Raed Nerian - Items filtered by date: May 2019

Whew, what a month April has been!

As I mentioned in a previous Dev Diary, my spouse has trigeminal neuralgia, and recently went through minor brain surgery to effect repairs.

All has gone as pretty much as planned, though she is not the sort of person who bears well being trapped in a chair waiting to heal for a month.

My progress on Bringing Ragnarok: Book Three has slowed to a crawl, though. I generally work best alone. I mean, mostly alone, anyway because is anyone truly alone when you have cats? I firmly believe that crazy cat ladies are actually just folks who have life figured out.

Of course, in a world where sanity is defined relative to the mental state of the rest of the population, maybe crazy doesn’t actually mean what it used to.

I find myself walking around more and more convinced that the wold has gone rather mad. Madder than usual, even.

Anyway! Back to the point – slow progress on the writing front. I’m starting to suspect that my publication date may slip to August, but the good news is that the publication date for Book 4, December 2019, should be unaffected.

While I slow in getting final edits made to Part 1 of Book 3, which will push back drafting Book 2 to mid-May, I have been able to do a lot of the research and planning that will make writing the rest of Book 3 and Book 4 even easier this year.

I’ve probably mentioned in these before that I’m incredibly obsessive-compulsive when it comes to embedding realism into my work. I love world-building, and find it much easier to focus on writing good characters and dialog in the world once I’ve fleshed out backstories.

So I’ve already filled a couple notebooks full of maps, diagrams, timelines, histories, hell, even the outlines of a couple academic fields.

Much of this material won’t even make it into Bringing Ragnarok. It’ll be for my next project, which I’m tentatively titling "Bivrost Nine" and will take place in a very different 22nd century than the one Yari and Loucas are stuck in. Many of the same features of my style will remain the same – multiple alternating perspectives, lots of lore – but the story will essentially be in the spirit of Babylon 5, Firefly, Star Wars, and Star Trek. My own anarchist/anti-colonial take on those genres, focusing on interstellar cooperation, diplomacy, and empire-building.

Empire-building from an anti-imperial perspective? Yup, I think it’s doable. And fun too – sci-fi adventure with tons of history and mythology, less than half of it human.

But Bringing Ragnarok gets its fair share of attention! In the 20th century Europe point along the Six Friends’ new Thread of reality, Eryn’s path will take her from Berlin to the Eastern Front in Poland, as the great Soviet Winter Offensive of 1945 is about to commence. So I’ve had to work out the approximate orders of battle for the Soviet and (alternative history) German Resistance armies, come up with a temporary counter to the Allied Air campaign so the Germans can actually do something with the forces they’ve assembled, and reveal the reason why Eryn has to go East, when she’d already had more than enough of war out West.

And in 21st century Post-America Kim, Timur, and Patrick are on the front lines of another looming conflict. The Deserets, naturally, were always a side-show for the Missoula Regiment. Texas was actually pulling their strings, hoping to expand north into Montana before the Lakers – shorthand for the Great Lakes Confederation headquartered in decontaminated Chicago – get there first. For their adventure, I’ve been doing a lot of Google Earth based recon – and getting some physiogeographic advice from an awesome person who runs one of the coolest, most calming sets of blogs ever. And, naturally, I’ve had to design a plausible Texas Armed Forces structure, decide what equipment they’d use in 2040, and what former US military divisions would be reflagged to Texan control.

Then there’s the 22nd century Inner Solar System, where Yarielis and Loucas are finally at a place of safety – Insurgence Headquarters, deep in the Northwest Hexant of the Belt – it isn’t to last. The hornet’s nest they’ve stirred up – ok, let’s be honest a long-simmering uprising across the colonized Solar System against the rich people who run everything from their paradise megacities on Earth – means that the Insurgence has to kick into high gear, and all hands (flesh, metal, or holographic) are needed for the fight. So, naturally, I’ve had to establish where the Navy’s fleets are, their response times, and what sort of plan an organization used to guerilla tactics might employ granted better equipment specifically built for the task. And, because fighting is only half the battle, develop the means to get Yari and Loucas to an important meeting on one of the Habitats of Lagrange Point 4 – Ramallah Station.

And mentioning Palestine – there is another factor that has been slowing my progress this past month.

Politics.

The problem with having a lot of time where you need to be up and about – getting medicine, food, running errands – is that it is hard for an autistic like myself to get settled enough to do the “hard” work of figuring out what words to type out, then what ones to delete or write again.

As a result, I’ve let my brain get distracted by politics again.

And the problem with politics is that I find them eminently frustrating. Which impacts my productivity.

Most people dislike politics to some degree, but my dislike is rooted in the terrible mistake of knowing too much.

Which sounds arrogant, but remember: I’m autistic. Special interests studied to the exclusion of all else are part of the package. And mine are informed by years of postgraduate education in part a result of this special interest-slash-obsession, focusing on question of politics and policy from both technical/empirical and philosophical/ethical perspectives.

Plus I grew up in one of those rural conservative christian households where Fox News played most hours of the evening. Which offers me a unique insight into the worldview of that tribe, now proving so decisive in Anglo-Saxon elections, that appears totally lacking in almost all the mainstream discourse.

Basically, what we’re witnessing right now is a global collapse of the postwar socio-political-economic order. It is driven by a few key factors. Wealth and income equality are one, because they amp up the stakes of all interactions between members of the system. The internet is another, both because it has made information so cheap that it is more and more difficult for any one group to dominate global discourse and because this has forcibly revealed humanity to be more diverse than is comfortable for many people. And America’s failure to control its military-industrial complex and commit to a stable and just international security regime is a third.

And yeah – this doesn’t even mention the climate crisis. Which is real, only just beginning, and unlikely to get more than token support so long as the collapse consuming the rest of the world system continues unabated.

Ultimately, the old order is breaking down, and as it does, groups with starkly different visions of the future are engaged in escalating conflicts. Everyone is tightening their hold on their resources, members of their tribe, bracing in instinctive anticipation of what may come – and getting suspicious of outsiders.

It’s an old story, really, one of the oldest. And very frustrating to watch in real-time. Especially when I look around the internet, I listen to what people say, and I realize how completely asinine the discourse has become.

If you tell me what you online publications read, I can probably tell you who you want to vote for in 2020.

Better yet, if I were to look closely at the headlines, track record of writers, and other interesting details of the media landscape you consume, I could probably tell you exactly what kinds of phrases those writers and editors use specifically to attract your attention by feeding you ideas you already agree with.

Politics is always about identity. And so political publications, almost always funded by ads under the present model dominating the Internet and also facing conditions of ruthless competition, basically offer commentary geared to make some subsection of the political market happy.

So most everything you read about politics, and therefore most everything anyone talks about politics-wise, is just a giant feedback loop containing mostly nonsense and noise. All the chatter is just that – chatter.

And chatter accomplishes very little. Except maybe increase CO2 emissions. So, back to writing I go, and let the world take care of itself.

Published in Blog

I am more than a bit obsessed with Swedish melodic death metal.

This is actually a relatively new development in my life, though not entirely unforeseen, I suppose. I’m autistic, and hypersensitive to sound. The downside to this: One form of personal torment for me is sunny days, where the lawnmowers and airplanes (we live near an “Airpark”) are out and about, buzzing endlessly and without obvious productive purpose.

The more fortunate flip side of this hypersensitivity is that I have always gained extreme enjoyment from listening to music. In fact, I actually suspect autism is somehow related to synesthesia, because I’m not only sensitive to music in terms of rhythm and tone, but I can – provided I am in the right frame of mind – actually see the story the music tells.

For an author, this is a damned handy thing. It not only tends to eliminate writer’s block the moment the music begins, but it also helps me dream up some of (what I think are) my best scenes. Truth be told, there are entire chapters in Bringing Ragnarok specifically structured to give life to a musically-induced vision, and I'm totally cool with that.

But what I think is kind of funny, is how far I’ve come from my musical roots. As I mentioned, I didn’t always like Swedish melodeath – I didn’t know my absolute favorite band, Amon Amarth (Arch Enemy is a close second), even existed, until about 2015. I grew up in the rural US West, in a deeply Christian household, and both parents liked old-school Country music. It wasn’t exactly a rock n’ roll household, by any stretch, and to this day I don’t even know any Beatles or Rolling Stones songs when I hear them.

Even worse, the radio stations where I grew up - a little slice of the old Confederacy transplanted to Northern California -  were mostly country, christian, or classic rock. A veritable auditory desert.

Thankfully, about age fourteen (about the same time I abandoned the whole Christianity thing), I discovered that my new stereo system could – just barely, and only with much manipulation of antennae – pick up a radio station broadcasting from the nearest college town, Chico. This was – before the death of non-corporate radio – 106.7 Z-Rock, and through it I discovered the broader world of rock and metal.

Being an angsty teenager, I of course gravitated towards the most aggressive-sounding music typically played. Which in the late ‘90s, was (in the USA) the start of the Nu-metal trend. Limp Bizkit (oh gods, why?!), Papa Roach (the first CD was alright), and Korn (actually good in their early years) offered a different sound than the then-dominant grunge rock of Nirvana (which I like, but it was played a LOT in the ‘90s).

And then, I discovered contemporary American heavy metal. Slipknot, Mudvayne, Spineshank, System of a Down. I was listening to the last when I heard about the September 11 attacks – (appropriate, in retrospect) and Slipknot in particular (Spineshank’s Height Of Callousness was spectacular, and underrated) kept me going through college and into my Army days. I’d have been happy to have been called a maggot in the 2000’s, and I still pull out their early albums every so often even now that I’ve pretty fully converted to European melodeath.

In FlamesSoundtrack to Your Escape was my first introduction to the genre (I'll always remember walking to my Medieval English History course at Berkeley with that screaming in my headphones), but I could never predicted how much of a gateway drug that would turn out to be! Sometimes I wonder how different my life would be if I had encountered Amon Amarth’s work then, when they had just published Fate of Norns. But, maybe, those aforementioned goddesses knew that it was not yet my time.

Regardless, it was another ten years before I would re-encounter Swedish melodeath – in fact, I didn’t really do much to develop my personal aesthetic tastes on any front for a decade. Too busy trying (failing) to figure out the whole career thing, getting graduate degrees, building a household, and all that good jazz.

In late 2015 I was working on a statistical analysis project (published!) with Pandora active, set to play some In Flames, because I had listened to the CD again for the first time in a few years and remembered how much I really liked it. Naturally, other Swedish bands out of Gothenborg seen as similar to In Flames started coming up on the Pandora playlist. So I heard Dark Tranquility for the first time, and started buying their CDs. And I heard Amon Amarth.

To be absolutely honest, I had heard of Amon Amarth before – I’m a massive Tolkien-nerd, and in my various deep dives into Wikipedia and Tvtropes I’d run across the random factoid that a Swedish death metal band used Tolkien’s Sindarin name for Mount Doom (the place you throw the Ring of Fire, gentle Hobbits). Something I wholeheartedly approved of, but never had the motivation to track down the band’s work.

So when I heard a song come on that was, well, fucking awesome, and realized who it was by, I was hooked. “Valhall Awaits Me”, from With Oden on Our Side, is about a warrior in the heat of combat, slaying one foe after another – until being slain in turn. Sound grimdark? Yeah, well, that’s life, when you boil it right down to its bare essence.

Amon Amarth, for me, represents the perfect fusion of sonic complexity and lyrical storytelling. Death metal, even Swedish melodeath (as the name implies, it is death metal with an emphasis on melody), is difficult music, to play or to hear. The entire point of the genre is to explore that most terrifying and fundamental inevitability of human existence: the End. Because once you have explored that, the greatest of terrors, in all its aspects – only then, can you conquer it, and truly understand what it means to live.

Death is a difficult concept for Americans, accustomed as the culture is to avoiding hard material realities of life. The American music that does go down this road (Rap, Folk, and some Hip-Hop come to mind) traditionally comes from communities that have been trampled on throughout US history – and as a result, if it enters mainstream consciousness at all, it is usually stripped of all its subversive passion. I suspect that death metal too is appreciated mostly by marginalized populations in the United States – the people who have actually lived the nightmare that is the American Dream, for anyone outside the mainstream.

Another thing I positively adore about Amon Amarth is the way they elicit, in sonic form, the spirit of the old Norse – and really, thereby, the broader Germanic and ultimately Indo-European – history and way of life. Western “Civilization” has largely been a long process of Greco-Roman cultural imperialism and cultural homogenization. The old ways were mostly lost as a result of switching from oral to written history at a time when those in control of writing actively worked to bury or re-interpret the past to suit their political goals.

One of the most fundamental factors enabling the virus of white supremacy is this loss of heritage. The many European peoples have been falsely taught to believe that they are united as a distinct race with a shared and unique history. This is bullshit, but the obliteration of our true past – as a tapestry of tribal groups not that different from those in any other part of the world – has enabled generations of “scholars” to claim otherwise. And so billions of other humans became our victims – and our leaders justify these atrocities as the price of “progress.”

To counter white supremacy, to destroy the false story it tells, “white” people must rediscover their true heritage, their actual deeper origins. And not just going back to Europe, but to Central Asia and before that, Africa. We must all reconnect with what makes us just like everyone else on this planet (and others?), the true day-to-day struggles and cares that define life in this mad, mad world.

Amon Amarth does a gorgeous job of carrying on the old traditions of Germanic storytelling, passed down in truncated form in the Eddas and Sagas. Something to keep in mind about this world: metaphor is essential. Pre-Christian Europeans were apparently particularly fond of word-play, of connecting concepts that seem unrelated in novel ways. Kennings are a classic example: If you want to be poetic in how you say “ship” you can call it a “sea-steed” – which makes sense, if you think of a ship and a horse as both being things a person can ride, with the environmental context determining what is ridden.

This works in death metal, and especially in Amon Amarth’s style, both because of the poetic flexibility needed for songwriting but also because once you make death a metaphor, you reduce its terror and allow for more deeper investigation of its structural nature. Which – and this is important – directly reflects the nature of the real world.

“Valhall Awaits Me” is a song about a warrior fighting to the death, but it is also a song about heedlessly throwing yourself into whatever challenge you face, saying to hell with the consequences. A scary thing to do, so most don’t. Which means that anyone who does, has a tremendous advantage. Whether you are writing a book, managing a project, or just getting through your 9-5, there are moments when single-minded devotion to surmounting challenges is the best possible response. And yeah, so in the end, you may lose – but so what? Sometimes, the experience is the point of endeavor. And fortunately, most challenges aren’t fatal. So knowing that even when they are, the same basic behavior is the best option? Helps you see that whatever you’re facing now, is probably less bad than it could be.

Something I learned in the military, doing things that terrified me: Motivation to courage comes from strange places.

Amon Amarth’s music is (to my ears) inventive, exploring, and thoughtful – even when it is also physically difficult to listen to. Death metal requires active listening, if you want to truly experience it. And there’s a lot going on, with a lot of volume, and tone changes. Drums roar like thunder, and death metal guitarists can do things with strings and tension that you wouldn’t believe possible. It is worth listening to just to appreciate the skill required.

And as for the growling vocals – hey, not everybody in this world can sing pretty. Weather-worn vikings (raiding is a very good metaphor for how to survive in the modern economy) get to sing in whatever voice all the sea air and shouting challenges at foes leaves after a few years.

And just for fun, here’s the part of the essay you probably just skimmed to: Where I list and rank all ten (it will be eleven SO VERY SOON!!!) Amon Amarth albums, with some Bringing Ragnarok relevant details.

Note: As I mentioned before, I listen to Amon Amarth, and I see things. The initial inspiration for sitting down and starting Bringing Ragnarok in 2016 was my attempt to make a playlist of all the Ragnarok-themed songs on their discography. Some scenes are derived directly from particular songs, and the major supporting character Sandra Chavez acts as a vehicle for my Amon Amarth fan-ness in the 2041 Thread. And the overall aesthetic is buried in the work.

Also: This is not intended to be a critical review. I like all the albums, some slightly more than others. On a scale of 0-100, I’d give each and every one a 92 or better. Better is a relative thing in aesthetics, and I don’t much see the value in musical criticism that isn't intended to help a band achieve what it wants to do with the music.

So without further yammering, to the rankings (inverse order), with my favorite three songs from each (woe that I can only pick three - but this can't go much longer than 4,000 words or nobody will read it)

 

Jomsviking (92/100)
Again, I REALLY like this album! The sound has evolved slightly from albums 8-9, and not in my absolute favorite direction, yet. When Berserker comes out I feel like it will tell me more about the direction they’re heading (a female lead singer if Johan Hegg ever decides to retire from raiding the distant shores? I hope!)

Back on Northern Shores
Epic ending track. Actually based on an attested battle, and one of those where I’m sailing right there in the prow of a Dragon Ship as the Berserks launch their desperate, doomed attack...

First Kill
I don’t think there’s a better way to start an album than roaring “The first man I killed, was the Earl’s right-hand man, when he came to take her away!”

One Thousand Burning Arrows
The song that always makes me think about anyone I’ve ever lost. And rpretty much what I'd want for my own funeral sendoff!



The Avenger (92/100)
The only criticism I have with this album is that it isn’t long enough. I’ve seen it referred to in reviews as a simple extension of the first album, Once Sent from the Golden Hall, which are probably fair, but who cares? They’re great. “Metalwrath” is an exception, it isn’t a bad song, just a bid of a parody and so kind of a one-off I listen to on its own, not part of the album.

The Last With Pagan Blood
The song describing the afterlife I sincerely hope exists. An endless party in Valhalla with all your friends, family, and pets healed and happy. So yeah, this describes Val-hall and the Einherjar in Bringing Ragnarok quite well.

Legend of a Banished Man
Quintessential song about someone forced from their home by Christians, who returns for vengeance.

Bleed for Ancient Gods
Just an all-out, aggressive statement of what ancestor veneration is really all about. Living according to their ethic to honor their memory and sacrifice.



Once Sent from the Golden Hall (93/100)
First album, and still an excellent album. I sincerely wish I had been exposed to this in high school. Apparently it was intended to be a concept album with a linked storyline (achieved in Jomsviking), and a number of the tracks fit that description well. Starts off with a song about someone losing their child, and swearing vengeance. Can’t think of a better motivation.

The Dragons’ Flight Across the Waves
With “Ride for Vengeance” basically a 9-minute track about one warrior swearing vengeance, then a companion bidding his family farewell as he goes along on the quest for retribution. I listen to it whenever I have to take a long trip away from home.

Victorious March
A song I like to listen to after a triumph of reasonable magnitude. About taking due vengeance against the perpetrators of a heinous act – another topic where the metaphor is key. Oddly enough, I kind of prefer the German language version of the track, “Siegreicher Marsch”

Amon Amarth
The track named the same as the band has got to be a statement. This one is about a grimdark battle between vikings and a great army on the slopes of a dark mountain. So, what you listen to before you do battle with Orcs.



The Crusher (94/100)
This is hands-down the angriest Amon Amarth album, and properly so, as it hits on topics of censorship and enforced faith. This is the album that is most clearly inspired by the forced Christianization of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Also appears to be the album that was the hardest on Johan Hegg’s voicebox.

The Sound of Eight Hooves
This song is how I’d like to see Mike Pence meet his fate. Preacher hung by pagans, discovers Odin (Odin = Icelandic spelling, Oden = Swedish) is more interested in him than the Christian god...

As Long as the Raven Flies
Sandra Chavez’ favorite song, and life ethic. About the inevitability of war (struggle), and a statement of commitment to the basic human struggle to build a better life while we’ve got the opportunity. Only through this struggle can we build a better world in this life or any that may come after.

Releasing Surtur’s Fire
To be written ;)

Note: “Risen From the Sea” is one of the few only ok Amon Amarth songs. I sometimes listen to it, but not with any album, same with “Metalwrath” and “Eyes of Horror” and a couple other one-offs.



Fate of Norns (94/100)
Every few albums Amon Amarth gets a little experimental, and this one came after what the band sees as its first era, albums 1-4. It gets a bit slower, and even a bit heavier than those before (already extremely heavy). This one is atmospheric for me, one I listen to when I want to think strange thoughts.

The Pursuit of Vikings
A long, epic-like song about a group of vikings preparing to launch on a raid. There’s a live version that I think is absolutely effing cool just for Johan Hegg’s joking on stage about how nobody can understand the lyrics. “Odin, guide our ships, our axes spears and swords!” will get written into an upcoming scene with reference to that video.

The Beheading of a King
Shorter than the usual Amon Amarth track, I love how they lyrically tell the story of a battle between two kings, that goes terribly wrong (for one side). I wish I could pay them to do this for like, half the battles in history.

The Fate of Norns
A song I can’t be objective about because it reminds me of the animals we’ve lost and who I still miss. The song itself is about a man mourning the death of his child. ‘Nuff said.



Deceiver of the Gods (95/100)
This is just one of those all-around good albums that I listen to again and again and again, from start to finish and in the proper order. I do that with most, but some of the earlier albums (that I like to listen to later in the day, for some reason) I leave a song off or my spouse often comes home in the middle, so I’m less rigoros. DotG, however – nope. Full listen, every time, if possible. It’s just that good, though there is a slight tone shift on this album that leaves it feeling distinctly more up-tempo than, say, Fate of Norns.

As Loke Falls
About the last moments of the Last Battle, Ragnarok, just before Loke loses his head. Naturally, this is baked in to Bringing Ragnarok at a particular point (ok, maybe more than one – we’re dealing with parallel Threads here, y’know). Glorious description of Heimdall and Loke’s mutual battle to the death.

Blood Eagle
How I so desperately want Donald Trump to meet his fate. ‘Nuff said.

Warriors of the North
A song about being true to your vows, even when betrayed, then rising up after years in exile to defend those you vowed to protect, despite their betrayal. Very much a scene that ought to be in a movie set in Middle Earth (oh, how I wish Tolkien had the time to write more)



Twilight of the Thunder God (96/100)
This is just one long stretch of loud, fast, fun songs. This is one of the easiest Amon Amarth albums to listen to, I think, it simply thunders along from one great track to another. I would say this is the best produced of the Amon Amarth albums, in terms of the overall structure. It also always makes me want to listen to another album, given the tragic way it ends!

Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags
Yeah, this one shows up in Bringing Ragnarok, because it’s about the march of the risen Dead to Vegris – an essential component of the mythos, as I’m re-telling it. The imagery here is stunning, and drawn straight from the Eddas.

Varyags of Miklagaard
Another of their history-themed songs, and one of their absolute best tracks. A song about the Northern European warriors who for centuries traveled from Scandinavia to Constantinople to fight as mercenaries in the armies of the Emperor. As a reward, they traditionally got to raid the palace treasury at the end of their contract period, carrying off whatever they could back home.

Free Will Sacrifice
Directly quoted by Sandra Chavez in the Battle of the Teton River Valley, September 2041, as the Missoula Regiment counterattack begins against the attacking Deseret Army. Just that damn epic a song about battle.



Surtur Rising (96/100)
I feel like this is a more melancholy version of Twilight of the Thunder God, even more focused on history and the Norse ethic. As a result, it has an even more epic quality to it, and explores more of the arcana of Norse mythology, like Fenris-Wolf, Surtur, and the Loke-Baldur conflict (all touched on in Bringing Ragnarok). Just another well done album that I listen to from start to finish, then again in a few days or a week.

The Last Stand of Frej
Frej, which I English-ize to Freyr, is Freyja’s twin brother and a fellow Vanir god into love and nature and fertility and getting really drunk. This song is about his final stand against his nemesis: Surtur, the destroyer, whose flames will consume Midgard after Freyr’s suicidal final charge. Beautiful, melancholy track.

Slaves of Fear
This one is unusual for Amon Amarth in that it addresses contemporary world issues, though through the lens of the Norse mythos and its particular ethic. This song is simply about how Greco-Roman Christianity and Capitalists preach to us, scare us, do whatever they can to make us give them our money.

Doom Over Dead Man
A slow, mournful track, about a man on his deathbed, who realizes he has accomplished nothing in his life that will matter after he is gone. According to the most ancient Indo-European ethic known (and a similar ethic holds in most cultures), “one’s name” – in other words, the things they accomplish or build that impact the world enough that people bother to remember them – is all of any of us that will ever last in this world.



Versus the World (97/100)
This was almost Amon Amarth’s last album. That’s why the whole thing is about Ragnarok, in one way or another, from the Dead rising at Loke’s call, to the Einherjar preparing for war, to Odin’s last ride on Sleipnir to face the Fenris-Wolf at the End of Days. Thank the gods things didn’t turn out like they feared – but also, thank the gods that they were motivated to make what remains one of their best albums. This was actually the album that convinced me I had to get all of Amon Amarth’s albums.

For the Stabwounds in Our Backs
This song directly inspires a scene in Book 2 of Bringing Ragnarok. It’s about the Dead rising at Loke’s call to fight the gods at the Last Battle, dealing with their motivations and rage. It also (perhaps inadvertently) touches on one of the oldest and most famous rhetorical tactics in politics, the “Stab in the Back” myth. I combine these two ideas to explain why the Dead fight for Loke – and it isn’t about good vs evil.

Death in Fire
This one is essentially about the Einherjar, the gods’ counterpart to the Dead, slain warriors taken by the gods to fight for them, and their motivations. I quote it at the start of Part 1, and certain of these themes will come up again and again in the course of the full Saga.

Thousand Years of Oppression
Johan Hegg gets extra points in my book for using a poem written by his sister as part of this song, about Odin’s sacrifice of himself to himself in search of wisdom, and the hypocrisy of Christianity as it destroyed the old Norse culture in Europe, pretending to be about peace, but in truth about dominance. I love the call for returning to our roots inherent in the piece, and certain aspects of this story will become very important as Bringing Ragnarok proceeds.



With Oden on Our Side (98/100)
Not much more I can say than you could already glean from the above. This album is as close to perfection as any I've ever heard. Each track flows to the next, there are glorious highs and melancholy lows, with each track its own special bit of awesome. I only wish there were more! This album, along with Versus the World, are what got me writing fiction again after a long break. Basically, narmy as it sounds, they got me pursuing my dream. And I want to return the favor by amplifying their message, and incorporating their aesthetic and Tolkiens into the heart of Bringing Ragnarok.

Gods of War Arise
Rexburg, Idaho, 2041. If the gods grant me success, I will make this chapter into the most anti-war film sequence, ever. Saving Private Ryan for the War on Terror.

Cry of the Black Birds
Every time I listen to this track, I have a vision of the riders of Rohan charging to Gondor’s defense at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Which is probably my all-time favorite moment in fiction, ever. Yes, this one will make it into Bringing Ragnarok, at a similar point in the narrative. Only, with tanks.

Valhall Awaits Me
Given what I wrote above, need I say more? This exemplifies my approach to, well, everything. Win, lose, or draw, I believe in the struggle.

So there you have it! All ten Amon Amarth albums published as of April, 2019. I can’t effing wait for Berserker to drop, and what visions it will bring to me. If you are a fan of this kind of music, or are willing to try something new, check them out, like, yesterday.

Thank you Amon Amarth!

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 03 April 2019 19:12

Trigeminal Neuralgia Sucks

I am sitting in the corridor outside the surgery waiting room, waiting for a team to drill into my spouse's skull and intentionally damage a nerve.

So, if this is a bit of a scattered, random post - eh, no apologies.

Really, I'm just killing time until hunger sets in long enough to drive me to the cafe, which will kill some more time, before it is back to the waiting room to wait/kill time some more.

The odd thing is that I actually hate this less than i thought I would. The OHSU staff so far have been considerate and professional, which alleviates much of my natural tendency to anxiety (the Tanner nerves, my grandmother used to say). I hate being out of control, always have, but It has gotten especially strong since my year of enlisted military service. I also don't trust easily, whether individuals or institutions. So all in all, I anticipated feeling much worse through all this than I do now.

Not that I have cause to complain, I'm not the one who has been suffering from horrific pain for a year, only controllable with heavy-duty anticonvulsant medication that can't fix the problem. Trigeminal Neuralgia is a vicious condition - so much so that I made an allusion to it in my most recent book as a form of torture used in/by Hel (the Norse version of Hades, named for the daughter of Loke who runs the place).

And all in all, despite the poor luck in being struck by such a rare condition, she has been fortunate overall. We happen to live an hour's drive away from one of the world leaders in treating the condition, and even better - the sub-type of TN she appears to have (it actually isn't formally split out definition-wise, but specialists are on the cusp of showing a genetic cause and, fortunately, have developed a procedure to treat it that boasts very high success rates, especially for patients like her - younger than average, and almost exclusively female.

We're also counting our luck/blessings/random number gods that this is the diagnosis she ended up with (and received sooner than most do). Most women in her situation get mis-diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and she quite nearly did. While MS isn't life-ending, it isn't kidding around.

TN is its own form of nightmare, and the usual procedure for fixing it doesn't work for the sub-type she has. Worse, there's no cure yet - the interim solution is either physically moving blood vessels that are compressing the nerve (more typical in older patients) or doing permanent damage with ionizing radiation when that fails. Unless, of course, you want to spend your life on high doses of a pretty debilitating medication.

What they're doing to her as I type this is actually derived from a procedure used to treat nerve issues like carpaltunnel syndrome. It would be an outpatient operation, except the nerve they need to comb (yeah, that's the actual term they use) is located just at the point the trigeminal nerve bundle exits the brain. So to get at it, they've got to cut into her skull, in what is technically brain surgery.

That's what makes it a major and frightening operation, because who wants someone mucking around in their brain, no matter how skilled? Cutting the skull open isn't something the body was meant to endure, so the recovery period (mostly from the neck muscles that are in the way and get cut up) will be weeks in length - fortunately, all but the first 2-4 days are at home. So after a night in ICU (awake, but monitored to be extra safe) and a couple days in the hospital, we'll be home.

It is moments like these you can't help but be grateful for being in a reasonably stable financial situation, despite my recently abandoning (ok, puting on hiatus, but until I'm making a solid income from writing I have no intention of putting a lot of time into scholarly work) my PhD ambitions (unless I can somehow get a degree in Europe, where all the researchers who do what I'm interested in live.). She, fortunately, is hyper-competent and has already become pretty much invaluable at her work (local universityone that actually cares about education, so not Oregon State University (hell) or University of Oregon (discount purgatory), so through her work we've got solid health insurance and disability benefits for when she's unable to work.

Not that I couldn't provide these things - i have in the past, we kind of switch off who gets to be the breadwinner and who gets to be entrepreneur - but the peace of mind granted by having them is absolutely priceless.

Which is why everyone, everywhere, should have guaranteed healthcare and a sustainable livelihood. Too bad the United States is dead determined to prevent anyone who isn't white or wealthy from having this.

But hey - that will change, at least for those who live in the states that are committed to providing these basic, fundamental services, when DC collapses entirely and they're left to fend for themselves.

And we happen to live in a region that is richer than the rest of the "United" States, and where 2/3 of the population wants these benefits for all citizens. Better times will come, in a decade or so - for us.

Until then, I'm just glad that what turned out to be a career-killing move to Oregon (for me) has turned out so well for her, in every way. I can be an author anywhere, but access to quality healthcare is bound to a healthy economy, and not every place will have that in the coming years.

Also (addendum), At least half of the doctors and surgeons who have saved the lives of members of my family are either recent immigrants themselves or children of recent immigrants. I literally have no honorable reason to oppose immigration, ever, period-point-blank.

Edit/Update (2 hours later) - operation went great, and now to the recovery. Always nice when things work out as planned! To all the people sening messages, thoughts, prayers, and the like - thank you!

Published in Blog

Executive Summary of the Draft New Congress Report on the State of the Union Attacks
[Draft, version 3.62]

UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS TO THIS DOCUMENT PROHIBITED BY LAW

Section A - Reconstruction of Events

At 9:12 PM, Eastern Standard Time, the President of the United States began the annual State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. In attendance were ninety-three members of the United States Senate, four hundred and seventeen members of the House of Representatives, all but three members of the Cabinet, twelve members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, six justices of the Supreme Court, and several hundred spectators and members of the press.

At approximately 9:13 PM EST, six "Klub"-type cruise missiles broke the surface of the waters above Delaware Bay. As a tightly clustered group, they ascended to a height of approximately 50 meters/200 feet, moving toward Dover Air Force Base.

After thirty seconds, the missiles turned west. They then descended to an altitude of approximately 10 meters/40 feet above ground level and rapidly accelerated.

At 9:15 PM EST, NORAD was informed that one or several unidentified aircraft had crossed the Delaware-Maryland border, at speeds that would put them over the center of the District of Columbia in three minutes.

Radar operators at Dover Air Force Base and on board an E-3 Sentry AWACS platform patrolling south of Andrews Air Force Base immediately established a radar track upon launch, however in the crowded airspace along the United States Eastern Seaboard such signals are sufficiently common that this in and of itself was not suspicious. Operators report having immediately noted the new radar track veer away from the approaches to Dover AFB and accelerate, but the missiles' maneuvers caused between fifteen and twenty-five seconds of delay in re-acquiring a firm radar track amidst the ground clutter. It took a further thirty to forty-five seconds for operators to notify their superiors of a clear and immediate threat to the national capitol and to send a message via FLASH protocols to NORAD.

Sixty seconds later, at 9:16 EST, the six missiles passed over the Chesapeake Bay south of Annapolis, Maryland, traveling at a speed of 2400 kilometers per hour - two miles every three seconds. At this moment, several events occur almost simultaneously.

- NORAD passes a FLASH warning to the District of Columbia air defense system along with an authorization to intercept what is presumed to be a hostile target or targets.

- NORAD notifies the Secret Service of an immediate threat to the life of the President

- Air defense tracking radars activate, and begin targeting the inbound cruise missiles.

- Three of the Klub missiles ascend to an altitude of approximately fifty meters/two hundred feet, activate electronic countermeasures, and alter their flight trajectories to simulate impending strikes on the Pentagon and White House in addition to the Capitol building.

These decoys generated sufficient electronic noise that electronic counter-countermeasures required between twenty and thirty seconds to re-establish active radar tracking and targeting. The moment after their ECM systems began to transmit, four “SLAMRAAM” surface to air missiles were launched from sites near District of Columbia and Andrews Air Force Base. They are fired in anti-radar mode, allowing them to home in on and eliminate the source of the jamming.

As the ECCM "burn through" the hostile jamming, additional SLAMRAAM missiles were launched and begin receiving mid-course targeting updates in order to home in on identified targets.

However, because of the uncertainty surrounding the total number of hostile inbound objects, the three decoy missiles are able to prevent the detection of their companions for more than thirty critical seconds, successfully attracting all intercepting fire until all are shot down. In the confusion caused by the competing ECM and ECCM systems and destruction of these decoys, an additional fifteen to twenty seconds pass before it is realized that additional hostile targets remain.

At 9:17 EST, the three surviving Klub-type cruise missiles reach the outskirts of the District of Columbia, passing less than twenty feet over rooftops. One of the three repeats the decoying maneuver, and at the moment air defense officers establish tracks on the remaining hostiles and launch another volley of interceptors at the incoming missiles, this new decoy's ECM systems activate, attracting the attention of the half-dozen interceptor missiles now airborne.

While this new decoy is shot down within fifteen seconds, the two surviving hostiles all but disappear in the radar clutter caused by the District of Columbia's complex urban infrastructure. Neither the SLAMRAAM air defense systems nor the portable “Stinger” missiles deployed on the Capitol itself are capable of successfully reacting to a supersonic threat in time.

Immediately before 9:18 EST, the last Secret Service transmission from the Capitol reports that the President has been removed from the publicly-accessible areas, and is in the hallway leading to the emergency bunker underneath the building, with the vice president close behind.

At exactly 9:18 EST, two 5-kiloton nuclear warheads simultaneously detonate within one hundred feet of the Capitol building.

Subsequent analysis confirmed that one warhead detonated to the southwest of the building, possibly thrown off course by a partially successful intercept. The other detonated directly adjacent to the Capitol rotunda.

Destruction of the structure was total: ground-penetrating radar surveys show complete collapse of the subsurface structure, leaving no possibility of survival. Mortality reached 100% within the Capitol as well as the adjacent grounds, with the first technical survivors appearing approximately 1000 feet from ground zero. However, mortality eventually reached 100% for virtually all those within 1/4 mile from ground zero due to the combined effects of prompt radiation, thermal pulse, and structural collapse from atmospheric overpressure. Mortality rates range from 50%-100% between 1/4 and 1/2 of one mile from ground zero.

FEMA estimates a total of 15,000-20,000 fatalities, with more than 100,000 severe injuries. In the subsequent evacuations, several million Americans became homeless, as uncertainty regarding the direction and intensity of the fallout plume spreading over the District of Columbia necessitated mandatory evacuation of the area.

Section B: Responsibility and Response

As members of the committee will be aware, the State of the Union attacks were unprecedented in American history in scale and effect. Most of the federal leadership of the United States of America was destroyed. The senior surviving Cabinet member was ineligible to ascend the Presidency, as she was not a natural born citizen. The “Designated Survivor”, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, was sent aloft in the Airborne National Command Center, and surviving members of Congress were secured in an undisclosed location.

For several hours, the acting President stood ready to authorize a massive nuclear counter-strike in the event that the attack was the first shot in a general war. However, no attack came, and the military and intelligence communities reported no evidence of any nation mobilizing strategic forces to launch a follow-on attack. While a decapitating first strike has long been considered a risk in the event of uncontrolled military escalation with Russia or China, they would almost certainly follow immediately with a wave of strikes against America's nuclear arsenal and military bases worldwide.

But no attack came. No national or credible non-state actor claimed or claims responsibility. In a separate, access-restricted addendum to this report, a Central Intelligence Agency analysis confirms that while carrying out such an attack would require access to nation-state level capabilities, no nation state appeared to have planned for the event or been prepared to take advantage of the aftermath.

Evidence pointing to the responsible party has not been forthcoming. While the cruise missiles themselves are certainly derived from Russian technology, Russian military equipment is widely exported and used by America's adversaries and partners alike. In particular, quiet diesel-electric submarines and sea-skimming cruise missiles have proliferated throughout much of the world since the early 2000s. Russia, China, India all use Russian-derived equipment and technology, and retain the capability to produce domestic versions, perhaps covertly. Algeria, Iran, Indonesia, Venezuela, and Vietnam are all Russian military customers. It is impossible to rule out the transfer of a submarine and cruise missiles from the inventories of any of these nations to rogue actors.

Aside from the fragments of the Klub-type missiles, the navigation and electronic systems that survived the decoys' destruction, and the radiological signature left by the nuclear warheads themselves, no unambiguous evidence of culpability has yet been recovered. Twelve hours after it presumably fired the six cruise missiles responsible for the attack, a submarine identified by U.S. Navy sonar as belonging to the Kilo-type was destroyed thirty miles east of the Continental Shelf, in several thousand feet of water, after unsuccessfully firing torpedoes at a pursuing U.S. Navy destroyer. While recovery of the wreckage is technically feasible in six months to one year, it is probable that any useful evidence was destroyed by the pressure of the Atlantic.

Investigation of the nuclear warheads and their likely provenance has been no more successful. Their explosive power, at 5 kilotons, is within the capabilities of several small nuclear powers such as North Korea and Pakistan, and it is likely that Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Japan among many others possess the technical capability to produce warheads of this size that are also compact enough to fit on a cruise missile. Israel, despite its official ambiguity with respect to possession of nuclear weapons, is also presumed capable of warhead construction. Russia, China, and India are, like the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, mature nuclear powers with the ability to deploy 'dial-a-yield' warheads can produce 5 kiloton-sized explosions from warheads capable of larger detonations.

As a result of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, supersonic cruise missiles, and quiet submarines since the start of the 21st century, it is not possible to identify beyond a reasonable doubt the culprit for the State of the Union attacks. While remnants of Al Qaeda and ISIS have attempted to claim responsibility, it is highly unlikely either has the capability to carry out such a devastating attack. More likely as a culprit is a rogue branch within an intelligence agency, however it must be re-affirmed that no hard evidence has yet been found linking any group with this atrocity.

Because of this ambiguity, no military response is likely to either harm the perpetrators or protect against further such attacks, barring discovery of significant additional evidence.

The authors of this report wish to make clear to the committee that despite their failure to prevent these attacks, none of the personnel involved in the response between 9:12 and 9:18 are in any way at fault for what transpired. In the highly complex airspace and radar ecosystem along the Eastern Seaboard, it was simply not possible for personnel to react with any more speed without posing undue risk to civilian activities. Their equipment was simply not capable of handling the threat posed by high-speed, low-altitude missiles.

Nor can the United States Navy be faulted for failing to detect the inbound threat. While at least two USN submarines reported detecting a faint acoustic signature consistent with a Kilo-type diesel-electric submarine, this is not particularly unusual, given that there are dozens of such vessels in service around the world, and training patrols even in the mid-Atlantic are not uncommon. In addition, such a submarine can effectively hide its acoustic signature by moving into the wake of passing commercial vessels, while also remaining virtually invisible to radar. While anti-submarine defenses could theoretically be deployed in places like Delaware Bay to prevent such an attack from happening again, there are in fact several ways to bring nuclear-tipped cruise missiles within miles of the US coastline without detection. Such weapons can be hid in shipping containers, undetectable until launch. A cruise missile launched from a container ship heading to Baltimore could have traveled the distance to D.C. in under three minutes, further reducing feasible response time.

Finally, the Secret Service reacted both bravely and according to their training, and had the missiles not carried nuclear warheads it is likely that their evacuation of the President would have been successful.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 20 March 2019 15:18

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 13

Wow, how is it late March already?

That's time, I suppose. Unless you are a Time Lord, of course.

I have to admit to being a bit behind where I wanted to be on Book 3 of Bringing Ragnarok. Part 1 is written and going through the re-write phase (me going line-by-line on the digital manuscript to make it sound like I wanted it to in the first place), but I had hoped to be through Part 2 by the end of March.

So I expect to publish in July, possibly late July - but I have a good reason for the delay!

I don't generally talk about details of the home life, because I'm a rather private person when it comes to anything but my ideas. But suffice to say, my spouse has been going through a difficult medical condition, called trigeminal neuralgia, for most of the past year. It's a nasty, terribly painful condition, but we're exceptionally lucky in that we live about an hour away from a hospital that employs one of the world leaders in treating it, and there's hope for relief in sight - albeit, after a major operation and a lengthy period of convalescence at home.

So writing has been a bit interrupted, both by my obsessive need to care for anything sick in my household, as well bringing my academic career to a conclusion.

On that - if you've dared to read through any of my other (too-long) thinkpieces on this site, you can probably guess that I spend a lot of time reading dense academic literature. This is because for most of the last eight years, I have been working towards a doctorate in the social sciences.

Since my undergraduate days at Berkeley, I've had an autistic-obsession with understanding how the world works. Not just the physical world, but the human world as well. So after moving to Oregon - a terrible mistake in terms of building a viable academic career, for reasons I'll go into on another post, sometime - I took the opportunity to go to grad school. There I took classes in almost every discipline you can imagine (and some you probably haven't) and learned every method I could, eventually earning a spot in a doctoral program.

But I never was, or wanted to be, a traditional academic. And the longer I stayed in the Ivory Tower, the more I hated it, because the contemporary American university is not about education, but about learning how to become a proper white suburbanite.

Make no mistake - American academia has baked-in racism, sexism, and elitism, that make it exceptionally difficult for anyone who doesn't look or sound like the established tenured academic's idea of a colleague to build a career. If you are not a white, middle-class, neurotypical and able-bodied American male, you will experience exclusion and discrimination at some level.

Many people rise above, and do great things, and more power to them! I have personally known quite a few brilliant, capable scientists dedicated to improving understanding. But unfortunately, they're the minority. Most faculty are tenured or tenure-track white men desperate to fit in, because that's how you get employment-for-life, regardless of your actual skills. A great gig, if you can get it - and ultimately, all else gets submerged in the dismal political-economy of tenure.

Me, I have learned throughout my life, working in a bunch of different industries, that sucking up and fitting in is only ever a short-term solution. I had hoped academia would be something of a meritocracy, as it is billed, but my own experiences of actually doing meritorious stuff proved that standing out in any way not explicitly approved by your department is exceptionally dangerous, whether you get published in a top journal early in your career or mix hard science methods with critical theory and send a proposal to the National Science Foundation.

Anyway, long story short, in the past year medical crisis and family losses convinced me it is time to leave academia - at least, American academia. So the past few months, I've been wrapping up my academic projects, while working as a research assistant for a professor in the area. I've also been trying to build up my savings a bit, to make sure I have plenty of capital to invest in taking Bringing Ragnarok to the next level.

I've at least obliquely mentioned in past Dev Diaries that I've been learning how to do marketing and advertising as I go, and been generating some interesting results. Having pretty much zero experience in this world, save as an extension of theory and methods I've learned over the years, it has been a definite learning experience.

But about nine months in, I've paid for enough clicks and examined the results in enough depth to get a sense of how Bringing Ragnarok is being received. Here are some takeaways:

  • Genre is a tricky thing. I don't think or write in terms of genre, I just like particular kinds of stories - historical, character-driven, philosophical - written by people with something interesting to say. I incorporate themes and tropes from Fantasy, Science Fiction, War Literature, and Norse Mythology. All of which makes marketing difficult in an industry where genre provides the structure allowing people to find books they like.

    Genre-ing Bringing Ragnarok has been difficult. And rather than decide the genre before hand, I've chosen to use the data to tell me where it fits. This strategy has had downsides - there is a subset of readers (mostly male) who guard the boundaries of their favorite genre. Bringing Ragnarok contains elements of litRPG, gamelit, alternate history or alternative history, and technothriller, but it isn't any of those things exclusively. Most of my poor ratings have come from genre-readers who didn't even get through half of Book 1 - or Nazi sympathizing white supremacists.

    Ultimately, the best fit as these things go appears to be cyberpunk science fiction and a mish-mash of epic and historical fantasy, with Norse mythology providing the connecting tissue, so to speak, and war fiction providing the action. So, I am narrowing my marketing and advertising to target these categories - and seeing results.

  • Women like my work more than men. Now that I've hit two dozen independent ratings on Goodreads and Amazon, I'm able to apply some actual (very basic, given the small n) statistical analysis. Women, on average, rate Bringing Ragnarok a half to a full star higher than men - and I'm pretty sure I know why.

    There is a strong subset of white males who react negatively to any inclusion of women or people of color in what they see as their fiction - science fiction and fantasy. I knew going in that I would run into these twits, and because Amazon and Goodreads let me see what sorts of books people rating Bringing Ragnarok like, I have a decent sense of why certain people (a subset of males) don't like it.

    I'm writing not only sci-fi/fantasy, but war fiction. I send six characters to war in three different centuries as a way to explore war in a comparative sense - a technique drawn from my academic studies. There is a great deal of parallelism that should become apparent as a reader gets deeper into the story. And war fiction (and video games), sadly, remain largely the province of males who want to read about tough men having adventures.

    This is silly, because women have always read in this genre, and there are hundreds of thousands of female veterans across the world who have known war, and waged it. I'm content to write for these readers - and I'm starting to get evidence that they're finding Bringing Ragnarok and enjoying it. Unfortunately, I don't know how to reach them, while filtering out the sexist and racist males. But I'll keep trying to figure that out!

  • Norse Mythology has a white supremacy problem. As in any other sort of fiction where males have traditionally dominated the authorship, Norse/Germanic Mythology (really, a deliberate mis-reading of it) attracts a small subset of Nazi types - as it always has.

    The problem, however, isn't the mythology itself - read the Eddas, and women are present throughout, despite the writers of most myths probably being male - hence, why you have probably heard of Odin and Thor, but not Freyja, Frygga, or Idunn. As with most history we have, males did the writing, and all too often failed to include the female perspective.

    Neil Gaiman has done much the same thing, while also making the mythology a set of campfire tales, diminishing them in favor of his colonial, neoliberal narrative about "new gods" displacing "old gods" as people's belief changes. I want to offer an alternative to this, and reclaim my Anglo-Saxon heritage from white supremacists and American colonialists of all stripes - hence, why many of my "Norse" gods aren't white.

    Tolkien's work too has suffered (presently suffers) from the same kind of whitewashing. Note how almost all the main characters in the televised versions of Lord of the Rings are white - despite this being patently ridiculous. Tolkien wrote Middle-Earth as as "real" version of Earth some ten thousand or so years ago. People migrated across the face of Middle-Earth, and the Numenoreans lived for generations on an island at the equator. Aragorn, the people of Bree, much of southern Gondor - they should actually be played by people from the Middle East and India, with the Riders of Rohan representing the primary intrusion of a "white" culture, derived from Tolkien's study of the old Anglo-Saxons.


    Ultimately, one of my long-term objectives is to decolonize Tolkien, and save it from white people - same as my goal with Norse Mythology. Of course, this is guaranteed to provoke the wrath of alt-right and white supremacist types, who I am now certain comprise the bulk of my one and two star reviews.

  • And finally - praise the gods! - a growing number of people are actually loving my work. My Kindle page reads go up and up, and oddly enough raising my price to $4.99 increased sales. I'm not exactly breaking into bestselling categories yet, but I'm getting there slowly but surely - and getting Books 3 and 4 out this year should secure the series.

    If you're reading this far, I expect you are actually someone who did enjoy Book 1 (and, I hope, Book 2 as well) and is looking forward to Book 3. Hello! And thanks much! Now, if you have a moment, would you mind clicking over to Amazon or Goodreads and leave a rating? The vast majority of ratings are 4-star and 5-star, and I'm not one of those people with a big social network, so almost all ratings are organic, from readers who discovered the book on their own.

    Once I break down the 24 total ratings across the two sites, and subtract out the four 1-star and 2-star reviews from people who apparently didn't read the whole book (mentioned by two of them), that leaves 9 5-star, 9 4-star, and 2 3-star reviews as of present counting. That's a 4.35 star (out of 5) rating among those who actually wanted to read the book in the first place, and a 3.91 star rating including the poorer reviews.

    Not bad for a first book by an indie author (not actually my first book, but the first presently available). Not bad at all. And given that I get a sale or lend on Kindle Unlimited every day (2-3 towards the middle or end of the month) I'm slowly accumulating a readership sufficient to make this author thing a paying career.

So that's it for another long update! Happy reading, and stay safe out there in this mad world.

Also, go pet some cats. It makes everything better.

Published in Blog

So let me preface this essay and strategy thinkpiece with a bit of a (long) disclaimer.

I am not a Democrat. I am an American citizen, but I prefer to identify as a Cascadian of Anglo-Saxon descent, because heritage and local biome matter far more than a bit of dyed cloth ever could. It is my firm belief that the United States should and most likely will break up (in some form) in my lifetime, because its governing architecture has been captured by a privileged elite that has turned its laws and institutions against its people, which is simply not sustainable.

Further, the United States' endless wars represent a series of mounting atrocities that have stained the nation's honor beyond repair and made itself - and the wider world - systematically less safe. Where just twenty years ago the world was at the "End of History" and Great Power struggles were a thing of the past, now talk of a New Cold War and nuclear confrontations is once again the order of the day.

Americans never wanted any of this. The divisions tearing at the fabric of American society are a result of a generation of failed policies in DC. America must reform, must seek renewal, or it won't last for much longer.

But to be absolutely clear: I no longer believe it likely that any power can stop the coming unraveling. I think the USA is already across the cliff-edge, and Trump's people will manufacture "emergencies" while right-wing proxy groups terrorize neighborhoods in an attempt to suppress the vote.

Whether American democracy can withstand this is uncertain - it has never been tested in this way. And even if it does, the media normalization of Trump and Trumpism over the past four years has made it inevitable that other right-wing candidates will emerge to maintain his coalition after he is gone.

It is absolutely essential to combat this likely scenario starting now, before attempts to do so become overtly politicized. And because the Democrats really are the only established game in town (this is part of the broader problem in America, but you wage political war with assets you have available) the best chance of stopping Trumpism lies with the Democrats running someone in 2020 capable of turning out enough votes in the right states.

But here's the rub - anyone who has followed American politics since the 1990s knows that the Democratic Party has been colonized by a "Moderate" (Neoliberal) wing, mostly comprised of former moderate republicans who became disenchanted with the GOP. This tribe absolutely loathes identity politics, because it is disproportionately comprised of older and whiter members of the population, and works very hard to control the party' agenda and strategy both behind the scenes and in the major media outlets like the New York Times and The Atlantic. It is a tribe dedicated to maintaining the status-quo in America, largely because it is the tribe whose constituents (again, older and white than the average member of the population) happen to have the most (and deepest entrenched) power in elite circles.

This is Joe Biden's tribe, Hillary Clinton's tribe, and John Kerry's and Al Gore's. It is a tribe that consistently loses crucial elections to weak GOP candidates that worked as hard as it could to prevent Barack Obama from winning the nomination in 2008, just as it did Sanders in 2016. (And woe unto us all that they eventually captured his administration).

It is also the tribe most responsible for continuing America's wars abroad, against the will of the majority of the American people. It is this tribe in particular that is smearing Tulsi Gabbard, the one democrat willing to stand strong against their failed regime change wars.

They are also smearing her because many of America's liberals can't stand the idea of a veteran who does more than serve as a prop for photo ops, but again, that's for another essay.

This is why I support Tulsi Gabbard, and why I am taking the time to write out the strategy thinkpiece below. Because she is a veteran who chose to enlist during a time of war and volunteered for service abroad. She understands honor, duty, and sacrifice, which is what America must have right now if it is to take one of its last remaining chances to avert a Soviet-style systemic collapse.

And even better, she understands what it is like to hold political positions based on mistaken beliefs inherited from her childhood, then revise those beliefs once she has learned there are other options.

As someone who also grew up in an extremely conservative (especially by California standards) and religious household, I too once held bigoted views. And then I went to university at UC Berkeley. And then I enlisted in the Army, serving a year in the U.S. South before being selected to go officer (an ambition cut short by injury, though that kept me out of Iraq, so I'm not complaining). And I learned that many of my adolescent views were simply wrong.

So me, I'm very much for politicians who change their mind, so long as they have a good reason for it. And Tulsi Gabbard, if I'm reading her bio correctly, certainly did.

I don't have much hope left for American politics, and honestly believe that long-term we'll be better off if we break the country into six or so autonomous federal regions, so federal policy can be set and implemented more effectively to suit the needs of local Americans, however they determine them.

But I also don't like to ignore any opportunity (even miniscule) to make a difference, and if Gabbard runs a very smart campaign (and has more than a little luck) there is a chance that something amazing could happen in 2020, and a true uniter emerges capable of articulating a comprehensive vision for renewing America.

And unlike most commentators, I believe I can envision a novel, yet viable strategy for making this happen.

So with all this in mind, I'll move past the disclaimer and to the meat of the piece - a basic outline of what I believe Tulsi Gabbard's ideal strategic platform and message is, and why.

I write this in hopes that the Gabbard campaign will see it, read it, and seriously consider my suggestions. They are rooted in a systems-based analytical framework developed during my time in academia, which were to constitute the basis for my doctoral dissertation, had I decided that was worth the time and effort (academia is a very niche audience... also, still mostly comprised old white men who worship Socrates).

Which is really just to say that I'm not a total wackjob, and what follows is a set of progressive policy recommendations tailored to my assessment of the harsh realities of contemporary American political geography.

Note 1: I intend to update portions of this as I have time, adding data to back up my argument, links, other web goodness.

Note 2: "Strategy" here is meant to mean an integrated vision of the best set of policies and mode of rhetoric needed to do what Obama did in 2008 and Trump did in 2016 - mobilize voters who previously felt no candidate cared about their concerns. It is not "swing" voters who matter, but disaffected voters in swing states.

And if you'd like to get in touch, there's a contact page lurking on the site somewhere :)

So without further ado:

 

Gabbard Strategy for 2020 - Comprehensive platform intertwined with lessons learned from personal journey

(See Appendix section for details on the logic behind Note 2 above, and the myth of the swing voter. Was here previously, but on second edit it is just too much before the important bits, the actual 4 Pillars. Wonks will know to check the Appendix.)

Pillar 1: An Honorable Foreign Policy

(Note: All flows from this. This roots Gabbard's entire explanation for why America is headed in the wrong direction, as most Americans believe.)

Problem

America's honor has been tarnished and the sacrifices of our forebears have been betrayed. The Forever Wars have consumed thousands of America's finest, indebted us by trillions, and have made all Americans fundamentally less safe. Gabbard has seen the cost of war first hand, and knows that there is no more pressing moral cause than to end the era of interventions, securing a peace dividend that can be invested to secure America's future.

Solutions

1. Cease all active military operations taking place without direct Congressional oversight and restore the Legislative Branch's Constitutional authority over the Executive Branch. Simultaneously, begin bilateral and multilateral negotiations with any party to a conflict where the United States or its allies have a clear stake, seeking a just resolution that ends the violence.

2. Commit to a 50% reduction from the proposed 2020 Budget of $750 Billion ($2,300 per American!) over ten years. This allows time for a drawdown of forces actively deployed abroad, coordination with allies, and planning for force reductions. Final reductions will be made contingent on the outcome of bilateral arms control talks to be held with leading powers like Russia and China, requiring their committment to spending limits and transparency.

3. Reform the forces to take advantage of America's core strengths - intelligence, electronic warfare, rapid deployment, logistics, command and control, and training - producing a smaller, leaner, elite force capable of meeting 21st-century security challenges. End wasteful Cold-War era procurement programs like the F-35 and Ford-class carrier, and focus on developing the next generation of military technologies.

4. Expand the Army and Air National Guard to absorb their Active-duty counterparts, and guarantee that all currently-serving Active-duty personnel can continue their career. In addition, we will create a two-tier service system, guaranteeing local service for those who cannot or choose not to deploy, preventing the possibility of another stealth draft like that experienced by many service members during the Iraq War.

The crux of Pillar 1 is making the case that Gabbard has personally experienced war, knows that there is a growing danger of another great power conflict in the near future, and is committed to protecting Americans from any more geopolitical tragedies sought by the scions of empire in New York and DC. Honor demands that the US seek peace, and return to a principles-based foreign policy that ties aid and support to observing shared norms of universal human rights.

 

Pillar 2: Restoring America's Dream

Problem

Inequality is tearing at the fabric of American society. Too many live on the edge of poverty, while a few live in ridiculous luxury, and everyone else is caught in the middle - what middle is left. While DC has played imperial games abroad, it has neglected to support basic infrastructure development at home. America has become socialism for the rich and savage capitalism for the rest, and Gabbard will fight this assault on the American Dream by investing $1,000 per-American per-year, $325 billion in total annually.

Solutions

1. Rural communities will receive block grants, matching loans, and entrepreneurship support designed to build new green industries in America's heartland. In the West, the forests will be managed to reduce fire risk while providing carbon-neutral biofuels to heat area communities. In the Midwest, farmers will receive incentives to grow new and more environmentally sustainable crops, including next-generation biofuels.

2. Urban neighborhoods will receive similar block grants, loans, business startup support, and other proven community-oriented development programs. Renters who have demonstrated a committment to a community will be eligible for subsidized mortgages meant to help them purchase their own home, and those who sell to renters will receive benefits to encourage rent-to-own contracts, which give all residents of a community a stake in its future.

3. Every American will be guaranteed a free two-year degree through a community college, and anyone willing to sign a two-year service committment with their local National Guard or other qualifying public service organization will be granted a four-year expenses-paid scholarship to a public university of their choice. This will democratize access to higher education across the board, while instilling a committment to community service in a generation of Americans.

4. A new national health insurance plan will be offered to all Americans, free to anyone lacking insurance through their employer or another federal benefit. Healthcare is a basic human right and must be guaranteed to all, but we should remain flexibile when it comes to how best to achieve it. Further, medical and nursing school loans will become forgiveable after five years of licensed practice, encouraging more students to study and practice in that field, alleviating America's shortage of qualified medical professionals.

The basic idea behind Pillar 2 is to articulate what we can accomplish if Pillar 1 happens. The goal is to take many of the great progressive ideas out there, and match them up with some common business/operational sense. Here Gabbard can introduce something else that will distinguish herself - a hybrid progressive-libertarian approach, not hostile to capitalism but also not uncritical of it, aiming for well-regulated and truly competitive markets, not the oligarchy we have now.

 

Pillar 3: A Green New Deal to Secure Our Future

Problem

Climate change represents an existential threat to global society, and many of America's most vulnerable communities are on the front lines of what will become one of the greatest challenges in our history. Make no mistake - without radical and immediate action on a global scale, storms will get worse, the seas will rise, droughts and fires will become more intense, and millions of people will be forced to move into climate refuge zones. America must do its part to transition to a global carbon-zero economy by 2050.

Solutions

1. Offer incentives for community-based applied research projects that will identify new and innovative ways to build a green economy at the grassroots level, empowering local businesses and organizations to work together to slash carbon emissions while subsidizing the growth of new green industries across the nation, lowering energy and utility bills for Americans wherever they live.

2. Promote local-scale energy cooperatives capable of generating sufficient renewable energy and next-generation biofuels to meed local energy needs, insulating rural pruducers from rising energy prices while tying each and every American community to the green power grid. We will commit to a zero-carbon energy system by 2050, re-developing rural landscapes as green energy producers.

3. Embark on a total overhaul of America's transportation infrastructure, rebuilding bridges and roads while incorporating the latest technological innovations capable of reducing travel times and emissions, while embracing a completely hybrid and electric fleet by 2030. Further, safe and reliable autonomous vehicles will be deployed to guarantee that every community will have access to public transportation, reducing our reliance on owning our own vehicles.

4. Commit to fair international agreements that aim to reduce emission of carbon and other pollutants into the biosphere, doing our part in the global effort against both climate change and environmental degradation. Further, we will join wealthy nations like Norway and Germany in embracing international protocols allowing for the transfer of green technologies to developing nations in exchange for accelerating anti-poverty and environmental protection efforts.

 

Pillar 4: Leading With Love

Problem

Americans are being driven apart by the relentless changes now underway as a result of globalization and the internet. Hate crimes, racism, sexism, and all the other forms of violence that seem to be everywhere right now must be challenged, and veterans like Gabbard are the best for the job. Military service involves learning to work with people very different from yourself, having your ideas challenged, and growing better together as a team as a result. Veterans know that true leadership is always about love, and that a leader must be able to see the value in all perspectives, even while rejecting those that espouse hatred.

NOTE: This section offers a chance to tell Gabbard's personal story, and connect that to the deeper reasons why she should be President.

Solutions

1. Promote a culture of service in the upcoming generations by tying free public university education to a formal service committment through the revamped and appropriately funded National Guard. Restore the connection between America's citizens and civic institutions by allowing young Americans to work on service projects in their own communities in exchange for a free four-year education at a university of their choice.

2. Restore faith in American democracy by securing our elections against both foreign interference and the despicable efforts of some to prevent black and latino Americans from voting. Every electronic voting machine will produce a paper record of the voter's choice, and a dedicated task force will investigate every allegation of voter suppression to ensure that no one is able to select their electorate.

3. Reform America's criminal justice system to eliminate racial policing and the scourge of unjustified police killings. We will reverse the militarization of America's police, and require that police departments reflect the composition of the population they serve and protect, while improving police funding across the board to help end law enforcement practices that put officers at unnecessary risk.

4. Bring civility and dignity back into the White House, while working to reverse a half century of expanding executive powers, that have placed the Constitutional balance of powers in jeopardy under the Trump Administration. We will sponsor alternative social media and news services to Big Tech, while expanding regulation and anti-trust oversight of these companies to guarantee the principle of user ownership and control over their own data.

 

Conclusion

This is a long and dense document, I'm aware, and presently inadequate in terms of citation and support. This is what you get when you've got a refugee from academia trying to make it in the real world, spending spare time working on this sort of thing.

Anyone able to advance this basic concept further, please feel free! My belief is that these Pillars can represent a coherent strategy and narrative that will appeal to the right voters, in the right states, to perform in the primaries and take on Trump. I am certain that Gabbard, with the right prep, would annihilate Trump in the debates.

Winning the nomination will be difficult. The DNC's relegation of superdelegates to the 2nd round of voting in a contested convention should be examined alongside the crush of Dems running for the nomination. The DNC old guard likely expects (and wants) a long primary to demonstrate that the party is The Only Alternative to Trumpism. They'll be fine with allegations of "chaos" because when Sanders is contesting the convention with 1/4 of the delegates, Biden (or if he implodes, O'Rourke Klobuchar) has 2/5 , and Harris or Booker has 1/3, so nobody wins round 1, then the superdelegates will decide for the centrist.

And then they'll go on to lose the election, like they usually do - and are actually fine with, since that means they never have to actually govern and suffer the consequences of their unpopular policies.

But that's another essay.

Gabbard faces a daunting task. Countering the Establishment's plans will mean mobilizing enthusiastic cadres in Iowa and New Hampshire, who can vault Gabbard to 3rd or better. The centrists will do a good job of splitting up the vote, leaving room for an insurgent youth-oriented progressive to bring a chunk of independent voters into the democratic primary process and jump to a surprise 3rd place finish. At that point, the media buzz will amplify the message while trying to figure out what trope to pin on her, letting Gabbard make her case to the broader public.

I will be hard fought and difficult to predict from then on, but a realistic scenario would be a tacit Sanders-Gabbard alliance that drains attention and energy from the centrists, and ultimately makes the contested convention a 3-way contest between Sanders, Gabbard, and the Centrist wing. If this is achieved, Sanders faces a choice: team up and put Gabbard on top of the ticket (time for a changing of the guard!) to avoid the superdelegates imposing their candidate on a 2nd round vote.

Being a veteran gives Gabbard credibility, particularly on defense, that no one else can match in the primaries or general. Veterans also have a highly visible place in American society, even if politicians of both major parties typically use them as props - that's why they do it. A veteran can do it better.

Only a veteran can tell the American story of the past 20 years as one of good intentions defeated by bad strategy, planning, and execution by chickenhawks in DC and their lobbyist allies. Only a veteran can show Americans how they can still be safer than any other nation even with a military 1/2 the size. Only a veteran can get other veterans to carry the torch, to organize rallies and events, to engage in a sort of national insurgency against DC's terrible leadership.

A pragmatic progressive veteran who can articulate a left-of-center way to rebuild America from the grassroots level can disrupt the Democratic primary process, and so evade many of the criticisms routinely leveled at democrats. If anyone can take America back from the brink, it will be a veteran, who can mobilize other veterans, under a common vision of a better future.

Here's hoping, Tulsi Gabbard, that you can be that leader. You'll have my vote. Too bad Oregon votes damn near last...

 

Appendix

There is a deep truth to democracy, that most prefer not think acknowledge: People usually vote according to their sense of their own identity, and how their peers expect them to vote. That's not an opinion, that's a scientific evaluation based on a lot of academic research. Most policy preferences people express in surveys and polls are a function of their identity, not the other way around, and people's public behavior (and their votes) are heavily conditioned by whatever group they identify with.

Most conventional American political analysis pretend this isn't true in "advanced" democracies - read, white western democracies. They prefer their traditional model of the "rational voter" - the woman or man who knows what policies they value, and votes for candidates who will advance their policy interests. Identity may be relevant, but it competes with other things that are also valued, and so voters who exhibit behaviors indicating they are "Identity" voters are seen as an anomaly, people who simply value their identity above material factors.

This is the theoretical root of the myth of the "swing voter" - a hypothetical rational and moderate type who sometimes votes GOP, others DNC. While such people certainly do exist, their numbers aren't as large as you might think. The myth persists partly because it offers a conveniently simple media narrative, but also because of a bit of sleight-of-hand employed by mainstream political analysts, 538 included (especially, much of the time).

See, there actually isn't a lot of data that tracks actual voter behavior. Voting is secret, and you have to rely on exit polls and other proxy data to estimate the composition of who turned out and how they identify. This sort of work great for validating whether an election was free and fair in retrospect, but not so good at telling you what different cohorts of voters do from year to year.

When most analysts talk about "swing" voters, they're actually talking about swing electoral districts, where the actual vote count shows the district "flipping" between the parties from year to year. But what is actually happening, according to the data, is not necessarily the same group of voters going to the polls every year, and choosing the "optimal" candidate. IF you had close to 100% turnout, or at least a statistically representative sample of the population, in every election, you could impute the existence of these swing voters.

But you don't. All you have is the number of votes for each candidate, the share of eligible population voting, and some exit or post-election polls indicating (roughly) the composition of the electorate. From that, you can map out the districts by their vote count, and see which districts flipped from one party to the other. Analysts, however, knowing that the average person doesn't have the statistical training to spot the difference, have chosen to portray those district changes as indicating the existence of a group of moderate, non or bi-partisan voters.

What is actually a far simpler and more consistent explanation rooted in what the data can actually tell you, is that many voters - particularly those describing themselves as Independents -  tend to show up at the polls only to support people they feel a personal connection with. And in the age of the internet, Obama, Trump, and O'Rourke have all shown that there are large populations of people who will only turn out to vote - but who will turn out - for someone who can appeal to their tribe.

As Pew Research reports show, America is composed of many political tribes, not just conservative and liberal, Republican/GOP and Democrat/DNC. These groups turn out to vote at different rates, they consume different political media, they share their own reality when it comes to how they feel about politicians and issues. The reason why we're all trained to think that American voters are composed of three groups - right, left, and moderate/swing - is largely down to the fact that the media amplifies the voices of the two biggest tribes at the expense of all the others, making it difficult to put together an electoral coalition.

In short, American politics is afflicted by bad theory and bad analysis, because this is profitable for the players involved. But the real, true nature of the beast is that people - and especially in the age of the internet - are tribal. Trump's people appear to have either figured this out, or stumbled on the truth, and that's why his approval ratings have not dramatically changed since 2017.

For Tulsi Gabbard to win, veterans must be her tribe. She is absolutely the only candidate who can credibly claim to represent people who have seen what war does. She, therefore, is the one candidate capable of reaching out to America's twenty million veterans as one of them, and articulate the pressing (and popular!) need for reducing military over-investment in favor of increasing domestic investment in communities left behind by globalization.

The key factor in any successful Gabbard campaign will utterly rely on mobilizing large numbers of veterans who don't usually vote Democrat and convincing them to commit to participating in the Democratic caucus and primary system. Gabbard must make the Democratic party safe for veterans.

Veterans aren't usually thought of as part of the democratic party's base, but this is foolish, and down to so few democrats having had military experience, much less in a combat zone. The services are increasingly diverse, educated, and tired of military interventions conducted with no long term strategy. More and more are speaking out against the Forever Wars - mostly ignored by the mainstream media, of course - and many would consider voting for an anti-interventionist democrat, having seen firsthand the cost and waste involved in regime change wars.

So the Four Pillar Strategy (call it what you want - take any of this and use it as you please!) is rooted in Gabbard's identity as a veteran, and her ability to speak across all of the major American divides to offer a real alternative to the stale politics of the status quo on both sides of the equation.

Published in Blog
Monday, 25 February 2019 17:02

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 12

Well, February is almost gone, but there's snow falling in the Willamette Valley.

So as the alley and street turn white, and Broken Wagon farm wakes to a slow winter Monday, here are some random thoughts for anyone who happens on this website.

1. Bringing Ragnarok Book 3, Part 1, has been written. Of course, that's just stage 1, but it is nice to hit the 50,000 word, 1/3-of-the-way-through mark. Especially as the past couple months have been a tad chaotic, as I have been working to wrap-up my academic work in preparation for going full-time on the authorship biz while preparing for my spouse to go through a major surgery (not life-threatening, but will be followed by a long recovery).

2. On leaving academia, I guess I should add some details. I have spent the better part of the past decade working towards a doctorate, but the time for that adventure is now past. Simply put, despite my successes in the field - publishing in a great journal early in my career, getting great teaching evaluations, so forth - haven't left me feeling any sense of satisfaction. Academic writing is too obtuse, good research is locked behind paywalls, and the culture of bullying and exploitation runs very deep in the academy, probably because it is dominated by a bunch of old white men who have been out of new ideas since they got tenure. I'm tired of seeing the best people leave to pursue other careers, and I'm finally ready to go too.

3. I am absolutely convinced that there is a need for the kind of story I'm telling in Bringing Ragnarok. Quality science and competent narrative do mix, and together can have a greater impact than either alone. As the saga progresses, the reader should start to see that I am telling several stories simultaneously - the story of humanity in the age of colonialism, the story of how elites have seized on the idea of war to protect their power, the story of how certain ideas come to dominate the collective conscious at the expense of others. My six perspective characters, in a way, are for most of the saga actually secondary to the plot. Hans Lewinsky in 1944, Sandra Chavez in 2041, and Olga in 2147 are in a way the real main characters in Bringing Ragnarok, much the same as Samwise Gamgee is the real main character in Lord of the Rings. And I chose these three characters to full a particular purpose, that you might be able to guess early in the saga, but will become more apparent in later Books.

4. Politics in the Anglo-Saxon world continue to be insane, as the liberal world order continues to break down. The dark humor is everywhere - from Britain pretending that Brexit is the "people's will" despite like 40% of voters not participating in the referendum, to the American Democratic party's hollow claim to be the "Resistance" while every democrat and their uncle scrambles to be the party's next anointed - each of them catering to a different tribe within the party. Disorganization, chaos, and uncertainty are the order of the day, and as far as American politics are concerned, all the shouting completely ignores the slow, steady move towards formal authoritarianism in DC that is ultimately what will destroy the USA.

Contemporary politics make it wicked easy to predict a bad near-future for humanity, at least. Hey, it'll keep purveyors of dystopian cyberpunk employed for a good long while.

On that topic, anybody who happens to have followed this website over the past couple years will probably note that  I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. And actually, I'm rather convinced that my long sojourn in academia has given me a greater ability to "see" the broad outlines of humanity's likely futures - at least better than most of the hacks who pretend to. I have developed a unique scientific view of human society driven by critical social theory and cybernetic social systems, that I believe offers a chance to understand human history (and ultimately, the history of any other intelligent life that may be out there) in a new way, one that reconciles conflict and order and incorporates the post-modern understanding of our shared reality as a sort of illusion produced by our mutual communications about it, contingent always on the ever-present need to acquire the resources needed to survive.

I've come to the view that the world system does move in cycles, that these follow a disctinct pattern of chaos, reconsolidation, rapid growth, slow-growth/niche-expansion, metabolic overload and collapse into chaos, thus beginning the cycle over again. This not a deterministic cycle in the sense that, like, the world always disintegrates and then gets rebuilt. That's an extreme version of the idea, that can happen, but is by no means guaranteed. But the cycle of increasing complexity followed by release and reconfiguration aptly describes many patterns important to human society and history, as well as ecology.

Actually presenting this view in a simple and coherent way is one of the crucial goals of my fiction writing - Bringing Ragnarok, my present project, and Bivrost Nine, the project to come after (a Babylon-5 themed saga). But I have constructed the overarching plot of BR using this critical systems perspective, emboldened by the fact that my assessment of phenomena like, oh, the current "President" and his people's electoral strategy has been spot-on over and over again, while so many others seem continually shocked and surprised by events.

Sadly, my assessment is that things are headed down a very dark path, with hope re-emerging somewhere by mid-century. The cycle of European Great Power struggles produces a geoquake every 100 years or so [see: (1618-1648), (1756-1763), (1803-1815), (1914-1945)] and the next iteration is in the making - unless people figure out how to stop it, and soon. But as the crucial driver is the collapse of the American Empire at the same time China is returning to its historic role as a leading global power, and falling empires usually start a fight and lose with the rising challenger, I see great dangers on the horizon.

Dangers that the DC system refuses to see, and in fact likes, because the American two-party system is outdated, hollow, and colonized by two big-tent parties who benefit from people living as if they're the only political forces in play.

My predictions: 2020 is a disastrous mess of an election. Either Sanders or Biden ends up winning the Democratic primaries in a drawn-out, vicious fight, leading to the loser *probably* launching a 3rd-party bid. (Warren is doomed by Sanders and Harris both running, Harris/Booker will do well in the south) If Sanders takes the DNC nod, the neoliberal wing breaks off, joins the nevertrumper wing of the old GOP, and launches a formal 3rd party bid - not unlike The Independent Group that just formed in the UK from Labour and Tory defectors. If Biden wins, the Sanders-left probably runs a 3rd party bid.

'cause, see, the trick is this: America is fracturing along regional lines, with regional splits correlated to the ethnic composition of the local electorate. And so is the UK. New opportunities are coming, and new coalitions are forming. Individual agendas and egos are all looking at the state of politics, and seeing that the landscape is changing. Media outlets won't pick up on this until it's too late (and the present Oval-office occupant steals the election through some means, rendering opposition mood) - but that's their deal, innit?

Living through these times is interesting, if nothing else. As I said - makes writing dystopian cyberpunk plots with realistic backstorys easier than it would have been ten years ago.

On that, for anybody who has gone through this lengthy blather - despite the nuts-ness of the past few months, I'm aiming to have Book 3 released on Amazon by the end of July, and Book 4 released in mid-December if at all possible. Fortunately a lot of the research for Book 3 carries over to Book 4, as happened with Book 1 and Book 2, so I'm confident I can continue to make progress.

And to reward you for reading this far (or being smart and skimming to the bottom) here's a sneak peak at where Book 3 is taking the characters:

Eryn gets to witness the deployment of Germany's Me-262 fighters in full-force, as Adolf Galland leads his 'Experten' in a desperate bid to stem the tide of American and British bombing of Germany. After that, it's to Occupied Poland (post-uprising Warsaw) for some diplomacy, and last-minute preparations for the massive Soviet Offensive across the Vistula.

Kim, Timur, and Patrick begin the struggle against the Texan invasion of Montana, which is both larger and more technologically-sophisticated than the Deseret attack in the Battle of the Teton River Valley. While they're now actually competent at the whole fighing thing, Chavez will take them on a trip to First Nations territory in former Wyoming, in an attempt to open a new front against the Texans.

Yarielis and Loucas start on Insurgence Headquarters in the Belt, but are dispatched along with the rest of the Insurgence fighting force on a major strike that is partly inspired by the Islamic State's assault on Mosul a few years back. But in Space, and as a prelude to an attempt to unify all the subaltern peoples of Inner Sol, which will take Yari and Loucas to the rebelling Lagrange Point Habitats, Ramallah Station in particular.

So more fun to come, to distract you from the travails of a mad, mad world! I'm also working on getting a print edition out, so those of you who prefer "real" to e-books - on it.

Published in Blog
Thursday, 07 February 2019 21:42

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 11

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary update time!

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

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

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

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

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

Who says the EU doesn't work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Blog
Friday, 18 January 2019 21:23

Why I am Cascadian

Why I am a Cascadian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cascadia Map V1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am Cascadian.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 12 January 2019 06:00

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Welcome!

"Raed Nerian" is derived from old English words that mean (broadly) 'counsel' and 'protect'. Together, I intend them to mean simply "counsel to protect". Works as a pseudo 'mission statement' for my life as well as anything else I've ever come up with. Raed Nerian serves as my personal website/blog/outlet for random writing and odd ideas, with the common theme being discussion of ideas that I think are interesting, and want other people to think about too. Especially, ideas about how to better understand and fix our strange, broken world.

I am an avowed minimalist, and tend to see Wikipedia as the pinnacle of what 'good' web content looks like, so you will never see ads or their like on the site. Just some thinkpieces and other similar bloggy content I like to put out because... I like to. (No law against circular reasoning on websites!).

DISCLAIMER: Stuff you see here isn't approved or reviewed by anyone but myself. And I like to poke at taboos and play with controversial topics, so odds are if you regularly read/follow you'll be offended/irritated/terrified at some point.

Sort of a Biography

Like one of my inspirations, J.R.R. Tolkien, I am more or less a Hobbit. A day working in my library, a night relaxing with the family, good food and good sleep. These things I like. Attention, not so much. Being on the autism spectrum likely plays a key role.

My main gig is writing science fiction. If you'd like to read a cyberpunk war epic told in the Saga mode, where a group of friends are split across time by a Norse god bent on destroying reality, check out Bringing Ragnarok.

Published in Blog
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