part of the country wants to have the Ten Commandments emblazoned in front of their legislative houses, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so?
My call here for secession isn’t really a punitive thing towards the South, though I admit to a lot of these Northern frustrations. It’s an effort to identify these differences; to acknowledge that they’re very striking and very strong, and to say each one of these sides might be better of without the other.
JH: So we could have a divorce without an excessive amount of acrimony.
CT: I would hope so. Why not?
JH: How are you defining the South? Are we losing the research triangle in North Carolina? Are we losing Texas in this deal? And is there any chance we could give them some of the duller states. We’re not using South Dakota, are we?
CT: There are some noncontiguous pockets of what would be left of the North that I think would be culturally more comfortable in the South. It’s the first question I started off with in doing the research. It’s a lot trickier than we might imagine. As for the research triangle in North Carolina? Yes, we’re going to lose it. Texas is really interesting to me. The best line I heard about Texas during the research was from a student at the University of Georgia who said the Texas state flag is a perfect representation of Texas, in that it looks just like the American flag without all the other states.
Even though Texas was part of the original Confederacy, it’s always been an all-around pain in the neck to categorize. They’ve never really been much of a team player, let’s face it. In my breakdown of the South I did not include Texas as a Southern state. I completely acknowledge there’s a lot of room for argument there, and that’s probably the easiest point in my book to argue against. I could argue both sides of it myself. In the end I decided that Texas would stay with the North in large part for economic reason. Texas is really one of the economic anchors of this country.
JH: So it wasn’t just for the barbeque?
CT: Barbeque, cheerleaders and Dr. Pepper.
JH: What about the people who live in those states? It’s easy to say they vote for the crappy government they deserve, but consider that in Utah – the reddest state in the country – 30 percent of the population vote Democratic. I’m not saying that voting Democratic is a perfect proxy for one’s ideology, but there’s a good chunk of people down there who we would be consigning to basically English-speaking Mexico. In Alabama, it’s 40 percent. Do you just say, ‘here you go you have to live in a third-world country with crappy education systems, no healthcare, and a government of snake handlers?’
CT: [Laughing] You’re tougher on the South than I am! Let me give you two answers to that. One is that in my imaginary secession legislative framework, I’m building in a period of 10-20 years where there’s free and open citizenship for anybody who feels caught on the wrong side of the divide. A tofu-scarfing liberal in Mississippi would be free to come on back over to the North, as well as maybe some survivalist NRA fanatic in the hills of Washington state would be legally entitled to take up residency in the new Confederate homeland. So I’ve built something into the imaginary structure for that.
The larger point goes back to what I said about even if you consider the argument for secession absurd, it really does give us a lot of room to address other issues. One of those that you allude to in your question is one of Southerners who are not the mouth-breathing, white-supremacist, gun-toting rednecks. That is the stereotype, but the fact of the matter is that’s a minority in the South.
JH: Fifty-seven percent of African Americans live in the American south.
CT: That’s right. That’s exactly right. One of the big mistakes that people who make these sort of polemics and screeds against the South is that they assume “Southerner” equals conservative white male. Now if you want to be really mean you include “racist” with Southern white male, that’s the stereotype.
But let’s even say that it’s conservative, evangelical Southerners. The fact of the matter is that’s not what the whole South is. There are a lot of African Americans in the South. There are increasingly a lot of Hispanics in the South. There are a lot of liberals in the South. There are atheists in the South. One of the things I really try to do with this book was not solely traffic in those easy stereotypes that I think a lot of people trap themselves with. That’s not to say I didn’t find a lot of those Southern, evangelical, white conservatives. I did and they’re in the book, but I also made a huge effort not to define the South solely on the classic Northern stereotypes.
JH: Ultimately, while I share your befuddlement with Southern politics I have to say that I’ve traveled extensively in the South. I lived in Arkansas briefly. I love the South, and I’ve met good, progressive people everywhere I’ve gone.
CT: What did you love about it?
JH: I love the culture of the South. I love the people of the South. I really had some great experiences dealing with Southerners. Even those Southerners I couldn’t necessarily discuss politics with.
I guess a related question is this: We have a really screwy political system with lots of deeply entrenched problems. Do you see anything that could be gained by the South’s secession that couldn’t be achieved by, say, getting money out of our political system? Or bringing back the fairness doctrine? Maybe reforming the filibuster in the Senate? Do you know what I’m saying? Those things aren’t likely to happen in today’s environment, but the South splitting away isn’t too likely either.
CT: That’s right, but a lot of these problems have been deeply entrenched in American society long before this dysfunction befell our political system. Politics is really only one way in which the South is quite a bit different it approaches its society. I think religion is the really big factor here and I think that’s what’s really not going to change in the South. Yes, there are evangelicals and religious lunatics in all 50 states in the country. Only in the South, though, do they represent a voting quorum. Only in the South can you appeal to voters in very overtly religious terms and expect success on a consistent basis. Again, that’s not to deny that this exists in the rest of the country. It does, but in the South is where its power base is.
I think that is the piece of the puzzle here that informs the politics of the South, in the same way that evangelical Christianity is the least tolerant of any sort of diversity or diversity of opinion. It’s Bible literalism. Everything is true and you adhere to everything; it’s black and white. When that is the foundation of the majority of the people in your society, when that becomes your whole social framework, then that’s the politics that grows out of that society. So we get that same sort of blinkered view of humanity of politicians in the South who come up to the North – we get this absolute, no compromise stance between these hardcore conservatives and other politicians.
When there were Republicans and Democrats fighting it out in the ’80s during the Reagan years, there was the famed Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan give-and-take. This is how politics works; it’s the art of compromise. The ruling power says to the opposition we won the election so we’re going to get these big things. Don’t give us too much trouble and we’ll work with you. We realize you have a constituency. Let us get our big things through without a lot of hassle and we’ll make sure you’re taken care of on some level. That’s sort of how it has worked for the most part. In the South, it’s different, because there is no such thing as compromise. If it’s God’s law that is driving you, if God says gay marriage is an abomination, if God says abortion is an abomination, then you simply can’t compromise. That’s not in your DNA if you really believe that. That’s where I think a lot of the dysfunction of our political process comes into play.
And I don’t think that’s going to change, regardless of whether you pull the money out of it or not. This ties into how the South deals with education. Southern states don’t typically fund their public schools the way other states do – they’re typically at a much lower level. There’s less commitment to the ideal of public education in the Southern states than there is in the rest of the country. That’s why we see over and over when the statistics come out, the South has the lowest SAT scores, lowest graduation rates, the most illiteracy. Whatever measures you want to put on academic performance it’s those core Southern states that are always leading the bottom of the back. In the bottom 10, eight or nine of them are always going to be Southern states.
I wanted to look into this. Why is that? Is it just that Southerners are stupider than the rest of us? Clearly that’s not the case. It’s the same gene pool. The more you look at it the more you realize there’s just a lower commitment to public education in the South than there is in the rest of the country. That’s been going on for hundreds of years. It’s not changing.
I was in Arkansas. I spent a week in Little Rock while they were searching for a new superintendent of schools last year. The dysfunction that I saw just in attending these public meetings where they were talking about what they needed was astonishing.
JH: We see a lot of liberal animosity towards the South. Were you at all concerned in writing this book about whether you would reinforce the stereotype of the coastal, elite liberals looking down their noses at the middle and the South? Was this a concern?
CT: Sure, people are going to jump to that conclusion. As you know — and as I found out in writing web articles and books — most of the really heated criticism you get from people are always from people who don’t even bother to read your article or your book in the first place. That’s going to happen. There’s nothing I can do about it. I really did make an effort not to be strident – though I’m certainly judgmental – and to find good things in the South, which there are. You deal with Southerners on an individual basis and they’re great. They’re friendly, hospitable, gregarious, and they like to party. They like to drink, to give you their food, they like to play music. It’s a lot of fun.
I didn’t try to be this super-strident jerk who was just sitting there bashing. I really am trying to put some numbers and some facts to this argument. These are two very different societies that have been economic and social frenemies from the day they were founded. The dysfunction has got to stop at some point.
—————————————————————————
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He’s the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.


[Come to think of it, I also discussed secession briefly on the product pages of two of my T-shirts on Zazzle, one in January and the other in July.]

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

AdWords infinitum V

This morning I received the following reply from AdWords:
Hello John,

Thank you for your email. This is Ankita from Google AdWords and I will be helping you with your query.

John, I am glad to hear that you wish to participate in our survey and give feedback regarding our AdWords account.

Your opinion is greatly appreciated. I have forwarded the suggestion to the team concerned and they will definitely look into it.

John, thank you for your valuable feedback. It is only with your support and co-operation that we can provide you with the best advertising service possible. If you have any other ideas or feedback regarding AdWords, please do feel free to let us know and our engineering team will look into it.
This evening I received another request to fill out an AdWords survey, from adwords.google.com this time. I believe it was a different survey, focused primarily on the professionalism of the support representative. I gave Sarah all high marks because she was friendly and professional in communicating with me. In a space provided for additional information, I wrote the following:
Sarah was very professional and friendly. I had no problem with her as a support representative. My concern is with Google's policy of abruptly taking an entire ad campaign offline, with no explanation offered either before or after the campaign is taken offline as to why there needs to be a review. That is very cavalier. An advertiser would want to know what triggers a review so s/he can avoid repeating the questionable behavior.

Monday, July 23, 2012

AdWords infinitum IV

At 2:30 pm today, I checked the two ads created yesterday and awaiting approval, and both had been approved. I'm very glad to see that the occupation ad isn't being treated like the Captain Uncut ad.

Not long after that I retrieved my email for the first time today (usually much earlier) and found a reply from Sarah that had been sent at 6:42 am today:
Hi John

Thanks for your patience. I've confirmed that your account is out of the review and your ads are now running on Google.

We apologize for the disruption to your ad delivery and thank you for your understanding.
Best,
Sarah
So they did send a notification. Good. I'm glad.

And then this: I received an email today from Google AdWords that was dated Wednesday, December 31, 1969.

Okey-dokey. It read:
Dear AdWords customer,

We are writing today to ask you to complete a brief survey about your experience with Google AdWords. The survey should take about 10 minutes to complete and your responses will be kept confidential.

Your feedback is critical in helping us understand the challenges and opportunities you face every day, so we can prioritize the tools and services that will best help you. To get started just click on the link below, or cut and paste the link into a browser window.
I was surprised that they wanted feedback, since they're so big they don't need it. I noticed that the email was from the Google AdWords Research Team, while Sarah's email had been signed the Google AdWords Team. I picture the two departments going at it, launching attacks and counterattacks via email and texting. Or not.

I then noticed that the link was to survey.googleratings.com. After a moment of wondering why it wasn't ratings.google.com/survey, I clicked on the link and landed on a legitimate-looking page. But then I thought "'Googleratings'? Naw, this is a phishing site" and clicked the Back button, thinking that if damage were going to be done it was already done. I did searches for "googleratings.com" (on Google, wasn't that smart?) and came up with no warnings that it was a scam but also no really clear statements that it was genuinely genuine. Hmm, ponder, ponder. With the date of the email being strange, I thought I'd rather err on the side of safety and sent the following email to them:
About the googleratings.com survey, I would feel better about going to a subdomain of google.com, like survey.google.com. The googleratings.com domain could easily be a phishing site. Or it could be no more than Google handling its accounting like Mitt Romney handles his, but I still would be reluctant to participate in the survey if that were the case.

I appreciate very much your interest in learning about users' experience with AdWords. I'm willing to participate in the survey, but even if I'm assured that it's a genuine site, I'm reluctant to participate at googleratings.com. It's like (how should I describe it?), it sounds like the piano needs tuning. It doesn't ring quite true.

Thanks.
John

Sunday, July 22, 2012

AdWords infinitum III

At 1:11 pm today, I created an AdWords ad that read "End the Israel Occupation. Here's why: The Talpiot Find, a novel. Find out." At the moment it's 3:50 pm and the ad is still under review. Most of my other ads are more neutral or come out against the Bible, and those ads have taken less than an hour to be approved. At 3:58 pm I created another ad of the same type (text rather than Flash). This ad reads "Ebooks should be free? The Talpiot Find, a novel by John Evan Garvey. Find out." A very culturally neutral ad. I'm curious how long it will take this one to be approved.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

AdWords infinitum II

AdWords' reply on July 19 to my email of July 18 (see previous post):
Hi John,

I'm sorry about the inconvenience caused to you because disruption to the ad serving. I've escalated your account to expedite the review process and will update you in the next 1-2 business days.

I understand your frustration and I'll pass on your feedback to our specialists and we will keep these suggestions in mind if any future changes happen.

Having said that, I also wanted to point out that account reviews are necessary for various reasons, including account security and billing verification purposes. We conduct reviews as quickly as possible, so that your account can get back up and running. However, due to account volume and the time-sensitive nature of each review, we're unable to proactively notify customers about individual account reviews.

Per our Terms and Conditions (https://adwords.google.com/ select/tsandcsfinder), ads can undergo review at any time, and we do not issue credits or refunds for this period of inactivity.

Ad review process

John, I see that you had a concern related to ad approvals and I'm happy to explain that as well. It is possible that certain ads get reviewed quicker than a few others and this may happen because:

-A few ads may have triggers for potential policy violations and they may need specialist review, while others may not have those triggers and will be approved sooner.

In any case we try and complete these ad reviews within 3 business days and if there are any ads that take longer than this, please feel free to write us and we will have them reviewed for you.

Also, please be assured that all ads are reviewed diligently and we ensure that they are in accordance with our advertising policies. I'd assure you that we do not consider any other factors for an ad review other than the policy guidelines. Here's some more information about the ad review process and hope this explains.

Best,
Sarah
Officialspeak. Companyspeak. Sarah reflects the company image. You maintain their goals to live by. Shine your shoes, let's keep a neat haircut now that you're— A coat and tie? Jeans and T-shirt. But anyway. Ms. Sarah, say Ms. Sarah, I have seen you go through a day. You're everything a robot lives for. Walk in at— 9-to-5? Hardly. But anyway, robo-reflecting the company image can come in all shapes and sizes.

I've considered replying again, but I'm just one of, how many?, tens of thousands? of AdWords users, and nothing I say in an email is going to affect corporate policy. I would only annoy a few customer assistance facilitators. The people who actually make policy and design the user experience are safely buffered by customer assistance. If I suggest that, when they take a user's campaign offline, an automated email be sent to the user to inform them, that suggestion would go no further than the customer assistance facilitator who reads it first, and probably not Sarah next time. It's interesting that expediting the review process will still require 1-2 business days for her to get back to me. It's also interesting to read that, if the review of any ads takes more than the expected 3 business days, I should feel free "to write us and we will have them reviewed for you." Did she mean that, if they aren't reviewed in 3 business days, they aren't going to be? Are they left in a pool of unreviewed ads, to be retrieved only for those advertisers who care enough to contact them? That's a great policy. Another suggestion I would offer them, instead of abruptly taking a campaign offline so it can sit in a queue for days, would be rather to wait until a reviewer is available and then take it offline. But would that suggestion reach any influential person? Doubt it.

Sarah assures me that they do not consider any other factors for an ad review other than the policy guidelines. And maybe that's true for her and the group she works with. But given the subject matter of my ads and the history of protectionism and exceptionalism of those associated with the subject matter, I think it's very likely that somewhere in enormous, labyrinthine Google are individuals who've never been taught to think outside the box, never been allowed to think outside the box, who follow an agenda that differs somewhat from that of their employer.

Stay tuned.


Update Friday, July 20, 10:55 pm:

About 10:00 pm tonight, I discovered that my ad campaign was back online. From the number of impressions, I could tell that it hadn't been up for long, maybe an hour. No email from Sarah. No explanation of what they were looking for when they took it offline. No warning that they were going to take it offline or notification when they let it go back online. Google doesn't follow best business practices simply because they don't have to.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

AdWords infinitum

I contacted Google AdWords Help on July 17 to find out why the number of impressions for my ad campaign had dropped to zero after generally having been between 1k and 5k impressions per day. I received the following reply July 18.
Dear Advertiser,

We're sorry to hear that you're experiencing difficulties with your AdWords account. It appears that you have some questions about why your ads aren't showing. We checked your account and found that it's currently under review by our specialists. In an effort to provide the best experience for our users and advertisers, some accounts are submitted for review to ensure that they comply with our policies. Your ads won't show during this time, but they'll automatically be eligible to show again as soon as our review is complete.

Sincerely,
The Google AdWords Team
My email reply:
If an advertising account is taken offline to be reviewed, the advertiser should ALWAYS be notified. That is just basic business practice. I interpret from your email that I received this notification only because I contacted AdWords support. I should have been notified of the review before my account was taken offline.

From my experience with individual ad approvals, I've learned that ads of a certain type will languish indefinitely "under review," actually for a week or so, while the rest of the submitted ads are approved within minutes. I interpret this discrepancy as the individual(s) responsible for approval and rejection of ads being unable to reject an ad because it complies with company policies, but because they find this type of ad personally distasteful, they will leave it "under review" until the advertiser gives up and deletes it, effectively rejecting an ad for which a rejection would not otherwise be permitted. I anticipate that my account will undergo the same quasi-rejection as some of my ads have received.

I believe that the activites described above are a serious breach of company policies and that they would be grounds for dismissal of an employee should the activities become known by management. Unless, of course, management is directing the activities.

Thanks very much.
John
What I had been promoting with my AdWords campaign was, primarily, my novel The Talpiot Find, which takes a reasonable approach to examining the controversial topics of the divine inspiration of Scripture and Israel’s traditional claim to the land. The "certain type" of ads that languish indefinitely "under review" are those that promote a T-shirt design I'm selling through Zazzle.com. The design includes an image of a superhero named Captain Uncut who has the title "Defender of Foreskins." At the top of the design is text that reads "No foreskin left behind!" I had developed the design while working on the graphics for Sherwin Carlquist's photography book Uncut, which playfully discusses the medical and social aspects of circumcision and advocates that the custom be abandoned. I thought that a T-shirt displaying the graphic I created for the book's cover would help promote the book. I got my AdWords campaign for my novel up and running in March of this year, and in June I included ads for a few of my items on Zazzle, including a page of assorted Captain Uncut items. Every other ad I created in my AdWords campaign was approved within minutes. Captain Uncut, however, remained under review for about a week, when I contacted customer assistance. The facilitator moved the ad through the system within a few hours. A few days later, I decided that the ad should point to only one item, the T-shirt pictured in the ad, and I changed the URL and resubmitted, thinking that whatever holdup there had been before had been removed by the facilitator. More than a week later, I decided just to delete the edited Captain Uncut ad, which had gotten stuck again "under review."

I could be making a wrong connection between my ad, which could be called anti-circumcision, being blocked and then my entire ad campaign, which primarily promotes my end-the-Israeli-occupation novel, being blocked. But there at least appears to be a unifying theme.

Tune in tomorrow for more AdWords fun.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Obama Should Seize the High Ground

By Thomas L. Friedman
This column appeared in the New York Times 26 May 2012

DURING a recent discussion in Seattle with a group of educators, one of them surprised me when she pointed out that even though their state did not win President Obama’s education “Race to the Top,” that program was critical in spurring education reform in Washington State. As I listened to her analysis, the thought occurred to me: I wonder how Barack Obama would do if he ran for president as himself. ... How he would do if he ran for re-election on all the things he’s accomplished but rarely speaks about.

Barack Obama is a great orator, but he is the worst president I’ve ever seen when it comes to explaining his achievements, putting them in context, connecting with people on a gut level through repetition and thereby defining how the public views an issue.

Think about this: Is there anyone in America today who doesn’t either have a pre-existing medical condition or know someone who does and can’t get health insurance as a result? Yet two years after Obama’s health care bill became law, how many Americans understand that once it is fully implemented no American with a pre-existing condition will ever again be denied coverage?

“Obamacare is socialized medicine,” says the Republican Party. No, no — excuse me — socialized medicine is what we have now! People without insurance can go to an emergency ward or throw themselves on the mercy of a doctor, and the cost of all this uncompensated care is shared by all those who have insurance, raising your rates and mine. That is socialized medicine and that is what Obamacare ends. Yet Obama — the champion of private insurance for all — has allowed himself to be painted as a health care socialist.
Think about this: Obama didn’t just save the auto industry from bankruptcy. Two years later, he also got all the top U.S. automakers to agree to increase mileage for their vehicle fleets to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, from 27.5 m.p.g. today. As Popular Mechanics put it, this “is the largest mandatory fuel economy increase in history.” It will drive innovation, save money and make America less dependent on petro-dictators. Did you know Obama did this?
      
Finally, how did Obama ever allow this duality to take hold: “The Bush tax cuts” versus the “Obama bailout”? It should have been “the Bush deficit explosion” and the “Obama rescue.” Sure, the deficit has increased under Obama. It was largely to save the country from going into a Depression after a Bush-era binge that included two wars — which, for the first time in our history, we not only did not pay for with tax increases but instead accompanied with tax cuts — plus a 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill that we could not afford, then or now. Congressional Democrats also had a hand in this, but the idea that Bush gets to skate off into history as a “tax-cutter” and not as a “deficit buster” is a travesty. You can’t just blame Fox News. Obama has the bully pulpit.
      
But Obama is running even with Mitt Romney not simply because of what he didn’t say, but also because of what he didn’t do. As the former Obama budget director Peter Orszag notes, to get the economy moving again, what we’ve needed for the past two years is a plan of “combined boldness” — another stimulus focused on infrastructure that would grow jobs and enhance productivity combined with a credible, bipartisan plan for trimming future growth in Medicare and Social Security and reforming taxes to get our long-term fiscal house in order, as the economy improves.
       
In short, we needed more stimulus paired with some version of the Simpson-Bowles deficit plan. It is highly unlikely that you could “get one passed without the other, and you shouldn’t want to anyway,” said Orszag. Together they would launch the U.S. economy.
      
Obama, in fairness, tried a version of this with his “grand bargain” talks with the House speaker, John Boehner, but when those talks failed, Obama made a huge mistake. He should have gone straight to the country and repeated over and over: “I have a plan that will create millions of jobs and send the stock market soaring — near-term stimulus plus Simpson-Bowles — and the Republicans are blocking it.”
       
Obama could have adapted Simpson-Bowles, but symbolically it was vital to embrace it in some form as his headline deficit plan, because it already enjoyed some G.O.P. support and strong backing from independents, who liked the way it forced both parties to compromise. Had Obama gone to the country with more near-term stimulus married to Simpson-Bowles, he would have owned the left, independents and center-right. It would have split the Republicans and provided a real alternative to the radical Paul Ryan-Romney plan.
    
Instead, Obama retreated to his left base, offered a stimulus without Simpson-Bowles and started talking about “fairness.” The result has been a muddled message that has alienated independent/center-right voters who put him over the top in 2008. Don’t get me wrong: I want fairness, but fairness that comes from a growing economy and comprehensive tax reform not from redividing a shrinking pie.
     
In sum, Obama’s campaign right now feels as though it were made in a test tube by political consultants. It’s not the Obama we admire. Rather than pounding the country with “I have a plan” — a rebuilding stimulus plus Simpson-Bowles — which would be an Obama-like message of hope, leadership and unity that would put him on higher ground that Romney can’t reach because of the radical G.O.P. base, Obama is selling poll-tested wedge issues. I don’t think it’s a winner for him or America.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The relevance of 2,600 years ago

Connect the dots to see how an incident from 2,600 years ago is relevant to the present:

If priests and scribes created the Scroll of the Law mentioned in II Kings 22, which later developed into the book of Devarim/Deuteronomy, then it’s not the Law of G-d given to Moses as the priests claimed, and so if Deuteronomy is the work of man, then the credibility of Torah as the word of G-d through Moses is undermined, and so if Torah is the work of man and not the word of G-d, then Judaism can’t be true because it was founded on Torah being the word of G-d, and so if Judaism isn’t true, then its outgrowths, Christianity and Islam, can’t be true because they assume that Judaism is true, and so if the religions of the Book aren’t true, then no covenant was made with Moses and the people, nor with Abraham, giving them the land forever, and so if there was no covenant with G-d, then Israel has no basis for its current occupation of Palestinian land 19 centuries after it ceased to be a self-governing nation of Jews, and Muhammad didn’t ascend to Heaven from Mt. Moriah and, of all the people crucified by the Romans, none of them was the Son of God, and so • if Christianity isn’t true, • then the writings of the Apostle Paul and the other writers weren’t inspired by God, and so • if the writings of the New Testament were just the thoughts of people living in the first century CE, • then the Tea Party/right-wing conservatives have no basis for imposing first-century thinking on a 21st-century society.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

One scroll

If you like a good conspiracy-theory story, then my novel The Talpiot Find is for you. The story is based on the incident described in II Kings 22:8-13 where a "lost" scroll of the law was "found" during Temple repairs. One question is who knew at the time that the scroll was neither lost nor found. Was the King involved? Or just the priests and scribes? The prophet Jeremiah may have been the son of the High Priest, Hilkiah, who directed the creation of the scroll to be "found" in the Temple, and, if so, it's likely that Jeremiah knew about the deception, which would undermine the credibility of all of Jeremiah's writings.

Another question is who has known about it since then. Was the information passed down through the generations orally and secretly by a few selected rabbis over the past 26 centuries? Or has the information been more widely known? Wouldn't it be interesting if even the Vatican has known about the deception all along.

It could be argued that this scroll, which later developed into Deuteronomy, is only one book of the Torah, and the deception, if it occurred, doesn't necessarily cast doubt on the other books' credibility. But it seems that Deuteronomy was the first book to be made available to the newly literate population of Israel in the 7th century BCE, and during the Babylonian exile and the centuries afterward, the rest of the books were developed into the form we're familiar with today. It may be that the entire Bible, including the New Testament, developed out of this initial deception. What preceded the Book of Deuteronomy may have been unrelated regional oral traditions recently written down as a result of the rise in literacy at the time. The synthesizing of the regional histories of Israel into a single, unified story that we know as the Old Testament may have started with the creation of this one scroll.

If the secret was successfully kept by those immediately involved, and went to the grave with them, then no one else can be implicated in the deception. But if the knowledge has been passed down secretly since then by a few, or by more than a few, then everyone who kept the secret and allowed Judeo-Christianity, as well as Islam, to develop into the huge structure it is now, is responsible for an enormous number of people being deceived. There are a billion Catholics alone; add to that the number of Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and even Mormons, and you have a significant percentage of human population. Think of all the tithes and offerings that have been given in good faith over the past 26 centuries; would that amount be in the trillions or quadrillions?

When viewed from that standpoint, a simple episode of priests fabricating a bit of history in order to increase their control over the worship system of their time takes on much greater significance.


My novel is available now for the Kindle and soon for the Nook and as a paperback.

More information about the novel can be found at carpecranium.com/TheTalpiotFind

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Remove the Deuteronomist and...

Dr. Silberman:

You knew it was inevitable: The Bible Unearthed, the controversial new thriller from the creators of The Da Vinci Code. In theaters everywhere.

I wonder how many times you’ve been approached by someone planning to write a dramatic screenplay based on one of your books. (“Oh, dozens of times.”) I would guess that any filmmaker who does contact you has a documentary in mind. I don’t know that there are too many screenwriters who would read The Bible Unearthed and picture a drama emerging from the material. But I could be wrong.

My thinking went that way, when I finally discovered your book only this year, because the Middle East is on everybody’s mind like a gigantic insoluble puzzle that must be solved to prevent the onset of nuclear winter. While reading The Bible Unearthed, I began to think that the whole tangled mass can be traced down to a very small point of origin: the Deuteronomist. Remove the Deuteronomist and the Pentateuch crumbles. Remove the Pentateuch, and the rest of the Old Testament crumbles. Remove the Old Testament, and the New Testament and Qu’ran crumble. Remove the Qu’ran, and the basis for the Sunni-Shia conflict crumbles. Remove the Torah, and with it God’s covenant giving the land to Abraham’s innumerable offspring, and the basis for the 1948 declaration of Israel’s independence crumbles. Remove Israel’s claim to the land and the basis for Israel’s occupation crumbles. Remove the occupation, and the Muslim world’s stated intention of scraping Israel into the sea is defused.

The story I’m planning to write will center on a dig near Ramat Rachel where artifacts are uncovered that show unmistakably that the Book of the Law found in the temple during the time of Josiah went through a messy rough-draft phase, making it doubtful that God guided Moses in writing the original document six centuries earlier. The artifacts are clay tablets which Josiah’s scribes used to write the early draft of the book prior to committing it to a scroll and which show numerous places where text was smoothed over and rewritten. The tablets are discovered in a trash pit. When the archaeologist pieces some of the tablets together and recognizes the writing, with its obvious corrections, he theorizes that the rough-draft clay slabs, rather than being rolled and squashed to obliterate the writing before being returned to the clay pile, were mistakenly fired. When the head scribe realized this, he directed someone to dump the tablets into a trash pit. Because of their weight, the tablets dropped out of sight below lighter organic rubbish already in the pit, and no one was the wiser. Twenty-six centuries later, those tablets are discovered beneath a parking lot.

Of course it would be naive of me to think that eliminating the credibility of the book of the People of the Book would change anything. The revenge algorithms have been in place so long that, even given concrete, undeniable evidence, were that possible, that the sacred writings are not what people believe they are, people still would not be able to set the conflicts aside. I suppose the reason I’m still motivated to tell the story is that I simply want to show people what they’re doing, to say “Here is where you choose to be blind.” I wonder if you’ve been surprised since the publication of The Bible Unearthed by how little your research affects the global dialogue on faith. For the public, it’s as if archaeological research hasn’t advanced past the 1950s. So I know that one little two-hour drama buried on cable TV isn’t going to have much of an impact. It just seems important to make the statement: Here is where you choose to be blind.

I would like very much for you to consider acting as a consultant for the writing of the screenplay and during production and post-production. Your knowledge would help us to avoid misstatements and inaccuracies that might not be discovered until after the film was released. You considered the information important enough to publish in a book. I hope that you will consider helping us in this way to extend the reach of that information with a film.

Thanks very much,

John Garvey

(A letter from November 2007 I ended up not sending)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Press release: New novel for Kindle

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

John Evan Garvey
Burbank CA 91502
info@carpecranium.com

RUG-PULLING FOR A GOOD CAUSE
New novel by John Evan Garvey released for the Kindle Fire

With the religious right now trying to shame every woman into abstaining even from contraceptive use, wouldn’t it be nice to pull the rug out from under them in their crusade to establish theocracy? And to do so with the very book on which they base their crusade? John Evan Garvey’s new novel, The Talpiot Find, an ebook for the Kindle Fire released in February 2012, explores a brief passage in the Old Testament which offers an intriguing clue to the possible fraudulent origins of Scripture. In brief: Priest finds lost scroll during Temple repairs, scribe reads scroll to king, king initiates national reforms based on scroll, greatly enhancing priests’ authority. The passage is II Kings 22:8-13. Since the early nineteenth century biblical critics have suggested that the scroll that was found was an early version of Deuteronomy, synthesized by the priests and scribes from different regional oral traditions and deceptively presented to the people as the writings of Moses. Consequently, if New Testament writers were unaware that the Torah may not have been the work of a single author, then their claim to divine inspiration is seriously undermined. And if the writings of the Apostle Paul are simply the writings of a man living in the first century CE, and not Scripture divinely inspired by an eternal, timeless God, then the religious right has a very weak basis for imposing first-century thinking on a twenty-first-century society.

The novel The Talpiot Find emerged when the author wondered “What if the rough draft of that scroll surfaced?” He pondered the plausibility of rough-draft clay slabs ending up at a potter’s for kiln-firing. When the mistake was discovered, the tablets would have been quickly, secretly discarded in a trash pit. And that location, after centuries of erosion filling in the pit, might now lie beneath a parking lot in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Synopsis: The Talpiot Find follows a grad student from Los Angeles doing his required fieldwork in archaeology at a dig site in the Talpiot neighborhood. He uncovers ancient clay tablets while excavating a twelfth-century well, and when one of the archaeologists begins translating the tablets, he realizes that this document may have been part of a deception coordinated by Temple priests and scribes in the seventh century BCE. The archaeologists contain the information as long as they can, but a disgruntled student on the dig team leaks it to the public. The archaeological team then learns that anonymous groups want to discredit the tablets and are determined to keep any further information about them from reaching the public.

About the author: John Evan Garvey grew up in a strictly evangelical home environment where life, centered around the church, consisted mostly of prohibitions of activities like dancing, movie-going, and dining in restaurants that served alcohol. This was in New Jersey about an hour's drive southeast of Philadelphia. He attended a Christian high school and college, earning a BS degree in evangelical cinema from infamously racist, sexist, homophobic, unaccredited Bob Jones University. Since Garvey’s midlife crisis in his early 30s pulled the rug out from under him, he has distanced himself from evangelical culture and beliefs and would like to help others in the religious right experience a similar anagnorisis.


ASIN: B0076RL38I
THE TALPIOT FIND
Available at the Kindle Store on Amazon.
Review copy available on request.

More info at the website.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The multilateral rug approach to peace in the Middle East

Pull the rug out from under Israelis and Palestinians simultaneously.

If we connect the dots, we will realize that
"• if the Torah is the work of man and not the word of G-d, • then Judaism can’t be true, and then realize that, • if Judaism isn’t true, • its outgrowths, Christianity and Islam, can’t be true since they assume that Judaism is true, and then realize that, • if the religions of the Book aren’t true, • then no covenant was made with Moses and the people, nor with Abraham, giving them the land forever and • Muhammad didn’t ascend to Heaven from Mt. Moriah and, of all the people crucified by the Romans, • none of them was the Son of God."
The above quote is taken from a novel I've written, an ebook optimized for the Kindle Fire, challenging the notions of the inspiration of Scripture and Israel's traditional claim to the land.

You could say my book is a little controversial.

What it is, is a reasonable novel that addresses these controversial issues. No one has any final answers regarding the modern state of Israel, and I certainly don't, because the conflict is too complex, but Americans can start looking at the realities of Israel with a little more objectivity and maturity. American conservatives see it as the land where the Baby Jesus was born, and so they feel it must be protected at all costs from those terrible Muslims; just ask Sarah Palin. I used to feel that way, too. It wasn't until a few years ago, when I was working on a writing project set in Medieval Jerusalem, that I started learning about how modern Israel came into being. I was amazed. I came across photos of abandoned Palestinian villages where the residents had been forcibly driven out decades ago and the villages have been left to crumble since then. And then I read the harumphing defense some Jews give, that the Palestinians were leaving Israel anyway, they weren't being driven out. Their leaders were ordering them to leave. Uh-huh. I learned that, in a study of radio broadcast transcripts from 1948, the Arab radio stations were ordering Arabs not to leave and the Zionist radio stations were inducing them to leave with exaggerated reports of Israeli victories in the war and with fabricated statements by Arab leaders encouraging the exodus. And on and on, realization after realization. But in my novel I don't pretend to have solutions; I just have people talking about the conflict—rather than avoiding the topic—and thinking about it and about the justification given for the occupation being drawn from ancient sacred literature which could have, very plausibly, originated in a deception like the one I describe in my novel.

And what it is, also, is an enjoyable read. I've created characters who don't take themselves too seriously, and nobody gets preachy. I don't especially enjoy writing or reading dry paragraphs, and I had a really enjoyable time writing the book, so you could make a safe wager that you will enjoy the book too. I created a website to provide some more information about the book, and the website has links to the book's page at the Kindle Store on Amazon.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dear HR:

I’ve always thought that my real strength lies in the diversity of my interests/talents, and all along I’ve been resistant to focusing on one ability exclusively.
• On occasion I describe myself as a walking film studio because I’ve become familiar with almost every aspect of filmmaking (except producing and acting, at which I would fail miserably), from writing to set design to directing to cinematography to editing to effects to sound mixing to scoring to creating posters and trailers. 
• Meanwhile, the left side of my brain has been contemplating creating a new global language, one that embodies utter simplicity and that could, hypothetically, replace English as the resented, unwieldy lingua franca (as Latin was the lingua franca in the Roman Empire). I’ve learned that the Phoenician alphabet was the first to be useful for practical applications and was used widely throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, replacing cumbersome cuneiform writing, and I’ve based the new alphabet on that alphabet. Phoenician has the advantage of being the root of almost every language except Mandarin, and thus the new language wouldn’t seem as eurocentric as it would if it employed the Latin alphabet. I would borrow the absence of tense from Asian languages to simplify the learning of the language by keeping all verbs in the infinitive. I would also eliminate gender from the vocabulary, an aspect of language that never should have developed in the first place. In French, a film is masculine but a theatre is feminine? Who decided that?
• I’ve written a potentially controversial novel about an archaeological dig in Jerusalem uncovering artifacts which seem to suggest that the Torah/Pentateuch arose out of a deception in 622 BCE. I learned from The Bible Unearthed by Finklestein and Silberman that biblical scholars since the early eighteenth century have speculated that the scroll of the law found by the priests during Temple repairs, as described in II Kings in the Bible, was actually a newly composed scroll but was presented to the people of Israel as if it were ancient writing handed down from Moses. The novel resulted from my wondering “What if the rough draft of that scroll surfaced?” In extrapolating from that possible ancient deception to the current conflict over the West Bank and Gaza, I’ve arrived at the unpopular conclusion that the modern nation of Israel may have no claim to the land. Israel ceased to be a nation governed by Jews after the Bar Kokhba revolt in the second century CE, and the land was under Muslim control from the seventh century CE until 1948. Israel seems to base its claim to the land on the covenants God made with Abraham, Moses and others. If those covenants actually originated with the scribes and priests in 622 BCE and thereafter, Israel’s claim to the land is very tenuous. That doesn’t mean I’m antisemitic; it just means I’m a realist who wants the conflict resolved. Enough.
• I also wrote an atypical novel about the Templars in twelfth-century Jerusalem because, a few years ago, I overlaid The Da Vinci Code with Brokeback Mountain and a story emerged.
I could discuss additional topics, like songwriting without having formally studied music or my study of drawing and oil painting in high school and college or my interest in object-oriented programming in ActionScript 3 for Flash, but your eyes might glaze over. And even though this letter sounds like I’m all about me-me-me, I’m the type of person who focuses on not being egocentric. I like being just another member of a bright, cooperative team.

Thanks very much for considering me for this position.

John Garvey

(A cover letter I ended up not using. I don't know about you, but if I were hiring and read a cover letter like this, I'd want to get that guy on my team. Hm, funny.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Buffett must be the GOP's thorn in the flesh

Warren Buffett Ready to Take Republicans' Tax Challenge

By Rana Foroohar, Time

Warren Buffett is ready to call Republicans' tax bluff. Last fall, Senator Mitch McConnell said that if Buffett were feeling "guilty" about paying too little in taxes, he should "send in a check." The jab was in response to Buffett's August 2011 New York Times op-ed, which made hay of the fact that our tax system is so unbalanced, Buffett (worth about $45 billion) pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Senator John Thune promptly introduced the "Buffett Rule Act," an option on tax forms that would allow the rich to donate more in taxes to help pay down the national debt. It was, as Buffett told me for this week's TIME cover story, "a tax policy only a Republican could come up with."

Still, he's willing to take them up on it. "It restores my faith in human nature to think that there are people who have been around Washington all this time and are not yet so cynical as to think that [the deficit] can't be solved by voluntary contributions," he says with a chuckle. So Buffett has pledged to match 1 for 1 all such voluntary contributions made by Republican members of Congress. "And I'll even go 3 for 1 for McConnell," he says. That could be quite a bill if McConnell takes the challenge; after all, the Senator is worth at least $10 million. As Buffett put it to me, "I'm not worried."

Buffett doesn't want to sound ungrateful, especially since McConnell and other Republicans have lobbied to keep taxes low for the ├╝ber-rich, saving him between $6 million and $7 million this year. Oddly, though, conservatives can't seem to make up their mind about taxes. On Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal, supply sider Arthur Laffer bashed Buffett for, among other things, shielded income, because he doesn't pay taxes on unrealized capital gains (currently taxed at 0%) or charitable contributions (which are tax deductible). "Well, I had a net unrealized loss in 2011," says Buffett. "But if Arthur has a plan for how he wants to tax unrealized capital gains, I'd love to hear it -- it's an interesting thing for a Republican to put forward!"

If Buffett had his way, he'd pay more than the 17% rate he currently forks over on his net adjusted income -- and he'd have the government put that additional money to work by making sure that whatever portion of the 99% that isn't thriving in the market economy gets some help. As Buffett wrote in Fortune a few years back, "I've worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions."

Buffett doesn't want to hobble capitalism. He just wants to give it a heart. And he says the way to do that is to change our tax policy to ensure that people who earn their money from investments rather than by working for a paycheck contribute their fair share. "We need a tax system that takes very good care of people who just really aren't as well adapted to the market system and to capitalism but are nevertheless just as good citizens and are doing things that are of use in society." Note to bond traders: your higher taxes should help subsidize the building of bridges and the running of state-sponsored day-care centers.

Buffett has plenty of other prescriptions for America -- from more progressive consumption taxes to penalties for errant corporate directors to an overhaul of health care. He's also got a few choice words for the Republican field and their ideas about bootstrapping and "merit" economies: "This whole business about [Newt] Gingrich going down to Occupy and saying, 'They ought to be getting a job,' that's just ... you know, maybe they can be historians for Freddie Mac too and make $600,000 a year." When I ask whether Mitt Romney is a job creator or destroyer, Buffett says that while businesses shouldn't keep people they don't need, "I don't like what private-equity firms do in terms of taking out every dime they can and leveraging [companies] up so that they really aren't equipped, in some cases, for the future."