The War On Truth

This is political and anti-Trump.

Sometimes I worry about posting stuff like this. I don’t want to alienate any of my readers who are pro-Trump, whom I love regardless of their political affiliation, but we are living in a historical moment and I cannot pretend to be neutral.

Reagan and Nixon had the War on Drugs, George Bush had the War on Terror and this weekend President Donald J Trump started The War on Truth. It began over this photo:

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The thing is in 2009 President Obama drew a crowd of historic size (1.8 million), partly because of his popularity and partly because it was a historic occasion (first Black President). The next closest crowd size in recent memory was Obama in 2013 (1 Mil) and Clinton in 1993 (800K). Others rarely broke five hundred thousand.

Donald Trump is a divisive President, so he should have been happy with the relatively small, but still decent crowd size estimates, or just said “wait and see” until the facts were published. Instead he had his Press Secretary call a special press briefing to dispute the crowd size estimates and harangue the media, but offer little factual evidence in retort. The whole thing was the basically the press conference version of road rage.

The conference is worth watching, by the way, if only to see how it sets the tone for The War on Truth. I will link to a republican site for it, so you can read how Trump fans see it, but it is easy to find you own version on youtube if you don’t want to give them views.

Here is a nice summary of some of the ‘alternative facts’ aka lies that were said, with evidence.

The size of the crowds was still a theme later in the day when Trump himself spoke out, especially since it appears that the women’s protest against Trump the next day dwarfed the inauguration day crowds, but first a little background.

On January 11, 2017 President Donald J Trump tweeted this, after a round of new revelations about his connections to Russia and a possible blackmail tape:

He then went on to attack the outgoing director of the CIA and the agency’s record in general, and then ended his rant with a veiled accusation of them being the group that leaked the Russian revelations to the media.

Just ten days later President Trump gave a speech to high ranking CIA officers in front of the wall of honor, where stars are displayed for CIA officers killed in the line of duty whose names remain secret where he said this:

“But no, I just wanted to really say that I love you. I respect you. There’s nobody I respect more. You’re going to do a fantastic job. And we’re going to start winning again – and you’re going to be leading the charge.”

So there’s no one Donald Trump respects more than the agency he was attacking ten days ago. Reminds me of another Donald Trump quote about how no one respects women more than him, just after his famous pussy grabbing comments came out into the open. It is a pretty easy to follow pattern for him.

Finally, Kellyanne Conway, the woman who ran Trump’s winning campaign (or was that Comey?) defended these two rants in a media appearance. She said that Sean Spicer was just working with ‘alternative facts’, a rather impressive piece of doublespeak, and then threatened veiled retribution for hard questioning, saying she might have to rethink their relationship with the program.

The first weekend up the Trump presidency was a fight over crowd size. Just wow.

Even if the president thought he was being misrepresented, surely he has better things to do that correct a minor issue like this. The truth will come out over time regardless of initial estimates. Can you imagine if Obama had freaked out like this over his birtherism?

Trump has declared war on the media, the facts, and ultimately the truth because he wants to control the narrative of his presidency. Unfortunately, his own words are what trip him up the most, such as with his comments about the CIA.

I started off Friday sincerely hoping that I am wrong about Trump, because people’s lives are at stake. Now I am virtually certain that I am right, and it is not a pleasant feeling.

Still, the sheer size of the crowds at the women’s protest left me feeling buoyed, at least until I hear the ‘alternative facts’ about those…

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New Year’s Resolutions (As a Writer)

Due to a family emergency, I missed posting this yesterday, but the sentiment remains the same.

2016 was a fairly good year for me as a writer. I made a bit of money, and managed to put out two books. Better yet, I managed to get a few enthusiastic reviews and had some enjoyable dialogue with people who have read my work. I even had a person put up their amazon review of my work on the US and UK sites, which is super nice (why Amazon does not collect all reviews for all marketplaces is beyond me).

Joining the Friends of Vocamus press genre writer’s circle in 2016 has been a boon as well. I have been to two of the monthly meetings and learned some interesting things about the local writing scene as well as some useful promotional ideas.

What I failed to do in 2016 (aside from convince people that voting for Cheeto Jesus is a bad, bad idea) is adequately promote and market my work. I have had a decent year with Twitter, but could drive more people to my blog and Facebook page. With eight books under my belt, and decent reception from people who read them, it is time to figure out marketing and social media (while keeping my soul and dignity intact).

Considering this has got me thinking about what I can do to improve my writing and book promotion in 2016, aside from the obvious improving of the fundamentals. Here are my writers resolutions for 2016.

  1. Promote my summer release on at least five secondary book sites: This requires money and the ability to schedule in advance. Secondary book sites, places like Bookbub, can drive a lot of traffic toward your sales and book releases. I would like to explore these for my next major release.
  2. Learn to type: I have written and published over 800k words and I do not know how to type. W T F. I could save myself so much time here.
  3. Put more effort into adwords and facebook ads: My third resolution is a bit more complex. Both adwords and facebook ads are very, very tunable. As an amateur user I can put in quite a bit more time learning the ins and outs of these systems to get more bang for my buck. One of the suggestions from my author circle that I wanted to try was concentrating add buys on the weekend instead of running the same amount every day of the week.

Simple stuff, but also time consuming…

As for what is up for release this year, I am starting the first draft of the seventh Domains of the Chosen novel after I post this (2017 and I am already 1500 words behind… yay). I am also working on the third Shadow Wolf novella, which should release in the fall.

If I have enough time and energy I may re-release book one of the Domains series with a new cover and some additional information, but that seems overly ambitious for a year where I am taking on extra hours at my dayjob already.

 

Fake News, Professional Conspiracy Theorists, and Magical Thinking.

This is political. It also relates to systems and magic, which are topics I often delve into in my blog.

Some people, possibly a large number of them, find conspiracy theories more compelling that evidence based conclusions. In my opinion this goes well beyond the usual accusations of confirmation bias and the Dunning Kruger effect that we see whenever opposing views clash on the internet.

It has to do with what people see as a trusted source and what they want from their news, but first let me tell you a little story.

A few weeks ago a woman threatened to kill one of the parents of the Sandy Hook shooting. You can read about it here, from a source I trust.

My introduction to the Sandy Hook conspiracy was through Alex Jones, a professional conspiracy theorist. Jones is the force behind Infowars, and also calls himself the founding father of 9/11 truthers, the people who claim that 9/11 was an inside job. Jones is to news as snake-oil salesmen are to medicine; he makes money selling bullshit to the credulous and then pats them on the head and calls them smart.

But Jones is neither only nor the worst of the the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists. These people believe that the massacre was faked (by the gov’t) in order to provide justification for increased gun control. The woman who made the threats was a consumer of this news and likely felt that she was doing a good deed by protecting second amendment rights.

And therein lies the secret to understanding the conspiracy minded. For them it is all about a compelling narrative and the source that provides it. These people trust Alex Jones over the New York Times because they feel the NYT represents the interests of coastal elites. Conspiracy theorists tap into that and provide them with a narrative hook that they find compelling.

A few nuggets of truth that mesh with a person’s confirmation bias are served up as bait for potential consumers and then once they are reading/watching it the story that is told is what keeps them coming back. Usually the story involves a few rebels who have been awakened to the truth, defying an all powerful force that has some overarching agenda that is far more offensive and sexy than the slow erosion that usually leads to societal problems. Thus instead of a tragic event leading to sensible gun control they believe there is a conspiracy to take away all guns as the first step to fascism.

None of the conspiracy consumers ever questions why an all-powerful fascist leaning government does not simply kill or jail people like Alex Jones (like say, Putin does to dissenters in Russia or Hitler did) or why they would need a pretext to put in a law that will help them to do something even worse, that Americans would violently resist regardless of the justification.

Magical thinking is at work here. I mean seriously, we live in a society where more people seem to be worried about Fluoride in the water secretly mind controlling people than lead in the water actually poisoning people. It seems that some people are more willing to believe tenuous links from sources that offer the narrative that they want than well sourced and researched journalism.

Fake News depends on magical thinking as much as it depends on confirmation bias. While we all want to believe the worst about our enemies, it takes a leap of faith to believe that the slim evidence provided by Birthers is somehow realistic. The GOP spent eight years undermining Obama; it is beyond illogical to believe that they would let him continue serving as president and never bring it up or even have a hearing about it if he was not born a citizen of the US. If they had any evidence at all they would have tried to impeach him. And yet, Birtherism survive, not only because it tickles the confirmation bias of certain people but also because it provides a narrative that is more exiting/entertaining than the reality of the situation.

Ultimately Fake News is paving the way for a new form of propaganda. The Nazis, who pioneered modern propaganda techniques, felt that narrative was far more important than truth in influencing people and with little regulation on internet news I don’t see much that stands in the way of the worst of this. I fear that sooner or later, people who believe the narrative that these conspiracy theorists are selling will start killing. Of course, I’m sure Alex Jones has a theory to deflect from that event as well…

Social Media, Fake News, and Information Flow

We are all living in bubbles.

One of the fascinating things about this US election, other than the election of someone who was heralded by allies and opponents alike as a potential Tyrant, is the role of social media as the newly dominant form of communication.

I hate social media with contrarian passion, and perhaps a little stupidity. It is inarguable that I would make more sales if I had a greater mastery of Facebook and adwords. Twitter is doing well for me, but I could self-promote there more effectively as well. So, yes, I experienced a little schadenfreude when Facebook received so much heat after people analyzed how much effect the barrage of fake news on the site  had on the US election. But now, in the endless aftermath, it is time to get a little more serious.

Like it or not, a huge swath of people get their news from places like Facebook now. Many of these people are too rushed to fact-check everything, and almost all of us are less likely to check information that confirms our biases. In the deluge of election news, I re-posted at least one, a factoid about Trump saying if he ever ran for president, he would do so as a Republican, because they are the mots gullible. It seems like something he would write, but to my shame it was not.

The sheer deluge of information this election was difficult to process. Facebook makes information easier to digest with reactions from trusted friends and a simple feed based format. It also tends to show only new and information that it thinks you will like, or that others have paid it to show you. It does absolutely nothing to verify if this information is fake or not. In fact, given that Facebook makes money off of social activity and targeted advertising, it has little reason to delve into policing the information that it distributes.

These Macedonian Fake News farmers are just an example.

The idea that this kind of stuff can sway an election is troublesome, especially since social media is still growing in influence. When criticized Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO first that it had any effect on the election. While untrue by any measure, it is an understandable response. Facebook wants to be a big tent, and the only way to do that these days is to avoid controversy. Wading in to halt the spread of fake news would open them to criticism from all sides. Conservatives are already at odds with the social media giant over earlier slights.

The argument that it is too hard to filter fake news is an obvious smokescreen.

Beyond that, there is the moral question of whether or not Facebook should be curating our news feeds based on what it thinks our political affiliations are. This puts everyone in a bubble where they have to go out of their way to seek dissenting opinions. As these bubbles solidify they can drive opposing sides apart when they could be finding common ground.

There is also the idea that social media news benefits flashy, controversial figures simply because they elicit stronger reactions (both good and bad).

Finally the idea that a smart user can actually target misinformation to send to particular groups is especially disturbing. Propaganda is bad, but easily propaganda tailored specifically to your biases and blind-spots is potentially devastating. I fear that this is just beginning; that fact-checking will be a necessary activity for people who wish to be even slightly informed and that often stupid and dangerous ideas will be amplified by social influencers in a way that people who used to decry actors talking politics could never even dream of. Instead of the information age, we will live in the misinformation age as the stream of data becomes clogged with the offal of fake news and profitable falsehoods. The idea is nothing new, just think of climate change denial, but the level to which it can be amplified is.

But please, don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.

Real World Examples: The Electoral College as a Broken System.

I did very little promotion this weekend, and yet sold a fair number of books. It seems that after the madness of the Us election, people are catching up on their reading. The election left many people angry, tired, or worried and a good book (or one of mine) is a great way to relieve stress or calm down before returning to the fray. Personally, I am looking forward to watching last night’s SNL; Dave Chappelle is the host, and he is pretty damn awesome.

Now, onto tonight’s topic. The Electoral College. Although all of the votes in the US election have yet to be counted it seems that Hillary Clinton has the most votes, while President Elect Donald Trump has won the electoral college. I don’t like Trump, but he is not at fault in this. The problem is that people have been exploiting the electoral college for years because it is the best path to victory. In a system where one person’s vote is supposed to count for as much as that of anyone else, the idea that two out of the last five elections have been won by a party that has not won the popular vote is problematic.

I often write about systems on this blog. Systems and institutions are often villains in my works: the ancient strictures in the covenant that force gifted children to choose between loss of power and long servitude or the many pitfalls of the arena; the old laws that bind the Dwarves of Khazak Khrim and their slaves into a cycle of servitude and hate; and the exploitation of The Grand Championships for political gain and personal profit.

In my view systems become corrupted when people learn to exploit them for gain. As resistance to this corruption grows, those who benefit from exploiting the system rarely give it up, often engaging in worse corruption or outright violence to keep their advantage. Democrats have every reason to be upset over their loss, especially when it seems that Republicans have been making it much harder for certain groups to vote in many states.

Now before their surprise victory, some Republicans, including the President Elect were railing against the Electoral college as undemocratic. We all know that if Hillary Clinton had lost the popular vote and won through the electoral college, it would be the source of just as much salt to them.

This actually has been a problem in other ways for a long time, just hidden from most people.  With the way the college is apportioned, winner take all in most states, a Democrat in Alabama or a Republican in California in most elections feel like they do not have a say.

The problem now is that reform is unlikely because the Electoral College currently seems to favour Republicans. Why would they give up an advantage? The flip side of the problem is that many people are angry about it, and feel that their vote does not count which leads to protest. If this continues the pressure for reform will grow, but the resistance from those who are exploiting the system will grow as well. Reform is likely inevitable, but if the college keeps favouring one side, the road will be rough. I expect it would be the same if the situation were reversed and the Democrats were enjoying this advantage.

In the end, I think no matter where you stand on the election, you can see how exploitation of systems can create corruption. There are many more examples, but this one is most pressing.

Idea: Focus Crystals

This is an idea for a book series that I will likely start writing in 2018, after my third Shadow Wolf Book (The Whore’s War) comes out.

I have gone on about industrial age fantasy before. My current favourite book series that fits the idea is Brian McClellan’s flintlock fantasy which begins with Promise of Blood. I believe that we will see more and more industrial age settings as the genre branches out. I can even see it becoming one of the dominant forms of the the fantasy genre. Steampunk has done well, but the industrial age is larger than victoriana.

The Focus Crystal

The idea behind the Focus Crystal is to combine the industrial age with fantasy magic. The crystal is a specially treated mineral that converts concentration into magical energy that can be used to power magical effects, or as a mundane source of energy.

Key Points

  • The Focus Crystal works better for people with stronger will and better concentration.
  • The Focus Crystal can store energy for a limited period of time. Small crystals lose half their stored energy every 15 minutes while the largest and most elaborately made have a storage half-life of 24 hours.
  • The energy from a focus crystal can power a spell. Originally they were used by hereditary sorcerers to supplement their magical abilities, but it was eventually discovered that the energy could be used for more mundane uses like electricity in the real world. Eventually it was discovered that it could be used by a non-sorcerer to power a magical effect when combined with a spell plate.
  • Focus Crystals can be mass produced from materials extracted from the earth.

In the setting I am considering Focus Crystals undermine the nobility, who claim power through hereditary sorcerous power, by making magic more accessible.

The working title for the series is End of Kings.

Seeds of Ruin Cover

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This is the final cover for Bloodlust: The Seeds of Ruin (Domains of the Chosen 6), barring a little colour adjustment to the font. The whole thing is the work of Dan Barclay, as always. I am pretty damn happy with it.

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We thought a green font might be better for the title, given the themes of growth and flora, but it just does not ‘pop’ well.

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Here are some of Dan’s early sketches. The process is very iterative with lots of back and forth. We started with a stonehenge shape for the stone but mobed tp something with a little more presence, squat and monolithic.

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One of the more interesting ideas that we tried early on was to have a fetus at the heart of the Oathstone. I love this take, but the skull just attracts more attention.