Author Archives: Russell Newquist

Amoxicillin Allergy

Inflamed sinuses
Inflamed sinuses

So this is a weird one.

Last week, a wave of strep throat hit my family. Four out of the five of us came down with it. The exception – of course – was my oldest son, who seriously never gets sick. I very well might literally kill someone to get his immune system. But anyway…

I caught my symptoms early, after my three year old daughter had already had a positive strep test. So rather than wait, I hit the doc ASAP and got some antibiotics. And then a funny thing happened: my cold-like symptoms actually got worse.

My first thought was that I had a secondary infection. It’s not uncommon to pick up a cold or some other virus at the same time as strep, when the immune system is already weakened. However, I noticed something a little odd. It didn’t really feel like a cold. It felt more like allergies. So I tried taking my allergy medication, which worked extremely well this spring in peak pollen season. Didn’t help at all. So… I skipped a couple of doses of my amoxicillin – an n = 1 experiment, if you will.

And my symptoms cleared up. Then, this morning, I started taking it again. Symptoms are coming back already. A bit of Googling reveals the following:

Respiratory changes may also develop as a sign of an allergy to amoxicillin. For example, you may notice difficulty breathing in relation to this type of allergy or develop a cough that is not related to a cold or the flu. You may become hoarse or develop nasal congestion. Sneezing may even develop as a sign of an amoxicillin allergy.

The latter part of this is more or less exactly what I’m going through. Other than the nasal congestion, I feel perfectly fine.

The interesting thing is, I think I’ve had this allergy my whole life and simply not known it. Most of the time when I taken antibiotics I’ve already had some kind of sinus congestion – strep throat, a sinus infection, etc – so it never stood out. But I was always – always – the one in my family who took the longest to recover from sinus infections. And now I think I know why. I think I had recovered from the infection just fine – but the antibiotics themselves were causing me to continue having symptoms.

It’s not a major allergy. I’ve only got a day and a half left on this prescription, so I’m going to go ahead and finish it out. But next time, I’m going to request something different.

Make Death Proud to Take Us has been Finalized!

"Make Death Proud to Take Us"
“Make Death Proud to Take Us”

I just finished uploading the final files for Make Death Proud to Take Us. It will be available to readers on Sunday, June 21 (Father’s Day). And I have to say, I think this is the best product that Silver Empire has put out to date.

There are some really enjoyable stories in this one from myself, my wife Morgon, and my friends K Bethany Sawyer and Jennifer L Weir. Jennifer’s contribution, “Major Hunter” (from her Wayfarer Chronicles series) is her first publication with us. In my own personal opinion, I think each of the other authors has contributed stories that are their personal best so far. I won’t pretend to be unbiased, but that’s also my honest opinion.

My personal favorite of the series is the novella at the end, “Down the Dragon Hole,” by my wife Morgon. It’s got a fun, Pratchett-esque feel to it (although not as silly). But again, I feel that it’s the strongest of a strong collection.

You can preorder your copy from Amazon.com today. If you’re a science fiction or fantasy fan, I highly recommend it. I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed putting it together.

George and the Dragon [Book Review]

"George and the Dragon" by Philip Tolhurst
“George and the Dragon” by Philip Tolhurst

Last night I finished George and the Dragon by Philip Tolhurst, a book that asks an incredibly important question: what would happen if the Luftwaffe started using dragons in the midst of World War II?

Now, this is the kind of thing I would have loved anyway. But I’d recently done a blog post on how a fight between an Apache helicopter and a dragon would turn out in the real world. Naturally, the idea of dragons vs WWII era aircraft caught my interest as well. I’ve already added my own take on the subject. But, of course, half the fun is reading somebody else’s take on it so that you can have stupidly heated discussions afterward!

Alas, on that front Mr. Tolhurst and I are generally on the same page. Although we might quibble some over the details, we’re in the same general ballpark on our analysis of the capabilities of Spitfires vs dragons. So with that out of the way… on to the book itself!

First of all, I did not realize up front that this is a children’s book. That’s not a negative quality of the book, mind you. However, it’s written like a children’s book. If you’re expecting something different going in to the story that very well might effect your enjoyment of it. At some point about a third of the way through I remember thinking, “Man, he really needs to market this as a kid’s book.” And then I went and looked online and found out that he was marketing it as a kid’s book. I was just the idiot who hadn’t gotten the message.

With that out of the way, I settled in to enjoy the story for what it was and not what my expectations of it were. And in that mindset, it’s a quite enjoyable story. When he’s just a little bit older and able to read a book at this level, my oldest son will go bananas for this (and that word was chosen on purpose, because he’d eat bananas until he explodes if I let him).

However, the book does have some flaws. The plot is a bit generic. On the other hand, it is a kids book. So that’s not really a flaw in the book so much as its reader. More frustrating is that the book really needs a pass from a good editor. Bits of the story read as if it suddenly occurred to the author that he’d left out some important information and he really needed to put it in right now. Another draft to clean some of that up would have really helped. On the other hand, most kids won’t be bothered by that.

But the biggest problem for me was grammatical. Now, I try really hard not to be a grammar Nazi. I like to think of myself more as a “grammar libertarian.” But that’s only good up to a point. The author continually exhibits one problem in particular: he has a tendency to jam two to three sentences together with no punctuation, capitalization, or phrase marking to separate them.

This is an irritation, though, and it doesn’t serve to make the story difficult to read. In fact, with proper punctuation and capitalization there wouldn’t even be a problem – each thought is, in fact, a completely separate sentence and grammatically correct. They’re just not separate correctly. The good news is, most children will have no trouble reading that. In fact, it might even fit well with how most children think. For me, however, it was a serious detraction from the story.

As this book appears to be self published, my advice to Mr. Tolhurst for the sequel would be to find an editor and pay out of pocket for the service. A good editor could have taken this book from a B- to at least a solid B+, and maybe an A. The core is there, and Mr. Tolhurst is to be commended for it.

Although the flaws are minor, I do have to drop it just a bit to four out of five stars. Strongly recommended for children who love dragons or airplanes. Good for a fun, relaxing read for adults who love the same.

Christian Forgiveness

forgivenessLast week I closed with a discussion of the power of forgiveness. I think it’s worth following that up with some thoughts about Christian forgiveness – specifically, what it is and what it isn’t. The modern western culture has adopted some pretty specific ideas of forgiveness, claiming that this is the “Christian” ideal. It’s not. It bears no relation to any historical version of true Christian forgiveness that ever existed in any major culture… until the modern day.

First, the modern misconception of Christian forgiveness. The modern idea is that “true Christians” should forgive anything, anywhere, anytime, always and forever. As is typical of most modern misconceptions of Christianity, this isn’t completely off base… it’s just missed some of the details that turn out to actually be rather important. Amusingly, this version of Christian forgiveness is pushed the most heavily by non-Christians – very often the exact same non-Christians I derided last week for not wanting to ever forgive anything

But, you say, they’re not Christian – they don’t have to. But us, us Christians, oh, we have to. Well, no – they are dictating the rules of our own faith to us in an attempt to disarm us in the culture wars. And, as usual, they completely misunderstand our faith. Unfortunately, so do many Christians, which is why they can get away with it.

The nugget of truth is that, yes, by Christian dogma nothing is unforgivable. Literally nothing. It doesn’t matter how evil your deeds were. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve lived an entire life of evil and repent only right before death. By two thousand years of Christian dogma, God will forgive you. Those of us who are practicing Christians are supposed to also strive for this ideal – although the other part of Christianity, largely forgotten in the modern culture as well, is that we are fallen humans. We are expected to strive for it. We are also expected to fail.

Even so, there is another part to this that is completely forgotten (or, mostly, purposefully ignored) in modern attacks on Christians supposedly acting in an un-Christian way. The forgiveness isn’t free, and it isn’t automatic. Forgiveness requires three things:

  1. An acknowledgement that one has, in fact, sinned [or, in the case of forgiveness from someone other than God, acknowledgement that you’ve committed a grievance; for brevity, I will just say sin from here on out]. That implies a further requirement: acknowledging that what you did was, in fact, wrong. Being a good Christian does require that you try not to judge others, and that you forgive them if you do judge them. It does not require you to pretend that what they did was right.
  2. Contrition – an honest regret for the sin. You have to actually be sorry for having done it. As we learn in grade school, being sorry for “getting caught” isn’t enough. Neither is it enough to be sorry merely because our sin had a bad effect. We must be sorry for the actual commission of the sin.
  3. We must make an honest and true attempt to turn away from the sin. You can’t acknowledge your sins, confess them to God, and totally plan on doing it again tomorrow and expect to be forgiven – even if you’re really, really sorry. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re going to just go out and cheerfully do it again, well, don’t expect your forgiveness. Now, God does know that we’re merely fallen mortals. If we really mean to be good, we try to be good, and we screw up… well, he expects that. But we have to try.

Now, God’s forgiveness is infinite – and it’s not subject to our rules. If he chooses to, God can forgive us even if we don’t meet these requirements. But the entire history of Church dogma tells us that we’re only assured of it if we meet these requirements. In turn, we are not under any obligation to forgive others who don’t meet them. If we choose to do so anyway, that’s our business and good for us. But honest Christian forgiveness doesn’t require it.

This is the true nature of Christian forgiveness. The modern version of “forgive everybody everything even if they’re not sorry, don’t view it as sin, and plan to keep doing it forever” isn’t Christian at all.

The Power of Forgiveness

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Matthew 6:12

Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son"
Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

An unfortunate side effect of the secularization of the western world is that we are losing our ability to forgive. There is power in forgiveness. Power for the one forgiven, of course. That much is obvious even to the most secular. But there is even more power for the one who does the forgiving.

Forgiveness cleanses us. Forgiveness allows us to move on. Forgiveness gives us a power over those who have wronged us. And yet forgiveness also allows them to move on.

The Christian teachings on forgiveness are one of the many reasons I finally converted to the faith and joined it. As with so many things, it turns out that the Christian understanding of the world actually models it pretty well. If the teachings of the church are so good at predicting and explaining human behavior, maybe they really are on to something.

There is a segment of our society today that seems to be incapable of forgiving anything. No matter how big or how small, every infraction is held as a grudge forever. It doesn’t matter if the infraction was real or perceived. It doesn’t even matter if the infraction was against them, against their family, against their friends, or even against a total stranger. They are literally unable to forgive anything, ever.

The burden they carry is tremendous. It is so large that you can literally see it when you interact with these people. They are incapable of being happy – or, worse, some of them are only capable of being happy when they have something to feel unforgiving about. Of course, this isn’t true happiness, only a pale imitation of it. Because they cannot forgive, they can never let go of the past. Because they can never let go of the past, they can never proceed into the future or appreciate the present.

For this, I pity them. And I would help them if I could.

But in the modern world this problem extends far beyond that. These people are now working to model our entire society after their own pathology. They wish to remake us into a society that never forgives. The slightest blemish, the smallest mistake can now ruin you for life. These people brought us that. The continue to work to make it even worse.

For this, I fight them – at every opportunity and with all my strength.

But first, I forgive them.

The Problem With Urban Fantasy

draculaUrban Fantasy is a broken genre.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually really enjoy urban fantasy. At least, sometimes I really enjoy it. But it has a serious issue that makes it tough to find good urban fantasy:

Traditional monsters are absolutely no match for modern technology.

Vampires are the easy example. Let’s start by talking about their traits (keep in mind that this is for traditional, folkloric vampires – not the modern versions):

Strengths:

  • Superhuman strength (degree varies)
  • Regenerate most wounds (sometimes requires drinking blood or an “overday” sleep)
  • Effectively immortal
  • Can only be killed by certain specific methods
  • Enhanced senses, especially night vision
  • Mesmerization/mind control (sometimes)
  • Shapeshifting into bats or other creatures (sometimes)

Weaknesses:

  • Wooden stake to the heart (lethal)
  • Behedding (usually lethal, depends on mythos)
  • Fire (usually lethal, again depends on mythos)
  • Garlic (usually nonlethal)
  • Holy water (usually can be lethal, sometimes leaves permanent injury)
  • Holy relics – crosses, crufixes, etc (usually burns and/or deters them)
  • Sunlight (lethal)

In a preindustrial society, this is a pretty frightening creature. It’s stronger than you are, and the general weapons you have available to you aren’t particularly useful against it. A bow might work if you have good aim and a powerful bow. Maybe a crossbow would work better – but you’d better make that shot count so that it doesn’t get you while you’re reloading. Holy water? Nice enough, if you can deliver it. Fire’s not bad, but you need a lot of it. Sunlight might be your best bet, but remember that these are creatures of the night. So that requires tracking it to its nest, which might be difficult since it can see, hear and smell better than you during the nighttime hours when it’s out and about.

But in the modern world? Please.

  • The night advantage is neutralized by modern goggles and electrical lighting.
  • Crossbow? Try a harpoon gun. Those things kill whales – I doubt that getting one through a vampire’s heart would be particularly tough.
  • Holy water becomes extremely useful in a world that has Super Soakers and fire trucks.
  • Flamethrowers. Bring the heat.
  • Sunlight. Depending on the actual mechanics of it all, modern electrical lighting of the UV enhanced variety might suffice. If not, there are modern explosives to blow the roof off the vampire nest. Either way, it’s a win.

Against a decently armed modern opponent, traditional vampires are kind of a joke. To be fair, vampires aren’t the only creatures of lore that suffer this fate. Werewolves aren’t particularly frightening, either.

So what do you do about it? There are really only a few things you can do:

  1. Modify the way your creatures work (aka the “our vampires are different trope) and buff them up.
  2. Deprive your heroes of access to modern items.
  3. Turn your heroes into bumbling idiots who are incapable of using these advantages.
  4. Invent all-new creatures to avoid this problem entirely.

Unfortunately for fans of the genre, the most common solution is #1. In and of itself, that’s not too terrible – except so many forms of the “our vampires are different” trope just come out bad. Authors make them different without fully thinking through the implications of the changes that they make.

Even worse, the second most common solution is #3 – by virtue of the writer himself being a blathering idiot who couldn’t use the modern advantages. This is really just a subset of the fact that most creative types don’t know squat about combat, let alone how police and military forces actually operate.

One of the better solutions is the one that Jim Butcher used for The Dresden Files. In his series, the effects of magic cause technology near the source of that magic to break down. The newer the technology, the more disruptive the effect. While neither entirely original nor entirely perfect, this solution basically works. It’s logically consistent with magic and it neutralizes enough modern elements to allow the author to tell a story of well matched opponents.

The worst kind of answer is something like Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where an entire squad of supposedly elite special forces gets their ass handed to them. As near as I can tell, they suffered from a severe case of “my writers don’t know anything at all about the military or combat.” In any remotely realistic scenario, any US spec ops team chosen at random would wipe the floor with the typical threats that faced Sunnydale.

USA Freedom Act Passes

nsa_logoThe USA Freedom Act passed the Senate this afternoon 67-32. Unfortunately, this act renews most of the provisions of the Patriot Act that expired Sunday night. On the plus side, the sections that were used (perhaps illegally, although the Supreme Court never weighed in) to authorize bulk data collection without a warrant were not renewed. The new act still allows access to the data, but only with specific warrants – and the telcos save the data itself, not the NSA.

On the negative side, two additional amendments proposed by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) were not even considered by the Senate. Those two amendments would have weakened the bulk data collection even more.

At the end of the day this is still a legislative and ideological victory for Rand Paul. Without his filibuster, and without forcing the clock to run out, there’s a halfway decent chance we would’ve ended up with the full, unaltered Patriot Act renewed. This is definitely better than that.

How will this play out for Senator Paul’s presidential campaign? I have no idea. I, for one, am happy to see it, for two reasons. First, on ideological principle I’m with him. But second, and almost more importantly, Senator Paul made a stand on principle. In this day and age, that’s an incredibly rare thing for a politician to do. The angrier the party “leadership” gets over this, the happier I am, personally. Party leadership on both sides of the aisle is corrupt and shortsighted. Following their lead on anything is far from the best course for our nation.

What’s Glowing On Ceres?

Contrary to the humor and crass self-marketing in this post, the "glowing" spots on Ceres are most likely just reflective ice.
Contrary to the humor and crass self-marketing in this post, the “glowing” spots on Ceres are most likely just reflective ice.

CNN asks, “What’s glowing on CerMakeDeathProud-01es?” According to their article, NASA claims that it’s, “due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface.”

That highly reflective material is the hulls of space ships. Space pirate ships, specifically! And you can read more about them in “The Fourth Fleet,” one of my stories in the new science fiction and fantasy anthology Make Death Proud to Take Us, now available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

Income Inequality is Unavoidable

For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

John 12:8 – King James Version

Income inequality can never, ever be eliminated from society. No matter how hard we try, it simply can’t be done. Here’s why.

Income does not fall along a “normal” (bell curve) distribution. It follows a power law distribution. This is necessarily and always the case. It’s an unavoidable law of nature. To understand why, let’s review the six factors that bring about the rise of a power law distribution. From my original post:

  1. A competitive event.
  2. The population of competitors is unequal
  3. The inequality is distributed along something resembling a normal distribution.
  4. Winners from any given round of competition keep their winnings.
  5. The winnings form any round confer an advantage in subsequent rounds.
  6. Competition is iterated over multiple rounds.

Let’s take each one of these in order.

A Competitive Event

Income is and always will be competitive. This will not and cannot ever change. You can pass all the laws you want. People will find a way around them. They always have. They always will. People have an ingrained drive to compete with each other. We must compete with each other. Evolution demands it. The organism that does not compete will eventually lose out to the organisms that do. Eventually those who don’t compete will be bred out of existence. Only those whose ancestors competed will be left.

The population of competitors is unequal

Human beings – like all other organisms – are inherently unequal. Whatever our status in the eyes of God, here in this realm we are not identical. Take a look at any individual field – or even any individual job description. Among the people who perform that job, some will be better than others. Some will perform it worse. It’s that simple.

But pretend for a moment that they are actually equal in their actual job tasks. Somebody will eventually figure out a way to extract an inequality in some other way. Sleeping their way to the top. Brown nosing the boss. Playing off of connections to get better pay. The source of the inequality doesn’t matter. It only matters that it exists.

And this is just within one job. Spread that out over multiple jobs, over multiple fields… it doesn’t take a genius to see that the competition is inherently unequal.

 

The inequality is distributed along something resembling a normal distribution.

We know this to be generally true for most ways in which individual human beings are unequal. Height is distributed along a bell curve. IQ is distributed along a bell curve. Strength – or at least, potential strength – is distributed along a bell curve. And so on. It may not be the case that every conceivable competitive advantage is distributed along a bell curve, but in general that’s going to be the shape of things.

Winners from any given round of competition keep their winnings.

Once again, you will never, ever be able to take all of the winnings from all of the winners. You can try. Somebody, somewhere will always find a way around it. When you have a competitive event (see above) and stakes are high and you have a lot of competitors, somebody will try to cheat.

The winnings form any round confer an advantage in subsequent rounds.

It takes money to make money. Better income in year A will most likely lead to better income in year B – probably even better than year A was. In the long term, these advantages add up fast. Better income pays for better nutrition, better tools, better education, better connections. In short, better everything. This is big for an individual. On the multigenerational front, its effect is staggering. Your better income pays for your child’s better education, better connections, etc. Which pays for your grandchild’s even better… well, everything.

Competition is iterated over multiple rounds.

Pick your definition of round: hours, days, weeks, months, years. Generations. The competition is iterated forever.

Income Inequality is here to stay.

Income inequality is here to stay. It will never leave us. So… if we can’t eliminate income inequality, what can we do? That is a much more interesting question, but it will have to be the topic of future blog posts.

 

Patriot Act Expires – At Least For Now

Rand Paul’s 10 hour filibuster on Wednesday, May 20th was initially viewed by many as a failure. Indeed, reports at the time were that even Paul himself knew that the filibuster wouldn’t stop anything.

However, as I predicted on Wednesday, the Patriot Act will expire tonight at midnight. The question of the moment is, “for how long?”

The USA Freedom Act has already passed the House.  The bill contains most of the Patriot Act, with a few sections modified to address concerns about the NSA. The bill has already been voted on once by the Senate, and failed: 57-42. However, at least some of the Senators who opposed it appear to have opposed it because they wanted the increased power of the full patriot act. It is unclear what the vote will be now that we know for certain that the full act will not pass the Senate.

The vote appears to be set for Tuesday morning, so we’ll know soon. The bill already passed a cloture vote tonight, so only a simple majority vote is needed at this point to pass it. Still, that’s seven votes that need to be swayed from the last time the bill was voted on. This is going to be a very interesting week.