Violence Solves Everything

Whoever said that violence never solved anything had no connection to reality. While it is not quite so that violence solves everything, it is a readily observable truth that violence does, in fact, solve rather a lot of problems. What we should be telling ourselves instead is that it’s a bad solution.

But sometimes – just sometimes – it is actually the least bad solution.

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Get a Pre-release Copy of “Ghost of the Frost Giant King”

Frea

Frea

The Kindle edition of “Ghost of the Frost Giant King” is finished and uploaded, and ready for release on March 15th! To celebrate, we’re giving three fans a chance to get a pre-release copy for FREE!

All you have to do is agree to leave us an HONEST review (we want to know what you really think!) on either Amazon.com or rpg.drivethrustuff.com and we’ll get a copy out to you! Be one of the first three readers to leave a comment on this post and agree to review it and it’s yours!

Or you can pre-order your copy today from Amazon.com!

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Technological Dystopia

Editor’s note: this post was originally published on another blog in 2011. In the wake of the “net neutrality” decision, it seems relevant once more. It has been reposted here with minor modifications.

Once upon a time, in the Good Ol’ Days we refer to as the 1990s, this newfangled thing called The Internet made a jump from an obscure tool that only academics and computer geeks even knew about to a mainstream tool that everybody was using. The world was full of promise. The Internet would set us free! Information wants to be free! You can’t control the ‘Net! Finally we have an end to all censorship! Power to the little man!

I got caught up in it pretty easily. After all, I was young. I had Internet access in high school, a few years before it was really known to the public. It was just the right age to get caught up in all the libertarian utopian ideas of how great the Internet would be.

I’ve spent my whole adult life working with computers, and in recent years I’ve come to an entirely different conclusion. In the long run, the Internet will lessen our freedoms, not increase them. Yes, the Internet of yesteryear was a wild, wild west where anything went. The Internet of today is already being tamed, and the Internet of tomorrow is going to trend toward fascist land. Here are some things we can expect in the future of the Internet, many of which are already here or coming:

  • DRM will fundamentally limit our usage of any and all media. “Fair use” exceptions that we take for granted today will be technologically unavailable. Sure, a handful of people will be able to crack the system and get past it. 99.9% of the people won’t know how or care to learn. Increasingly harsh laws (worldwide) will be in place to enable this and to crack down on the folks who try to circumvent it – laws pushed by gigantic Mega Corporations. This is already starting to happen thanks to DMCA, and there’s an ongoing push for even more draconian world wide copyright treaties.
  • Our digital devices will increasingly be used to track everything we do. This is already happening to a huge degree. Use web mail? It’s free and convenient, and I use it myself. But your mail’s being tracked. Google’s already tracking it digitally so that they know what ads to send you. Other companies are doing similar things with it. That handy dandy GPS in your phone? It can be used to track you, too. Those internet sites your browsing that helpfully remember your information? They’re using web “cookies” to track what you do.
  • Watch out for free speech limitations. We’ve already seen it with sites being threatened with de-hosting or more for “hate speech.” The DMCA requires sites to take down content on the mere accusation of copyright violation, and we’ve watched that happen as well.
  • Think Wikileaks is a bastion of freedom that proves the Internet can’t be tamed? Think again. Wikileaks will, over the next 5 years, be the driving force that gives governments around the world the excuse they need to tighten down the reigns on the Internet. Remember this, kids: there is nothing fundamental about the Internet that makes it immune from censorship or government control. It exists this way today because it was designed and built that way. Designs and construction can change. If the laws force them to, the big companies that control most of the Internet can and will change those protocols that make the Internet so hard to control. Many of those companies will do so gladly, because it will improve their bottom line. Some of those companies will even lobby governments in favor of these kinds of regulation.
  • Very little that you do online ever goes away, and most of what you post – the content that you create – is no longer yours from the minute you post it online. Major web sites like Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress.com (who hosts this blog) rarely delete anything, even if you “delete” content. They can’t. Federal law requires them to keep that content around for a minimum of 30 days so that the police can subpoena it for an investigation. Some sites will actually delete content after 30 days. More and more are moving to policies of never deleting anything. Hard drives are cheap. Having to tell the government that you don’t have what they want might kill your business.
  • Nothing is truly private online. Anything you post online could potentially become public. There are hackers out there who would love to make your private, locked LiveJournal posts public. Not because they care that you told off your boss or fucked your girlfriend’s roommate. They don’t give a shit about you. They’d just love to hack LiveJournal for the hell of it. Or big corporations like Facebook might decide, “Nah, we don’t give a crap about our so-called-privacy policy anymore. Let’s sell everybody’s data to the highest bidder.” Think it can’t happen? It already has. How do you think your phone number or e-mail address ended up in the hands of so many telemarketers and spammers? Failing all of that, governments around the world can just demand the data anyway. In the US we have this little thing called the 4th amendment that requires due process in order to do such a search or seizure. But what about in other countries? Some companies, like Google, have gone to bat for the little guy to protect their rights against foreign governments. Many more companies haven’t. And when it starts to seriously impact Google’s profits, you’d better believe they’ll fall in line like everybody else.

The world is changing, my friends. And not to the digital utopia we all thought it would be. The only reason it hasn’t happened already is that the Internet originated in the United States, a country that still has some serious constitutional protections for free speech, free assembly, free press, and freedom from search and seizure. Other countries have been trying for a decade to remove Internet control from the US government’s hands. And how long will the US government and its people retain the will to maintain these freedoms? If history is any judge the answer is certainly, “not forever.” Indeed, we’ve already witnessed the willingness of our fellow citizens to give up all kinds of freedoms in the name of “security,” “health care,” and “safety” – nevermind the almighty “profit.”

My vision of the future is not inevitable. It can be stopped. But only if the people have the will to stop it. I’m no longer convinced they do.

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Who Shot Down DMSP-13?

Who shot down DMSP-13?

Who shot down DMSP-13?

A 20-year old military space satellite was shot down this week.

Air Force Space Command said DMSP-F13’s power subsystem experienced “a sudden spike in temperature” followed by “an unrecoverable loss of attitude control.” As DMSP operators were deciding to “render the vehicle safe” the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, identified a debris field near the satellite.

Sudden spikes in temperature don’t “just happen” in space. In fact, there must be an energy source to cause such an event – even here on Earth. The energy has to come from somewhere. What kinds of events can cause such a thing in near Earth orbit? There really isn’t much in the way of natural phenomena that can do it. Solar flares maybe, but they wouldn’t be precise enough to hit just one satellite.

But there is one thing that can do it: ground based anti-satellite lasers. Although there is very little public information about such weapons it’s widely acknowledged that several nations have experimented with them. There’s been quite a bit of speculation over the last fifteen years about such weapons, and a few other tests are believed to have happened. Nothing else really makes sense as a cause for this event.

So the question is, who shot it down? Was it a test of a US system, shooting down an old, unused satellite because we knew nobody would miss it? Or was another nation attempting to send us a message? There is a very real chance that either Russia or China wanted to let us know that they could shoot down our GPS satellites if they wanted to, and that there isn’t really anything we could do about it. Given how much we rely on those systems, that would be a huge tactical and strategic loss to the US in any conflict.

My money is on Russia, shooting it down as a warning for us not to get too involved in the Ukraine. Odds are good that whoever did it has found a quiet, plausibly-deniable way to let the White House know that they did it.

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Every Party Needs a Priest

There has been a lot of supernatural fiction on both the big and the small screen in the last decade. As a fan of genre fiction, I approve… generally. Not all of it is good, of course. Some of it is downright unwatchable. Much of it is nothing more than soap opera or cheap romance fiction dressed up with genre trappings. But a fair amount of it has been pretty decent, and some of it has been really good.

But all of it – at least to my knowledge – suffers from a serious problem:

They need a priest in the party.

A lot of this discussion is going to center around the CW television drama Supernatural, because that’s the show my wife and I were watching when we first formulated the theory. But the basic premise holds across the genre – in its modern form, anyway.

So, as stated, let’s take the show Supernatural. For those unfamiliar with it, the show is about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester. Their mother was brutally killed by a demon when they were small children. As a result, their father dedicated the rest of his life to hunting supernatural creatures. When the series begins, Sam has rejected that life and set out to try for something normal – college, a career, etc. Then their father disappears and Sam is pulled back into the life of demon hunting, thus setting up the main premise of the show: the two brothers on a constant road trip fighting off demons, monsters, ghosts, and pretty much any other supernatural creature you can think of every week.

Personally, I found the first season of the show to be the strongest by a good margin. There’s a stereotype out there of shows getting bogged down in a “monster of the week” format, but that worked for Supernatural. The show is at its very best when it’s dragging up obscure myths and legends – whether the ancient or the urban variety – and just running with the concept of two brothers on a road trip helping people. When the series-long story arc begins is when the show starts having issues. Well, actually the issues begin before that but they’re livable. They ramp up to killing any value of the show after that – although clearly there are many who disagree with me, since the show is still running strong in the ratings on its tenth season. I stopped watching after the fifth season, and frankly both it and the preceding season were pretty weak.

Ultimately, though, the culprit of that began at the beginning: they needed a priest in the party.

Let’s start with season one. At this point, the show exists in a universe where:

  • The major characters know for a fact that demons, monsters and other supernatural creatures are real.
  • They have met such creatures.
  • They have fought such creatures.
  • The have used religious items – especially holy water – to great effect in fighting these creatures.

Despite these points, and especially despite these last points, Dean has no faith whatsoever and the best that Sam can manage is a kind of vague “there must be something” modern spirituality.

Excuse me for a minute, but what?! Imagine for a moment that you are living their lifestyle. You have no home – you live in a new hotel room in a new town every few days. You fight dangerous creatures all the time. You know, for a fact, that holy or blessed items help combat these creatures. And you have no serious relationships anyway.

What do you do? I know what I would do: I would find my way to a seminary and get my butt ordained. Even if you don’t actually believe in the religious teachings of the church, it clearly gives you an edge. Once you’re ordained, any water can become holy water in a pinch. You can bless your own weapons. You can perform your own exorcisms. The brothers do quite a bit of this anyway, but one would think in a world where holy water actually, you know, works that a priest would be more effective at exorcisms.

OK, so you’ve decided that becoming a priest is too hard. Or maybe it just takes you out of the game too long and people are getting hurt. Guess what? There are more than thirty-eight thousand priests in the United States. Get one to join the party. Or – at the very, very least – you make friends with a few of them. Stay in touch when you’re in that part of the country. Get them to provide you with stuff.

So why do the brothers never do this? Because the Hollywood producers of the show don’t take the Christian religion seriously.

The show borrows the mythological trappings of Christianity: crosses, holy water, exorcisms, and, in later seasons, even angels. But the problem is that none of these items working the way they do in the show makes any sense without the theological aspects of Christianity to back them up.

Holy water works in more or less the traditional ways. In other words, it’s effective against undead creatures like vampires. But why does it work? And why only on those creatures? Under traditional Christian theology and the traditional folklore of vampires this makes perfect sense. Vampires are creatures who have forsaken God, consciously chosen to damn their own souls, and chosen an unlife of wretched evil. Therefore holy water, crosses, and anything else sacred is the antithesis of their very being.

What are angels? In traditional theology they are messengers of God. The very word means messenger (it’s the same Greek root from which our word evangelize comes). And yet for the first three seasons of the show, God is only mentioned in the moments when Dean is explaining why he (very unbelievably, as described above) has no faith in Him.

Speaking of that, where do the demons come from? The traditional view, again, is that they are fallen angels. But what exactly does fallen mean? It means that they’ve turned away from God – who, as noted, is barely mentioned in the first few seasons. And if demons aren’t creatures that have turned away from God, then why do things like holy water work against them? Evidently the answer is, “just because.”

This is a problem that only gets worse in later seasons as the show tries to address this issue and finds itself getting more and more convoluted.

In the second season, Dean makes a deal with a demon to save the day. The deal is that the demon will take his soul. But what good is a soul to a demon without the Christian theology to back it up? What purpose does it serve? This, again, is never really explained.

In the third season his deal comes due and Dean’s soul is taken into Hell. A Hell that is distinctly Christian in type and likeness, although Christ is mentioned in the series even less than God. In fact, in the five seasons that I’ve personally viewed Christ is not mentioned one single time. Nor is he ever hinted at, referenced, or anything. So why does this kind of Hell exist? Because this is definitely the Christian version… unless it’s the Islamic version, although once more there is no reference to Muhammad, the Quran, or any Islamic theology. So why does this Hell exist?

In the fourth season the Angels show up. One of them rescues Dean from Hell, and – this is the good part – the rest of the season centers around the brothers trying to stop Lucifer from rising out of Hell. This is where things get really bad. Because up until now, you can kind of make a stretch out of it being a whole “religion of the book” approach and just trying to be a vague Judeo-Christian theological world. That’s still kind of lame, but you can almost make it work. But battle between Lucifer and the angels is unquestionably Christian in origin, coming straight out of the Revelation of St. John. Of course, they fail to stop Lucifer from rising so season five is all about defeating him. This continues stealing from the Christian mythological tradition by bringing in the archangel Michael.

Over the course of seasons four and five the real butchery begins as we discover that Sam and Dean are caught in between the warring factions of the demons and the angels. And that is the real travesty of the whole show. The angels and demons are reduced to nothing more than two warring factions, no different than, say, the Washington Redskins versus the Dallas Cowboys, Democrats versus Republicans or Red vs Blue. Without realizing that they’ve done it, the entirety of the show has now been reduced from (previously) being about fighting evil to… just fighting other factions.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not offended – although I do think there are grounds to be, if I was the kind of person who was easily offended. At least, I’m not offended for the sake of my religion. Christ is stronger than that and he can tolerate a bit of mockery. I might be just a tad bit offended over just how badly these issues damaged what was otherwise an enjoyable story.

This kind of thing bothered me before, back when I was an atheist, and for the same reason. It’s absolutely terrible for the story. The story would be far more enjoyable if they just made decisions that actually make sense with the elements that they’ve borrowed. OK, they don’t want to run with Christian theology. Maybe they want to create their own instead to fill the void. And from where they were going at the end of season five and what I’ve read past that, it sure sounds like they’ve tried. But Christian theology, mythology and folklore has two thousand years of history behind it. The kinks have been worked out, so to speak If you’re going to replace it, you’ve got a lot of homework to do.

But I don’t think this was a storytelling decision, or not a pure one. And the reason I don’t believe that is because this isn’t just an issue with Supernatural. It’s endemic in everything that comes out of Hollywood these days. It’s in very nearly every aspect of this genre. Can we get real for a minute and acknowledge that Hollywood has a problem with Christianity? When the decision happens this frequently and very clearly has this large of a negative effect on the story, it’s clearly not being done for the sake of the viewers. Hollywood has an agenda and Christianity isn’t part of it.

The thing is, they’re hurting their own stories more than they’re hurting us.

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Reamde

Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson

Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson

Last week I took some friendly advice and dove into the novel Reamde by Neal Stephenson. I will admit to being a little nervous. My experience with Stephenson’s novels has been a bit hit and miss.

My brother gave me Snow Crash for my birthday one year. I don’t remember which year, but it was a good while ago. Definitely before I was married, possibly before I even met my wife. He pushed me to read the opening segment with The Deliverator on the spot… and he was right, it really was one of the better sci-fi sequences I’ve ever read. And the novel had quite a bit more of that flavor of insane fun to add. On top of that, it had some really interesting ideas. Believe it or not, some of those ideas played a serious role in my conversion not just to Christianity but to the Roman Catholic Church.

But it was also kind of a mess of a book. I used the term insane fun for a reason. The book was kind of insane. Stephenson has a knack for penning some of the craziest, wildest, most amazing sentences you’ll ever read. And he can, at times, chain these together into some of the most sequences you’ll ever read. But putting them all together into a coherent story… in some of his works, that hasn’t always happened well. Snow Crash all came together, but the book bogged down a bit about three fourths of the way in and the resolution all felt a little weak to me.

And yet despite these complaints, it was an absolutely amazing book. Truly, the good parts were so good that they really made up for some fairly serious deficiencies.

However… I didn’t have such good luck when I tried to read more of his stuff. The Diamond Age lost me altogether about a third of the way through and I never finished it – or really wanted to. I made it through the first book of The Baroque Cycle. I found the concept interesting, really enjoyed his depiction of Benjamin Franklin… and totally and completely couldn’t get into the second book.

So when I saw such high praise for Reamde, I was a bit cautious. I had high respect for the source of the recommendation… but Stephenson had burned me before, and burned me hard. But then, also – Snow Crash.

So I downloaded the free trial on my Kindle and gave it a shot. And then when I finished that part, I paid for the full book. And then I didn’t come up for air for about four days (it’s a long book – 1056 pages in paperback – and I had quite a bit of work to do in between reading sessions).

Not once at any point did I want to put it down. I was thoroughly and completely engrossed from the moment I picked it up until the very end. The characters were interesting, the background setup was interesting, the plot was interesting. Unlike some of Stephenson’s other works, it was entirely readable all the way through.

And it was one big giant bundle of insanity. It’s not quite as audacious as Snow Crash. But really, what is? To this day, Snow Crash is one of the most audacious pieces of science fiction I’ve ever encountered. But it carried the same bombastic spirit of over-the-top craziness that fueled Snow Crash, kept everything firmly rooted in the real world (as opposed to Snow Crash‘s somewhat… fantastical plot driver), and just never let up.

Before I was about a third of the way through, the book had completely changed on me about three times. I thought I’d figured out what I was in for and then boom – here’s this other whole new element. I enjoyed that I couldn’t quite figure out where he was headed. Not plot wise – the basic gist of the resolution is obvious from pretty early on – but how he was going to get there.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I loved this book and highly recommend it. I do have two complaints, though, and I think they’re worth noting even though they were far, far from ruining the experience.

First, one of the major characters – Richard – has an inexplicable character moment about three quarters of the way through the book. After he’s spent most of the story manipulating people based on their emotions and pushing them to do what he wants, we’re suddenly informed by the author that he hates manipulating people and is a “doer” kind of person. Well, yeah, he’s been a “doer” all book. But he’s also been cheerfully manipulating people as if he were born to it. I chalk this up to an editing issue – the book is so big that there were probably some changes made during its construction and Stephenson likely just missed this. But it was a little jarring.

Second, the resolution… he should have spent just a bit more time in the aftermath. It felt a bit like running a marathon and then just stopping without a cool down walk. Doable, and it doesn’t exactly detract from the marathon itself, but you feel a bit rough afterward.

But these are pretty minor complaints in a book that is otherwise so fantastic. This is one of the best things I’ve read in many years.

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Yngling the Gnome Rogue

Yngling the Rogue

Yngling the Rogue

“I was always different. I was named Yngling, and that was the name I kept. I had no interest in learning fifty or sixty names for myself. If they did not call me Yngling, then I would not answer. The other children my age laughed and played pranks, while I sat in a corner and read or studied jewels and ignored them all. The older I became, the more of an outcast they viewed me. Then I just left, and hoped that there was a world outside my clan that would understand that pranks are more often annoying than amusing, two or three names at the most is enough, and reading is a tool rather than a hobby.”

–Yngling, one of eight playable characters available in Ghost of the Frost Giant King, an adventure supplement for the D20 Game System, available for pre-order NOW!

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Boycotting Adam Baldwin

This from Instapundit today:

SO LEFTY SOCIAL-JUSTICE WARRIOR TYPES WILL BE BOYCOTTING SUPANOVA BECAUSE ADAM BALDWIN WILL BE THERE.

It’s a lie, though. As anyone who has attended Dragon*Con for the last decade or more can tell you, Adam Baldwin never actually shows up at cons. But maybe we’ll get lucky and this crowd of clowns will “boycott” Dragon*Con this year, too.

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Happy Birthday, Morgon!

"Wishing Only Wounds the Heart" by Morgon Newquist

“Wishing Only Wounds the Heart” by Morgon Newquist

Today is my wife, Morgon’s, birthday! How about wishing her a Happy Birthday by picking up her short story, Wishing Only Wounds the Heart, for FREE today and leaving her a review on Amazon.com! It won’t cost you anything except your time – and not much of that, because it’s a quick read. And besides, what better way could you spend your time than reading a good story?

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