Category Archives: Society

War Never Changes

“Although a soldier by profession, I have never advocated war except as a means of peace. So seek peace, but prepare for war, because war, war never changes. War is like winter, and winter is coming.”

–Ulysses S. Grant

This quote is one I’ve seen chopped, abused, misused, and misquoted quite a few times.  Most often, of late, I’ve seen the first sentence used in relation to current events… missing entirely the meaning of the full statement.  I’ve seen it in video games, heard it in speeches, read it in books.  It is a quote that speaks to anyone who has ever served in combat, because we understand it at our souls.

Why does this come up now, of all times?  Because in times like these, when terrorists attack innocent people and we, in turn, bomb the places where they have support, it is something to remember.  Humanity will never truly be without war, because we will always have differences and disagreements.

Conflict is wired into us, just as firmly as the tribalism that causes us to identify into groups of “us” and “them.”  While diplomacy and discussion are methods to bring peace, they rarely bring any satisfaction or long-term resolution when between social groups.  The human brain is wired for conflict, to settle issues in the most basic fashion: I win, you lose.

What happens in war, at least modern war, is that the conflict is such that neither side wishes to surrender until defeat is proven, until a side is forced to admit their defeat.  This was the paradigm for World War II.  The Allies continued the war until the Germans and Japanese forces were defeated, until they surrendered and afterwards their nations were occupied and restructured by the victors.

Yet the price of such a war is catastrophically high.  Millions die.  Not just soldiers, but civilians.  Cities were bombed, civilian populations were targeted, and the societies that suffered such casualties rejected war, empirically, in order to prevent its future outbreak.

What they did, what they hoped to do, was to contain human nature, to tame it, to pacify the beast with law and diplomacy.  Yet this can only work until some people feel that their grievances are such that the law and diplomacy will not suffice.  When the animal parts of their brain tells them that they are right and everyone else is wrong… and the best way to prove that is to do violence on them until they surrender.

When individuals do this, it is murder or assault.  When a society, or even just a  large minority of a society does this, it is war.  Make no mistake, we are at war.  When a societal band declares that they will harm you until you do what they want, they have declared war in the most basic way possible.  This conflict is one based upon economic, societal, and lastly religious reasons.  This is not the time for diplomacy, for discussion.  Logic and empathy both have their places, but only when it comes to moderating our response.

When someone attacks you, you don’t make apologies for them, you don’t discuss why they are called to violence or what harms you have done them.  You hurt them back.  You hurt them until they stop hurting you.  The same goes for nations and societies.

The people who attacked in Paris are the same people who have attacked in Bengazi, they are the same people who have attacked on 9/11/2001.  They are the same people who bombed the USS Cole and the Marine Barracks in Beirut.  They are the products of a radicalized version of their religion, one which promotes violence, victim-hood, and which feeds off of provocations.  Their stated intent is to draw the West into returning their attacks, to then mobilize more of their society to support them.

We have tried for years to prevent a full-scale war.  We have targeted terrorists, we have moderated our responses.  As a result, we have emboldened those who think such restraint is a sign of weakness.  They don’t understand our desire to hold back the full strength of our response.  In our position, they would wipe us out (or try, because in truth extermination of a people is far harder than they realize).

We have come to the point where these two world-views can no longer coexist.  When a society does not restrain its members, when a people encourage their children to kill ours, then we have come to a point where we are left with no recourse.  Conflict must have resolution.  Restraint, taken too far, is just a suicide pact.  Diplomacy will falter when one side does not bargain in good faith.

“Although a soldier by profession, I have never advocated war except as a means of peace. So seek peace, but prepare for war, because war, war never changes. War is like winter, and winter is coming.”

Read it again: War’s purpose is to settle a conflict.  To end a difference, to use force upon those who will accept no other bargaining point.  Because there will always be those to whom violence is the first choice.  There will always be those who must be stopped, despite the costs.  Seek peace, seek diplomacy, but never forget that war will come and we must always be prepared.  Prepared to fight for what we believe in, to protect our families and our way of life.

War has come.  Winter is upon us.

Who Are You?

Whenever I look at the visits to the blog, I’m always a bit curious about who visits.   Some days I’ll have ten hits from Poland, other days fifteen or twenty from Germany, or Romania, or the Ukraine.  Every day I have visits from Australia, the UK, the US and others.  So I’m curious to see… who are you?  If you have the time, post your name, where you are from, and maybe a little about yourself in the comments.

Happy Holidays 2014

Happy holidays to all my readers.  Hopefully you can spend them with friends and family.  If you can’t get that, hopefully you at least get some time to yourself.  If you are enjoying the holidays at home with your family, take a moment to think about those who cannot, both those serving in the military at home and abroad and those who have gone to their final rest.    Best wishes to all and a Happy New Year.

Orion and Getting Back into the Space Race

Orion Space Capsule Concept Image
Orion Space Capsule

The Orion spacecapsule has returned successfully after it’s first real test… and I’m excited.  Yet at the same time, I can’t help but feel it’s a hand-wave.  The Orion is incredible… yet it is still feels like too little, too late.

Paul Bertorelli wrote an excellent article (below) that matches a lot of my feelings on the subject.

http://www.avweb.com/blogs/insider/Orion-Glacial-Pace-Space-Dawns-223201-1.html

The private industry is trying, too, but as seen by the recent setback with Virgin Galactic, they are not quite where we might hope they could be.  The problem, quite simply is money.  Space expansion and exploration requires a lot of money, and even with very wealthy private investors, such as Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson, they have far lower budgets than NASA could have, in theory.  But NASA doesn’t have the money, or focus, to make manned exploration (much less expansion/colonization) a priority.  Part of that is politics.  Space isn’t a priority to the average US citizen, because the media (movies, news, etc) focus on the expense, the danger, and the cost.  The recent movie, Interstellar, garnered a lot of criticism, not because of its plot, but because the theme was stay and die or get out into space and propagate.  A note of how much certain people hate our own race where a message of expand our horizons or die was criticized in that survival was seen as the wrong choice.

Against that measure, Orion is a step in the right direction… a very slow step, but still a step.  But what can you and I do to improve this?  Talk to your friends, your family, have the discussions about the potential and importance of space travel.  Fight the dialogue that says that space is a waste.  Fight the people who think that ‘we need to stay here and not ruin the stars’ and rubbish like that.  Make it a topic of conversation, make it important to other people, light that spark… or else we may never take that next step, we may never go back to the moon, much less to other worlds.  That, I think, would be a great tragedy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Yes, it’s a purely USA holiday.  But I think the sentiment is something that can be shared.  Regardless of where you are, take some time from your day to be thankful for the things in your life.

Me, I’m grateful for the good things, but also the challenges I’ve been given.  It is the hardest times in your life that force you to grow.  Sometimes I might wish I had fewer opportunities to grow, but looking back, I’m grateful for the experiences that made me into the man I am today.  Remember to be grateful for the things and people who have helped to make you the person you are… and if you aren’t happy with that person, find some way to challenge yourself to be the one you want to be.

That’s all, have a happy turkey day.  Check back here soon for some new information and updates on my publishing schedule.

The Ninjas Ate My Homework

I have to admit, I’ve become something of an American Ninja Warrior addict over the past six months.  It’s a difficult confession to make, in some ways, with how much work I’ve got to do and how little free time, that I’m watching two hours a week of one television show which is in many ways the latest evolution of reality television.

Yet, I think the show really does have something, at its roots, that is both inspirational and exciting, in a way that reality television and sports television fundementally aren’t.  This show isn’t about people degrading themselves or backstabbing each other… they’re building themselves up and building a community around facing challenges.

Yes, these challenges are of the physical sort, but there are mental and even emotional challenges involved.  Watching this season of American Ninja Warrior is a testament to the drive and dedication of common, everyday people.  These aren’t professional athletes with million dollar contracts and massive insurance policies, they’re plumbers, electricians, stockbrokers, and doctors.  They are people who spend their free time preparing themselves, and in many ways, they exceed what professional athletes manage when they try.  Almost every olympic athlete and professional athlete washed out in the initial rounds.  The handful that made it through to the city finals did not continue to Las Vegas.

The show does a great job showing people to root for… it builds up their back-story, and the people we see go at these challenges as they grow more complex become heroes in a story that is all the more powerful for the fact that they write it themselves.  It is an uneven contest, I’ll admit, with obstacles being both changing and more elaborate, some of them it seems at the whim of the creators.  Still, when I see someone succeed where many have failed, it makes me inspired to work harder at my own challenges.  Some of the contestants this year have accomplished things that no one has before.  It’s exciting to see such successes and I look forward eagerly to see them succeed even more (I hope) next year.

So yes, I’ve spent, in effect, something to the effect of 24+ hours watching American Ninja Warrior… but I’ve also been inspired, rejuvenated, and I feel more willing to take up the challenges in my own life.  And that’s a pretty damned good accomplishment for a TV show.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Networking

If you’re like me, then networking as an author is hard.  I hate feeling like I’m coming to the table with nothing besides my hat in my hands.  I hate asking for anything, unless I can contribute something in return.  Call it work ethic, call it stubborness, call it social anxiety, whatever, I originally, and still do, find it difficult to ask for anything from those who can really help.

That is a serious issue.  Let’s be honest, the biggest hurdle for any independent author (after writing something worth reading and then getting it edited and self-published) is somehow getting their target audience to find them.  This can be greatly assisted with book recommendations by other authors, blogs, book reviews, and word of mouth.  Word of mouth sells the most, and I’m not talking “my friend wrote this book and it’s okay” word of mouth.  I’m definitely not talking “my son/daughter who is living in my basement wrote this book, please buy it so he/she gets the money to move out.”  What you want is “I met this author, he’s pretty awesome, and I really love his book, check it out.”  That kind of interaction is priceless.

You have to reach your target audience and reaching them the right way is hard, sometimes.  There’s a variety of research on the subject.  I’ve already written a post on self-promotion.  What I’m talking about now is networking, making those key connections that will not only benefit you… but benefit the community of independent writers.  You may not even think of it this way, but somewhere, someone out there needs your help just as much as you need theirs.  It may be a small thing, an introduction to someone you know, but that can be the difference between success and failure.

Networking has two aspects, the online and the physical.  Online is typically LinkedIn, G+, or the dreaded timesink FB.  It also includes blogging realms, but that is a story for another time.  You find someone who posts on a friend’s page, you like what they wrote, you might see they’re into the same thing as you, and tada, you’re friends.  Maintaining communication is a part here, striking up a conversation without being (A) a creeper, and (B) pushy is important.  If you come off as someone who is entertaining and intelligent and with something valuable to hear, then people will be more likely to remember you in a good way.  Physical networking is even more important to get write.  Have a business card, be confident, make eye contact, and above all be professional.  If you don’t have anything to bring to the table, then try to ask some questions that can help you.  (Example questions: What conventions in the area do you recommend for new authors?  Who could I talk to about participating in a panel? Introduce yourself and what you write, but don’t go into exhaustive detail about yourself.  Be specific, be brief.  There’s nothing like a 10 minute long heartfelt story of failure and depression to make any potential contact chew their leg off to escape) Here’s the brutal truth: most people will not take you seriously unless you view yourself that way.  Conventions, both fandom and writing, are excellent venues for networking.  Meeting someone face to face, talking about events or panels at the con, these are likely to stick with them and help them to remember you.  Maintain that communication through online and other such events, and you can build your professional relationships.

For me, I’ll be honest, networking is easy enough in theory, but harder to maintain those important relationships.  Part of that is maintaining communications, part of that is having something to contribute.  Let me be clear here, plenty of people are willing to give the new guy (or gal) a hand at first, but patience wears thin if all you are is a taker.  Give help, contribute, discuss, and when someone needs that introduction, help them out.

Yes, it can come back to bite you sometimes.  I arranged an introduction for an acquaintance’s kid at a business.  He never showed up.  I got a nasty call.  That kind of thing happens.  I’ve also struck up friendships as a result of networking, learned a lot about the business end of writing, and had some help passed my way more than once.  The important part of networking is to get out there and keep doing it.

 

Counter Culture, Identity, and Nerds

I won’t ever forget the time that I heard someone tell me that I wasn’t really a nerd.

This came as quite a shock to me, let me assure you.  At the time, I was GMing an ongoing D&D campaign which had run two full years, playing once or twice a week for that entire time.  I was also playing MMO’s as well as Warhammer 40k and Fantasy.  I had grown up playing computer games like Starcraft and Civilization.  For that matter, I not only had a library of science fiction and fantasy novels, but I’d written three of them myself and was trying to get them published.  In high school and college I was a band geek, a debate geek, I played D&D, I liked math, these things weren’t something I just picked up because I thought it would make me look cool… I love this stuff.  Surely, I thought, my credentials were well established.

Not according to the young man who accosted me.  He was angry, irritated, really.  He told me that I was too well adjusted, that I hadn’t suffered enough, that I didn’t wear my badge of nerd-dom through my appearance and dress, that I needed to look the part.  Granted, he said this much less eloquently, and talked about how real nerds were outcasts, they were the people who rejected society because it rejected them and it didn’t understand them.  Nerds weren’t successful because non-nerds kept them down.

Now, say what?  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of rejection, but not what I’d call ‘oppression’, which seemed to be what this guy was hinting at.  And frankly, I’m not the type to curl up into a ball because I get my feelings hurt.  If that was the case, I probably wouldn’t have survived middle school.  Who cares about being insulted or rejected?  It happens to everyone, for one reason or another.  As for being beat up… well I could set there and take it, but it is far more satisfying to punch back.  Turns out that fighting back really is the best tactic to prevent bullying, who would have thought?

And, looking at society, there were a lot of successful people who are also nerds.  Bill Gates comes to mind as one of the standard lines.  But there are others.  In my circle of friends I know lawyers, military officers, engineers (lots of them), neurobiologists… these are people who are pretty much examples of success and are also total nerds (trust me, you should have heard the gales of laughter from my friend’s wife as we were discussing the pro’s and con’s of wizard versus sorcerer).  Oh yeah, and most of them are married, because contrary to popular opinion, being a nerd and having some social graces are not entirely mutually exclusive.

So why, exactly was this young gentleman accusing me of not really being a nerd (while wearing hipster faux glasses and button-up shirt he’d probably bought at Calvin Klein).  Well, it comes back to the counter culture idea.  Nerds are seen as the ‘cool’ people right now.  Shows like Big Bang Theory and Glee have somehow turned the nerdy kids into the ones to be… but along the way, those trendy types are emulating the appearance but not the actual spirit.  These people identify as nerds, but they do so because they think that nerds are somehow the victims, the downtrodden.  So, in this conversation, I’d mentioned that I didn’t feel particularly downtrodden by being a nerd.  Thus, the declaration that clearly I wasn’t a nerd or geek.

I just think this fellow was a bit confused, but that encounter wasn’t mine alone.  I’ve had other friends who trend towards the nerdy end of the spectrum confronted as well.  For that matter, I’ve seen science hijacked by the trendy crowd (I’m looking at you “I Fucking Love Science” with your overly simplistic science and your fancy pictures and charts).  While I appreciate that all things nerdy, from science and science fiction to comic books to gaming to roleplaying, are now somewhat fashionable… well, I think it’s more important that people do these things because they actually have interest, not hitting like or share on FB because they want to look cool, and definitely not trying to build their little cliques and power structures within greater nerd-dom.  I certainly don’t want some kind of victim mentality pushed on all of us because we’re different.  I like being different, thank you, so please don’t ruin it for me.

And as for you mister trendy nerd… well, I’m glad you’re showing an interest, but don’t go around flinging accusations, especially not when your own credentials include “I like XBox games and I played Mario Bros once.”

Happy Independence Day!

Here’s to you and yours, may you enjoy a Happy Independence Day.  Don’t forget to think a bit, maybe even talk with some friends about what independence, freedom, and liberty mean to you and what it costs to maintain.

What does the 4th of July mean to me?  Well, it means liberty.  Liberty is something that many people seem bound and determined to confuse with libertine these days.  However, liberty, as I see it, is the freedom to live life without fear of government intervention, to be free to follow your own career, and to be free to pursue your own slice of happiness.  This is, in no uncertain terms, something that many men and women have died in protecting for the rest of us here in the United States.  As Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

July 4th also means apple pie, steak, cold beer, and fireworks.  This weekend, it also means spending the time with my newborn, my wife, and trying to catch up on some sleep.  For the rest of you out there, have a great weekend, but don’t forget those who gave all for you and yours to enjoy that nice summer day.

 

Characterization: Victimhood & Active vs Passive Characters

Sarah Hoyt wrote an interesting post on victimhood and the cultural imperitive in the West which makes us root for the underdog, yet many writers confuse being the underdog with being the good guy.  She has a lot of great info/background, so I’d recommend you give it a look, you can find it here.  I thought I’d write a bit on the craft of writing characters from my own perspective.

First off, it’s something I’ve seen, even in mainstream media.  It is a cultural tendency, especially in America, for us to see someone worse off (or just apparently worse off) than us and to feel empathy.  Yet when you go this route as a writer, you automatically face an uphill battle for the character to grow.  Indeed, the first part of their growth will, by necessity, being to stop feeling sorry for themselves and get out of the rut… or else they’re not a fully fleshed character… they’re a trope.

If you are going to start someone out as the victim in order to garner reader sympathy, well, there’s lots of hazards.  The typical revenge story has the murder of the family or friends that sets the hero out on their journey… yet at the heart of a revenge story is the tale of destruction upon the character themselves.  They can’t let go of their hate/anger and so end up destroying themselves in their effort to destroy their enemy.  Hamlet is an excellent example of this, as the titular character literally destroys himself and everyone around him… because he’s a victim and he wants justice.  Hamlet is an intelligent and presumably capable character who brings down the lives of dozens through his own indecision and self-pity.  But it’s a tragedy, so I suppose we’re supposed to see that all coming…

A character who identifies with this type of event is automatically crippling their own growth… until they let go of that.  And if they grow as a character to release their own pity for themselves then why should a reader then feel sympathy for their plight?  An example of this is the John Milus movie: Conan the Barbarian.  The titular character sees his entire village put to the sword, his father ripped limb from limb by dogs and his mother beheaded.  He’s sold as a slave as a child and dehumanized into a gladiator who fights for his survival and little else.  Conan, however, is a survivor.  This is established throughout the beginning of the movie as he not only meets every challenge, he excells.  Conan is a character who doesn’t identify as a passive character, he seeks out ways to excell and succeed.  Also, it’s a fun movie with lots of violence and bloodshed, but I digress.

Too, when you destroy the character to make him a ‘victim’ you automatically make the character a reactive character.  They aren’t going out on their own to do stuff, they were forced to do so.  This takes the initiative away.  A character without initiative, who is spun along by the efforts and actions of others is not a strong character.  It gives a starting place and it allows growth, yes, but I would argue that it makes a character less interesting.  Stories are, at their root, about people going places and doing things.  I would say that if your character is continually affected by the actions of others… perhaps you are writing from the perspective of the wrong character.

Active characters get out and do things.  They slay the dragon or lead the insurrection or marry the prince(ss).  When they encounter an obstacle or downturn in life, they don’t set on their hands and whine, they pick themselves up and they face it or find a way around.  JRR Tolkiens Lord of the Rings would have ended quite differently if Frodo just gave up at the first sign of hardship.  Yes, characters are allowed to have times of moral terpitude or uncertainty.  That is often where secondary characters shine, such as Sam, who whenever Frodo couldn’t go on, stepped in to cheer him up or get him moving.  The point is, that even the most unhappy, put upon heroes have to take action… and the writers who identify their characters as miserable put-upon underdogs need to think cautiously about just what mentality they’re designing their characters towards.  Hardship is a part of the story, a character can’t succeed at everything or there is no risk… but it’s how the character reacts to that hardship, what values they have and what their responses are that defines them.

An author could quite easily write a ‘hero’ who rises from wretched and abject misery to preeminant success… with little or no effort on their part, beyond the suffering they endure knowing they’ll get their just desserts on those who opposed them.  Granted, I don’t know that I could finish reading the story, especially if the self-proclaimed hero does nothing to further themselves.  Worse, in a way, is if the ‘hero’ could find success through their own actions, yet they waited or endured instead.  This smacks of self-satisfied feel-good nonsense: that enduring hardship makes us grow or is admirable.  That is complete drivel.  The man living on the streets collecting donations for himself isn’t growing… he’s static, he is unchanging.  Hard work makes us grow.  Reacting to those events, digging down inside ourselves and finding an inner strength to not only go on, but to improve our conditions is admirable.  The woman who puts herself through college working as a janitor, refusing loans and handouts, is admirable.  A character who has pride in him or herself is one who we want to read about… pride in accomplishments and capabilities.

Character growth is the essential part of a story and while I’ve seen the victim mentality as a starting point (here’s looking at you Edge of Tomorrow), it can never be the end point for a strong, central character… not unless you want to turn them into a narcissitic villain (which is an option, that bitterness that comes from victimhood is the perfect fodder for turning good men into monsters).  Even then, though, a victim’s mentality only goes so far… and itself must be replaced, else the character would remain too passive to accomplish anything.