Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser is from my upcoming work, Bloodlust: The Sum of Hate (Domains of the Chosen #7).

The book centers around a duel between Chosen Sadira, one of the series most popular characters, and Chosen Silvius, an enjoyably scummy villain who takes on a new light in the Trump era.

This teaser focuses on an event that stretches all the way back to book #3, Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden, involving accusations against former Senior Centurion Hephus, who took field command of the Eighth Cohort of the Ninth Legion at the battle of Fort Nerus. Hephus is a Gifted (a magic-user) and the Gifted are not allowed to command in the Legions, by ancient tradition. The good guys argue that an exception had to be made for conditions in the field, while others argue that the Law is the Law.

Hephus’s focus snapped back to the inquiry as Assemblyman Skavetz called a witness.
“Legionnaire Septimus Bron, please take to the podium of truth.”

Maximus Skavetz cut an impressive figure in his formal toga. He was tall, square-jawed and straight-backed, with dark curly hair and piercing eyes. His voice, however, was what set him apart; a rich, a commanding bass that could thunder in judgement or offer deepest sympathy.

Hephus recognized Septimus Bron. The Legionnaire looked nervous and uncomfortable before the assembly as he moved forward and took his seat behind a heavy marble table facing the assembly. He had a noticeable limp and one side of his face was viciously scarred.

“Legionnaire Bron, do you know this man?” Skavetz pointed toward Hephus without looking at him.

“I do, sir, that is Senior Centurion Hephus of the Eighth Cohort,” said Bron, looking at Hephus. “He’s a good–”

“Please refrain from offering your opinion unasked, Legionnaire,” interrupted Skavetz.

There was some muttering among the assembly at his title. In the Legion, the Gifted were not supposed to command the Legionnaires. It was a fear founded in The Reckoning, the disaster cause by those who commanded the forces of magic, nearly destroying the world. The Legions were now see as a counter-balance to the power of The Chosen and The Gifted, answering to their own command structure and the people of Krass.

“Legionnaire Bron, firstly I would like to acknowledge your bravery and your service to The Empire. You have suffered greatly to bring us victory. We have brought you here to clarify some questions about the battle of Fort Nerus and the role played by one Hephus Krassius. I will be asking you questions which you should answer to the best of your ability. Please refrain from conjecture or colour commentary; this inquiry is purely factual. Do you understand, Legionnaire?”

“Yes sir,” said Septimus Bron.

“Very well, my first question concerns the promotion of Hephus Krassius to Senior Centurion. Septimus Bron, were you aware of any other surviving Centurions in the Eighth Cohort?”

“Yes, but…”

“Please keep to the questions Legionnaire Bron,” said Maximus Skavetz in a patronizing tone. “Were any of these other Centurions Gifted?”

“No, sir.”

“Interesting. What position did Hephus occupy before his ascension?”

“He was in charge of munitions and forging, sir.”

“Is that a command position, Legionnaire?”

“No sir.”

<>

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.39

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

<>

She was clad in gems and adorned in gold, more than a Queen’s ransom, and yet her garment was unmistakably that of a woman advertising her body. I could not help but admire her delicious curves, her poise, and her beauty. Diamond Silvermane stood out in a room full of artful, sexy, pulcherous people, commanding attention as she waited for Eiskra and Vethri to take the stage.

She did not look beaten, and I knew that she had some drama planned, some trick to wrest control from The Twins. Dissolving The Union had failed, but challenging them for control was the next best thing.

The Union Hall was as packed and unruly as ever. I felt eyes on me as I eased into a seat behind The Twins on stage. My name was clear now, with Ulfgrim taking the blame as Rake’s killer. The connection between Ulfgrim and Diamond Silvermane, Wolki and Lily Gemarkand, and the lost sword of High King Siggurd were the last pieces in the puzzle that would end my exile. As The Twins addressed the assembly, representatives of all the whores, joyboys, bouncers, and allied workers, I watched Diamond. She noticed my attention, but did not seem bothered by it.

As The Twins went through the simple minutae of the meeting; quorum, minutes, old business and so on, the tension in the room grew. Everyone present knew that Diamond Silvermane was going to challenge them and unless she was a fool, Diamond would have enough backing to call a vote. The deep pockets of her patron would be enough to sway the more mercenary members of the Union, I was certain. Others had come to the same conclusion and I could see them looking around, gauging strength for the coming conflict. The room was thick with intrigue.

“And now,” intoned Vethri. “We come to new business. Anyone who wishes to bring a point of order may do so.”

A ripple went through the room as Diamond Silvermane stood. She stepped in front of the audience, regal and commanding, waiting for a hush to fall before she began to speak, her voice as clear, crisp, and cultured as one would would expect from such a queenly specimen.

“I wish to Challenge for leadership,” she said.

It was what everyone expected her to say, and yet it still drew a collective gasp. The Twins had enough support to claim leadership, but not enough to prevent others from contesting it. The volume in the room increased considerably, as everyone began to murmur, and some shouted for or against.

“Quorum of support is waved, you may address the floor, Diamond Silvermane,” said Vethri. “Both sides will plead their case and then the members will vote.”

To her credit, Diamond Silvermane did not even blink. By not contesting her support, The Twins had denied her the chance to show it before the vote, and appeared divinely confident as well.

“Don’t worry, we got this,” whispered Eiskra as Diamond moved forward once more. “If not, we’ll come live in the North with you…”

I smiled at her and then turned my attention back to Diamond Silvermane as she began to speak.

<>

 

 

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:

trumpcrowd

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…

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…

Trump the Iconoclast, Trump the Orthodox, Trump the ‘Hero’

I find it increasingly hard to turn away from the ugly spectacle of American politics. Part of this is envy; I honestly wish that I could have cast my vote (Bernie, then Hillary) in this seminal election, a transition (I hope) from the industrial age to the information age. I live in the shadow of American news and politics, and while I love Canada, it is hard to ignore the tug of that great country south of us.

I often talk about systems on this blog. I feel that systems and institutions are the villains of modern stories more than singular figures.

Enter Donald Trump.

Trump is a man who has shown absolute willingness to cast aside institutions and ideas. Depending on how you view his motivations this is either a good thing or a bad thing, obviously. I see his motivations as guided by contempt for expertise, the power of persuasion, revenge, desire for personal gain, and an ideology that places wealth and business above all else. Some of his followers see a heroic iconoclast that will break the chains that have held back their country for decades and allow them to cast down their enemies at last.They see him as akin to Alexander confronting the Gordian Knot, as Jesus sweeping the money-lenders from the Temple.

We both might be right.

[What is an iconoclast?  a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions, literally a destroyer of idols.]

Trump shut down the TPP, instantly dealing a blow the flow of decades of globalization. I actually am in favour of this, but mostly because the TPP is full of harmful laws that limit freedoms and make life easier for climate change deniers. If I could bring myself to trust Trump (spoiler: he lies quite frequently), this alone would be enough to gain my support.

I also don’t trust foreign intervention or intelligence agencies; Trump is currently at odds with both.

I can see why some of Trump’s followers view him as a heroic figure, come to break down regulations and set things right.

The problem is that what guides Donald Trump is not a desire for justice or to make America a better place for everyone. Donald Trump’s destruction of institutions and ideas is purely motivated by personal gain and to enhance to power of the wealthy. In this way he often acts like an orthodox republican: spouting tax cuts, attacking climate science, and seeking to enhance the power of the nation with military might over diplomacy.

In this, he is willing to be iconoclastic as well. He does not care about the truth, spewing whatever he reads on his twitter feed without fact-checking. He does not seem to realize the responsibility that seems to come with his office in this regard. His racism and sexism is well noted, but seen by many as a reaction to stifling political correctness, a bullshit claim in my opinion.

Trump is even willing to violate the constitution (article 1, section 9) in order to keep ownership of his business interests, arguing that his voters knew that he is a businessman, wiping out hundreds of years of tradition in a single stroke. What is fascinating is that his followers and party are, so far, willing to go along with this, even though it is a glaring example of the corruption they despise. In fact, the more his corruption irritates liberals, the more some of them seem to like it.

Trump has already changed so much of american politics and he is not even in power yet. And yet, rather than bringing the country into the future, Trump seems to want to return to a mythical era in the past when coal and manufacturing propelled the economy, businessmen were objects of unqualified adoration, and people did not have to give a fuck about political correctness. In this fashion we can see the orthodoxy that shapes his attacks, a hatred of the directions that the country has taken since his youth.

And yet that bygone era has one defining feature that Trump rejects with great vehemence: The Cold War with Russia. Trump loves everything from that time but rejects butting heads with the dictator, Putin. In many ways this is laudable, but in Trump I think we can see how it is motivated by self-interest. The CIA and the NSA have both sounded warnings about Russian hacking in the election and Trump refuses even to talk about it.

I wonder what is in those tax returns, another tradition that he has broken with.

Trudeau, Castro, Cuba, Canada, and News Bubbles

I almost did not write this. It is an opinion that could lose me fans. But part of being a writer is having the courage of my convictions.

This week the Canadian Prime-Minister, Justin Trudeau, briefly managed the nigh-impossible feat of attracting more media attention than Donald Trump by offering a eulogy for Fidel Castro. The hashtag #TrudeauEulogies quickly trended, with fake Trudeau eulogies for Hitler and Stalin being the most popular.

Then our American allies discovered (again) photos of our PM being held by Castro when he was a child. And then they rediscovered the pictures of Castro at Pierre Trudeau’s funeral and the shit really hit the fan (for a few hours, until Trump tweeted about SNL or something).

The things is Canada has never really been at odds with Cuba. It is more of an American thing.

While the Canadian right was quick to jump on the bandwagon and enjoy a good ol commie scare, most Canadians shrugged. Almost a million Canadians vacationed in Cuba last year (2015), spending over 700 million $, and notably few them were taken prisoner, shot, or radicalized. Many of those Canadians actually left the beaten and talked to the locals, who are amazingly well educated despite the isolation forced on them by the embargo.

Some people who live in the US, particularly Cuban exiles and escapees, have real reasons to hate Castro, I cannot deny that. These people have family members who have been executed and property that has been confiscated, and many escaped under harrowing circumstances. Their view of Cuba is the one that I grew up with, as Canada is often inside the US media bubble. That view was of Castro as a brutal dictator dominating his country, always on the brink of being overthrown.

When I visited Cuba, I found that greatly at odds with the reality. There were far fewer police and military than I expected and I began to see how the elder Trudeau could have a friendship with the Cuban dictator.

I learned a great deal from the Cubans I encountered. There is a lot of history on that island, which is, after all the first point of modern European contact with the Americas.

Cubans do not hide that Castro did brutal things. They spoke openly about them. The US backed dictator that Castro overthrew, Bautista, apparently did worse things. He just wasn’t a communist. In the midst of the cold war, that made all the difference.

The US tried many times to overthrow Castro. Each time they made a crucial mistake.in hoping that the Cuban people would rise up and overthrow the cruel dictator. Each time that rebellion failed to materialize, even when backed by Cuban exiles and escapees. From the Bay of Pigs, to the embargo, to Radio Free Cuba, all of these failed.

While I was in Cuba I was reminded of the time after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the US tightened the embargo, hoping that without the support of that bastion of communism, Russia, that Cubans would finally be driven to oust the dictator. I forgot about that until I visited Cuba and on of my day tour guides mentioned what they call “the special period”, with a haunted look in his eyes.

You see that tightening of the embargo produced starvation in Cuba. People died when goods could not be sold and food could not be brought in. Dying of starvation is a kind of torture, is it not? And yet, the Cuban people did not blame Castro for the embargo, nor did they have higher than normal resentment toward the American people — they blamed the US government and US politics.

But mostly the people I talked to about that period, which includes a number of Cuban immigrants to Canada since my visit, look at it as a sad, painful event.

So while some Cubans have reason to hate Castro, the Cuban dictator and the Cuban situation is more complex than the mainstream media lets on and the US government is not exactly free of blemishes regarding the island. My hope is that President Trump helps lift the embargo and that the people of the US can travel there to learn on their own.

It certainly opened my eyes.

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.