The next person who says Obama does civil liberties better than Bush deserves a boot to the head

Make that a boot stomping on a human face — forever.

I actually had someone try and pull that on me in a debate, more or less in the sense “BUSH HAZ WORST RECORD ON CIVIL LIBERTIEZ EVAR.”

This was true, when he was in office.  But Obama has doubled down on the fascist police state with nary a noise of dissent from the left.  Let us review:

Yeah, vast improvement.

Elizabeth Moon and the Category Problem of Extremist Islam

Elizabeth Moon upset a lot of people over the week and a half by posting about citizenship, the 9/11 attacks, and the proposed Cordoba cultural center a few blocks from Ground Zero. As she said about building the cultural center, she “should have been able to predict that this would upset a lot of people.” There were many folks condemning the perceived nativism and bigotry of her comments, and calls to boot her off her GoH spot at Wiscon. (Wiscon’s statement about it here.)

Reading Moon’s post, and some of the other responses on the internet, and even more widely about the controversy about the Cordoba Initiative’s community center in Manhattan in general, I am struck at a rather unfortunate blurring between Islam in general, and politicized extremist Islam. We have, at the moment, Islam the religion as a whole, and within it a movement of wackos who probably have their closest Christian analogs being the Christian Identity movement.  The main difference is that the Christian Identity wackos have never gained enough political power to gain control of a whole country and start hanging gay people.  The Islamic wackos have.  And all sides of the debate seem to contribute to this unhealthy identification of extremists with the whole in a sick sort of codependent symbiosis where Muslim voices who critique politicized extremist Islam are marginalized by the left in the name of tolerance and the right subsequently decries the lack of “moderate” Muslim voices condemning the acts of the extremists, and where a sick pastor on the right can threaten to burn a Koran to protest the violence of Islam and the administration on the left can successfully shut him down primarily by pleading fears of the violence this would provoke in the Islamic world.

So, while it’s fine using this as a teachable moment, I wonder if all the calls for tolerance whenever 9/11 comes up is not, in fact, helping to blur the line.  It is sort of like responding to an anti-Christan rant about Fred Phelps by calling for more understanding and tolerance of Christians in general.  You may have a good point, but by ignoring the fact the original person was reacting to a subset of crazy people and identifying them with the whole, you end up tacitly going along with identifying the crazy people with the whole.

And now for an episode of “what he said.”

Over at Mighty God-King we have a critique of the new series, The Event.  Now, I haven’t seen the show, and from what I’ve been reading about it, I don’t have any desire to, but MGK’s post brings up some very good points that are not just applicable to series television, but to fiction generally.  I can boil it down to a general rule of thumb; in  your book/trilogy/film/TV series, no matter how complex the story is going to become in terms of plot and style and world-building, in the hook— the first chapter/episode/etc.— you need to keep the focus tight, the action straightforward, and the narrative as comprehensible as possible.  A reader must have a emotional investment in the story before they’re asked to follow truly convoluted plots or intricate world-building, or major structural slights of hand.  Without that, they just aren’t going to invest the mental energy to follow what you’re doing, or care about it when they do figure it out.

Anyway, read the post, it makes sense.

PS- Want to know my theory why Lost succeeded where all these other shows bomb?  It was a character drama first and foremost, all the mythology stuff was a layer on top of all these people’s stories.  Which is why it sort of makes sense that it ended how it did.

Myth and Asshats

So rarely does the universe provide such an enlightening conflation of shallow facile consensus political wisdom, along with elitist literary snobbery as we have in this column by Maureen Dowd.  Dowd has gotten the memo, that Christine O’Donnell is the designated political chew toy for this political cycle.  O’Donnell is the acceptable target.  After all, she was the idiot who spoke aloud some doctrinaire religious ideas about sex on MTV when she was in her twenties, and had the bad sense to admit to Bill Maher that she dated a neo-pagan in high school.   But, you see, Ms. Dowd is a writer, and a writer needs a theme.  So what original aspects of designated clown O’Donnel does she decide to make fun of this time?

The fact that she likes Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  Really.  This is cause for her to question someone’s mental stability and connection to reality, the fact that O’Donnell decides to praise one of the major writers of the 20th century for his treatment of women.

“Look at the significance that he gives to Eowyn, the Lady of Rohan,” O’Donnell said on C-Span in 2003. “She was a warrior spirit and, to me, that’s who I love. I mean, I aspire to be soft and gentle like Arwen, but realistically, I’m a fighter, like Eowyn.”

O’Donnell said she liked Tolkien’s outlook on gender: “On the one hand, there’s the attitude that’s normally on the conservative side — as a conservative woman, I feel I can say this — that stifles women. There’s almost the stereotypical attitude of, to be a true woman, you have to stay at home. And I’ve actually had people say to me, ‘Why do you choose a career over marriage?’ Honestly, I’ve had only a few significant relationships, and they’ve broken up with me. And one of the things I’ve been told is, ‘If you weren’t so strong, you’d be married by now.’ ”

That passage is apparently worthy of Dowd’s mockery, more so than O’Donnell’s views on masturbation.  (Which my wife has had a field day with.  And which, in the video I saw, had a lot in common with a Playboy interview with a certain infamous ex-president, including use of similar language.  Of course, given the results of that guy’s election, it probably is a disqualification on its face.)  Apparently, if you are a fantasy geek of any stripe, you need not apply to the hollowed halls of seriousness that admitted this guy.

Worse, she decides to bring up C. S. Lewis:

“We’re rowdy, we’re passionate,” she told the enraptured crowd. “It reminds me of the C. S. Lewis Narnia books, where the little girl asks someone about Aslan the lion, who represents God, and she says with a little concern over such a fearsome lion, ‘Is he safe?’ And her friend says, ‘Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.’ ”

Yep, that disqualifies her right there.

You know, in policy terms I probably have as as little in common with Christine O’Donnell as I do with Charlie Rangel. And I agree with all of the critiques of her on tactical grounds, as the woman has had a colorful history, and a lot of it has been in front of the TV cameras. I agree on a lot of the critiques of her on policy grounds.  (As opposed to the knee jerk critiques of her because of her scary religious background. Please remember the guy who first popularized the term “lust in my heart” during a political campaign.)  But just because you’ve decided to professionally despise the woman does not mean that dissing both Tolkien and C.S.Lewis does not make you a prime asshat.

And by the way, the above thesis was so frighteningly thin that Ms. Dowd had to downshift midway into the article and and start talking about how Obama is the first African-American President and those Tea-Party people are all mostly white. Thanks for the stunning original insight, I have been waiting with baited breath for someone to come up with that analysis.

Lastly, you don’t get to use the phrase, “We the People in the Ruling Class Elites do think O’Donnell comes across as alarmingly loopy,” in an ironic fashion unless there are actually people out there that think you are part of the “Ruling Class Elite,” and after viewing the drainage from this intellectual abscess,  I think everyone is only looking on with sad bemusement.

Things to screw with your futurism

Two unrelated things that I came across recently that should have some serious implications to anyone writing near-future SF.  The first post is actually kind of obvious, in fact it touches on one of the central themes of the singularity.  However, it hits a point that I don’t think is explored often enough:

Quantum computing represents a moment of comparative advantage for the nation(s) that pioneers it akin to Great Britain being first with the Industrial Revolution. The first use for the world’s first lab functional quantum computer is to apply it’s power in other fields where innovation is stymied by previously intractable math problems, thus permitting a burst of patentable breakthroughs or discoveries that lead to applied scientific and commercial uses. The second use of the quantum computer’s power will be put towards solving problems related to optimizing quantum computing itself, both in terms of refining the systems and assembling arrays.

Advantages of this nature tend to be self-reinforcing and synergistic. The state that accrues these downstream spillover benefits of quantum computing in rapid succession could potentially leapfrog over everyone else to a degree not seen in centuries.

Or, to put it bluntly, a post-singularity culture is going to be heavily influenced by who gets there first. Akin to the way the geopolitics of the entire world is still influenced by the fact a few European nations sailed out and grabbed a hell of lot of land a few centuries ago.

The second article attacks one of the central bits of conventional wisdom about what the geopolitical landscape is going to look like over the next century or so.

A country is susceptible to a Communist revolution ONLY during a generational crisis period, and only when there’s a fault line between two birth-defined demographic groups, one of which is a market-dominant minority. The resolution of the bloody civil war is to confiscate the property of the market-dominant minority. There’s more than one way to accomplish this goal, some more or less dictatorial than others, but Communism provides one of the most convenient dictatorial templates.
The implications for China are also potentially enormous. The elders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have been experiencing enormous panic and paranoia since 1991, when the Soviet Communist economy collapsed. They’ve been fearing for their lives, and rightly so.

Now another Communist economy is collapsing in Cuba, and I can only imagine that Beijing is watching this in horror — and well they should. Ironically, the CCP itself has become a birth-defined market-dominant minority in China, and with tens of thousands of “mass incidents” every year, they know that a full-scale rebellion may be close. China is forced to import huge amounts of food to prevent unrest among the peasants, but as food shortages grow and food prices increase, that can only go so far.

The mostly unspoken assumption about the future balance of power in the world is one of Chinese ascendancy. In fact, as we go through economic shocks, there are a dismaying number of economists and pundits who look on the authoritarian Chinese model with something akin to envy.  But what if that model is as fragile as the one that held in Soviet Russia? What happens to the world economy, now that China is so well integrated into it, if China suffers a political meltdown, insurrection, or a civil war? What happens if all those factories building cheap electronics start burning?

Something you should read if you want to know what’s going on

Returning to my occasional bout with politics on this here blog, I thought I’d mention the somewhat wry amusement with which I’m watching the complete misunderstanding of the whole Tea Party thing.  Even among allies of the movement, small and large-L Libertarians such as myself, saw the nomination of O’Donnell as a WTF moment since the conventional wisdom is she can’t win the general election.  And of course the completely unbiased mainstream media is all a-cackle about the potential of a schism in the GOP.

It misses the point, and most people who bitch about the Tea Party never get the point because they receive their only info about it from the establishment, be it the establishment politicians, or the establishment press.  Both of which cannot understand the Tea Party because at root it is a deeply anti-establishment movement.  It is, in fact, the most widespread anti-establishment movement since the radical groups of the sixties.

You want to understand it, a good start would be reading this:

But, tea partiers say, if you think moving votes and passing bills are what they are really all about, you have not taken the full measure of their ambition. No, the real point is to change the country’s political culture, bending it back toward the self-reliant, liberty-guarding instincts of the Founders’ era. Winning key congressional seats won’t do that, nor will endorsing candidates. “If you just tell people to vote but you don’t talk about the underlying principles,” Martin says, “you just have to do it again and again and again, in every election.”

What will work, they believe, is education: DVDs on American history; “founding principles” training; online reading lists; constitutional discussion groups; cultural and youth programs. In Tennessee, says Anthony Shreeve, an organizer there, groups are giving courses on the Constitution and “socialism and the different types of isms,” bringing in speakers from around the state. “Our members have gotten more involved and learned about our local government, how it works, and what kind of influence we can have,” Shreeve says. “Education has been the biggest thing.”

The Delaware election wasn’t about winning the senate seat (though that’s really not as far out of the question as conventional— i.e. establishment— wisdom holds) and it wasn’t even really about sending a message to the Republican leadership (though one was sent) it was a demonstration by the people, to the people, that their votes actually can change things, and they don’t have to blindly accept dictation from the self-appointed masters of the political process.

Plot and American Gods

Note: This post may contain spoilers, you’ve been warned.

A while ago, I posted some tips on writing “tightly-plotted” fiction.  This was in large part due to some reviewers using the term to describe my shaggy-dog space opera Apotheosis.  However, after listening to the audiobook American Gods by Neil Gaiman I thought it would behoove me to point out that the “tightly-plotted” label is simply a description of a way someone can put a story together– one well suited to thriller, action-adventure and other fast-moving types of stories.  It is certainly not the only way to put a story together, and there are plenty of examples of very well-plotted stories that are by no stretch of the imagination “tight.”

Case in point, American Gods.  It is a sprawling, episodic pastoral novel that is as much about mythic stories in general as it is about the mythic story it’s telling.  It is also exquisitely plotted.  The main arc is very simple, but not quite as simple as Gaiman leads you to suspect at first.  In fact, it is quite telling that both con-games and coin tricks are a recurring motif throughout, which in a more “tightly” plotted story would almost slam the reader in the face with what’s going on.  However, in something of a genius move, the elaborate, rich and evocative structure of the story itself– with its subplots and sub-stories, its tale-telling and tangents– is an expert exercise in misdirection.  The reader is so entranced with Gaiman’s storytelling that he can lay major plot points in plain sight without anyone noticing, so the final third or so he can engage in reveal after reveal and the reader is left stunned at how the trick was actually pulled off.

I suspect most readers were stunned when they realized who Shadow’s cellmate actually was, especially since they were pretty much told flat out who it was in the first few pages and they just didn’t catch it.  I’d also suspect that these same readers were patting themselves on the back when they understood who Mr. Wednesday was back during the airplane ride.  Also, again we have everything laid out for us when Wednesday lovingly describes the Violin Con and Shadow points out that Wednesday’s favorite grifts are two-man cons.  In a “tightly plotted” novel, the reader would inevitably know, right then, what’s happening– what had to be happening; because the advantage, and the disadvantage, of a tight plot is that everything on the page is necessarily in service to the greater plot.  The reader knows that every scene is serving, somehow, the central machine, and with some genre savvy they can pick out what’s important and intuit the eventual reveal.  But because the structure of American Gods is not “tight” in that sense, there’s no telegraphing to the reader that this particularly entertaining tangent is any more important to the main plot arc then any of the dozen equally entertaining tangents surrounding it.  That structure breaks down the genre-savvy reader’s impulse to knit everything together ahead of the writer, so when Gaiman starts taking pieces and putting them together, the inevitability seems much more magical.

American Gods is a classic example of how a plot can be well done without drawing attention to itself– and how it works because it doesn’t draw attention to itself.

Yeah, this will save your business model.

(NOTE: I’m going to start posting (some) political stuff on my blog again, the experiment with two blogs didn’t really work, and no one needs another political blog anyway.)

Again with the asshats I say.  And we have some wonderful hats of assness this time in the person(s) of a company known as Righthaven.  What is Righthaven, you ask?  It is a posse of out-of-control lawyers who Google on behalf of their clients’ IP rights, and if they catch someone doing something nefarious— such as quoting a paragraph with proper credit and linking back to the full article— then they sue your ass. I don’t mean they send you a nasty note, or a cease and desist, I mean they file paperwork at the court demanding $75K and you don’t find out until you get a subpoena.

How to fight this? Well, if you get sued, take their ass to court and don’t settle. Sure, it’s a pain in the ass, and expensive, but if everyone does this their whole scheme will collapse. Second, never ever ever link back to the assholes that hire these people. they don’t deserve the traffic, and a trackback may get you sued.