Raed Nerian - Items filtered by date: December 2018
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
Wednesday, 17 October 2018 18:15

Dear Senator Kamala Harris, RE: Election 2020

Dear Senator Harris,

I suspect that you are planning to run for President in 2020. I hope that I am correct, as I believe that you are the candidate who stands the greatest chance of beating Trump and saving America – provided you are willing to embrace an innovative electoral strategy that runs against the conventional wisdom that will inevitably be pushed on you by the Democratic party establishment.

The Democratic party has a terrible track record of nominating effective candidates for the Presidency. Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton were all too easily portrayed as out of touch elitists, classic politicians with no fixed beliefs. Your primary competitors in the 2020 primaries at present appear to be Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and perhaps even John Kerry (again!), all of whom will be easily painted with the same brush.

Americans are scared right now, and frightened people tend to look to leaders who appear to possess both resolve and vision. This is, above all else, the secret to Trump and Trumpism. His supporters are disproportionately older, whiter, and male-r than the rest of the country, and among their tribe there is now a deep conviction that without radical change, the America they knew will be gone forever. To counter Trump’s chosen narrative, the same essential narrative used by authoritarian foreign leaders like Putin, Erdogan, Bin Salman, and Xi Jinping, his opponent must be able to articulate to the electorate two primary things:

1. That they are not creatures of the establishment, and personally recognize the threats facing ordinary Americans.


2. That they have a plan for reform that does not rely on partisan policy issues, but in coming up with a new Grand Compromise that defuses the rising tensions that threaten to destroy the Republic


I have spent most of my life caught between the worlds of the liberal and the conservative. I grew up outside Redding, California – one of the most Trump-happy districts in the state. I then spent a decade in academia at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I also, in the Summer of 2016, when the conventional wisdom held that Clinton was an obvious shoe-in, and Trump a disaster for the GOP, applied a different intellectual filter than typically represented in the major media outlets to predict – correctly, as it sadly turned out – the Trump campaign’s strategy and the real danger it posed to Clinton’s chances in the ‘Blue Wall.’

The great mistake most Democrats make in national elections is forgetting that America is not a nation of conservatives, liberals, and centrist moderate ‘swing’ voters. It is, in fact, a massive and complex nation full of tribes, each with their own particular way of viewing the world and their own form of political language. In reality, as Pew Research notes, ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ labels only strongly apply in total to around 40% of Americans. In contrast, a full 30%-45% of Americans are so disgusted by national politics that they rarely, if ever vote. Elections now come down to turnout, because when a third of the electorate no longer bothers to reliably participate, the winner in any given contest is usually the one who can reliably turn out their base. This reality ultimately underpins the GOP efforts to restrict voting rights now underway wherever they control state governments.

The reason Barack Obama won in 2008 is that he, unlike most recent presidential candidates, was able to ‘activate’ a dormant segment of the electorate, particularly young and non-white voters who had previously sat out elections in frustration at their options. Unlike most recent presidential candidates, Obama – like Reagan – was able to communicate a vision of America that, even if it did not match empirical reality, was sufficient to mobilize large numbers of voters who rarely bother to turn out.

Trump, in a strange way, is Obama’s dark counterpart. He actually lost a significant portion of the normally-reliable Republican electorate – witness, particularly in the west, the increased vote share given to third party candidates – but in effect exchanged those lost voters for another, typically low-participation tribe: white racists. This worked primarily because the Democratic elites decided early on to support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in despite of all the warnings about how low her approval ratings were among ordinary Americans. They were unable to recognize the hollow nature of her support, because they didn’t care to deeply question the methodology of major polling firms, which, using ‘likely voter’ screens that relied in part on recent history of voting, systematically missed the voters Trump aggressively mobilized.

The conventional wisdom in American politics - sustained as it is by media outlets which themselves are structured to appeal to a particular tribe, offering their audience what amounts to a half-mythic narrative about events that tends to reinforce pre-existing biases - is increasingly wrong. The Democrats’ 2020 hopefuls are already seeking media attention, allies, and funding, all thinking Trump will be easy to beat. Just like they did in 2016. And, against Bush, like they did in 2004 and 2000.

This conventional wisdom, accompanied by the apparent presumption that nothing fundamental has changed in American politics, risks leading Democrats and Americans down a terrible path in 2020. A careful examination of Trump’s rhetoric reveals not simple opportunism, but an extremely dangerous, constantly-repeated refrain: ‘Illegals’ are the reason Democrats win elections. Couple this to the assertion - made and repeated in 2016 - that he would not necessarily respect the result of the election if it did not favor him, to the ongoing effort to de-legitimize all protest and criticism, and the threat to America and the Constitution should be clear. As Masha Gessen has argued, would-be dictators tend to tell you exactly what they want to do. They test the waters, then evaluate pushback.

In 2020, there is a very real possibility that a close election will result in Trump using the power of his office to defy the will of the people, even perhaps the Electoral College. Only a clear signal from the American electorate, a strong victory in the Electoral College, offers a chance of rolling back Trumpism given the nature of this unprecedented threat to our system of government.

But to accomplish this, Senator Harris, the Democrat who faces Trump must defy popular expectations about what to expect from Democrats. The candidate must present as someone fundamentally different than the creature die-hard conservatives expect the Democratic Party to run. The candidate must be able to put Obama’s coalition back together, and go a step further: they must be able to appeal to those conservatives, especially conservatives in the American West, who are dismayed by what Trump is doing to their party. I think you can be that candidate. And I think I know how you can win.

First off, you should announce your candidacy as early in 2019 as possible. And you should announce alongside your chosen Vice President, who - and this is absolutely essential - must be a combat veteran, ideally a woman. Tammy Duckworth or Tulsi Gabbard or someone similar would make an excellent choice.

The purpose here is to present yourselves as, from the get-go, the Resistance government-in-waiting, and the ultimate expression of anti-Trump. Two women, running for office, one a children of immigrants and the other a military veteran, represents a direct assault on everything Trump represents. You should do everything possible to create an image in the minds of the electorate of the Trump administration ending, and you being the ones to fix what he has broken. Make yourselves a clear alternative, both to Trump and the Joe Biden wing of the Democratic establishment, and the 60% of Americans who perpetually disapprove of Trump will gravitate towards you.

And you begin to make that argument by laying out a clear, coherent vision of what Trumpism leads to, the dangers it unleashes upon an already-dangerous world. You make America’s unending wars a centerpiece of your campaign, and you lay out how you’ll restore America’s place of pride in the global community. You present a compelling vision for foreign policy reform, reassuring our shaken allies while simultaneously promising a new kind of foreign policy that brings America’s actions in line with its values.

You need to make the case, to the American people, that Trump is leading us into a terrible conflict. You should anticipate the administration launching strikes against Iran or another ‘enemy’ in 2020, and remind Americans that the path of great-power conflict, of Cold Wars and military competition, ultimately leads to the mutual destruction of all involved. What America needs is negotiation with allies and competitors, formal rules that all can abide by, and the resumption of strategic (and conventional) arms limitation talks with Russia and China.

Alongside this effort, you should focus on veterans issues. America’s 17 years of war in the Middle East has led to thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of permanent disabilities. Trump has openly attacked disabled and non-white veterans – and if you take a look at the electoral results in military-heavy districts on the Pacific Coast, you’ll note that they actually voted for Clinton, not Trump. Veterans by and large loathe Trump. They know exactly how dangerous he is. And that is one of his greatest weaknesses. A critique of America’s recent foreign policy, presented through the lens of the veteran’s experience, will distinguish your campaign.

Your second major effort should focus on the slow death of rural America. Lost in much of the partisan rancor is the reality, slowly becoming more widely accepted in Europe, that the pressing need to combat climate change must be paired with a focus on rebuilding rural economies. Renewable energy, environmentally-friendly land management, carbon offsets, and the like could bring jobs to rural areas while also moving America down the path of sustainability. Climate change adaptation and mitigation must be paired with material improvements in the quality of life of people living in rural areas, who all-too-often experience urban liberals setting environmental policy that favors a particular, urban cultural view of Earth and the environment over the preferences of people actually living in rural places, whose livelihoods are under constant threat.

In the U.S. West, the Republican party survives by turning every issue into a rural vs. urban struggle. You can undercut this dynamic, and alter the Electoral College map in 2020, by producing a coherent vision for rural revitalization that allows local government greater autonomy in setting local environmental rules, and directs substantial funds to promote the full-spectrum of renewable energy production. The urban-rural divide in the U.S. West is partly an artifact of the national-level Democratic party simply failing to take into account the needs and preferences of rural Americans. This is fatal in national elections, because states like Alaska and Montana may have only a few Electoral Votes, but they add up.

Third, you must make securing America’s elections and ensuring that every vote is counted a fundamental pillar of your campaign. The fact of the matter is that the GOP actively engages in voter suppression, Russia meddles as it sees fit, and voting machines are vulnerable to tampering. American now perceive that elections themselves are less than free-and-fair, and this represents a knife at the throat of our politics.

Your campaign needs to pioneer, in conjunction with companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, a social media platform designed specifically for politics. It should be a hybrid of sites like Facebook, Duolingo, Ballotpedia, and PolitiFact, and shift political discourse away from platforms that aren’t truly meant for it, to one that is designed to balance the essential ability of citizens to discuss, organize, and engage in grassroots politics with the need for an underlying set of accepted facts that the majority of people can agree on. Such a platform would allow elected officials to see what their constituents care about, to accord them greater opportunity to interact and even pursue collaborative design of legislation and policy. It could also serve as a turnout-booster, giving accurate information about when and where to vote to voters based on their phone’s location data.

Helping to begin the development and deployment of an open, non-partisan platform in partnership with the private sector would offer voters evidence of how you are already working to restore faith in America and its institutions. It would demonstrate that you are not merely a politician, and that you can think and work outside the box that the average American now assumes the Democratic establishment will try to draw around you.

The bottom line is, Senator Harris, that you could very well be the next President of the United States – if you are willing to commit to that goal, and pursue a very different sort of campaign than is typical. Something Democrats and others who have too much formal education and too little understanding of the average American too often forget, is that the essence of leadership lies in taking a principled stand, then holding to it even if things go wrong. The Clintons and the other elites of the modern Democratic party they largely created are so unpopular precisely because they are seen as untrustworthy. Right now, Americans are taking a devil they think they know over politicians they are certain routinely lie to them, because despite the official metrics showing that the economy is booming, for half of us the Great Recession never ended.

Can you restore Obama’s coalition? Can you turn the West Blue? I think you can. If you can be different and authentic, if you can carefully and consistently demonstrate that you are not another elitist Democrat. Which depends on adopting the right narrative, one that directly counters Trump and his dystopian vision for America without falling back on the usual ‘liberal’ talking points about universal health care and climate change. With the world as terrifying as it is, narratives about leadership will determine the outcome of 2020, not policy. But they must be authentic, rooted in simple truths, because Americans (particularly young Americans) are actually quite good at spotting inauthenticity. We are advertised at quite a lot, after all.

If you can refuse the false dichotomy of left vs. right, red vs. blue, conservative vs. liberal, speak the language of a leader who seeks a just compromise that benefits all of America’s tribes, and not just her own, who openly recognizes that we are in the midst of the great challenge of our times, and that Trump must stopped in 2020 if there is to be any hope of saving this country – you can be the next President.

But if you want that, you have to start now. Announce you are running, and that you will win. Act like you have already won.  Start building your coalition, talking to people in places the Democrats don’t usually focus on, and even meeting with leaders among our international allies. Be a visionary. Be different. Be the President we need, starting right now.

Published in Blog

Bringing Ragnarok: Book 2, is written!

I don't usually give myself, you know, 'kudos' or whatever. But I will state my pride in having written a 140,000 word book in 15 weeks. Although I had hoped to have the draft complete by September 30, the extra length took it two weeks into October. Still, that's not a bad weekly average, especially considering that there have been other life matters to attend to during these months, as 2018 is the year that just won't stop giving when it comes to major life-changing events.

Now, as I write in an earlier Developer Diary for Bringing Ragnarok, a completed draft does not equal a publishable book. I mean, yes, there are plenty of indie authors on Amazon who do appear to be comfortable with publishing a 1st-draft, and many appear to make a good living doing it. Story > grammar, in most cases - at least in the mind of the average reader on Amazon, if sales in a number of indie-friendly categories are any indication.

I'm too much of a perfectionist not to at least try to make each paragraph and sentence as good as it can be. There is a point where the perfect becomes the enemy of the good, as is said, and a person could go on editing indefinitely and never actually publish anything. In life, I try to remain mindful of tradeoffs - in an imperfect universe, these almost always exist. Doing something means not doing something else, because time and energy are scarce/limited. So it is important, I feel, to realize when something is 'good enough', that is, the flaws that remain - and you can find them in any work, even one you love - don't bug the majority of people who encounter them. In many cases, one person's marring flaw is another's shining star.

But for me, the 1st draft is just that: The 1st draft. I am fortunate in that about a decade of academic writing has given me the ability to pump out a decent bit of writing without intensive editing - blog posts like this, for example, I type out and skim once to correct obvious defects, then hit publish. The result is usually readable, and gets my points across, though often I go on and on and on and on and on without actually saying anything substantial. Tangents are a problem for me, always have been.

So back to the meat of the post: I have 140,000 words of fiction, taking the Six Friends further down their journey into the metaphysical war that ends in Ragnarok: the Apocalypse, Norse style, as I tag it in my Amazon ads. There's some pretty dark stuff in here, but also lighthearted bantering conversations and philosophical arguments about how Starcraft is actually a decent model for the essence of war and warfare, when you boil things down to the Vespene Gas of it all. The next stage of the project is the intensive surgery: While my 1st drafts usually get the basic plotline and sequence of events down, they usually lack (in my opinion) when it comes to dialog and parsimonious description. The latter being a 10-cent word that here essentially means: describe the hill, its vegetation, color, location, and immediate relevance. Do not go all Tolkien, and make the hill a character unto itself. Hills are interesting objects of study, to be sure, but most people are content to have characers simply move over the damn hill, and not discuss the entire history of its origins and occupants.

I mean, okay, I do in fact tend to to exactly this, and much of the point of the story is to write about history in a way that the actual people and events appear real, tangible, believable. To portray history from the perspective of people stuck in it, though unlike most of us they have/gain the ability to impact and even guide it. Because it wouldn't be much of a story if it were about people just, you know, farming a plot or something. As much as I enjoy Harvest Moon, I can't imagine writing a story about it, no matter how much I like to pull in aspects of litRPG into my tale.

Aside from this blurb, not much else to write about. I'm still on-track for a late December release of Bringing Ragnarok: Book 2 on Amazon, and hope to have pre-order set up. I'm also looking at getting Book 1 (and 2) set up for on-demand print distribution through Amazon, which is pretty easy and serves those who like a physical book to read (I'm one of them, in fact.). All with a mind towards sitting down from January - April and writing Book 3, which I'm very much looking forward to (a sign I've finally struck on the right career choice, methinks), especially because Books 1 and 2 (the first 'movement', in my symphonic way of thinking about plot structure) do so much to set the scene, and Books 3 and 4 will progress/go deeper in from there.

As for the rest of the world - meh. America's right-wing now has full control of all 3 branches of government, and has sold itself to a conman who seeks a racial nationalist state in place of the America we have. Democrats will likely retake the House this November, but not the Senate, so their resistance will remain ineffectual. And the current Oval Office occupant (not my President, never my President, as he has committed treason by threatening the peaceful transfer of power) continues to lay the foundation for a voter suppression + electoral college + supreme court effort to control D.C. for another 4 years... or more. Oh, and the IPCC has released a new report, pointing out the obvious fact that if the species doesn't get its act together, like, fifteen years ago, we're going to inhabit a very different planet in the very near future. To top it all off, the failure to fix the global financial system after 2008, coupled to these moronic trade wars, coupled to the US basically exiting the global international system it built, are fixing to throw a nasty recession in the near future.

In short, it remains a good time to be writing dystopian fiction. In my 2041, a limited Russia-US nuclear exchange has destroyed the Corn and Rust Belts, the USA has broken up into a whole set of successor states, and people are already abandoning vulnerable coastal areas in the Southeast, which nobody will insure anymore. I base this dystopic Post-American future on an extrapolation of current trends, as I see them, backed by a long study into the mechanics of human society and a theory I've developed, rooted in a merging of postmodern philosophy and systems theory, that I think explains why Western Civilization goes through cycles of collapse and destruction, some (like 1914-1945) rather destructive. And by 2147, after more than a century of rapid climate change, the solution Earth's 'experts' and 'technocrats' who end up running the planet decide, according to their ideological assumptions about why the world went the way it did, to the violent exile of 2/3 of humanity (the poorer two-thirds) to space 'habitats'.

After Bringing Ragnarok is done circa 2020, I hope to turn to writing something more positive, hopeful, space opera-y. A successor to the great sci-fi of the late 90s like Babylon 5, Stargate, and Star Trek. A story about people building a united galactic civilization in order to stave off a great Plague.

But for now, the times call for dystopian fiction. If politicians continue to prove themselves incapable of rising to the challenges posed by the great changes that are coming, then it will fall on regular folks to pick up the pieces and carry on.

As always.

Published in Blog
Sunday, 30 September 2018 18:36

Bringing Ragnarok, Dev Diary 4

Well, the end of September has arrived, and with it, my target deadline for finishing the initial draft of Bringing Ragnarok Book 2.

While I'm not quite there yet, I actually came within a half-day's worth of writing of reaching the 120k word budget I'd set for the draft. Which I call a win, given that it will take at least another ~15,000 words to finish out Book 2, as I've gone (again) over my word budget on several chapters. I'll aim to trim the total during editing, but as often as not I find my wordcount increasing post-edits, because places where I trim unnecessary explanation or dialogue are more than matched by places where I add either or both.

Regardless, I'm still looking good for a late-December release, as the draft will be fully completed by mid-October, allowing line edits (round 1) to commence. Which will take about a month (I go approx. 3x faster on edits than in writing the initial draft, for reasons that are probably obvious), followed by another month of edits (two rounds) done with pen and paper, including the time my primary beta reader spends adding her own suggestions/fixes.

Still, most definitely, a compressed timeline, but this is where all the research I did prior to starting Book 1 really pays off, because much of the plot is already pre-determined by the stuff I've laid out so far. Part of why I characterize Bringing Ragnarok as a saga, and not a novel, is that as something intended to be pseudo-historical, there are limitations on what characters can do or experience. Novels - and this is why I actually read more non-fiction than fiction, fall prey to making points, or engaging in too much wish-fulfillment. One of by biggest irritations with storytelling is scenes that seem too contrived, where the characters suddenly act out of their normal bounds, without any real justification other than the creator went a little too much into god-mode, and failed to question how much of their own perspective is intruding on that of their characters.

Now, funny that I write this now, because this week I wrote a chapter that, in many ways, is right at the heart of what Bringing Ragnarok is all about. Without giving too much away (if anyone even reads this, of course) - many of the events that take place in Bringing Ragnarok 1 and 2 are structured to produce this particular chapter. It is a chapter that I sincerely hope will, in effect, 'bring the war home' - put violent conflict into a frame of reference that many people will relate to. As such, there's definitely a 'point' to the chapter - as there is to the entire saga.

Which naturally puts me at risk of doing exactly what I hate that other authors do - putting some characters 'on rails', forcing them through a situation just to make some author's point. An intrusion into the story. My hope, though, is that I've avoided falling into the usual traps, by setting up the situation such that the reader will recognize (at least after reflection) why the chapter was essential to the plot, why the events that occur are both foreseen and foreseeable, that is, events transpire in a logical manner, true to how similar events have occurred throughout the history of violent conflict on Earth.

I worry that this won't be well-received primarily because, in America, we've largely been trained to ignore subtlety and relevance in our media. It goes beyond all clickbait 'news' and pseudo-science, straight down to how American writers seem to like to tell stories.

I've actually reached the point that I'll almost always prefer to watch a TV show or read a story from the UK, over one from America. When I look at my bookshelf, most of the fiction I love the most was written by UK authors. Tolkien, Rowling, Adams, Lewis - these authors have inspired me far more than almost every American contemporary, save for Twain and Steinbeck. And when we sit down to watch a tv show, I will take even the most slow-paced, boring UK product over almost any of the popular American shows.

The reason for this is that something terrible has happened, again in my opinion, to the tradition of storytelling in America. What the American media has done to Tolkien in particular simply disgusts me.

In his legendarium, both the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wanted to write a story that was deeply philosophical, concerned with ethics, filled with characters living a totally different kind of life than we collectively live in this strange 'modern' age. He did not write what Americans call 'fantasy' ('faerie' in the UK has very different context), and in fact would have probably called his work 'science fiction' if he were living in America today.

Even more than that, Tolkien was writing what amounts to a meditation on death. Lord of the Rings in particular is entirely about death. Why people risk it, what they risk it for, and how many of them fear it above all else. Power plays a vital role in Lord of the Rings, and is an extremely potent force - but in the end, the problem with power is that it gives the powerful the illusory ability to control, even escape, death. Sauron is not a mindless force of evil, not a disembodied eye that just randomly hates all things for no apparent reason. Sauron is a demi-god, one of the creators of our world, but whose fundamental flaw is an inability to accept his own long-term irrelevance to the unfolding of the saga of the world. Sauron seeks permanent power, an escape from the confinements of reality set by his creator - he seeks that same level of godhood. As such, he is a god to his slaves, and seeks to make all things his slaves, in order to sustain his own permanent (and privileged) existence in Arda.

None of this makes it through the Americanisation of Tolkien. Peter Jackson and his collaborators produced an excellent version of Lord of the Rings - provided you are willing to accept it being shorn of all deeper meaning and relegated to an endless hack-and-slash festival. I am not, and my experience with the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy - and even more so with the abysmal Hobbit spinoffs - has left me with exactly zero hope for the next iteration of America's cultural inability to see deeper meaning in anything, its obsessive need to tear down anything bearing a hint of subtlety and craft. 

This next iteration will apparently be an Amazon product. Which doesn't in and of itself mean that it will suck, and I'm not part of the anti-Amazon crowd at all. But just because Jeff Bezos owns something, does not mean that it'll end up being actually run/produced by someone with the right qualifications.

Truth be told, there are only a few people in this world who have those right qualifications, which so far as I'm concerned represent a true respect for the original author. But Americans, well, can they truly get past their own narrow cultural bullshit to produce something Tolkien would have felt carried on his work - something he specifically hoped would happen?

I'm very, very doubtful. And even if the writers have the best of intentions, American media executives think their audience is stupid. And so feeds them stupid material. I strongly suspect that two male writers on Lord of the Rings will simply double down on the hack 'n slash aspects, bring in a few attractive women to pretend that they care about the female audience, and continue the longstanding (and wrong!) tendency to portray all heroes in Lord of the Rings as pale white folks, and the bad guys as dark-skinned. Which is absolutely wrong, given that in Middle-Earth, just like in real Earth, people migrated and mixed for thousands of years without much respect to skin color or ethnicity. Most paleo-Europeans were actually quite dark-skinned, and the later influx of 'white' genetics stems from the migration of Indo-European peoples over thousands of years, who disproportionately had whiter skin as a result long living in modern-day Russia (not terribly sunny).

There is a way (are ways) to write an epic Lord of the Rings story, suitable for an audience that is sophisticated enough to enjoy Dr. Who, Man in the High Castle, Breaking Bad, and all the other new and innovative series we've seen emerge over the past ten years or so. I can easily imagine a true-to-the-source-material on-screen version of Lord of the Rings, that moves past the fantasy stereotypes that have been foisted onto Tolkien's work, and actually explore the ideas and meanings he was himself so interested in. I could easily write a Lord of the Rings done like, say, a multi-year episodic series like Broadchurch, that actually explores locations, peoples, and all the beauty of Middle Earth, with a diverse cast, that would be more true-to-Tolkien than the white male fantasy I'm afraid - like the Star Trek movie the writers of this new Amazon LotR series wrote - this new series will become.

Truth be told, about the only person I'd trust to do Tolkien right is... well, me, pretty much. Because I've read everything he's written, multiple times. I feel I understand - and support - the vision he and his son Christopher Tolkien sought to bring to the world, even after JRR Tolkien's death. Not that it matters, because I'll never be granted the opportunity, under the present ownership structure, to prove I'm right.

But if whatever gods may be (and care) grant me success in my own work, I promise this: if the time comes that I can ever acquire the rights to Lord of the Rings, some day in the distant future after American media culture has done its best to, Orc-like, profane anything it can't understand, I will do so, and bring to the world a vision of Middle Earth in all its splendor and depth, true to the vision of Tolkien and his heirs.

Published in Blog
Sunday, 16 September 2018 18:36

Bringing Ragnarok, Dev Diary 3.5

Well, got my first drive-by review on Amazon this week. Even better: it's probably by some dude on the alt-right! (read, Nazi sympathizer.)

Amazon has serious problems with its review system. Deep in the underbelly of the indie author world, there's widespread recognition that there exists a subset of internet trolldom that actively looks for stuff to slander. Some of it is the usual gamergate nonsense: men mad that popular books feature female leads. Some of it is political: MAGA-types and other neo-Nazis think their moment has come, and are looking to attack anyone and anything that doesn't fit into their blood and soil vision for America (read, America for the whites, and especially the christian males). And some of it is authors, who see a competitor in their category and try to damage its visibility.

Having worked professionally in the world of reviews, I know that this seedy underbelly of the internet is a constant problem for sellers and marketplaces alike. Just as Facebook and Twitter are now confronting how their platforms are used by neo-Nazis and other hate groups, so are Apple and Amazon. Now, in reality, long term, this activity doesn't in fact normally do much damage to a committed author/seller. Reviews come in time, and even a bad review is actually useful - people like to know the 'cons' of a work, and if most of the cons written come from the voice of someone who appears to have an axe to grind, people who read them are actually prone to then view the product more positively. Subconsciously, they think 'huh, that's all the criticism they've got? And are more likely to see what the deal is, maybe even give it a read.

Overall, reviews are widely known to be of limited value, and they're totally broken when it comes to pure monetary utility. The average product rating, once it has a sufficient number of reviews, is right about 4 stars. 4.2 is the number I used to hear as the typical average, back when I worked for a start-up in Silicon Valley. Which, incidentally, set up its business model around providing review widgets... and went under in just a few years. Businesses found that reviews are good to have (promote buyer confidence), but you have to actively moderate them and interact if you want real results. The cost of paying people to do that interaction must outweigh the benefits, though, because most - like Amazon - use mostly automatic filters that look for certain signals (use of swearing, posting contact information, stuff algorithmically tractable), and actively human-moderate only a select subset (flagged automatically or by users).

But for an independent author or merchant, the nature of the Amazon ecosystem (Apple likely works the same, I just have no experience there) disproportionately boosts the impacts of negative reviews, especially when a book has only a few to begin with. Amazon lives and breathes by getting shoppers to what they want to buy as quickly as possible. The ordering of search results (like with web searches) is extremely important. Amazon uses an algorithm (an equation, incorporating multiple signals/variables, like your and other similar buyers shopping history, as one example) to predict the all-important matter of relevance - whether the product is likely to be what the user is looking for. Using star ratings as a metric feeding the algorithm's decision about relevance means that a new author who gets hit by a drive-by review, is harmed more than a more established author.

I have to anticipate that my current steady stream of sales will drop off for a while, until other readers write reviews (and given what I'm seeing on Goodreads and hearing from my beta readers, they'll come and be solid), because of the newness of my book. Which is frustrating and demoralizing, when the apparent reason for the review is something non-pertinent to the actual product, like say the writer's politics.

I assert that the 2-star (why only 2? Makes a person seem like they are being reasonable. The alt-right understands propaganda. Thanks, Goebbels.) rating that prompted this blogpost (you can go look at it on Amazon if you would like) is politically motivated for the following reasons:

  • Writer is anonymous, but clicking the 'Amazon Customer link' shows a review history and wish list oddly fascinated with fascism... and not in the proper 'how to kill this disease' kind of way. One praises a book about Hitler's bodyguard unit, the infamous 1st SS Panzer Division, as being 'unbiased'. That same term, or variations, is used by several reviewers of the book in question. Which is a long-used term by Third Reich apologists and Waffen SS fans intended to mean 'we don't go deep into the atrocities. Just stick to the tank-on-tank action, please). Other of his reviews are tied to the usual anti-liberal stuff alt-right types are into. Right wing 'libertarian' writers, fascist thinkers, and the like. I'm not into doxxing, but Anonymous and Antifa have shown these trolls do exist, intentionally target certain products and ya gotta point 'em out when you find them even if Amazon isn't likely to do anything about the issue.
  • Writer offers no comment on specific aspects of what he disliked, just expresses hatred of the plot, pacing, characters, and cover - after asserting he made it halfway through the book. On one hand, I have to commend that level of tenacity. I can usually tell if I'm going to hate a book after the first chapter, which you can freely read right on the Amazon landing page. To go ~60,000 words into one before coming to that conclusion is either down to dedication (whatever the motive) or, well... let's just say that either reading comprehension is lacking, or he was really, really hoping Eryn would go back to 1944 and join the Reich.
  • Use of the royal 'we' generally implies the writer has a specific audience in mind. Usually, when people invoke a vague generality like "We've seen this kind of thing before" they and their audience knows what the speaker means. That's the mark of a tribe member telling another tribe member in their own secret language that something they consider socially unacceptable is afoot. Those sorts of dog whistles are how white supremacy has remained a problem in society. Someone throws out a Nazi salute, you know where they stand. Harder when they use euphemisms and tribal appeals.

So why am I spending so much time detailing this? Perhaps, it is just an author's fragile ego reeling at a poor review, you might think. You are free to! Perhaps you are right. And yet... I have received immense amounts of criticism on my writing, non-fiction and fiction alike. This one stands out, in part because when I first started writing Bringing Ragnarok, I made choices that I knew would result in this happening. I was not at all surprised when I saw that review, or when (for market research, trying to figure out who does and doesn't like the work) I looked through his review history.

Look, Gamergate trolls, alt-right misogynists - they exist. They are threatened by the fact that the patriarchy - also a real thing - is slowly (at last) crumbling. In this historic process, I know what side I'm on.

Bringing Ragnarok is being written as, is intended to be, postcolonial and feminist science fiction. There are more women leads than men, and no, they aren't really concerned about romance when the end of the world is at hand. They are not all in 'healing' positions, either: they are (end up) generals, soldiers, pilots, insurgents, and strategists. Hell, by the time we're talking about the 22nd century, gender isn't even a particularly relevant term anymore, as people and intelligent machines both exist, and there are many hybrids - BioMods, colloquially, who start to play a bigger role in Book 2, and whose genders are... well, whatever they want them to be.

Most of the characters, too, are non-white and, to the degree possible, not originally western. They are mostly culturally Western, but this is presented as a legacy of colonialism and colonization (hah, mixed Commonwealth and US English again. I like both.), and not as something they like or want. Yari and Loucas are both from Puerto Rico, and no, they aren't children of poverty (well, Yari was adopted from Haiti as a child, but after that, firmly middle-class), they're children of scientists. Timur is Punjabi, was a child soldier in South Asia, but his upbringing was also solidly Indian middle class. Kim is from Jakarta, Indonesia, and is mostly (but not entirely) of Chinese descent. Patrick may be from Canada (Estonia before that), but the fact that he's married to a Canadian Forces fighter pilot will rankle the alt-right types all the same. The only white-bread character, Eryn, goes to 1944 Germany - a place and time where women weren't exactly (normally) allowed to do real political or military work.

I like multifaceted characters of complex origin who end up being fish out of water, then learn to cope. I prefer to write from the perspective of people who are, relative to their surroundings, subalternPart of my objective in writing this story is to reclaim the topic of war from the dominion of old white men. I use old European myths as a way to deconstruct the Christian Anglo-Saxon worldview of the past two millenia, while restoring women to their proper, traditional place in the world: coequal with men in all things.

And I like to tell a story that deals critically (I was a critical geographer, after all) colonialism, empire, and resistance against both. Which, y'know, was what Tolkien was really after, too, what with the whole 'throw the Ring of Power into the fire' plot. He was no pro-Churchill colonialist. And he too had to deal with Nazism impacting his fiction readership.

Like our grandparents and great-grandparents in the 1930's and 1940s, we live in a time of great change, but also the dogged persistence of old evils. I see Nazism as a cancer on human society, one that is always present, always a danger, but generally only rears up and gains strength, Sauron-like (or Voldemort-like, if you prefer), under certain circumstances. Probably 20% of people, across the world, hold some level of Nazi/alt-right (they boil down to the same thing, in the end) sympathies. People forget, but in the Second World War, most Americans saw the fight against Japan as more important, and not only that, a majority of them polled in approval of genocide against Japan. Many Americans were fine with Hitler, and saw in him the 'final solution' to the 'problem' of blackness. Eugenics, racism, virulent hatred of the other are deeply embedded in the DNA of America. Part of the tragedy of Trumpism is that these filth have gained a far greater voice than ever should have happened - ever would have happened if America's federal system still worked like the Founders intended.

Many people have debated whether Trump is Hitler, Mussolini, or something else - truth is, he's Hitler with an American paint job. One of the thing the weirds me out the most in the news these days is the liberal/neoliberal meme of Trump being crazy, stupid, senile, whatever. He is, but this isn't particularly relevant anymore, now that he has power. Like Hitler in the '30s, he now holds a position of authority and can't be easily removed. If he wants to launch a nuke, nothing but the military directly disobeying his orders (which I hope for, but also fear - this would effectively be a coup, and a blow against American democracy) would stop him. Impeachment is unlikely, unless leading Democrats and Republicans decide President Pence isn't simply the same basic nightmare in less Twittery-clothing. Democrats are already playing at nominating an old white dude like Joe Biden to be the shoe-in in 2020 that they thought Clinton was in 2016 (people forget how happy they were that the GOP nominated Trump!). They fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the Trumpist threat. They've forgotten how power works. Largely, because they don't personally suffer when they lose.

In 2020, you will see an election featuring two vicious primary campaigns, allegations of Russian election interference, and even higher levels of voter suppression in key states than normal. The stakes will be very high, and Trump has every incentive to fight as dirty as he can to remain in office. He'll need to double-down on his base of old white racists. He already alleged in 2016 that he wouldn't respect the outcome if it didn't go his way, so why would he do any differently in 2020? Couple this to the relentless attacks on the media, incitement of violence, allegations that the Dems and Libs are manipulating all information...

Just remember this: the idiot-in-chief can be insane, and still hold on to power, so long as the elites around him dither about playing their own power games, and trust that the mad idiot will respect the system in the end. Such a twit as Trump can literally fail his way into a position of permanent authority, and then wreak havoc according to his Constitutional powers to do so, because Congress has allowed them to accumulate in the executive branch for far too long. That's why Trump is more Hitler than anyone cares to believe - Hitler was mad, and yet able to take Germany down the path to total war and annihilation. Are America's crumbling institutions capable of withstanding such a threat? And even if Trump dies or gets impeached, will Pence - who signed onto his administration, after all - not use the massive power now in the hands of the executive branch? Remember: we live in a world full of nuclear weapons. That have never been adequately supervised or controlled as well as the Pentagon would like the world to believe...

Time will tell. But me, looking ahead and seeing great chaos and misery, I'm writing a dystopian war story for the people of my generation who have to deal with the consequences of this political disaster, which really does amount to a simmering civil war among the Baby Boomers stuck in the Sixties, who are clinging to power even as they lose the intellectual capability to wield it (if they ever had it). I'm writing a story for people who are more Antifa than alt-right, who actually believe in getting up and doing something, building things, to roll back this tide of oppression sweeping across the world - not just in the US, but all the hell over.

I am, personally and professionally, at war with Nazis and Nazism. I write to earn $ to live on, then, gods willing, accumulate surplus to invest in some kind of formal organization that can help other people have a piece of whatever success I am granted, to grow a movement capable of building something better. I'm writing a modern work that is feminist and postcolonial even at the same time it engages in world-building to power a piece of speculative fiction that I hope will be popular and last. Because we're at a point in human history when we badly need a new Axial age, new ideas, understanding, and even myths, if we're to deal with what is coming.

So here's hoping there are enough readers of progressive, feminist, postcolonial speculative fiction written by a white autistic dude, more Buddhist and Norse than Christian, to get things a-going. If that's you, well - check out Bringing Ragnarok. Post on forums. And write me some reviews!

Published in Blog

It probably seems like a dumb thing for an author to ask, after publishing a book. Especially when he intends the book to be first in a series, and hopes to actually earn a living as a professional, independent author.

But the question has been much on my mind, of late (yeah, I often slip into Middle-Earth English/pseudo-formalism): Who are my readers?

Part of me (the more autistic part) says that's a dumb question because, in time, it effectively answers itself. As N grows, a cluster will form (so goes the theory, anyway). And it'll be similar enough to other clusters that I'll know what to call the thing.

Another part of me (the more pragmatic part) says it's a dumb question because I should have answered it before writing the book. Much harder to figure out how to market a book when you don't even know for certain what genre it best fits into.

And a final part of me (the anxious part) calls it a dumb question because it is irrelevant: too few people will ever read the thing for the question to matter.

*Can I just say how terrible an idea it is to actually learn practiced philosophy? That is, how to construct theories which can then be subjected to scientific evaluation? I was already a P on the Meyers-Briggs scale, but too  many years in academia broke my ability to just ask and answer a damn question without digging into the deeper meaning of it all... *sigh*

Fortunately for me, I also live and breath data analysis, and I've been using the Amazon advertising system as a sort of sensor this past couple months. All in all, I'm inclined to stick with the autistic part of my brain on this one, because I can effectively accelerate how quickly I get a cluster by selectively boosting my visibility to readers in different categories, then compare them.

Which is a jargony way of saying that I can, by buying adds, put a summary of Bringing Ragnarok in front of specific readers, based on what they're looking at on Amazon. So if I type in, say, Octavia Butler on Amazon.com, and specify 'Kindle Store' as category, when the list of top results comes up, I can place the cover image and short description of Bringing Ragnarok on this page (well, normally later pages, since position is a function of how much $ you bid, with front-page bids on popular categories costing up to $0.90 or even more (average is 0.40-0.60).

 

octavia butler screenshot


What this can tell me, when I do it across a bunch of different keywords (mostly author and genre names), is how readers interested in different types or styles of fiction respond to seeing my ads. Amazon shows me how many impressions (times displayed) I get by keyword or category, and how many times readers actively clicked on them. In theory, the relative ratio of impressions to clicks (average based on my experience and some internet reading is 1 click per 1000 impressions) gives an indication of how viewers in a particular category judged the ad as relevant enough to their interests to click on. The click to buy ratio, on the other hand, tells how many of those reader clicks actually converted into a sale. Which in theory tells you, more or less, if the information available on the landing page was sufficient to convince them to buy the book (within 2 weeks, which is how long Amazon tracks a click-sale connection). Some selected examples below:

Ads performance screencap

clicks 20 days

 

Ads performance screencap

Now, this is actually pretty crude so far as information goes. A high impression-click ratio may just mean the ad made a browsing shopper curious, which may be totally unconnected to whether they would buy the book, or even wanted to buy anything (people browse out of pure curiosity). And the really crucial buyer decision, the part that makes them go from reading the landing page to shelling out their wages for my book, is totally invisible. Obviously, you hit on a category where you get tons of clicks that convert better than 5:1 to sales, because at $0.50 a click for a book priced at $3.99, assuming the ratio holds as you scale up, you literally have a money-generating machine, even if (after Amazon takes their cut) you only, under this scenario, net $0.20/sale. Small numbers multiplied many times make very big numbers, which pay off student loans (if the dream comes true).

But hitting that magic category is unlikely, at least, not until an author has at least 3-4 books out, which apparently has a tendency to both improve the initial click-to-sale ratio, and (assuming the writing doesn't piss of the readers) generate sales from later books in the series. And even then, there's the niggling problem of figuring out exactly what categories are worth spending ad money on, and what ones aren't.

That's the thing the don't tell you about statistics, until you've taken enough courses. The hard numbers of it all remain totally reliant on having good theory to tell you what's actually important. Unfortunately, social sciences theory hasn't really advanced in about 150 years, and remains mired in the rut of the Greco-Roman European philosophical tradition. So a huge amount of 'good' (peer-reviewed, highly cited) social science work (political science, economics, sociology) is deeply misconceived, because what theories are seen as 'acceptable' by the community in question determines the outcome of the peer-review process, and so you have a system of 'knowledge production' so deeply bound to entrenched patriarchial and elitist cultural values that I really doubt the institution can ultimately be saved...

Ahem.

So basically, key to the whole idea of being an independent author, is figuring out how to most efficiently acquire paying readers, which is usually best done (unless you're a big book company able to pay millions in ads for a crappy product, but you got it on Oprah so people will by it just because of the halo effect... ) by finding out who really really likes your work, then figuring out how to get more people like them to see it.

And so far, I'm not entirely certain who those readers will be, for me. In my head, there's a set of 'tastes' that I think Bringing Ragnarok will appeal to, which I've listed out in the 'From the Author' section on my Amazon landing page. But in my head there's also the more difficult question of what demographic my work might appeal to.

I am proud of the fact that I'm writing unabashedly feminist fiction. Yes, I am a white male (cisgender, heterosexual, married, white, anglo-saxon, all the privilege categories except old (yet) and christian (anymore), and the cat pictures aren't intended to hide that fact, I just don't like having my picture taken at all, and don't see why anyone would care what I look like. But, see, all my life, I've never been able to figure out why the hell people were so caught up about women being able to do the same stuff as men. Like, duh, women are people too. Just people. Most of what we see as gender difference is a result of social training, not some sort of fundamental qualities that vary according to gender. Of course, women should have equal rights and equal pay. Um, duh. Why would it be otherwise, except that in the past a bunch of men figured out that it'd be handy to set up social rules that dispossess women? ['cause there's always more for everyone if you redefine who qualifies as 'someone', hence that being, historically, the fundamental objective of most hard-right groups.]

But I am also writing hard social science fiction with a strong military component, coupled to a re-imagining of Norse mythology that gives the goddesses like Freyja and Idunn their proper due. And if you look on Amazon at the categories that might seem relevant, I think you'll notice pretty quickly that the authors are mostly men.

I can't help but wonder if this is because there are unwritten rules in the science fiction fan community, that make it more difficult for a female author to 'make it'. And I wonder if, with that, comes a tendency among women who are looking for stories like those typically found in military science fiction and space opera, you know, epic stuff, to look for it in other categories. Obviously, many women don't care that much, or else we wouldn't (finally!) be seeing a female Doctor, female Jedi in Star Wars, and hopefully many more to come!

Still, because I have to work in a world of tight margins, I need as efficient a 'channel' to readers interested in epic, sprawling stories with a ton of world building, metaphysical strangeness, and characters who are just regular schmoes - even the gods. And over the past couple months, I've been using ads to get a sense of where, relatively speaking, those readers who particularly want to read about strong female protagonists who pretty much do the same stuff men do, like to hang out on Amazon.

It is an ongoing process, which I do probably too much when not (as I did this week, hooray) making steady progress towards completing Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 by end of September-first week in October (certain sections have lengthened, pushing estimated word count to 130,000).  And I've had some interesting signals, both positive and negative:

  • litRPG and gamelit, which I didn't even know existed until I started doing this, so far have proven the steadiest click-getters and sale-getters. I have no problem with this, though I do wonder if there are genre requirements that make Bringing Ragnarok less of a good fit than it might seem. Many books in this world appear to rely on listing out statistics, and having characters be aware of their living in a video game, .hack/ style. While I prefer to keep this kind of stuff under the hood, non-explicit, I do in fact have a defined progression for the characters, who gain skills and experience as they survive their respective wars (and the meta war looming over everything). I am an avid gamer, and I incorporate many tropes and references from games. And I know for a fact that many, many women enjoy playing games - including war games. Just doesn't get written about in the media as much - probably because introverts like me don't actually talk about what games we play all that much :)
  • Speculative fiction, at least on Amazon, almost seems to be code for 'science fiction with women.' I find it interesting to see how many books there are ones I myself have read, but thought were science fiction through-and-through. Makes me wonder even more about whether women get driven to different categories than men, even if they essentially like the same underlying stories. After all, there were certainly women listening to the skalds sing poetry in the old Germanic world...
  • Military science fiction and military fiction are very hard categories to crack, despite my focus on military affairs. Actually, one of by big 'points' in Bringing Ragnarok is that women go to war too. And not just as doctors, nurses, or other healers. America in point of fact badly lagged even the Soviet Union in incorporating women into all brances of service, including combat arms. Israel has always conscripted women. And the more I read the old Norse sagas and Germanic epics, the more references I catch to women showing up on battlefields, and this being seen as totally normal by the people who later told the stories. There are many, many women in this world who choose a warrior's path, just like men. People are people. But do women who like to read stories about women (and men, of course) fighting in a war, read in different categories than men? I think they probably do, because too many men fail to write believable female perspective characters. And if maleness is an unofficial prerequisite for popularity in the genre...

Final thought: I recently discovered Goodreads, and was pleasantly surprised to see people actually saying they are reading Bringing Ragnarok! Encouragement to get back to working on Book 2!

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