Raed Nerian - Items filtered by date: February 2019
Thursday, 07 February 2019 21:42

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 11

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary update time!

I have not been as active on this as I should have been, but if you happen to be following along - never fear! Progress on Book 3 is... progressing!

Long story short - this week I'll be just shy of 40,000 words into the draft, approximately 30% of the way through the manuscript. I'm enjoying writing this Book in the Saga in particular because I feel like the characters have "leveled up" sufficiently to be able to independently narrate scenes without relying on asking the core supporting cast so many dumb questions.

Fingers crossed, this will allow me to integrate the idea stuff, discussions of philosophy and science and whatnot, more gently in the narrative than in the first two Books. I'm going for a learning experience type of feel, so the training element is appropriate, I think, but does start to hit the edge of plausibility after a while. If you've reached the end of Book 2, you can probably see where things are going.

In other news, Anglo-Saxon politics remain insane, with America's madness not worth speaking about, and Britain's kind of epically hilarious (to me, not to anyone having to wonder what March will bring) Brexit fiasco. I stand by my predictions on both: America is already in campaign mode, the conventional wisdom is a-flying - and as usual bad theory predominates the discourse. It'll be fun/tragic to watch the unfolding Democratic party clownshow, though there are a few bright stars shining through the fog. And Brexit... if it happens, I'll be shocked.

I have to admit feeling a sort of grudging admiration for Prime Minister Theresa May's committment to holding her Conservative Party together by taking Britain to the brink. If Britain were to vote on the matter tomorrow, the result would be 55-45 against Brexit. And the whole backstop thing - what a perfect issue for the EU to refuse to budge on! They get to look strong to their domestic audience, and justified to an international audience, because who would want to much up the Irish peace process? Basically, May is in a position where the EU gets to look benevolent and principled, while also serving its own interest - avoiding Brexit altogether.

Who says the EU doesn't work?

On the topic of predictions, here's a little map I put together with the help of Alex Wellerstein's excellent Nukemap tool:

What you should see is a rough outline of the regions that will be irradiated (and the likely direct casualties - radiation casualties not modeled) as a result of the 2029 USA-Russia nuclear exchange, following the escalation of the Second American Civil War to the nuclear level by the Hollahan, then Pilsudska, factions. Turns out, the media was wrong about how a nuclear war would go. No simple mutual annihilation and post-apocalyptic horror, no, not in reality. Ray Bradbury was closer to the mark in Fahrenheit 451 - save that neither Russia nor the US would bother targeting cities.

No, when the fearless idiots in Moscow and DC do inevitably drop the bomb, both sides will do everything they can to be selective in their targeting, demonstrating to the other that see, I can do everything you can do, so you wanna take this to the next level? Huh? in a cycle of escalation that will end when someone blinks - or the government falls.

In the 2029 Exchange, Russia targets the American ICBM fields in North Dakota and Wyoming/Colorado (the things are spread out) it judges are under the control of the psychotic Hollahan regime, which came into power via nuclear decapitation of the senior US leadership in 2028, attacked several other nuclear-armed countries (or suspects) and is happy to fling nukes about in order to secure control of the US West in the aftermath. Hence, drawing Russia's paranoid ire.

Putin's solution is (as it would have been a Soviet Premier's in the late Cold War) to go Counterforce against the most threatening part of the US arsenal (ICBMs tend to be more accurate than Submarine-launched weapons, cause Subs move) as a signal that it was ready and willing to go further. The result, is the map above. Hundreds of nuclear warheads are ground-bursted on the American ICBM silos, turning tons of soil into radioactive fallout and throwing it high up into the sky, where an unusual weather pattern funneled it over the Corn Belt.

Most of North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa are contaminated - as are all the tributaries of the Mississippi downstream. Much of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana receive a lighter dusting that will still require removal of all affected topsoil before the region is safe again. Ohio gets a share too, as the geography of the mid-continent funnels the rest to the Great Lakes and beyond - not enough to be dangerous (very), but not exactly healthy, either.

More than 30 million people are forced to evacuate, many never to return, as their homes will be cordoned off, deemed unsafe - and who will pay for the reconstruction? Especially when the USA never recovers, and formally splits apart in subsequent years.

Hey, that's what happens when you insist on maintaining an arsenal of ICBMs at the headwaters of your continent's largest watershed. Don't like this future, Americans? Go talk to your politicians.

Published in Blog
Friday, 18 January 2019 21:23

Why I am Cascadian

Why I am a Cascadian

I was born an American, and like my father and grandfather before me, I served in the United States military during a time of war.

I used to feel pride in being an American. But I don’t anymore.

The fact of the matter is that the United States of America is a colonial empire no better than the British Empire that spawned it. After winning independence, the elites who have always run the show actively pursued wars of aggression, committed genocide against the indigenous inhabitants, and eventually seized colonies in Latin America and Asia to become a formal empire itself – a path that led the US directly into the atrocities of the Second World War. A conflict that culminated in the first-ever human use of atomic weaponry to murder a quarter of a million civilians at a point when the war in the Pacific was already a foregone conclusion.

And of course, they didn’t stop there. Hell, they built a few tens of thousands more, and thousands still sit, lurking, waiting to take a few hundreds of millions of lives.

The United States of America has, since the Second World War, directly caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It has indirectly caused the deaths of millions more. The War on Terror has simply continued a long, bloody history of slaughter. The bombs have never stopped falling for long, and although the citizens of the United States have two broad oceans protecting them from invasion, more than 50% of every single dollar paid in federal income taxes by all American taxpayers flow into a Pentagon bureaucracy so bloated and mismanaged that it cannot even be accurately audited.

This ongoing theft of our dollars by the Pentagon, and their ultimate destination in the pockets of a few privileged actors in the defense industry, directly connects each and every American taxpayer to an unending stream of atrocities. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – they never end, no matter which of the two major parties is in power or what personality occupies the Oval Office. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump – no President in my lifetime has failed to kill less than a few thousand innocent people around the world, and some (Clinton, Bush II) have killed far more. Neither party makes ending the nonstop violence a core component of its platform, and the US media doesn’t seem to care.

“American” is an identity that no longer contains the slightest shred of pride for me. The facts of history reveal that the United States of America is a vicious global empire, no less worth defeating than any that has come before. To put in Tolkienian terms: We are all Orcs. Sauron is our master. Barad-Dur belches wickedness into our skies. And Washington DC is the Ring of Power.

But all empires, due to contradictions in their internal structure and the detachment of their elites from the persistent degradation of material conditions experienced by the majority of the population, eventually fall. Leaving those of us stuck living in the aftermath with the difficult task of figuring out what to do next.

But, as the British say, sometimes you just have to get stuck in.

I believe that the time has come to recognize that we desperately need new principles of political organization to deal with the growing complexities of 21st century life. I believe the time has come to adopt the idea of the Bioregion as a natural and workable foundation for a nation held together by the vital task of collectively managing our common environment.

We in the Pacific Northwest, present-day Americans, Canadians, and First Peoples, live where we do because this land calls to us. Whether our ancestors came here millenia or decades ago, this place sustains our life, gives us air and water and food, and offers a soul the chance to experience some of the few remaining places on this Earth not entirely spoiled by industrial society.

In truth, our political, economic, and social systems are all bound to the bioregion and those things we need and value that can be sourced from it. Common management of collective resources is, as Nobel-winning scholars have persuasively argued, one of the fundamental reasons why a recognizable human society exists in the first place. And in an age of global economic turmoil and global climate change, comprehending this link is absolutely essential to our long term prosperity.

So starting with the idea of the Bioregion, I collected some basic data and used my moderate GIS skills to put together this map, which is a Version 1.0 style presentation containing the broadest outline of my professional sense, as someone with graduate level training in policy and resource management of what an autonomous or independent Cascadia established along bioregional lines could – and I’d argue, should, look like:

Cascadia Map V1

This Democratic Federation of Cascadia would have a combined population of about 17 million people as of the mid 2010s, and it will likely reach 18 million in the mid 2020s. The total Gross Domestic Product would be almost $1.1 Trillion today, a bit larger than the Netherlands or Indonesia, a bit smaller than Australia or Spain.

Depending on whether Cascadia maintains the US level of per-person military spending (over $2,000 even before the most recent increases, taking it close to $2,500) or drops it to the NATO-standard 2% of GDP, Cascadia’s Defense Forces (Mandates: protection of residents from aggression, and disaster relief), it would spend about as much as South Korea ($35 billion per year) or Canada ($20 billion per year) on defense.

Most of the population would reside in Rainier (5.20 million), Willamette (2.80 million), and Fraser/Okanogan (4.40 million together – not certain where the best BC split might be). Once split out, Okanogan would likely be the smallest state by population (Again sorry for the US focus, readers in Canada), followed by Klamath (.80 million), Missoula (.80 million), Teton (1.20 million), and Columbia (1.80 million).

The population distribution into these states is particularly important – in fact, I’d call it vital to the entire concept. One of the biggest issues with contemporary discussions of Cascadia is lack of a clear solution to what will always be the most fundamental challenge in uniting 17 million people across such a large, rugged area: political cultures.

The media-sustained narrative of the US having two ideological poles – left/liberal and right/conservative – with a pool of moderates in the middle, is complete and utter pseudoscience. It is endlessly-repeated nonsense with no basis in anything other than convenience. You simply cannot usefully describe a population, in statistical or functional terms, using a single-dimension metric. Politics in any place or time will always be about more complex than that. Politics is a human activity, rooted in human social and economic interactions. As such, it is subject to the same tribalism as any other aspect of our world. People vote based on how they perceive a candidate or issue is related to their people – whoever they are.

Where people live, the environment they’ve known – social, economic, and/or natural – in their lives, is a crucial component of their self and group identities, which are the ultimate drivers of politics in the real world. The paramount divide within Cascadia exists as a gap between two cultures, rural and urban, each of which is characterized by quite different patterns of existence, which produce different ways of looking at the world.

Cascadia, to function as a political entity, will have to be structured to take these fundamental differences in worldview into account. There is a strain of thinking about Cascadia and Bioregionalism more broadly, that more or less follows the lines of the Ecotopia ideal. The problem with this idea, from a political perspective, is that rural people very rarely see their Ecotopia as being quite the same as urban people. Those who grow up living and working in nature have a definite tendency to see it in different practical and moral terms than someone who has primarily experienced it through vacation trips to national parks. As a result, there is a strong urban bias inherent in the Ecotopia idea, that has absorbed a certain ideology about nature’s relationship with humans rooted in what amounts, to most rural folks, to an argument for their exclusion from the nature they’ve always known.

Anyway, my main point is this: the right-left divide in America is not a “natural” aspect of our society, but in Cascadia, this divide happens to follow geographic lines. And there is only one real solution to the problem of correlated political culture and geography: Federalism.

Cascadia will have to reconcile the differences in how local people want to see the environment managed, by maintaining a strict separation of political powers held by the state governments, and by the Cascadia Federal Government. The Cascadia map above draws on recent American voting records (British Columbia’s are more complex, but the broader urban-rural divide follows the same lines) to identify eight states where one of the two major parties – used here as a proxy for the urban-rural divide – scored a minimum 20-point margin over the other in the 2016 Presidential election (margins are closer in 2012, but the overall pattern is identical).

In other terms, in each of these states, either the democratic or republican candidate received a maximum of 36% of the total vote. Which basically means that this party, in this area, mostly because of its ties to national politics, is functionally non-competitive. You could have – as was the case in California’s most recent senate race – two candidates from the same party competing in a general election, without immediately losing to a solo candidate from the other ideological pole.

This is partly the case now, where it wasn’t 20 or 30 years ago, due to shifts in the values of the American electorate, which you can read more about in any of the awesome Pew Reports available. But now it is the case, and strongly implies that the two-party system simply no longer functions in American society.

This is why I argue for Cascadia to be organized as a Democratic Federation. Like the United States, it will preserve separation of powers between state and federal, and between the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches within each state. It will have a national legislature comprised of a 200-member multi-party Parliament and 10% of seats reserved for members of First Nations, as well as a Senate with a fixed number of Senators from each state - as few as 3 (24 total) or as many as you'd like - depends on how small you want an individual senator's constituency to be. It will have a Presidency, however this office will be restricted to supervising the federal bureaucracy, which will be tasked with carrying out the will of the Legislature. And, naturally, it will have a Supreme Court, with members selected by the President – who will be elected by direct popular vote.

To be clear on one point in particular: Cascadia should not be seen as a secession movement, but a reform movement. The Constitution of the United States can be legally Amended by a convention called at the behest of a sufficient number of state legislatures. I believe the simplest and best way forward out of the present political crisis for all Americans is to pass the necessary identical legislation in the necessary number of states, calling for a convention to enact the following Amendment (or an equivalent variation, if advised by legal scholars):

***

Any contiguous group of counties may demand, via public referendum, full and permanent devolution of all powers and responsibilities presently held by the Federal Government of the United States of America, including the right to Amend the inherited Constitution, save the right to declare war on any part of the United States or its allies.

***

This will allow for any American region to go its own way, without anyone seceding or sparking some massive Constitutional Crisis – or in the worst case, a Second Civil War. California (Calexit!), Texas (Texit?), independent Alaska, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, Vermont, Deseret (couldn’t keep constructing exit puns) – if the people want it, it should be allowed to happen, under the authority of the Amended Constitution.

Ideally, all the Post-America successor regions would maintain the existing customs and currency union, and citizens of one would remain a citizen of all. It could even retain parts of the existing DC infrastructure to handle big things like management of the nuclear arsenal and continental defense affairs and the space program that all regions could agree should still be managed at the DC-level. But there are no guarantees in America anymore, so Cascadia would need to be prepared to go it alone.

This same model could work for Canada, too, opening up other opportunities for Cascadia if a customs union and free movement could be established/maintained. In my ideal world, devolving federal powers from Ottawa and DC to more rationally organized successor entities would actually be a more sustainable governing solution for everyone in the long run, and would let all of North America perhaps move towards an EU-like arrangement (though with far less bureaucracy). People can still be American or Canadian if they like, but the identity can become less political, and more social – as it should be.

As for Cascadia, my goal is to make the shift to a regional federal government as smooth as possible, hence wording my Amendment such that it simply devolves powers, allowing successor regions time to work out the details to minimize disruptions. Once established, Cascadia would then need to take the inherited US Constitution (and for British Columbia, all their fun legal stuff) and amend it locally to produce the specific structure we as Cascadians decide we want.

Well! Since this is running long, I’ll leave it at that rather than dive into ridiculous details, like I instinctively want to (but who would want to read?). My goal for this essay was to articulate the political structure I think is necessary to make Cascadia a reality. I hope it is a useful discussion piece, and I’ll send it to some forums (fora?) and folks to see if it interests anyone. I have a book project in mind based on this concept, but that’ll probably have to wait until 2020 or so, when I’ll have Bringing Ragnarok done.

But the bottom line, to conclude, is that I believe the Democratic Federation of Cascadia represents the best way forward for residents of the Pacific Northwest who want to live in a country that doesn’t function as an engine of death, transforming your labor to tax revenues to bombs that never seem to stop being dropped. I don’t want to be an American, and rather than accept the bullshit "then get out" argument, I take a different approach: I deny the legitimate right of the United States federal government to continue to lay claim lands it originally stole through deliberate genocide.

So to hell with the blood-drenched stars and stripes I once proudly wore. That symbol no longer deserves our honor or affection. It is too stained with the blood of innocents, and its nature is so manifestly pernicious that it cannot be allowed to continue. The time has come to throw the Ring of Power into the flame, and move on to build the world that-should-be.

I am Cascadian.

Published in Blog
Monday, 07 January 2019 21:27

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 10

Bringing Ragnarok – Dev Diary 10

Well, the New Year has begun, and so the time has come for me to start work on Book 3 of Bringing Ragnarok.

I am rather pleased that I was able to write, edit, and publish Book 2 between July and December of 2018 – just as I’d planned. But plans are one thing, and reality quite another. 2018 has to have been one of the worst two years in my memory. It was a year of things breaking. We lost two of our founding Broken Wagon Farm members, one cat and one dog. Illnesses struck us both and other family members, and while the lass of the house spent a summer working, in effect, three jobs, the lad - me - finally realized that the logic of pursuing an academic career was coming to an end.

So! I am quite pleased that I was able to get the job done, and with a manuscript that ended up a full third longer than I’d originally intended. And with 2019 looking – at least in our household – to be a more stable time, I am confident that I’ll be able to get Book 3 up and published by the July 2019 – and then on to Book 4.

Completing Book 2 was also a relief for another reason – insofar as the narrative goes, Books 1 and 2 complete the first of three “movements” in the Saga. The first movement, First of Fimbulwinter, is about the Six Friends transition into their new world, and coming to grips with the reality of what being in war really means.

As a result, Book 1 has (I hope) a bit of a jarring feel, with a bit of whimsy, while Book 2 is more of a descent down the other side of a rollercoaster – it starts off slow, a bit like the late-middle of Book 1, and then accelerates into a torrent of action. Book 2 also ends on a much darker note, as I believe it has to, in order to serve its role in the Saga.

Book 3, by contrast, begins a new movement, one more focused on exploration and problem-solving. There’s still action, but it is spaced out again, and the Six Friends won’t always be quite so close to the center of the battles. I hope to continue taking the readers on a whirlwhind tour of three periods of human history, while working in as much detail on the crucial question of how the world got so dystopian in the first place.

Which means more about America’s collapse (the news continues to make this both easy and salient), more about Germany’s descent into madness, and more about the dark future the Neoliberals have in store for us all (though unless they get to work on rejuvenation pharmaceuticals soon, those of us reading this in the 21st century won’t live to see that particular dystopia rise).

Also, while I’m using musical metaphors...

*Brief aside: as this sentence was being typed, a cat just leaped onto my lap and then over to the couch. One of my primary functions in life is serving as a cat highway/parkour installation*

...As I was saying – musical metaphors. I make no secret of the fact that I love music. In fact, most of the backstory and plotting that swirled around for a couple years before I actually sat down to write the Saga came together whilst I relaxed on the couch, listening to Amon Amarth.

For some reason, back in about 2015 I got back into listening to music after a long period of, well, not doing much of anything new. Working on my PhD was starting to get... well, I was starting to get burned out, I now realize. Academia is a right hell-disaster, as I’ll get around to talking about on my blog one of these days. Racism, sexism, a culture of bullying – anything you can imagine experiencing in a cubicle in corporate America, you can find it in Academia, too. And there’s only so much self-congratulating hypocrisy from old white men with no clue about how the world actually works one can take in a lifetime.

Well, in any event, while I was starting my three-year journey to total burnout, I was listening to Pandora whilst poring over some statistical data (like ya do) when a song came on – “Runes to my Memory” that just totally blew me away. I’ve always been a huge Tolkien fan, and I knew there was a Swedish melodic death metal band named Amon Amarth, which is the Sindarin (One variety of Elf-speech) word for Mount Doom – the fiery chasm whence the One Ring was thrown, freeing us all from the dominion of Sauron, forever. (others have moved in to fill the void since, sadly).

So when I heard this song and checked the Pandora feed to grok the band name, I knew I had to find more of their stuff. I’ll save the full review, analysis, and impressions of the full Amon Amarth discography for another day, but suffice to say that I acquired all ten of their studio albums and listen to each pretty much once or twice a week, every week. Often, while putting together plotlines and lore for Bringing Ragnarok.

So I think it is fair to say that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Amon Amarth. In fact, there are scenes, even entire chapters, that are directly inspired by certain songs. I quote AA both as Part epigraphs and in the voice of a character, Sandra Chavez of the Missoula Regiment, who (like I suspect I would if I were a 20+ year veteran of the aftermath of the collapse and breakup of the USA) has incorporated certain lyrics as part of her life ethic and enjoys transmitting them via radio as part of psychological operations against her enemies.

It actually strikes me, as I type this, that perhaps I should reach out to the Amon Amarth fan community and see if I can score some readership. In past blogposts, I’ve wondered who my fans are – and I still am not entirely certain of the answer. But I suspect that it is safe to say that someone who likes reading stories about badass women who fight against the odds to change the world, who also enjoys swedish melodeath, and who is super into sci-fi and fantasy books, is probably someone who would like Bringing Ragnarok. So perhaps, I need to think of a way to chase down that particular idea Thread...

In any event, Amon Amarth also deserves credit for getting me into reading Sagas in the first place, which is what allowed me to pull two decades of ideas together into a coherent, epic, metaphysical storyline. Wanting to learn more about the Norse gods Johan Hegg growls about, I read the Eddas (Prose and Poetic). Then I went and read every Saga I could find on Amazon. Ragnar Lodbrok, the Volsungs, Sagas of the Icelanders, Heimskringla – most sit proudly on my shelf.

And it was that spree, tied to my own disillusionment with Academia, that provided crucial impetus for getting me (finally) writing the kind of tale I’ve always wanted to write. Something that blends genres, draws on the critical and postcolonial scholarship that I think is so important for people to encounter, and takes the reader on a familiar sort of journey, while reaching what I hope will be a rather unexpected (if, in point of fact, foreseeable if you’ve gotten obsessed with sagas and mythology) endgame and conclusion come Books 5 and 6...

But first, there’s the fun of Books 3 and 4 to get through. Which I guess I’d better get to writing.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 29 December 2018 16:47

Bringing Ragnarok: Book 2, live on Amazon!

Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 is now live on Amazon! Here's the link to the landing page on Amazon US:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07M9ZM6RS

Really not too much to say aside from this: Enjoy, and leave a review on Amazon if you'd like to help me get more people into the Saga of Six Friends!

Now, the writing of Book 3 begins...

Published in Blog
Thursday, 27 December 2018 20:22

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 9

Bringing Ragnarok, Book 2, is fully edited and complete!

Phew! Well, I set out to write, edit, and publish Book 2 of Bringing Ragnarok in no more than six months. And I'm proud to say: Objective achieved.

Book 2 definitely goes a little darker and edgier, with much of the action taking place in and around major battles. In 1944, Eryn heads out to the Western Front, helping to coordinate a German counteroffensive against one part of the American advance to the Rhine. 2041 sees Kim, Timur, and Patrick fighting with the Missoula Regiment against an all-out Deseret assault in eastern Idaho. And 2147 carries Yarielis and Loucas further on their escape from Toff pursuit into The Belt, which is essentially the 22nd Century's space-version of any mineral rich, poorly controlled area in the developing world.

In the six-book saga I'm writing, I felt it was necessary for Book 2 to be somewhat of a reality check after Book 1's more adventure-oriented theme. As the characters are getting more involved in their new times, they're starting to see and experience the consequences of prior events. This functions as a bit of a maturing process for them, and sets up the stage for Book 3 to go down a different path, focusing more on exploration and diplomacy (with intermittent battles).

One advantage of the Saga mode, being an early form of historical fiction and/or fantasy, is that each book in a series should actually go in a different direction. In the old Icelandic Sagas, for example, the story typically traces the adventures of several generations of a family, from father to son (and sometimes mother to daughter). So rather than follow the normal, modern convention of having a plot structured to present slowly rising action, a dramatic culmination, then (briefly) the aftermath, the Saga is more focused on presenting a fictional and stylized history of a person's life and experiences. Key battles and other plot events take place at scattered points throughout the narrative, structuring the overall course of the character's life (or a family's), rather than having that life be structured by the will of the storyteller.

In any event, Book 2 has more Norse gods talking about the nature of the metaverse, more things going boom, and I hope a little more insight into the perspective characters. But if you liked Book 1 more than Book 2 at the end, never fear! In Book 3, things get a little brighter. Darkened only by certain unavoidable philosophical discussions (note: people who deal with a lot of boredom, like soldiers and astronauts, talk about deep matters more than you might think. Philosophy is much more appealing when there's nothing more interesting to do - hence history's ascetics, hermits, and other folks who keep far away from society in order to better understand how it works.

Oh, and as for publication date - uh, well, still going with "By December 31st" because I don't actually know how long it'll take to get through Amazon's approval queue, once I hit the publish button tomorrow or Saturday. Should be hours, but could be days. On the off chance you are eagerly awaiting the sequel, I'll post a Dev diary update with the link to the book live on Amazon US.

Published in Blog
Tuesday, 11 December 2018 20:03

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 8

Phew!

Well, once again, I've gotten bad about blogging. But, while I've slipped with the Dev Diary updates, I've kept working on the actual thing that matters, the manuscript for Bringing Ragnarok, Book 2.

And it is done!

Took a few more days into December than I'd originally planned, but that was more out of a desire to slightly expand and rewrite a couple of the later chapters than discovery of major issues. Book 2 ended up being about 25% longer than Book 1, coming in at a bit under 160,000 words as compared to 120,000 for Book 1. The tone overall is, necessarily, a bit darker and grimmer than Book 1, but hopefully not so much so that it puts readers off.

I actually tend to structure the meta-plot a bit like a symphony, with themes shifting and action rising and falling according to a rhythm of sorts. So while Book 2 is thematically more battle-focused, Book 3 will shift tone again towards exploration (physical and intellectual) and understanding, setting the stage for another more action packed Book 4.

As for actual publication, I haven't chosen anything more specific than 'by the end of December', as I'm not entirely certain when the copyediting will be done and I'll finish any necessary corrections. I'm holding out hope of being done and published before December 31, but just don't want to make any promises just in case something goes strange. It's been quite a rough year on the home front around Broken Wagon Farm, so we're not taking anything for granted until 2018 is dead and done!

On Book 2, I have to say that I'm very excited to publish, and having garnered a number of good ratings on Goodreads and Amazon (more is better, so if you are reading this and enjoyed Book 1, please leave a review and/or rating! It significantly enhances visibility) has been particularly encouraging.

Since December is looking to be a slower month in terms of the amount of formal writing work, I'm hoping to spend some time making maps and appendix materials for each of the three Threads. For 1944, I've got some sketches of big-picture stuff, policy reforms and military reorganizations taken by the Beck government, which would have had quite a task on its hands had it, unlike our reality, actually been able to make Operation Valkyrie a success. For 2041, I want to put together some maps of Post-America, and include some atlas-style sketches of the different successor states to the USA, which broke up (formally) in 2031. And for 2147, I have some diagrammatic maps of Inner Sol, and more descriptions of places and players in the political-economic mix. And history, of course. Lots of timelines and the like.

Of course to actually get this done will require some focus, at a time of the year I tend to have trouble with that. And this year, there's the whole Brexit fiasco occupying my attention. I'm Cascadian, and follow US presidential politics best, but the UK comes as a close second, because in my globalist dreams, all the postcolonial remnants of the British Empire would unite in some kind of loose democratic federation. Anyway, I've found the whole Brexit drama to be high theater, years of ink spilled and negotiations... had... all so that in the end the EU could offer a deal that wasn't quite good enough, so that the UK politicians could say they did all they could, and then force a situation where a second referendum or general election would almost certainly nix the whole thing before it could do any real damage.

But we'll see! The performance seems to be headed down to the wire. Still, I always welcome a chance to put a theory to the test, mine being that inertia will prevail, where it can.

Won't in the United States, though - sorry to all the milquetoast old white liberal types who think some old hack like Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or even Bernie Sanders is the right choice for 2020. The UK already lost its empire, so the dynamics - while mirroring in many ways, remain quite different.

But hey - my Timeline to 2041 assumes that the USA goes into inertia for the rest of the '20s...until the greater earthquake begins.

Published in Blog
Friday, 23 November 2018 16:51

Dear Hillary Clinton

Dear Hillary Clinton,

I am motivated to write this by your recent interview with the Guardian, in which you allege that migration is the cause of the rise of right-wing populism.

I think, Mrs. Clinton, that this demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that you really and truly do need to go the hell away.

I say this as someone who voted for you in 2016, and though some sympathetic to the ideology of the left may wish you would disappear in favor of another old white man, I am not one of them.

I wish you would disappear, because you continue to spout ascientific ideological nonsense such as the sentiments above. Worse, you do so without even the barest hint of recognizing the essential irony in your allegation.

You, Hillary Clinton, and your hubby Bill - at least with respect to the United States and Britain, though how you have the gall to comment on European politics as if you understand them any better than you have proven you do American - along with Tony Blair have been the leading architects of this vicious right-wing extremism. And the hell of it is, you don't even realize what you did.

Triangulation, the strategy of embracing moderate conservative positions in order to shift the democratic party to the center of the American ideological spectrum, tore away a vital segment of the republican party's coalition, and completely destabilized the post-1960s political order in the United States. You did this, because like most Ivy League educated, white liberals of the Boomer Generation, you have uncritically adopted the deeply mistaken view of American society as comprising two distinct poles, with a mass of moderates in the middle holding the balance of power.

This is not the case. It never has been the case. America is a massive, continent-spanning nation that has always been forced to reconcile a tremendous amount of diversity in a common governing structure. It is exactly as if the European Union would be if it adopted a US-like Constitution with the various currently-sovereign states being states in the US sense. The reason that we have a 2-party system organized along a liberal-conservative ideological spectrum is a result of the architecture of the Constitution, and little more. When you have a first-past-the-post system, this is what happens.

Because of this architecture, a tremendous amount of ideological diversity is compressed and channeled through the two major parties, each representing a coalition of interests, all competing to drive the overall party's path. But these coalitions aren't ad-hoc, they reflect actual preferences about the kinds of things, policies and services, that vary between groups within any complex society that are rooted in cultural values. That is, these coalitions stem from actual, real differences in how we see and experience the world.

Politics works very much like an ecosystem - there are limited resources (votes) that multiple agents (politicians/parties)perpetually try to amass. Over time, some will end up performing better than others, and develop relationships with certain groups of voters that allow them (in the context of a government) to establish a mutualistic relationship. This secures the relationship over time, and lowers costs of keeping the whole thing going (metabolism, in short) for everyone involved. Voters support a party/politician, which/who returns the favor by acting to secure them something they value, ideally at the lowest cost for all involved. This form of exchange is an essential structure that underpins representative democracy.

It stands to reason that, if a party that survives (as in the US system) only by maintaining a coalition sufficiently large to win elections suddenly faces a terrible crisis when a core member of its coalition defects to the opposing team. Which is what happened in the early 1990s, when you and Bill played dark horse and wound up in the White House. You, clever folks that you are, knew that permanently tearing away the moderate wing of the republican party would, given present electoral dynamics, give you and the democratic party permanent control of D.C. You took advantage of the political disarray left behind by the end of the Cold War, and you pulled a very powerful, very wealthy new group under the 'big tent'. Never, it appears, realizing that this would actually mean, a few years down the road.

Do you know the real reason why the right wing hates you so much? You crashed their party. You blew up their coalition. You forced them into a situation where they had to find a new batch of supporters to vote for them. And where were they going to find them? While left vs. right may not be the end-all, be-all the media and politicians want to pretend it is, because voter participation rates remain at or below 2/3 in most elections, people who are strongly ideologically affiliated with one pole or the other are more likely to actually vote. The relative turnout between hardcore right and left supporters quite often decides the outcome in any given American election.

So where were Gingrich and his ilk going to find voters, the resource they rely on to survive? They weren't going to sway progressives, who would see right through any attempts to unite them and the more hardcore conservative business types who remained staunchly republican. They weren't going to sway many moderates, or at least, they'd have to directly compete with the democrats for those voters, and moderate their own policies - a dangerous thing to do, when those hardcore supporters become the majority of your base.

So they chose to double-down on the early stages of exactly the sort of jingoistic nonsense that now dominates America's political discourse. They invested in catering to the hard-right, and it was only a matter of time before someone came along who was able to offer a group of right-wing voters normally not interested in elections to get up and go to the polls. What we're seeing right now, is the end-result of three decades of effective political stagnation, the slow grind of a desperate civil war being waged by a party in decline, saddled to an aging and economically depressed electorate, out of necessity.

This isn't to say that those actually carrying the racist right-wing torch forward right now don't belong in the basket of deplorables, that they aren't responsible for their actions. But if you throw flammable stuff all over a house then light a hundred candles and walk away... well, you bear some responsibility yourself for the ensuing disaster.

And finally, just to make another point that should be obvious to you by now - you don't get to call anyone who says you should go away a sexist after the dog's meal you made of the 2016 election. Speaking of being seen by voters as someone like them - you remember, in 2016, when you dropped in to Flint, Michigan, after news of the horrendous lead poisoning incident broke? Yeah, about that. Local media did not look favorably on the visit, seeing you use them to score political points. And other locals wondered where you were in prior years when news broke that residents of Detroit, Michigan, were losing their access to clean water because - guess what? - a classic neoliberal policy (if you can't pay for it, you clearly don't value it enough, so until you pay your bills... no water!) forced on the citizens of that city by, not a republican, but a democrat put in charge by the administration.

Your margin in Michigan was what, a few tens of thousands of votes? Go check the voter turnout in the Michigan precincts hosting Flint in Detroit. Compare 2012 to 2016. Notice something? Tens of thousands of people in districts that usually go massively for democrats, simply didn't turn out for you. In Michigan, in Pennsylvania, or in Wisconsin.

I remind you of this, because there's rumors now that you, like about a hundred other democrats who mistakenly believe Trump will be a breeze to beat, when all he has left to maintain his power is voter suppression and a horrifyingly dirty election campaign intended to drive down turnout, want to run in 2020. Again. As if 2008 and 2016 weren't enough indication that it is not your destiny to be America's first female President. The public opinion poll numbers clearly showed throughout 2016, that unprecedented numbers of people viewed you unfavorably. And their opinions, contrary to the hopes of philosophical liberals everywhere, are not likely to change.

You need to go away, Hillary Clinton, you and Bill both, because too many people the democrats need to turn out in 2020 have already decided exactly who and what you both are. The party's only hope is to run someone capable of turning out the massive numbers of voters needed to withstand the tide of voter suppression that will be deployed in Trump's must-win states.

Those voters are not white and old. They will only turn out in the requisite numbers for someone who looks like them, who can speak their language, and offer them something more than the stale politics of triangulation, of blaming immigrants for problems in fact caused by decaying political and economic structures that are decades past the point where they should have been treated to some real reform. The 1990s were a squandered decade, when America decided that roaring stock markets were all that mattered, and sane defense budgets, foreign policy, and mitigation of the inequality that eats at our society like a cancer - meh, screw 'em, you said. There America took the wrong turn down a crossroads, now leading straight over a cliff and, I suspect, to the end of the whole grand experiment.

The voters the democratic party must cater to want Barack Obama, not Hillary Clinton. So since he's barred from another term, it is time for you to get right the hell out of the way, and get behind someone who actually can become America's first female president in 2020.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 17 November 2018 17:56

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 7

Well, life has gotten in the way of regular Dev Diary-ing the past few weeks, so I figure I owe anyone stumbling across the site (or, I can hope, checking in on Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 progress) a quick update.

Simply put, editing is moving along right on schedule, despite the overall word count now pushing past 150,000. I've been hoping to delete sections where I went on too long with all the wordy wording of it all, but I've ended up adding sentences and clarifying points more than I've found things to delete. Hopefully my primary beta-reader will identify some cuts - not that I mind writing a longer book than originally planned (the whole 'series' is one long War and Peace length book in my head anyway, because I want to beat Tolstoy.)

In fact, 1/4 of Book 2 is now with my beta-reader, fully edited to my standard and ready for some external and objective evaluation. The next 1/2 or so has gone through both digital and paper edits, and just needs a few day's work to get that ready for evaluation. Leaving the last 1/4 or so still to go through the full process.

Fortunately, having now physically read and annotated more than 2/3 of the draft, I'm actually feeling a bit excited about publishing at the end of December, because Book 2 is where I think the story really starts to come together. Book 1 is intentionally vignette-y, with chapters growing longer as the narrative proceeds, to evoke the sense of confusion and general weirdness that most new recruits or draftees experience in the early stages of their integration into the military world. Book 2, while still fairly vignette-y, settles down into more of a distinct pattern/rhythm as the Six Friends start to grasp the 'rules' of their new reality, and begin to act on the world intentionally instead of simply experiencing things as they happen.

Part of the reason why I continue to advertise on the term litRPG is that I think this new genre's audience, or at least part of it, will appreciate the effective 'level-up' process that each character goes through as they figure out how to survive in the middle of a war. I don't make this explicit or overt, but it is buried in the narrative as a part of each character's arc. I like to integrate video game metaphors in my writing (and there's a lengthy discussion of war in the context of Starcraft early on), which probably restricts my audience somewhat, but also makes Bringing Ragnarok more approachable to the digital-generations.

Anyway, to sum up - still on track for publication by end of December, 2018. With ongoing encouraging news from my sales, Kindle Direct pagereads, and Goodreads ratings, I'm really starting to hope that this project will earn me a basic living income (minimum wage, at least!) once I can get Book 3 out in Summer 2019, or at the latest by the time Book 4 is published in Winter 2019. Busy times, but busy is how you break in to this world.

Oh, and if you happen to be a Book 1 reader who already read the thing and liked it - please rate and/or review on Goodreads, Amazon, wherever! I'm starting to get a sense of who is reading and in particular who is actually liking the Saga, and I am increasingly hopeful I can turn this into a sustainable business. Six Books done by 2020 is the goal, and then I can start on the next series... that I'm already planning out on paper (because that's how I roll).

Finally - this past week marked the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, that ended the First World War. I wish it had been the War to End all Wars, and not simply a prelude to something worse - and I'm not only referring to the Second World War. The self-inflicted damage to the European-dominated world system in 1914-1918 is still resolving itself. Just as explosives from both conflicts continue to emerge from under fields and development projects, killing people decades, now a full century later, so do the social and political struggles continue, in an age where thousands of nuclear weapons are under the control of right-wing fanatics who want to make them more usable, and the climate is rapidly shifting to a new 'normal', with no mitigation likely before the present world system finally collapses and is replaced in the '30s or '40s.

Published in Blog
Friday, 09 November 2018 18:34

America is over, and I don't care.

I'm tagging this post 'science' instead of 'politics' for a simple reason:

I am sick of politics.

The past two years in America have convinced me that politics at the federal level are so fundamentally broken that participation is not only futile, it actually does more harm than good.

Here's the basic reason why American politics is insane, and thus, why the USA as a united entity is doomed.

Understanding of how human societies work is barely past the level of pseudoscience. Most political coverage in the media as well as a significant chunk of the 'knowledge' amassed by social scientists is deeply flawed. So deeply flawed, the average person has no idea. It takes the ten-plus years I've spent in academia, reading and working across the many disciplines, just to come up with the words to describe how little the supposed 'experts' actually know about how politics operate in the real world.

Virtually all political coverage and analysis you'll find in the United States relies on assumptions about people that have been out of date for more than a century. Scratch just beneath the surface of almost any argument, any reporting, and you will find a whole series of ideological assumptions that simply do not match up with how people behave in reality. Economics, Political Science, Sociology, Geography, Anthropology, Psychology - they are all caught in a miasma of bad theory stemming from the basic fact that academics, the people whose job in society is supposed to be (as many will claim) 'knowledge production', are all trained in and (if they want to get a PhD, at least) forced to pledge allegiance to ideas popularized by a group of dead white men who lived (mostly) in the 18th and 19th centuries.

More harm has been done to the practice of science than all the legions of flat-earthers and theologians could ever accomplish by the uncritical and frankly racist acceptance of the pernicious idea that there exists some universal Greco-Roman philosophical heritage upon which we base all legitimate science. Most of the 'hard' sciences have escaped the consequences of this disastrous mythos by grace of the fact that the underlying data they work with is physical, not human, in nature. But for those sciences that do (like economics, politics, et al.) have human behavior at their root, the standing assumption of the universal superiority of the Greco-Roman philosophical heritage has undermined their entire claim to validity. It has introduced bias of such magnificence into the study of humanity, and is directly responsible for the ongoing under-representation of non-white, non-male perspectives in science, because the Greco-Roman heritage is racist and sexist down to the core.

In any event, what I'm trying to say is that the so-called 'experts' in politics constantly get things wrong, are perpetually surprised by events like the fall of the Soviet Union, failure in America's 'War on Terror', the crash of 2008, and the 2016 election, because they are unable to see past the blinders imposed by their ideology.

And the media, of course, takes this failure in the academic system of knowledge production, and magnifies it into an ongoing social crisis. There is probably no better example of how this operates in practice than in the way the media habitually describes divisions in American politics and culture in Manichean terms, that is, they portray politics and elections as being a fight between two major teams - right/left red/blue conservative/liberal - with a group of undecideds caught in the middle. Swing voters, as they are usually called. So the conventional wisdom goes, the winner in an election is the team, the party, able to turn out its own base as well as win over the majority of the swing voters. States where the margin is usually close in a given election are called swing states, and attached a higher degree of importance in the election.

There are actually good scientific reasons for the existence of this apparent division between two major ideological poles, and they come down quite simply to the way the Constitution was written in the 18th century. There are many different ways to put together a democracy, and the US happens to have one with a 'first past the post' rule governing who is said to have 'won' a race, which for good reasons that can be pretty effectively described in mathematical terms. The result (which could be modified, if we were to get back to Amending the Constitution, like we used to when the time came for major reforms) is the perception of two ideological poles, two major coalitions battling it out.

But perception is not reality, at least not always. And both the right and the left in America are actually far more diverse than the media will usually tell you, and even the big parties, the republicans (GOP) and (DNC) are not actually coherent entities, but composites of multiple sub-parties, each with their own agenda, united more by the fact that the structure of our elections require them to be than any sort of actual desire to work together. America's system in effect takes all the dynamics of a multi-party democracy and shoves all the crucial competition between sub-parts under the surface, into party primaries and stuff like that.

The reality of America is that there exists no single 'One America', nor does there exist a dualistic Red America and Blue America. In a country of 325 million or so people, with all the inherent diversity of opinion and perspective that entails, it is impossible to reduce the collective down to a unity or duality or even a trinity. The fact that the media continues to do so is down to its own interest in maximizing advertising revenue - and nothing else, if we're being honest. Politics, to a media company, is just another entertainment genre. With subscriptions waning as the internet offers access to a bewildering array of content, all publications - even the supposed national 'paper of record' (as if there really could be such a thing) - like the New York Times is forced to cater to advertisers in order to survive.

And advertising isn't concerned with quality reporting, or deep analysis of ideas - it is concerned with efficiently getting readers' attention, and their clicks. There's a serious moral hazard at play in journalism, which claims as a profession to hold to certain ethics, but remains deeply bound to the more mundane material requirements of running a business. Which, the way the present internet is structured and dominated by Google and Facebook, forces publications to pay particular attention to their niche, to the group of readers who have similar characteristics, tastes, and preferences, and so who can be efficiently advertised at/to.

The reality of contemporary journalism is that writers must produce content that advertisers will be happy with. And advertisers operate on a competitive landscape where efficiency matters a great deal. The net result of their mutual relationship is a tendency towards clickbait that you can see throughout the web, as well as an active attempt to cultivate a particular niche, which in the world of media means catering to a particular set of readers. And - this is why we all get to suffer from a world of 24/7 news, every headline clickbait-ier than the last - readers respond to this niche-cultivation. People like having their own beliefs confirmed, and strongly dislike having them challenged. So every media outlet, from the New York Times to the Guardian to the Atlantic to Breitbart, has a strong incentive to give their readers the stories they will read in large numbers, because that makes it easier and more profitable to advertise to them.

Over the past few years, we've all heard terms like 'fake news' thrown around, and there's no shortage of writers out there willing to wring their hands (metaphorically speaking) over this sudden supposed change in humans, that they'll often allege is the internet's and Facebook's fault, and call for more effort to be spent weeding out misleading content. The irony is that the American media is itself one of the greatest sources of misleading content in the world. Whatever you read, whether it be a liberal outlet like Salon, Nation, Mother Jones, or the New Yorker; a 'moderate' outlet like the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, or Vox; a conservative rag like Fox News, Breitbart, or the New York Post - all are doing exactly the same thing to you. They're all trying to cater to what you already believe to be true, in order to keep your eyes on their pages and your fingers clicking their ads.

This isn't to say that fake news and alternate facts aren't a serious problem - they are. But a major problem with the fake news and alternative facts debate is the niggling problem of what counts as a fact in the first place. You might immediately read that and get your hackles up, but I invite you to think on the problem just for a little bit. Knowledge, knowing, is actually a more difficult concept than it seems at first glance - as even a cursory read of Greco-Roman philosophy will teach you (this is what the Socratic Method is actually all about - showing how contingent knowing actually is). We all perceive through our senses, but sensory perception is intrinsically bound up with a lifetime of experiences, which tells us what thing we perceive are relevant or not, a threat or an opportunity, and so on. We all see the world through slightly different eyes, and we communicate our differing perspectives in order to come up with an estimate, a working model of whatever situation we're considering to one another in order to collectively define what reality is.

Think of it like this: how do you know you aren't insane? How do you know you aren't, right now, hallucinating, or under the influence of drugs, or plugged into virtual reality? Answer - you don't. You can't, not for sure. But if you can communicate what you perceive to someone else, they can (and usually will) tell you if they don't see what you are seeing. If you both see the same things, you have a great deal more confidence that those things are real - or at least, that they aren't entirely a figment of your imagination. This is part of why humans communicate, in fact - we do it to pass signals about our perception of the environment to one another, to try and better understand the fuller nature of whatever we're looking at.

So how does this play into American politics? Simple. To understand what is happening, we all read the work of others. But in doing that work, in constructing narratives about what is real (something humans do almost from birth), we have to make decisions on what parts of what is going on are more important than others. Communication requires a certain degree of actively ignoring all that you could communicate, so that you can efficiently transmit the stuff that's presently important. And that crucial operation, that 'filtering', so to speak, is a learned behavior. The process of interacting with others across a lifetime serves to create shared 'filters' that impact how we perceive what is important, and how observations are relevant to us.

The media forgets this - or, worse, it actively manipulates this natural human tendency. In a way, the written word is one of the most dangerous human inventions, because it creates an illusion of permanence. I write something, post it online and it is there, visible for all to see, ostensibly forever. But in the moment, as I compose this (thankfully neither cat has decided to seize control of my lap, where I put my keyboard) I'm trying to take a bunch of convoluted thoughts I think are important, and choose the right words in English to convey these thoughts. I am all but guaranteed to make mistakes, and worse, in ten years the words I've chosen now and the way I've strung them together may be perceived by a reader very differently than I imagine, as I type them out. Language changes, cultural values shift, because these are things held and used by people, and over time, people's assumptions, preferences, and knowledge all change.

The underlying disaster in American politics is that media representations of the entire enterprise are deeply flawed, and biased towards producing the illusion of constant tension, antagonism, and struggle - because that's what people buy. The New York Times is no different, when you get right down to it, than the National Enquirer. Just, in the case of the former, a lot of people with wealth and power read the thing, care about what people who read it think. And so the NYT can pretty much spew out the same missing-the-entire-point nonsense, year after year, and continue to attract readers - becuse it gives them what they want.

So how is this leading to America's demise? Simply put, our fearless leaders think they know way more than they do, because they too are caught in echo chambers of their own devising. All Americans are, and we have been for a long time. The basic reason why so many people approve of Trump attacking the 'liberal' media is that those outlets he attacks are perceived, by a great many Americans, as having actively excluded their ideas, their perspective on reality, for decades. They refuse to realize that 'conservative' and 'liberal' are as much cultural-linguistic groups as actual political affiliations, that they themselves mush together an incredible amount of diversity into one outwardly coherent package, and that 'swing' voters are primarily people disenchanted by the entire nightmare of a system, that is objectively leading to worse and worse outcomes for the majority of Americans as time goes by.

The reality is that America has been dividing for a very long time. It has always been a nation of 'tribes', each with their own view on reality and mode of expressing it. The entire conceit of the United States of America has been growing ever more hollow with each passing year. The internet has simply lowered the cost of discovering the information, the signal, needed to perceive this hollowness and degradation, and people are now aware of exactly how little America's politicians and elites do, have done, to mitigate terrible structural problems with our political, economic, and social systems.

2016 was a warning that 20+ years of drift are now past the point of no return. Economic anxiety produces a need for explanations among a population, and America's entrenched racism has given Trump the golden opportunity someone was eventually going to take to offer a darkly familiar 'explanation' - others are keeping us from our just due.

I am convinced that America's liberals and progressives, the 'Resistance', as they like to play-act it, are so wrapped up in a delusional view of the situation rooted in a longstanding self-narrative about their being the 'future' or whatever, that they simply can't accept that it doesn't matter that they're closer to being 'right' on most matters these days than the average conservative. The Trumpist right is now fully united around their belief that they have only a short time to act before America is irreversibly turned 'liberal', which to them means, pretty much, 'brown'. The centrist and left-leaning media in America has spent a generation doing what the Simpsons does - condescending to anyone who isn't a white suburban liberal (a category containing many just as racist and sexist as any Trumpist) while also laying the blame for the oppression of what they call 'minorities' (soon to be a majority in the part of the country where I live) at the feet of rural white conservatives. They are unable to realize that they have played a major role in pushing conservatives - who are disproportionately white and rural - into their present trap. And so far as I can tell from reading their media, they've essentially decided that 2016 was a simple accident, and that if they re-play the same script in 2020 the Blue Wall will return, and they'll waltz into the White House.

Note that there has recently been talk of Clinton running again in 2020. And that sage voices call for Joe Biden, another geriatric white Boomer, to run, because he speaks the language of the denizens of the Rust Belt. Warren and Sanders, more old white northeasterners, are also touted as front-runners, along with a celebrity or two - Oprah or Beto - just for buzz, is my guess. Repeating the DNC's usual condescending practice, Booker and Harris are already getting tagged as the acceptable minority candidates, to be held up through the Iowa Caucus and then case aside for the battle they perceive to be most critical - the Clinton neoliberals vs. the Sanders-Warren progressives.

As the German paper Deutsche Welle put it recently (can't find the link now, dammit) - over the next two years we can expect the hostilities in DC to escalate a hundredfold. Everything the Democrats do to rein Trump in, he'll portray as swamp politics as usual. Everything he fails at, he'll blame on them. The media will continue to breathlessly report everything he says on Twitter, no matter how clear it gets that he gaslights them. Everyone will chatter their echo chamber's conventional wisdom, and the Democrats will descend into their brutal civil war come early 2020, because they all believe Trump will be easy to beat.

And then the war will come. The Neocons will not give up the chance to attack Iran and finally get payback for 1979, and they'll play wag-the-dog during the election. The economy will go into recession as a result of these trade wars eventually, though the flood of deficit spending may keep the economy goosed through to 2021 or 2022... and then when the crash comes, it'll be even harder. A macroeconomy is like a fault system - longer it goes without 'adjustment', the more tension builds up and the bigger the boom is when it finally goes.

And 2020 itself will be the ugliest political battle of modern history. My expectation is that it will come down to Wisconsin, Arizona, and/or Florida, and I don't see any way voter suppression isn't an order of magnitude higher than it already is, particularly in Florida. The conservative 'movement' has no option but to ensure victory, even through... shall we say... extra-legal means. The popular vote will go Democrat again, and probably by an even higher margin, but the electoral college is what matters, and with a Trump-packed Supreme Court there exists a serious chance of legal challenges to statewide results sending the election, in effect, to the Supreme Court.

The Democrats will lose because they will think 2020 to be a simple numbers game, where 'swing voters' will save them in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They're already chattering about the Blue Wall, claiming that moderate suburban candidate successes in 2018 presage a shift back to the Dems in 2020 in these critical states. Perhaps. But I suspect they're drawing conclusions about the composition of the 2020 electorate from inadequate data. Less than 50% of eligible voters turned out in 2018 - a record, but still less than turnout in a presidential election. A huge chunk of voters sat this one out, and they'll be the ones to decide 2020. But the DNC creates its own reality, and the battle between wannabe-presidents is already ramping up. I fully expect them to miss, just like the Clinton campaign did in 2016, the important signs, and run another terrible Presidential candidate like Gore, Kerry, and Clinton, trying to cater to swing voters who don't exist.

The Democrats' success relies in realizing how tribal America really is, and coming up with post-partisan narratives that appeal to those tribes who are disenchanted with and divorced from mainstream politics. They need to start ignoring the media more, and focus on learning how to talk to Americans. They need to set aside wonky policy that only nerds like me care about, and focus on telling a different American story - and representing that story. They only win in 2020, faced with voter suppression that will discourage turnout and may include overt political violence by white supremacists in crucial states, as well as an administration full-willing to rig the outcome in its favor, by truly massive turnout among black, latino, and progressive voters. 

They only get this by running someone who can look and represent the America-to-come, and that is best done by recruiting two women, one of them a veteran and one of them multi-racial, to be the anti-Trump. They must run on a platform that specifically denies the existence of left-right duality, and instead embraces linking of key issues, in the good old-fashioned horse-trading sense. That is, they link the need to better serve our veterans with the outrageous amount of money given to the Pentagon, emphasizing that half of all our federal income tax dollars, $2,000 per person (and much more, on average, per tax-paying household!) go to the Department of Defense while the Veterans Administration - y'know, the folks who actually care for our veterans after DC's wars break their bodies and minds - gets only a scant 6.5% or so. They need to link the pressing need to reduce carbon emissions and combat climage change with the need for a complete reboot of our rural economies, pouring money into economically-disadvantaged areas to help them set up green energy infrastructure and land management work that will create jobs for generatiosn to come. They need to link the problem of inequality with the lived experiences of disadvantaged Americans from all of the country, rural places included.

Me, though, I doubt this will happen. There seems to be no creativity, no risk-taking, left in this society so dominated by suburban white liberals, college-educated types who appear to have gotten good at memorizing facts to pass tests, but not to actually think critically. America needs a political movement infused with start-up like energy, that can find new ideas and new ways to do politics.

I suspect that if I had a few billion $ (Jeff Bezos? Bill Gates? Elon Musk? Anybody want to be my angel investor? There's a contact page on this site!) I could put together an effective alternative political movement, in large part because I'd staff the thing with veterans - people who know how to get things done. Unfortunately, this seems as likely as winning the lottery, about as probable as my fiction writing blowing up such that I become the next J.K. Rowling (hey, another billionaire I would like to think would fund something truly innovative. Dumbledore's Army, like any army, needs resources!).

In absence of me or anyone else pulling that off, though, I see little hope for America's future as a united entity. My assessment is that by the late 2020s the USA will be functionally, if not formally, divided into social-economic-political regions. I just don't think all the king's horses and men can put the thing back together again at this point, and as for the dream of some progressive revolution - so far, progressives can't seem to organize their way out of a phone booth well enough to do any real damage to conservatives on a national scale. They do local organizing well (hey, even I voted for Ocasio-Cortez, and she wasn't even running in my district - I just don't like Kurt Schrader) but at the national level? They get played by the DNC ever time.

So how does the USA break up? An interesting question (to me), and one I've discussed before. In fact, I'd like to do another iteration, this time using actual GIS data to produce a better map, with useful atlas-type statistics. Just need to find the time.

But until then, here's a list (in descending order of probability) of ways the USA might go down over the next few years -

  • Trump is a 2-term 'president', dying in office in 2022, replaced by Mike Pence, who loses in a 2024 election that sees a 3rd party take electoral college votes for the first time in decades, throwing the ultimate result to Congress, which picks the quietest, safest, most ineffective option. Federal paralysis continues, and states like California and Texas increasingly pursue their own agenda, eventually foreign policy, leading to an effective breakup with DC still clinging on to rapidly declining authority. Call this the UK Empire to Commonwealth option.
  • The Dems pull it off in 2020, only to face an obstructionist Senate and Supreme Court, and a major recession in the president's first term. Many conservative-leaning states pursue a hard states-rights agenda, and gridlock ensues in DC. 2024 resolves little to nothing, and a national muddle continues for the rest of the decade, until economic crisis and foreign policy blunders drive either a Constitutional Convention or unofficial breakup. Call it the Soviet option.
  • 2020 is so bitter and marred by violence and allegations of foreign interference that despite the Supreme Court deciding the outcome, the legitimacy of the federal government itself is perceived to be gone. Whether through overt refusal to follow federal policy or through a Constitutional Convention movement, within a few years the states agree to an effective division of the country with states grouped together into regions that are functionally independent. Call it the Yugoslavia option.
  • The country actually pulls it together, with a post-partisan movement offering a set of new solutions and breaking the stranglehold of the two major parties. A period of national renewal begins, along with systematic reforms designed to take pressure off the overloaded DC system and stop it from being, in effect, a prize to capture that generates material returns to those with access. Greater autonomy is granted to self-defined regions, comprised of groups of counties seeing selves as holding common interest Call it the EU option.
  • Years of increasingly dire rhetoric and nuclear saber-rattling between the USA and Russia boil over, and a conventional conflict or proxy war in the Middle East spirals into a nuclear confrontation. Perhaps Russia strikes first, either by decapitating the US leadership by firing low-flying, nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from a submarine in the Delaware Bay into the Capitol during some future State of the Union or by attempting a limited disarming strike at the ICBM silos in the Midwest, or America strikes first, using nuclear weapons at the tactical level somewhere and provoking a Russian nuclear response. Doesn't really matter, because while neither side is likely to escalate to city-busting (cities, in Russian nuclear strategy, are better as hostages than targets) huge swaths of the environment in the middle of both countries will be contaminated by fallout, and there will be millions of refugees to resettle. Call it the MAD option.

So what does this all mean for me? Well, part of the reason I'm spending all day writing this, instead of editing Bringing Ragnarok like I really should be, is so I can stop thinking about it so much. I sincerely doubt anything I do will affect the outcome, unless, again, I win the lottery (metaphorically speaking). Then, sure, I'll take what resources I have and enter the fight. But until then, I have my family and my livelihood to consider. But as a passive observer, here are the options - assuming the USA is in fact, done for - in descending order of how much I'd like them to happen.

  • Americans get it together, figure out we need systematic reform down to the fundamental level and the creation of a whole new political architecture, and get the job done. We figure out how to have a limited, popular Constitutional Convention, and actually re-draw our internal political boundaries to take into account contemporary realities, and, well, just be a little less obviously insane. Like, no more having states on two sides of a major mountain range, where people live very different sorts of lives. Just, does not work.
  • Canada decides that it could use a little more population and territory, and with popular approval annexes Washington and Oregon. Probably also Minnesota, Vermont, and Maine, maybe others. As new provinces hopefully we can keep both our existing federal and state constitutions, then harmonize them with Canada's equivalent.
  • California decides to go independent, but figures out that it is a lot better off splitting itself up into four states, and incorporating Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawai'i, and the Pacific dependencies - themselves also redistricted. Then we go our happy independent way as sort of Germany on the Pacific.
  • Cascadia moves from being a hippie/racist (there are different groups who like the idea for different reasons) fantasy to a practical, political reality, uniting everything from Northern California up through British Columbia into a happy little Sweden on the Pacific.
  • We Europeans all just decide this whole colonization business is a huge mistake, and we all go back to Europe, leaving the continent for the Indigenous Americans and, I hope, apologizing for all the genocide along the way.

Truth be told, looking at America's history of slavery, genocide, atomic bombs, racism, sexism, and attempts to build an empire (that's what 'superpower' really means, after all), I can't honestly say I even mind that much if America dies. Today, for example, I read a report indicating that America's wars in my own lifetime have killed at least half a million people, many if not most innocent civilians. 7,000 American military personnel died, ten times that number have been injured, a hundred times that number have been scarred forever by their experiences. And all of it, for nothing. Just more tax money going to the Pentagon to the defense industry to shareholders' pockets and, whatever is left, into bombs that we give to Saudi Arabia to drop on children in Yemen.

The truth is, though our media won't say it, can't say it, I suspect, so caught in their self-delusion about America being exceptional and special, or whatever, to realize they've been lying to themselves for decades - America is an evil state. One of the worst of modern times. It murders so many people, at so many levels, and then tells the victims' families that whatever we do is justified, because, in short, we're better.

This is wrong. This is evil, pure and simple. We are all Orcs, and because we won't confront the nature of our Orcish mythos and our Orcish leaders, we are blood-complicit, through our tax dollars, in the murder of innocents. Year after year. No matter who is in charge.

And that's the science of the thing. The diagnosis of the disease. a disease no doctor can treat, MD or (especially) PhD.

/rant

Published in Blog
Monday, 29 October 2018 22:39

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 6

Well, been a while since I did a Bringing Ragnarok update, so here y'are if you happen to be reading:

Book 2 is now 1/3 edited, and the wordcount has slowly crept up above 141,000. For reference, Book 1 came in at just over 120,000, so I'm already pushing a 20% length increase. Which isn't a bad thing, just worrying: Compressed wordcount induces parsimony in the narrative. Which is a fancy way of saying, when I have a word limit, I get more creative about my word use.

Fortunately I suspect there are several longer passages that can be significantly cut without losing any of the effect or impact. I simply have a tendency to let a character's train of internal thought go on a bit too long, have them mentally narrate a few too many paragraphs of backstory. Which, while many readers are quite tolerant, I want to avoid as a bad habit. As much as I work to create a 'real' world, where what happens is informed as much as possibly by underlying mechanics that are rooted in much of the best of what I've encountered, in the years working on a doctorate, in the many academic disciplines I've investigated.

I could write an actual 'history' for each of the three main Threads, and publish it as a pseudo/fictional history. And by could, I mean that I am capable of sitting down and writing a whole lot of background material into a reasonably interesting technical narrative. In fact, one long-term ambition of mine is to actually do something like that, including supported 'faked' research materials.

At the moment, though, I sketch most of this sort of thing out with pen and paper, often in that pleasant couple of hours after dinner when my mind is wandering towards sleep already. The dreams come easier then, and I am getting in the habit of actually writing it down so I can reference it as I type.

What does that look like? Well, for a sampler, here's a brief Appendix-like Timeline detailing major events leading up to the 2041 storyline, where Kim, Timur, and Patrick are stuck fighting in the middle of a rapidly escalating new phase of the Second American Civil War:

  • 2020 - After two years of increasingly bitter partisan rancor, The United States Presidential Election sees the first return of overt political violence directed by white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups against "illegals", which increasingly means anyone not of their ethnic background. Turnout in crucial 'swing' states remains low, and the vote count is further marred by substantiated allegations of foreign interference, resulting in an escalating series of lawsuits that carry the drama well into 2021, where an openly-partisan Supreme Court decision invalidates huge numbers of votes in several vital states.

  • 2022 - A year into the most severe double-dip recession in modern American history, D.C. remains paralyzed by partisan infighting, leaving the States to fend for themselves. Many larger states like California and Texas begin to establish independent foreign relations in order to seek trade agreements that can evade Federal rules and reconnect these states and their home companies to trading markets abroad.

  • 2023 - An escalating series of clashes between Chinese patrol vessels and ships from the Philippine and Vietnamese navies brings a sudden and overwhelming Chinese response, with elements of the People's Liberation Army Navy and Air Force launching strikes against naval and aviation assets in both nations. The United States, despite longstanding guarantees of protection, is too paralyzed to effectively respond, resulting in several aerial and naval clashes but no serious conflict, as many had feared. However, China remains the de-facto controller of the South China Sea, and other nations, while publicly decrying the move, quietly accept the situation.

  • 2024 - The next United States Presidential Election is held in a time of economic stagnation and monetary inflation, leaving vast swathes of the American electorate unemployed or underemployed. Thankfully, violence like that seen in 2020 does not recur, however the collapse of both major political parties across much of the US West results in the first Contingent Election in US history, where a 3rd Party candidate promising non-partisan reform is ultimately selected by Congress after no candidate obtain 270 Electoral College Votes.

  • 2025 - After a minor border dispute spirals out of control, Russian troops simultaneously occupy key districts in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. NATO is unable to respond, with the US now declaring Europe beyond its sphere of influence. A new European joint force is deployed to prevent further hostilities, and along with the simmering conflict in Eastern Ukraine brings a new 'Iron Curtain' falling across Eastern Europe.

  • 2028 - The current U.S. President runs for re-election, and due to a stabilizing economy and international situation is expected to win re-election against two challengers from the far-left and far-right. On August 26th, 2028, while attending the Party's Presidential Nominating Convention in Miami, Florida, Nuclear weapons detonate almost simultaneously and without warning in Miami, Los Angeles, and Newark, killing tens of thousands of American civilians as well as all members of the line of Presidential Succession down to the Secretary of the Treasury, who narrowly escaped being killed in San Francisco when a U.S. Navy Destroyer spots and shoots down a pair stealthy cruise missiles approaching the area from the Pacific Ocean.

  • 2028 - The 2028 Attacks, which subsequent investigations show were launched by a rogue Air Force officer (James Hollahan) running what amounted to small death cult within the Air Force, results in two rival claimants for the Presidency: Carolyn Pilsudska, Secretary of the Treasury, and Timothy Connor, Secretary of Defense - a close friend and political ally of Hollahan, who himself is soon tapped to be next Secretary of Defense himself. Hollahan-Connor claim to have evidence that Pilsudska was born in Warsaw, Poland, and not the United States, seeking to invalidate her claim.

  • 2028 - On September 1, 2028, United States submarines fire twelve nuclear missiles, a total of three dozen warheads, at suspected nuclear facilities in Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan. China and Russia denounce this use of nuclear weapons before investigations can conclude, and media reports indicate that while Pilsudka and Connor agreed on the timing and magnitude of the strikes, neither accepted the right of the other to take action.

  • 2029 - In January, China announces the discovery of the wreckage of an American-made stealthy cruise missile off the coast of California. Returned to China by a submarine observing U.S. Navy exercises in the area, the revelation is immediately claimed to be a hoax by the Connor government.

  • 2029 - On March 15, several dozen United States Air Force Stealth bombers accompanied by unmanned drones fire hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles at sites operated by China's Second Artillery Corps, which maintains control of China's nuclear arsenal. Alleging a plot by China to attack the United States, the Connor government - which ordered the strikes - claims it was acting in self-defense.

  • 2029 - On April 23, the People's Liberation Army Navy announces the blockade of the American military facilities in Okinawa, which was used as a staging base for many of the forces that attacked China's nuclear arsenal. The Connor and Pilsudska teams both claim that this will not be tolerated, but the Connor team now maintains control of access to the Pentagon. Pilsudska, escaping what appears to be an attempt to arrest and contain her, flies with a Secret Service detail to Seattle, Washington.

  • 2029 - On May 30, PLAN forces engage and defeat a fleet of four United States Navy aircraft carriers moving to counter the blockade. Swarms of anti-ship ballistic missiles as well as land, sea, and air-launched cruise missiles are assisted by several dozen conventional submarines acting as mobile mines, who identify the locations of two of the Carriers at the start of the battle, launching torpedoes and calling in the rest of the Chinese forces to engage. In a furious and mutually costly battle, the U.S. Navy is forced to retreat after the U.S.S. Carl Vinson suffers catastrophic, near-fatal damage, and the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy receives severe damage to its flight deck. Covered by U.S.S. Enterprise and U.S.S. George Washington, the U.S. Navy moves to secure its key base on Guam and the naval supply lines leading back to Pearl Harbor.

  • 2029 - On June 13, the Pilsudska team announces that they hold the Connor government to be illegitimate under the Constitution, and call on all willing governors and military commanders to refuse orders from D.C. California, Oregon, and Washington are the first to comply, and a group of western governors concerned about the possibility of further escalation impacting their civilian populations propose a Constitutional Convention to reform the Federal Government.

  • 2029 - on July 4, units from the 82nd Airborne Division under the direct orders of Secretary of Defense Hollahan, who now in effect holds 'President' Connor as a puppet, land throughout the California Central Valley with orders to secure the state capital at Sacramento, and the California governor. Who responds by ordering all California National Guard units able to mobilize and not engaged in the relief effort in Los Angeles to move to Oregon and join with other Guard and regular military units whose commanders have chosen to back Pilsudska.

  • 2029 - on July 9, advance elements of the 82nd Airborne Division encounter a militia unit holding a bridge over the Sacramento River in Redding, California. This unit, whose members are largely drunk, fire on the advancing vehicles, thinking them to be part of the California Guard. Before local commanders can sort out the situation, orders come down from Hollahan to treat Redding as under enemy control, and to seize the bridges supported by artillery strikes, which subsequently devastate much of the town and spark the first skirmish between American military units, when a CNG battalion covering the retreat engages the 82nd Airborne's advance elements, thinking themselves under attack.

  • 2029 - on September 25, Pilsudka loyalists defeat an attack by several brigades from the 82nd Airborne and 3rd Infantry Divisions under Hollahan's control, using the rugged terrain and narrow mountain passes to inflict heavy casualties, while preventing air support from making it over the mountains. In the wake of this victory of the California, Oregon, and Washington National Guard Units supported by a Stryker brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division and aviation assets from the Navy and National Guard, Pilsudska claims all military forces in the Pacific to be under her command.

  • 2029 - on October 22, Pilsudska forces seek to push back through Redding on their way to liberate Sacramento. Hollahan orders a nuclear strike to halt their advance, one missile with three warheads launched from a silo in North Dakota annihilating the remains of the town in a nuclear firestorm. Pilsudska orders a nuclear reply to match, a single warhead launched from a ballistic missile submarine outside of Puget Sound that detonates over the Sacramento International Airport, where Hollahan's forces have established a major base.

  • 2029 - on October 23, A surprise Russian nuclear attack is launched against the ICBM fields in North Dakota as well as the fields in Colorado and Kansas. Six hundred nuclear warheads destroy the bulk of the American land-based arsenal, sending plumes of radioactive fallout across the Midwest and into the Rust Belt. Immediate casualties are low given the relative isolation of the missile fields, however a vast swath of the American heartland is contaminated by radiation, and in several cities fallout strikes vulnerable populations, killing tens of thousands and forcing millions more to become refugees...

There you have it! A nice, depressing look at, I'm afraid, a plausible future leading to Post-America. As you go out to vote this coming election day, keep this dark future in mind.

Published in Blog
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