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The Naming of Places – Alma Boykin

                       The Naming of Places -Alma Boykin

(With profound apologies to T. S. Elliott)

The Naming of places is a difficult matter

It isn’t just one of your holiday games.

And you may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter

When I tell you a place may have three different names (or four, or five, or six, or eight).

 

We humans often mark our turf with names. Descriptive, possessive, mysterious, religious, rude, or yes (Killpecker Creek in Wyoming), place names and the stories that associate with them often show traces of the people who lived there before, either in the etymology or the language, and of the intentions of the people who renamed them. Central Europe provides interesting examples of the problem of place names, especially for the span of 1850-2000. Names changed, rechanged, reverted, were left, and vanished off the map with nary a trace. This greatly oversimplified little list barely scratches the surface of a touchy and tricky subject, one I suspect politicians, nationalists, and others will be fighting over until [deity] or [legendary king] comes/returns or the sun burns out.

Take Galicia, for example. The region arced along the northeastern rim of the Carpathian Mountains and, among other things, held most of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s oil in the 1800s-1918. The largest city, Lemburg (Lviv or Lvov), had a thriving Jewish community, while Polish nobles held most of the rural areas on estates inhabited by Ruthenian peasants. Today it is part of Poland and Ukraine, and Galicia (and Ruthenia, and Lemberg) are artifacts of a past some wish others would forget.

Karlstejn, (Karlstein) in the Czech Republic, remains Karlstejn even though the name is quite obviously not Slavic in origin. Tucked into the forest about eighteen miles from Prague, the castle came into being as a “small” hunting retreat for Emperor Charles IV (of the House of Luxemburg) between 1348 and 1357. Charles’s reign is recalled fondly by Czechs as part of Bohemia’s golden era, when the region’s mineral wealth and culture, and the power of the Holy Roman Emperor, gave it great international respect and prestige. The castle, perched on a cliff above a steep, tree-covered ravine, includes the Chapel of the Holy Cross where the crown and regalia of Bohemia were kept, and still forms one of the spiritual hearts of Bohemia today (Rip Hill is the other.) Although Hussites renamed the small town nearby, the fortress retained its original German-based name to this day, in part because of the positive “national memories” associated with it. Every five years, during the national elections, the crown makes a pilgrimage from Prague to the castle and back. An interesting ritual for a democratic nation, yes?

Karlsbad, however, became Karlovy Vary after WWI. The names have the same meaning, Charles’s springs, and derive from the thermal springs that occur there. Karlsbad was one of the places to go to take the waters for medical (or social) reasons in the 18th and 19th century. After the creation of Czechoslovakia, and even more after the promulgation of the Potsdam Accords and the erasure of the Suddetenland, the Czechs wanted to sever the region’s linguistic connection to German. During the Communist era Karlovy Vary remained a place to go soak off your ills, although as a member of a trades union and not of the gentry.

Pannonhalma is another location that gained a new, more national name, this time in the Nineteenth Century. The Benedictine monastery, founded by Prince Geza of Hungary in 996, perches on a prominent hill above the floodplains of a branch of the Danube and its tributary, the Rab. You can see the creamy yellow mass of the monastery for several kilometers around, including from the edge of the regional center of Györ (German Raab, Slovak Ráb, Celtic Arrabona), one of the hotspots in the Turkish wars. The monastery itself suffered attacks from the Mongols in the 1220s and later the Turks, as well as burning down by accident in between, but was rebuilt each time, returned to life in 1802 as a center for teaching after Joseph II’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1700s, and endured the Communist era. However, its name changed. Originally it was the Benedictine Abby of the Hill of St. Martin. As part of the Magyarization and language reforms that went along with the growing Hungarian nationalism in the late 1800s, the area was rechristened Pannonhalma, from the Roman name Pannonia. Pannonia referred to the area west of the Danube limes and in turn derived from an earlier tribal name based on Indo-European roots meaning “swampy area.” The town at the foot of the abbey’s hill changed to Pannonhalma as well in 1965, although the 252 meter tall hill remains St. Martin’s Hill. The new name was thought to be more patriotic and Magyar.

Other name changes came from the desire to erase the past entirely, leaving no trace of unwanted history. When the first member of the Eszterházy family attained fame, fortune, and good position in the court of the Habsburg emperors in the 1700s, he promptly went out and began building an estate. He renamed the village and lands around it Eszterháza. After the revolution in 1948, the Communists erased the name and the village became Fertöd, after small lake. Why leave any trace of the feudal parasites that had gained wealth by exploiting the peasants and supporting foreign overlords (and paying for some of the greatest classical music written [if you like Hayden])? The glorious workers’ future demands the removal of the dead past. After the next revolution, the residents later voted to keep Fertöd for the town but the estate is once more Eszterháza.

Now, Central Europe does not hold a monopoly on renaming. Istanbul is no longer “Constantine’s city,” London has long ago lost the name the Bronze Age residents gave to the area, and Leningrad is St. Petersburg once more. North America has dozens of formerly Spanish or Indian locations, and New Amsterdam long ago vanished under the streets of New York City.

Interestingly, I have yet to read many science fiction or many fantasy stories that use this idea. Lost civilizations, yes, conquests, but not names and renaming. I’ve considered it for the Colplatschki stories, because the Turkowi renamed places as the captured and resettled them, but on the other hand, my characters look on the Turkowi conquests as temporary disasters to be undone as soon as possible, and refuse to acknowledge the changes. Fantasy in particular might be a place to use the ideas of names and their power: if a location’s name provides access to magic, and the newcomers shun such things, then what does it mean if someone insists on recording the old, abandoned toponym? Or if rebels against an evil king suddenly adopt the place names from the long-vanished earlier kingdom?

 

The Broken Hero

Years ago, in a science fiction short story, I came across this expression that just fit my feelings. “Born owing money.”

I think from the way it was employed in the story that it was supposed to mean “from a poor family” but that’s not how I felt it. For me, from as far back as I can remember, I had this feeling I must justify my existence.

As the half (one half the family) unwanted child who then proceeded to near-bankrupt her family because she had every-possible-illness and some that technically, logically, should be impossible, this is perhaps understandable.

I was if not born broken, born to be broken. From the moment I remember I’ve been running so hard because I know what’s behind me: me. I know all my tendency to sloth and to malingering. I know the crazy depressive spins. And I know the malice and spitefulness of the cornered small creature.

My mission in life is to keep those down as much as possible and to do as well as I can. To be as good as I can be. I can never be perfect. And the struggle resumes every day. But most of the time I do pretty well at keeping me under control.

Is that where the broad streak of darkness comes? I don’t know. I know that Kate Paulk and I have discussed it. For women from – relatively – pampered backgrounds (hey, I won’t say I never went a day hungry in my life, but they weren’t many. And I always had adequate, if not always slightly, clothes to cover my body. By historical standards, I’m rich.) we manage to imagine and to feel the full panoply of dark.

Wherever it comes from – there is an evolutionary value to it. People who have too little darkness (husband is one of them) don’t imagine it in others. They are the people who believe always and only in the goodness of others. In another time and place they would go to their doom thinking “If only Stalin knew” – I also have that. And I also watch for that. A certain amount of darkness can be exorcised (exercised) in the books, and I fight to remember, every day, that real people are real and not character in books for me to play with.

What is the point of this exercise in true confessions?

Here it goes: I think most people have less of the darkness and much less of the sense of obligation, and almost no sense of watching themselves ALL THE TIME.

They have to, because otherwise the left would never have managed to sell their favorite lie: that goodness is somehow innate and trouble free. That people who achieve things, people who work and run like crazy to make, to build, to create, are somehow “privileged.”

This only makes sense if you think everyone is innately not just good but industrious and gifted in every art/craft/habits of diligence.

I said most people don’t have the broad streak of darkness I had – this is probably true, or at least it’s true from my interaction with them – but let me put this way: I know remarkably few Disney heros/princesses. As in, I don’t know any of them.

Most people have something they have to fight against to achieve even a modicum of good or of decency. It might be something that even they know it’s not their fault, like an illness, or it might be some tendency – say sloth – they were born with.

The book that shall not be mentioned (well, not in the text, though you can answer questions in the comments) is distinguished by its author repeating over and over his character is special because she is a “good girl” — she doesn’t have any of the flaws that these strange authors give their characters.

I don’t know if that is what makes the book that shall not be mentioned unreadable, because the lack of basic narrative techniques means I can’t go that far into it.

What I’m going to say if that if he’d succeed in creating a character without flaw, she would be absolutely unbearable.

The problem with the left in the arts is the problem with the left in so many things. They suffer from a sort of aspergers of the soul that demands they view the world in stark black and white (which is hilarious, since they accuse US of seeing the world in black and white.) In their case, because they imagine that goodness is a privilege that you’re given at birth: they imagine those who achieve are not made of common clay.

And then they imagine they don’t exist.

It starts like this: they believe, in this as in sexual identity and in so many other things that the label MUST perfectly match the contents (maybe that’s their obsession with labeling laws?)

So if you’re the good guy and the guy who achieved something, then you must be GOOD all through, right? If you’re not that way, then you’re doomed.

And then they notice the people who achieve things are not, in fact, perfect good. Even those on their side. Al Gore might be their environmental champion, but he also wants his chakras played with by anonymous women in hotels.

This brings with it a bizarre dissonance, in which they accuse any religious person, anyone who claims a moral code, for that matter, of “hypocrisy.” Note that no religious person nor even my atheist and rigidly moral friends ever claimed to be perfect. They just claim to be trying to be good.

But if the label must match the contents, then if you say you’re trying to be good you should have no flaws. Any flaw – lust, anger, even lack of taste – then becomes “hypocrisy.”

And if the successful person is on their side, this results in a frantic sweeping of flaws under the rug.

But for most of them, the mass of the left who buy into this curious myopia, it results in their thinking they’re “fated” not to succeed and in their hating everyone who does, because clearly they were “given more.”

This reflects itself in the people they create in books, too. And this is why they create flawed heroes who then CAN’T be allowed to win. (Note not all leftists do this. The really good ones are good despite believing this. Meaning they’re artists and the art is larger than them. Which is what art is.) And therefore we end up with the books where everyone, hero and villain is flawed and where the action is just a playing out “flawed people can’t win.” They create anti-heroes because they imagine heroes get everything “handed” to them, and then they destroy the world because in their minds unless you’re good all through good can’t triumph.

Jagi Lamplighter talked about superversive here yesterday and some people – most not regulars – made comments about how heroes without flaws aren’t interesting.

Yeah, they wouldn’t be. But if you are a real writer – if you understand people even enough to write books someone might want to read – then you won’t write anyone without flaws.

Because you will know from yourself that the only way to achieve anything is to control your baser self, to superglue the places you’re broken, and to lurch forward on broken and bleeding feet.

In small things and large, I watch myself all the time. You wouldn’t want to know me if I didn’t.

It’s like one of the hardest things to explain to beginning writers is that you can’t have characters without the plot. Telling me “my strength is characters” is great. But unless you can show me the characters in action and pitted against circumstances that bring them forth, you don’t have anything. And sometimes it is throwing the most inadequate character up against the biggest challenge and SOMEHOW finding a way for him to push himself to victory that makes a book great. Just because you write the underdog, it doesn’t mean he has to bleed and die. In fact, he shouldn’t, because that denies every inadequate person out there still fighting to win. (me! Me!)

I know the depths of darkness in my own soul – but weirdly, that’s the places against which the light shines brightest. I know my flaws in ability – and those are the ones I work at the hardest.

We’re all walking wounded. That doesn’t mean we can’t win.

And a well done hero is flawed and has a broad streak of darkness. It is that which allows him to see the darkness in the enemy.

And it is bleeding and broken, walking long after we wore through our feet, standing when we’d rather lie down, shouting when we’d rather whisper, that we can have any hope of winning this culture war.

And we must, because the alternative is for everyone to be told if they’re flawed there’s not hope for them, and it’s nothing but grey goo everlasting and life has no meaning.

No culture, no civilization can survive having all its stories say that.

Which is why we must make sure there are other narratives, other stories, other inspirations.  That we are so inadequate to the task only makes our glory greater when we achieve.

Now go.

 

Storming the Moral High Ground – L. Jagi Lamplighter

Storming the Moral High Ground – L. Jagi Lamplighter

 

“Why can’t we have more stories that don’t involve poop?

 

“You know, good stories? No anti-heroes. No dour nihilism. No descriptions of gross stuff for no particular reason except to produce a mood we didn’t want to read anyway. Just…action, adventure, heroism, even perhaps a few…I realize this is going way out on a limb and no one else wants to read this but me but…good Christians, or something really outrageous like that.

 

“But not pious stories mind you. I’ve never found those entertaining. No stories where good guys are squeaky clean, and only very, very obviously evil people who cackle and have warts are allowed to use magic.

 

“Why can’t we have good stories and good messages. The dreary, depressed literary crowd have held the moral high ground for far too long, I think some people have forgotten that good stories can get there, too.”

 

“So you want good stories? Heroism? Christian values? What we need is a literary movement.”

 

There was a pause in the moving car.

 

“Why don’t we start one. Let’s storm the moral high ground!”

 

This conversation happened a bit over a year ago. Well, all right, it didn’t really happen quite like this, but this is the spirit of what occurred.

 

John and I were driving home from Balticon 2013. We had just had a great time at the convention and were fired up with new ideas for stories. And we talked for a long time about the state of stories today. What we liked. What we missed.
Both of us were impressed with a story a friend had invented that was clearly heroic and Christian but had not even the slightest whiff of Sunday Morning piousness about it.

We wanted to write stuff like that.

 

“If we are going to have a literary movement,” John stated. “It needs a name. All the best ones have names. We could call it the Space Princess Movement…but that already exists and had to do with Space Princesses.”

 

“Nah, that won’t work,” I said.

 

So we discussed names for some time.

 

“What about the Superversive Movement?” asked John.

 

“You mean like Superversive on LiveJournal? That gentleman who writes those excellent essays?” I asked. “What does it mean?”

 

“You know how subversive means to change something by undermining from below? Superversive is change by inspiration from above.”

 

“Perfect! When we get home, let’s invite Dan Lawlis*. We know he’ll be onboard.”

 

*Dan Lawlis—my cover artist and the author of a Christian allegorical comic called Orange Peel 3.

 

And so, the Superversive Literary Movement was born.

 

It took over a year, but as of next week, the Superversive Literary Movement will have its own web post. Once a week, on my website and Glipho account.

 

Our opening post will be, God willing, an essay by Tom Simon, Mr. Superversive (from LJ) himself, on the nature of what Superversive means.

 

After that, the sky’s the limit.

Come on by and see what we’re up to!

 

(And let me know if you’d like to participate!)
We’ll be the ones storming the castle.

 

 

 

This That And Most DEFINITELY the OTHER

UPDATE: There is fodder in the subscriber space.

First of all and before I forget — memory of two seconds — I’m going to put out a BOLO for the Free Range Oyster.  I really have no idea what happened.  Last week he said he’d send the list on Sunday, then he didn’t, and I realize there is nothing on his Facebook page since then.  I’m going to pray nothing disastrous has befallen them.  He could use a break.  (So could we all.)

If any of you is crazy enough to offer to assemble the links for the promo post till he returns, I’d be grateful.  Yes, I can do it, but it takes 2 or three hours and it’s a big mind-numbing.  Maybe I should ask Charlie if he can do a program for my site, like he did for PJM.

Second, I heard from Cyn.  She’s moving to Las Vegas and will be back online as she feels able.  I told her we’d keep her seat warm and dusted.

Third, it is all Dave Freer’s fault that I’m this late with the post.  You see, he sent me an ARC of his cozy.  I didn’t actually read it all the way to the end, because I’m running on lingering effects of whatever-that-virus-was and get very tired, but I read about half of it and stayed awake far too long.  All I can say is as much as I enjoy Dave’s fantasy, he might have been born to write cozy mystery.  Also, this better be the first of a series, and also, I get to read it first and you don’t nah nah nah nah nah.

I then fell asleep to the most easy to interpret dream I’ve ever had.  I dreamed the boys had both left though I wasn’t sure if for jobs or whatever, and I’d gone shopping.  Only at the store I realized I’d not brought either my money or my ID.  Weirdly, what hurt most was the lack of ID, as I was afraid police would stop me on my way home and arrest me for not having ID on me.

Which meant I could never go home again, because I’d lost my identity.

This was absolutely bizarre, since I don’t think I’ve ever identified myself as only (or even primarily) “mommy.”  While I was never unhappy raising the kids, I confess I like them BEST once you can discuss things with them.  And even while they were toddlers, my mind was focused on writing.

Does some piece of my mind feel I’ll lose who I am when the kids go?  How am I to know, precisely.  Other than the oddly symbolic dream?

I think I’d like a chance to try this empty nest syndrome thing.  Ah well.  Younger one is still in college and older one is applying to medschool.  If he doesn’t get in, he has… plans.  And in the meanwhile I shouldn’t worry.  I think I worry because their cousins (six and eleven years older than they) still live with their parents.  But Portugal is a different place and has always been.

At any rate, if I get antsy when they move out, you guys can remind me who I am, right?

And speaking of parenthood, Peter Grant has sent me a link to some people he knows in the gun blogger community, who have been having a very bad time of it. Note this is not an invitation to discuss abortion, not even in extreme circumstances.  I can’t even imagine being in their place, and my mind skitters away from the thought.  I’m blessed I never had to make such a decision.  Donate or not, as you wish, but no discussion of abortion in the comments.  I donated more than I should, mostly because husband got involved in the decision and decided the amount.  It’s okay.  We’ll be fine.  I just need to finish Through Fire and write a sequel to Witchfinder (yes, rogue Magic, but Haunted Air before that) fast.  I am owning up to the donation because apparently the anonimizer failed or I got confused and forgot to click it.  At any rate, it’s Dan’s fault.

Which brings us to donations.  I’m leaving the subscriber button up, but it’s having some issues.  I know it told some people I’d no longer accept their donations, and it told me they’d cancelled, which is a problem as neither of us had done anything.  This is not a big deal money wise (if I can get the books done) but it is a huge deal relationship wise, as some of these people were/are friends and think I’m mad at them.  The ones who contacted me I’ve reassured it’s paypal weirdness.  If it happened to you, no, I’m not mad at you.

The system has other flaws.  For instance, it messes up on telling me what level ya’ll gave at.  If you’re wondering why promised swag is so slow (some of them two years) it’s because I’m having a hell of a time compiling lists.  Dan promised me a program, but then work went feral.  So the only way to do it is go case by case on email, and that will take a couple of days and you know what my time is.

I’m instead of going to say if you’re at a certain swag level (even if you only subscribed for a year and it was last year) ping me on the subscription email and tell me what you want.

I’ve been very bad with the subscriber space, but I’m better (yes, there will be dragons by tonight.  Sorry.  I’ve been using the inhaler to breathe, and I get VERY tired around nine pm, which is usually when I play with it) and hopefully there will be three novels up there soon.  I’m not cancelling anyone’s access to the subscriber page, so hopefully it will be worthwhile.

I am intending to move to Patreon which I understand is easier to manage and not as buggy.  As I said, I’m not removing the subscriber button, but at some point, when I’ve transferred, I’ll give you a chance to transfer as well.

The… financial crisis isn’t exactly over, but it’s not as dire as it was in April, much less last year.  The publication of Witchfinder made a big difference.  It seems almost wrong: write what you want, throw it up there, get money.

Now I need everyone, all together, to say “Dan put your book up.”  His has been ready for … 3? months, including (if I say so myself) a great cover I made, but he’s not putting it up.  First time jitters, you know.  (And for those who were betas — he fixed the chopped-up first chapter.  It was something he did in revision, and it seemed good, until he read it out loud.)

Other news: I’m writing a YA with first son by birth.  It’s called Star Student and we’re hoping it’s reminiscent of Heinlein YA.  It’s been somewhat delayed since he got asked to submit secondary aps and also he thought it was a good time to read Heinlein juvies which he read for the first time at six or seven.  As ya’ll know this “I’m going to re-read my Heinlein” can take a long time.

With older son by adoption (late adoption.  We adopted him a year and a half ago for the grandkids.  Worked too!) Dave Pascoe, I’m writing what can only be described as mil fantasy with a touch of historical.  You’ll like it when we’re done. (And I hope Baen likes it too!)  We will post a sample when we have it finished.

And Not To Yield, a novella (around 30k words, if I recall precisely) set in the world of A Few Good Men, ten years later is in the process of being processed and it will come out in the next Wordfire Five by Five (an anthology of mil novellas.)  While it’s about ten years from Through Fire (which has Zen Sienna, not Nat and Luce.  Well, Luce appears once and it was quite interesting, because I have never thought of him as a son of a b*tch.  I guess we’re all different viewed from outside?) it’s part of the continuum.  It is in Luce’s head, and it sets up for what will be book six of the Earth Revolution.  It starts with Luce facing a court Martial.  So…  Sample here.

I’m still battling Through Fire.  The character is now talking to me, but I think the story itself scares me.

Scares you? You say.

Scares me.  Not in the sense that it is horror, though some parts of it are horrific, and that’s part of the problem, but in the sense that I keep getting terrified I’m botching it, or that the theme gets too intense for me.

This is manageable in a short story.  You find yourself suddenly in the kitchen making low carb brownies, and you force yourself back up the stairs to write.  For a novel it makes everything very slow.  I was looking for a BFTP on Friday and looked back at a post exactly a year ago.  It feels like I’ve been spinning my wheels for a year.  I’m hoping it’s just this book and that I’ve not BECOME a slow writer, because the ideas still come fast and I HAVE to get them out of my head.

As part of this I’m trying to limit myself to three real posts here a week.  We’ll see, right?

Speaking of, I think I figured out the SJWs.  They’re MISSIONAIRIES, seeking to enlighten us.  I’ve blogged about it at Book Plug Friday.

I will continue Rogue Magic and Elf Blood as soon as I shoot Through Fire through the head, which G-d willing will be soon, because I can’t force myself to not run away much longer.  Both Rogue Magic and Elf Blood need a thorough go-over so I can finish them, anyway.

And I think for now that’s all folks. Thank you for being patient with the rambling writer.

 

 

 

Nature’s Child

The other day in the diner on Facebook we got to talking about whatsherface Emma Watson and her speech to the UN.

There was a picture of her in the ridiculous dress she wore to some award, and the women of course started discussing the dress and the men started discussing her looks and then one of the women – and understand I’m not mad at her, this reaction is by way of being a conditioned reflex among educated women these days – chided that we only cared about a woman’s appearance, more than about her utterances and we never did that for men.

My first reaction – I too am an educated woman – was “yeah, why?” particularly since I never in my life cared much for what women look like and I have only marginal interest in what they wear, unless it’s a meat dress or something else that makes your jaw drop open and makes you go “Is that a cry for help?”

My second reaction was “Wait, that’s built in.”

Recently, and I apologize I’m not going to look for this (for one the study was social sciences and so poppycock, except for where it fit things we all know – hold on to that, it’s important) there was a study that proved that lesbians cared less about their appearance than gay men did.

This is because of one of those things that, unless you make your profession out of being in someone else’s head (a lot of someone else’s heads) convincingly as writers’ do, it’s hard to understand. I know because I’ve told my sons this about a bazillion times, but they don’t fully understand it. And they’re smarter than the average bear.

Here it is, the secret and tragedy of the human race: Man and women aren’t the same. Gender is NOT a social construct, no matter what some madwoman in the seventies came up with to justify her lesbianism (why she needed to justify it is beyond me.) Your gender goes beyond what’s between your legs. It starts with hormone baths early in pregnancy that shape both what’s between your legs and your brain and nervous system.

Note I’m not saying it’s black and white. Older son, whose degree (one of them) is on human biology says that sometimes it’s a miracle humans work at all considering everything that goes infinitesimally off plan every step of the way. Depending on what your mother was eating, and what temperature it was outside and things we can’t even know about, those hormones might be calibrated a little closer to the other side. I tend to test as having a male brain (but I keep it in a jar in my desk and the statute of limitations has run out) on most tests that distinguish that. Considering that I was born very premature, who knows what went wrong there?

But whatever hormones you got that were enough to shape unambiguous genitalia, you can generally guarantee you’re closer to your external gender than to the other one. (Again outliers do happen, but they happen in infinitesimal degrees. I might prefer physics over chemistry, i.e. reasoning over memorization, as the sciences are taught at high school level (I know it’s different further on) but I still have screwed up visual perception, and can’t visualize anything in three dimensions, in which cases I have “extreme female brain.”)

This is not a big deal. Note that “different” doesn’t mean “worse.” If you’re putting that construction on having a female brain, then the problem is yours. For instance, one of the salient characteristics of the female brain is memory, because estrogen helps with memory. (Go figure.) This, gentlemen, is why we remember EXACTLY when you promised to mow the lawn, and why are you on that sofa with that book. (Oh, wait, it’s my book? Never mind.)

But the place where all of this comes to a head, where things for heterosexual (and if that study is right, homosexual) males and females really bifurcates is the things that attract us.

Men are more visual than women. Remember, I didn’t say this was better or worse. Just different. Men’s attraction is mostly predicated on visual signals, and many of them have nothing to do with those faces that women spend so much time fixing up. They spend time fixing them up because women look at faces. And no, this isn’t a crack at men looking at breasts. The signals are more subtle than that. One of the attraction signals, apparently, is the difference in size between waist and hips. So if you wish to attract a guy you’d be better off washing off the makeup and cinching that corset.

This is evolutionary. Men are designed to prowl the world looking for young and fertile women and impregnating them.

Now, we’re not in the caves, so sane men look for other things too, but the signal for attractiveness in females is there, buried in the back brain with “things that make woman have Og’s babies.”

Women’s signals of attraction are harder to quantify. Yes, we care for appearance too, but only insofar as our guy’s appearance will make other women jealous. This is why movie stars, etc. are such powerful attractants: because the media have convinced us everyone wants them.

Other things that are powerful attractants are: success in a field you’re interested in; money; signs of stability and kindness.

This too makes perfect evolutionary sense. The impregnatable woman is looking for signs that Og will not only stick around when she’s pregnant (stability and kindness) but also that he’ll be able to provide much mammoth grease to chew on those cold winter nights.

Of course, we’re also not in the caves, so this mutates to “leader of the band” type signals.

However, no matter how far we’ve come or how far we go yet, humans come from very far. These signals were shaped over tens of thousands of years. They’re buried in our psyches, deep. Compared to these signals, the amount of time humans have been civilized – let alone conscious about “gender equality” – is the blink of an eye.

You can’t completely overcome the deep programing. You can moderate it. Most men I know don’t run around trying to impregnate twenty year olds all their life. They do that for a time then settle down and raise kids and the ability to talk to their wives becomes more important than the waist/hip ratio.

And most women I know don’t run around being groupies for rich and famous guys. They settle down with something they can make a life with.

It’s taken millennia of civilization and conscious education and religious preaching to get us where we are. You want to see countries the males have it all their own way look to the Arab countries. You want to see a place girls rule, look to middle school. Neither are happy places.

However, unless you don’t believe in evolution, you’ll see there are things you can’t combat and which remain. Like, when men look at a woman, no matter whether she’s saying world-saving things, they’re going to first say “Oh, gads, did she have a boob job?”

And when women look at a woman, no matter what she has to say, they’re going to say “Her teeth are like a ferret’s. And where did she get that dress?”

This is because the male back brain is looking at the body FIRST and the female back brain is looking at “signals of potential rival first.”

(There is a way to short circuit that, btw. If you’re matronly and middle aged, those signals do not come up first, UNLESS you’re something special in the way of ugly, like Helen Thomas. This is probably because, judging by our nearest primate relatives, our brain has a setting for “matriarch of the band.” And those aren’t judged on appearance though they might be judged on the size of their family.)

Do we do the same for men? Not nearly. But that’s because of the evolutionary choosing mechanism. What men look like doesn’t matter as much as what they say, because men are judged on power and ability to support.

Is this unfair?

Oh, of course it is. Life is unfair. We’re a dual species, in which only one gender bears the burden of carrying the babies, while the other gender in civilized circumstances has to bear the burden of a partner whose movement and health is diminished while bearing the babies. This might not seem like much for women in present day, but imagine being very pregnant and having to trek between summer and winter camps, hundreds or thousands of miles, with dangerous animals on the way.

Was the man’s caring for you as onerous as your pregnant-trek? In some places probably. But here’s the important thing: it was never about fairness. Evolution doesn’t care about fairness. G-d, if you believe in Him, also doesn’t. Obviously He doesn’t or we’d all be alike with equal chances and equipment for salvation.

Fairness is not only a human value but possibly a human handicap.

And we weren’t designed by humans. We might be in the process of taming ourselves, but we’re early in that process.

What I mean is, when we get that first impulse to judge a woman on looks? Normal. Everyone is like that.

The quick correction, the quick guilt of “I shouldn’t be doing that” is wrong. Humans are humans.

“But Sarah, you said we’d tamed ourselves. Shouldn’t we tame ourselves too to listen to a woman first, before looking at her?”

Yeah? There’s one way to do that. It’s called a radio. And even then, men will listen for sexiness and women for social status.

Look, what I’m trying to say is this – we humans can overcome our instincts. Obviously. But there was something for the caveman in looking for the one (or two if he was a really good hunter) woman who had his babies. As humans’ maturation became a longer and longer process, which allowed for more and more information to be passed on to the new generation, so did the “expense” of raising them. For that man to pass his genes on, he needed to make sure the woman didn’t starve. This was evolutionarily sound. A change in strategy, but sound.

OTOH what good is there to berating a man for looking at a woman first, instead of listening to her?

There is a good, or entire institutions wouldn’t be built on this concept of “making men and women not act according to their instinctive response.”

I’ll tell you. The merchants of fairness – not at the street level, where it’s just people like me who learned it in college – are playing for very high stakes indeed. They think they can remake humans.

You see, their system requires perfectly unselfish humans who work for ‘the community’ and this requires perfect fairness, a value never found in nature. On the way there, they have to get in your head and change every instinctive reaction, every thought.

The added bonus for those who know you can’t actually rebuild humans that quickly (it would take millennia and perfect selection ability) it has the advantage of making everyone feel guilty All the time. Which lends credence to the cries of victimhood and injustice. All the time.

You look at an actress delivering a speech to the UN (and why was she picked? It certainly wasn’t for her brain. What is she famous for? Right, her looks and the ability to emote on camera. Um…) and you think “that dress is awful, and why did she do that to her hair.” And, male or female, you immediately feel guilty of sexism. And then when the merchants of equality come around and berate you on patriarchy, you feel guilty, and you know that sexism is indeed rampant. You know it instinctively.

Is sexism rampant? Not in the US. There is a difference between your instinctive evaluation and the back brain and hiring decisions. That’s a conscious thing, and most sane people try to make it from learned principles which include fairness.

BUT you can’t suppress your immediate, instinctive response. At most you can deny it. And because you’re denying it, you feel compelled to preach to others to deny it to and to work for those people who say they can suppress it.

This “remaking of mankind” is not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy in the social sense is pretending to be better than you are – but you don’t have to deny who you are. Not internally.

This is more of the spreading of a low-grade neurosis over all of society. It’s intentionally making people feel guilty for being people.

It is a lever for those who scream that society must be “fair”. And yet they create neo-feudal dystopias when given their head, note, because someone must be there to continuously ensure fairness, and it certainly can’t be you, you sexist pig.

We need to understand two things “life isn’t fair. Kindergarten is.”

“Every human is different.” Yes, women are physically weaker than men. And I can tan, and my husband can’t (though weirdly, he doesn’t burn either.) And he can think in quadratic equations, and I need paper to do long division. And I can remember complex events from history, and he needs to be reminded what appointment he has on Wednesday.

This doesn’t make him better or me better. We’re just different.

And he’s going to look any comely female over. And I’m going to snark her dress or hair (actually I usually snark her word choice. I’m not visual at all.)

Try to be the best you can for your fellow men, but stop berating yourself for not being perfect. Stop feeling guilty. Stop making others feel guilty.

This project of turning humans into perfectly equal automatons was doomed from the beginning. It has filled 100 million graves and it has created societies in which normal people are watched continually by power-hungry loons (Have you watched The Lives of Others? No? You should.)

It has created societies like Cuba in which, with the wide ocean filled with seafood all around, they starve and the agents of their government, instead of doing something about it, search people’s shopping bags every so often, to make sure they’re not getting more shrimp than anyone else.

We are not equal. We weren’t designed to be equal. It could be argued that’s what makes life worth living.

Enjoy who you are. Enjoy who others are.

And stop with the guilt over what you could never be.

Next time you start feeling guilty for looking a woman over or for making fun of another woman’s attire, remember it’s evolutionary.

Why give anyone permission to remake humanity in their own, neurotic image?

 

 

 

Now Die, Die, Die, Die, Die!* – a blast from the past from May 2012

*Yeah, I’m doing a blast from the past, because yeah, I’m still trying to finish Through Fire, and it must be done before it finishes me.  It’s … probably going to be a very good book, because it scares me to death.

I might or might not do another post later today, depending on how quickly house gets cleaned and stuff packed (it’s all over the living room and I’m tired of it.) Meanwhile, this post still applies to Amazon-is-evil vs. Publishers-are-evil and you know, sometimes I need to remind people of the realities of the business.*

Yesterday night I didn’t know what to blog about.  The problem looked even more complex when Amanda Green dropped Mad Genius Club rotating Saturday blogship on my lap late last night.

Fortunately the gods of fate are kind to me.  And fortunately the publishing industry will never, ever, ever run out of teh stoopid for me to marvel at.  So just as I was about to go to bed, a friend of mine gave me a link to The Passive Voice which made my blood boil and my mind become awed at the sheer amount of stupid in this field.  The particular link was this.

The background for this is the DOJ case against the big six publishers who are accused of collusion in pricing in the so called “agency pricing” that was imposed on ebook retailers.  Amanda has covered this very ably here (as here, here, here here and here)  I don’t have time to go into it, but fell free to check it up.

Every time Amanda talked about it, someone came up with the talking point that “it didn’t matter” and “it didn’t hurt anyone.”  This puzzled us because on the face of it, agency pricing hurt quite a lot.  It hurt readers, who had to pay more for a book they wanted than they would have, had the free market been allowed to operate.  It hurt publishers, who sold fewer books because some people simply refuse to pay that much for what is essentially a license to carry the book on one, or a limited number of e-readers.  It hurt authors (at least it would, if publishers in most cases didn’t calculate ebook royalty by guess and by golly) because they made less money.  (This is not in dispute.  Publishers say everywhere the agency model means they’ve made less money.)

More importantly, Amanda said the law – unjust or not – is the law and price fixing is against the law, period.

BUT the talking point still puzzled us.  How they’d even come up with that gem made no sense to us (or probably ninety percent of human beings.)  And then, as I said, a friend sent me that link.  The link was about a letter Simon Lipskar, agent and board member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, sent to the Department of Justice regarding the antitrust suit filed by the DOJ against Apple and five large publishers alleging the group colluded to fix prices on ebooks.

Joe Konrath, long may his beard grow, fisked the letter here.  Also linked was another column by Konrath – a letter by a publishing insider.  And that is what caused this blog post, because it FINALLY explained what they meant by “but it doesn’t hurt anyone.”

This is the money shot: 2.  One Book Is Pretty Much The Same As Any Other.  Lipskar acknowledges, as he must, that the prices of New York Times bestselling books went up following the simultaneous industry-wide imposition of agency pricing (“prices for a limited number of titles published by these publishers increased, i.e. those ebooks that were digital editions of newly released bestselling hardcover titles.  Amazon had quite explicitly promised its consumers that these titles would be available at $9.99, and with the switch to agency pricing, these titles did indeed increase in price, mostly to $12.99”).  But, he claims, these higher prices couldn’t hurt anyone because the prices of other books decreased (“No Price Increase for Non-Bestselling Titles”).

Okay, got that?  (Beyond the fact that yes, they increased the price of non-bestselling books or else some of my books are REALLY selling beyond statements, but we’ll leave it at that.)  ONE BOOK IS JUST LIKE ANOTHER.

Look, guys, I’ve been in this field forever, and I have the bruises to prove it, but the thing about shocks me to my core.

We’ve long known that publishing execs weren’t readers.  But NOW, now, we have proof they’re not only not readers, they’re insane, or possibly an alien life form.

What they’re saying above is that if you’re a fan, say, of Nora Roberts, you’ll be just as happy with a book by Terry Pratchett.  If you’re a fan of Jonah Goldberg, you’ll be equally pleased with a book by Michael Moore.  If you’re a fan of Robert A. Heinlein, you’ll simply adore a random book with “SF” on the cover.

Got that?  Books are fungible, which means they are interchangeable.  You want to read Shadow Warriors by Tom Clancy and we don’t have it?  No problem, we have If you Give A Mouse A Cookie.  It’s a book and it should make you just as happy.

“Of course they don’t mean it to that extent,” you say.  “Are you out of your ever-loving mind, Sarah?”

Okay, so they don’t mean that to THAT extent, to what extent do they meant it?  I can tell you to what extent they mean it.  They mean if you’re into a certain sub-genre of science fiction or fantasy or Romance or anything, you’ll be just as happy with a book which is more or less along the same lines.  Say, you’re a fan of Nora Roberts and her book is too expensive.  Well, you can buy this nice book by Julia Quinn (or, since JQ is also a bestseller, let’s use a made up name, like Mary Smith).  See, you have a book.  It has words and everything.  So, you – being an idiot child who is easily distracted – will be perfectly happy.

“But Sarah,” you say, “they didn’t call us idiots who are easily distracted.”  No?  Really?  But they’ve been TREATING you and me and every other reader as idiots who are easily distracted.  This is the only way they can treat books as fungible and think a book is just as good as the other.  (And I’ll have something to say on this before I close this article, btw.)

This particular sentence though, this concept of any book being just as good as any other suddenly made sense of a bunch of industry practices which – otherwise – make no sense whatsover.  (It also made a mockery of a bunch of other industry practices, which is why I’ll have more to say on this.)

For instance, how many of you, as readers, are aware that publishers think books are bananas?  Okay, maybe not bananas, but some other, fragile, quickly-expiring, short-sell-by-date produce?  Probably not many of you.  Heck, I didn’t when I was just a reader.  (Though it was a little different then, too, because the particular inventory tax laws that killed back list hadn’t come into existence yet.)  Most books these days have a an expiration date of just a few weeks.  When you have a traditionally published book, you have to start promoting MONTHS before it is even available because that influences how much it will be available, which influences how many will be bought in the first weeks they are on the shelf.  After that, they are removed from the shelves (if they ever got on the shelves at all) and replaced with other books.  This never made sense to me, but now it does.

If books are fungible, why would you want to read a book that’s older than a few weeks?  If any book is much like another, all that counts is that the book is new and shiny and on the shelf, right?

Or consider what publishers do, by buying books for the AUTHOR’S life story or the author’s cute face, or the author’s nice bit of leg in lace stocking.  It makes no sense to readers who – silly us – read for the story and the words and couldn’t care less if the creature who wrote them is secretly a cockroach.  BUT if one book is exactly like another, then the only way to sell them is the “image” and the “narrative” – therefore buying writers for things other than their writing?  Genius!

Or consider “stocking to the net.”  Since all books are alike, readers – those idiots – must be attaching to the writers’ name in order to buy books (who knows why?  Maybe it’s like imprinting.)  So they will buy every book with the same author name in the same amounts, even if they are in totally different fields.  Romance by Georgette Heyer?  TOTALLY the same thing as mystery by Georgette Heyer.  And if a writers’ name isn’t selling, the best thing possible is to change the name, since that’s all the reader imprints on.

Or consider that the publishers thought it was a PERFECTLY VALID and, in fact, marvelous state of affairs to be able to control which books even got seen, much less bought.  They would buy a hundred books and plan on 80 of them failing and, in fact, make it impossible for those books to succeed.  (The reason for the inventory being so large is related to all sorts of other stuff, including “holding space” and the fact that even a book which “doesn’t sell” will sell a few hundred copies, which with the new print on demand tech was enough for them to make money.)  How could they think this made sense?  How could they think they could PICK the books the public would want to read, across the country with that much exactness?  How could they think they could say “this book will sell 100,000 copies and this one will sell 500?”  Let alone why would they buy the book which would sell 500, let’s concentrate on their belief that it was a good thing to decide how much the book would sell before exposing it to the reading public (this from an industry that does no consumer surveys and in which twenty one houses turned down Harry Potter.)

HOW could any sane industry think it was a good thing to be able to say “Well, I don’t care if the customers want more Pratchett.  We shall give them more Laurell Hamilton.  They’re both fantasy.  The readers will buy more of what is in a bigger display, and that’s the end of it?”  (Of course, both Mr. Pratchett and Ms. Hamilton sell.  However, Pratchett didn’t for almost a decade in the US while selling in the UK.  Why?  Because NYC had decided he wouldn’t sell.  So he got print runs of five thousand books and was about as well known here as I am.  The moment at the first Discworld con when Pratchett said “What changed between then and now?  Different agent, different publisher.  I write the same,” was a moment of intense relief for me, because if they can hold Pratchett at that level, they can hold anyone.  It’s their decision, not the writer.  More on that later.)

Well, the publishing execs think one book is much like the other.  So, it’s perfectly fine to push the books they want to push, with the opinions and attitudes they want to promote.  The reader, is after all an idiot, and they can just buy whatever is available.

But Sarah, you say, printruns have been falling since this became policy.  Well, yes, I know that, but editors and publishers say it’s video games and TV and movies.  That’s their problem, not mine.  (And also, readership has increased with the e-book revolution.  I wonder why.)

Other things that are their problem – if every book is fungible and every reader will be just as happy with one book as another:

How come you stop buying an author when he/she doesn’t magically become a bestseller, when you haven’t slated him/her for it?  Because, look, if the reader will be just as happy with Harry Potter, A Farewell to Arms or If you Give A Mouse A Cookie, HOW can it be the writer’s fault?

How come you give different advance levels to different writers?  Exclude the celebrities, since you think that sells a book.  How come you give some writers millions and some a thousand?  If a book is the same as the other, then all writers should be paid the same, right?  Maybe a certain amount per word?

And if every book is the same as another book, why would anyone buy books from a certain publisher?  (Baen fans, SIT DOWN.  I’m not saying every book is the same.  Big Publishing is.  Baen is NOT part of teh stupid in this, and Baen is not guilty of this nonsense.)  Why not buy indie instead?

By their very logic this brings us to the conclusion that the big six might or might not be alien life forms or mentally damaged, but they ARE in fact fungible.

Don’t give big publishing a cookie.  BUY INDIE (Small press, micro press or self published and, of course, Baen who is in many ways indie).

*My title btw, is taken from Shakespeare, whose works still sell, and therefore – by not being bananas – puncture all of big publishing’s argument.

The Future Must Belong to Those Who Question

And even those who mock, joke and deride, particularly those who do so to an almost-universally held faith in their region/time/place.   People must be free to hold dissenting opinions without risking death.

Why do I say that?

There was that climate march in NYC and people tried, by means of slogans and shouting to insist that we must all change the way we live; that we must go back to a way of life that would necessitate the demise of 80% of human population, in order to… stop the planet warming up.

This despite the fact that we have no idea how much the planet is really warming up or why (corrupt data, corrupt data-keeping, corrupt… everything – the result of science done to government specifications.), the fact that most of the world couldn’t care less what these marchers do and say and that the ecological disaster that is China will offset any sacrifices we attempt to make, and the fact that the celebrity marchers all produce enough carbon in a month to offset any reductions I could make in my lifestyle over a lifetime, even if I went to the loony point of living as we did in the village where I grew up: a lightbulb per room and early hours to bed; no labor saving devices; a radio as the only electrical form of entertainment, etc.

Let’s leave that aside for a moment though, and concentrate on the truly appalling spectacle of Robert Kennedy Jr. demanding that those who don’t agree with him about what is causing the climate problems (?) be put in jail or killed.

The United States government, Kennedy lamented in an interview with Climate Depot, is not permitted by law to “punish” or to imprison those who disagree with him — and this, he proposed, is a problem of existential proportions. Were he to have his way, Kennedy admitted, he would cheer the prosecution of a host of “treasonous” figures — among them a number of unspecified “politicians”; those bêtes noires of the global Left, Kansas’s own Koch Brothers; “the oil industry and the Republican echo chamber”; and, for good measure, anybody else whose estimation of the threat posed by fossil fuels has provoked them into “selling out the public trust.” Those who contend that global warming “does not exist,” Kennedy claimed, are guilty of “a criminal offense — and they ought to be serving time for it.”

Let’s suppose that everything Mr. Kennedy thinks about the climate is true. Why would he want to silence anyone who disagrees with him?

If everything he says is true, surely he has proof. More importantly, surely he has ways to explain/get around the fact that without modern technology 80% of the people in the world would die, due to problems of transportation and growing enough food in enough places. Surely he has ways to convince China. I mean, if his science is that iron clad, they wouldn’t want to die any more than we do? Surely he has ways to convince all the rest of the world, which has nothing to do with the (Libertarian, and for all I know AGW supporting,) Koch brothers or the Republicans.

Unless he thinks the rest of the world hangs suspended from those peoples’ lips? And even a trust-fund-baby celebrity can’t be that stupid.

In other words, if he’s really concerned about AGW, he should be talking to the rest of the world, particularly the emerging nations, not just the US public. To pretend otherwise is a cop out, and a dishonest one.

Instead, the power he wants is the power to kill or imprison – to silence – anyone he disagrees with.

Note that people like me, who think that proponents of AGW demonstrate they don’t believe in it with their lives, don’t wish to stop them talking. On the contrary. The more they parade and berate, and show their allegiance to communist causes, the less credible they are. We want them to keep talking.

This extends all across the pet causes of the left. Feminism? Oh, please, do keep talking about how you want to kill all but 10% of males.

The lack of women and minorities in science fiction? Do keep talking. We have books going back to the fricking fifties that give you the lie and you just expose your crass ignorance.

The War on Women, in the group with the most pampered, indulged women in the world? Please, even some of the kids no longer buy it.

White privilege, which is screamed in the faces of Hispanic and even Black males who disagree with the narrative? Please, oh, insane mind, speak thyself.

However, from their side all we hear is that they want us to shut up and (in sff where they’re soft) “hurry up and die. Or in the rest of the world “be killed.”

Whence this recoil from opposing opinions, this desire to shut us up?

I have joked in the past that militant Islam with its demands that anyone who says anything about the prophet should be killed betrays a fundamental insecurity. Those of us who truly believe G-d exists don’t believe He needs US to defend his honor.

We figure if He’s really upset, He’ll take care of it in his own good time.

But this effect of having to defend something so much bigger than you that if you’re sure it exists, surely it doesn’t need YOUR efforts to defend it, seems to be an effect of theocracies, where people of not very strong beliefs are afraid of hearing opinions/ideas that contradict what they must believe in to remain in the fold and in the good with the society around them.

Hence, medieval Christianity and most of Islam today.

Hence, the left.

The progressive project that, in various forms, consumed most of the twentieth century, ran out of ideological justification with the fall of the Soviet Union and the transformation of China into… something more approaching Nazi Germany than the Communist Project.

This has taken the certainty from under the followers of the left. The smarter ones, surely, know their ideology is rubbish and there isn’t a working example of a top-down socialist/communist society in the world that is self-sustaining, let alone competes with the US in innovation and creation at any level.

Even the not so smart ones have to have an inkling. They can no longer point to the USSR and tell us if only we knew its wonders we’d convert.

Their leaders are old, their ideas are depleted. They, in the parlance of my kids generation “got nothing.”

So instead of real belief they have the desperate clutching at the appearance of belief and conformity, the appearance of being right.

They’ve done so much for the cause, most of these celebrities and ideologues, that to backtrack now would be unthinkable. They’d have to face themselves in the morning and realize that they supported causes and movements that killed a hundred million people worldwide and held far more in abject squalor.

They can’t do that. Courage was never their strong suit, otherwise they wouldn’t have gone along with the crowd after the fall of the USSR.

So they just want us to “shut up already” and “die” so that in their totalitarian version of reality no little voice shall mar their self image.

They are like MacBeth, trying to silence his conscience. They are in fact

“in blood

Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

Strange things I have in head, that will to hand,

Which must be acted ere they may be scanned.”

And our only hope is to keep speaking, to keep making them scan their strange things in head before they come to hand.

Because the other way is unthinkable.

Obama once said (after arresting a film maker for making a movie about Islam, which did not after all spark the murder of our ambassador) that the future must not belong to those who insult Islam.

On the contrary, Mr. President. Insofar as “insult” is questioning and pointing out contradictions and, yes, even joking, the future MUST belong to those who insult Islam, to those who insult Christianity, to those rare souls that bother insulting Hinduism and the other more exotic beliefs, and even to those who insult the Marxist religion of the left yay and verily, even its Global Warming branch.

That is because any belief, religious, scientific, economic, ANY BELIEF that would claim the allegiance of the whole of humanity must be tested and tested and tested. It must be able to withstand jokes and knocks and above all argument.

Remember at one time Incan human sacrifice and Nazism commanded a large group of believers. This didn’t make them right.

It’s only hypocrites and cowards who demand the silence of others, afraid their own weakness be exposed and they’ll be forced to look at themselves in a true mirror and recoil in fear and error at what they see there.

Transcript of event 786: Virtua security breach, class 2, during Virtual Exchange – Charles E. Gannon

*So this started because the lovely Jagi Lamplighter asked me to participate in a character blog tour thing, in which each of us invited other people and each person blogged the following Monday, linking before and ahead.  Jagi’s link is here.  I did mine hereLinks to the other people I invited here. I invited Doug Dandrige, who in turn invited Charles E. Gannon.  Chuck doesn’t have a blog of his own, though he’s under permanent invite to blog at MGC Sundays when he wishes (I’ll just add to Elf Blood in its own page, then) so if you guys egg him on, maybe he’ll take us up on it. Anyway, so his interview of his character came out really long.  I’m putting the first half here, and the other half will be up at Doug’s blog in a couple of hours.  And meanwhile, I’ll be working on Through Fire, and I’ll be back tomorrow with a for reals blog post, promise.  I think this book scares me.  If you wish I can explain why, but for now color me spitless.

This is what Chuck says about the following interview: “the content provides some “ah HAH!” background fill in for my series.”*

Transcript of event 786: Virtua security breach, class 2, during Virtual Exchange  – Charles E. Gannon

Subjects: (two)

 

Human visitor, tagged “Interviewer” (identity data suppressed; see concluding access notes)

Origin-sourced precarnation Simulacrum, tagged “Corcoran”

 

Summary Description of intended Virtual Exchange:

 

“Interviewer” was authorized to interview origin-source Simulacrum “Corcoran” in Virtual Node after full debriefing and explicit agreement to observe interrogatory constraints. Intentional or unintentional compromise of the Simulacrum’s current contiguous knowledge base was established as condition which would trigger partial discontinuation and pause of the Virtual Node as warning (i.e.; “environment hazing”). Full termination occurs upon multiple compromises or disregard of warnings.

 

 

 

Transcript Begins

 

 

Interviewer: It’s quite an honor to interview you, Admiral Corcoran.

 

Corcoran: It’s my pleasure. Where would you like to start?

 

Interviewer: How about telling us something about yourself that we probably don’t know?

 

Corcoran: Well, to do that, I need to know what you expect your readers will know about me?

 

Interviewer: I’m sure they’ll all be familiar with your roles in the Highground War, the Belt Wars, and the mission to intercept the Doomsday Rock. A lot will remember your name in conjunction with a variety of the subcommittees and military initiatives that made the United States and the United Commonwealths and Aligned States the preeminent space powers, but ultimately, transformed humanity into a star-faring race. And of course, younger audience members are most likely to associate you with the Parthenon Dialogs.

 

Corcoran: Well, I’m not so sure that my name is as closely associated with all those activities as you seem to presume . . .

 

Interviewer: It is, I assure you. In fact, in many accounts, your name is the one that figures most prominently. However, what is not mentioned is this: which of these involvements was, personally, the greatest challenge, the hardest job?

 

Corcoran: You want the hardest job? You’re sure?

 

Interviewer: Yes, Admiral, quite sure.

 

Corcoran: Then it’s none of the ones you’ve mentioned. For me, the hardest job was the one that probably won’t get into any history books. At best, it will warrant a few footnotes in specialty military histories that will probably have only a handful of hardcopies published. Which will then spend their dreary existence gathering dust in those few repositories that actually archive physical books.

 

Interviewer: So, what is this almost unknown job that was the hardest you’ve ever done?

 

Corcoran: Without a doubt, it was chairing the Services Integration Committee.

 

Interviewer: (after a long pause) The what?

 

Corcoran: See? I told you it’s not on the radar. The Services Integration Committee was convened before you were born, and, unless I miss my guess, was concluded just about when you started high school.

 

Interviewer: That’s an incredibly long process.

 

Corcoran: Because it was an incredibly complex—and incendiary— process. The Services Integration Committee was an Executive initiative passed to the Joint Chiefs early in 2092. It was necessary and everyone knew it was coming. But nonetheless, it was a political football and tar-pit that no sane officer in the general ranks wanted to touch, because it was sure to be their professional doom. On the other hand, I had to take it on because of the direction I knew we were going: namely, into space, and ultimately to the stars. And that was going to change the roles and command structures of all our armed services. Forever.

 

Interviewer: Okay, now I understand what you’re talking about. I’ve actually heard about this process, but it’s usually referred to by its acronym, now: SIC.

 

Corcoran: Which is what everyone called it, for obvious reasons. Because for everyone involved—which meant almost everyone in the armed services—it was indeed an utterly sick process. Everything was on the table, so anything might change. However, the more classically educated persons involved chose a latin quip: Sic transit Gloria mundi.

 

Interviewer: “Thus passes the glory of the world?”

 

Corcoran: You got it in one. Yes, because, for a lot of career officers, this meant that all the missions they had trained for, all the roles and even service traditions that had determined the shape of their adult lives were poised on the brink of change so profound that they might not recognize the new reality that they’d be ask to navigate. A lot of people were legitimately worried about finding themselves being discharged simply because there was no role left for them. We managed to avoid most of that—but not without a lot of horse trading and creative problem-solving.

 

Interviewer: It sounds daunting. What was it like running that kind of initiative, on the gut level?

 

Corcoran: It was like herding cats. With their tails on fire. Pursued by budget-cutting Dobermans. Only harder. Next question.

 

Interviewer: (laughs) It sounds like if I ask any more questions about SIC, we’ll never get to another topic. So let’s move on from the most difficult job to the one that you are most proud of. What would that be?

 

Corcoran: You mean, aside from my children?

 

Interviewer: (laughs) I wasn’t aware they were part of your resume.

 

Corcoran: No, they weren’t. Which is not something I’m proud of. But after learning that the Doomsday Rock had been, indisputably, pushed at us by exosapients—well, my life was no longer really my own. Which means I was not around for my children or my wife anywhere near as often as I wanted—as I needed—to be. So, while that absence is one of my greatest regrets, it is also one of my greatest sources of pride that Elena and Trevor became the fine young woman and young man that they became. And that my wife Patrice somehow managed to remain an all-star physician and family locus, was the glue that held us all together, since I so often was not there to do so. (Pause) So I guess I have to add “deeply grateful” to “proud,” when I think of my family.

 

Interviewer: I get the sense that your life’s work has left you with some significant feelings of ambivalence.

 

Corcoran: I think we could safely call that an understatement.

 

Interviewer: Then I wonder if you wouldn’t mind sharing with us what you feel most ambivalent about, as you think back about your career?

 

Corcoran: Circumventing due process.

 

Interviewer: I beg your pardon?

 

Corcoran: Circumventing due process. I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. When you take that oath, you never envision that your career could take you to a place where you are not only authorized, but mandated, to suppress facts, avoid ready accountability, create the illusion of transparency where none exists, and just plain lie. All at the behest of my Commander in Chief, mind you, and the Joint Chiefs. All approved by Senate Subcommittees, both Near Earth-approaching Asteroid Response and Intelligence. But it doesn’t make you feel any better about doing it, doesn’t remove the raw reality of looking in the mirror every day and asking, “How is it that I am technically fulfilling my oath of service by doing all the things it seemed implicit that I swore not to do?” (Long pause) And of all the incidents where that kind of circumvention and clandestine misrepresentation was involved, the case of Caine Riordan is right at the top of my list of regrets.

 

Interviewer: I’m sorry if this is a sensitive topic, but it’s also a natural segue into a part of this interview that I’m sure you were expecting, and I would be remiss to skip over. Specifically, in regard to that circumvention of due process, your detractors charge that your manipulation of government agencies, commercial entities, and even other nations through information control and influence peddling constitutes one of the most sustained and successful conspiracies on record. How would you respond?

 

Corcoran: Well, firstly, I think we need to distinguish between ‘conspiracy’ and ‘covert operation.’ I was involved in the latter, not the former, and yes, there is most certainly a distinction. As I just pointed out, I was not operating as a rogue agent, and I was not operating against the orders or interests of the United States of America. In the wake of our discoveries on the Doomsday Rock, we created a top secret collective: the Institute for Reconnaissance, Intelligence and Security. It was not only permitted but mandated by the Executive Branch, after recommendation by a blue-ribbon panel from the Senate Near Earth-approaching Asteroid Response subcommittee, chaired by Arvid Tarasenko. And within five years time, it had official buy in and clandestine assistance from the European Union, the Russian Federation, and select elements of what later became the Trans Oceanic Commercial and Industrial Organization.

 

Interviewer: Let’s go back a moment. Arvid Tarasenko was also a friend from your days at the Naval Academy, correct?

 

Corcoran: Correct. And I fully expected that, when our activities became a matter of public record, a lot of people would misconstrue my work with Arvid as evidence of some kind of “Bilderbergers in the Making” relationship.

 

Interviewer: Which they have since done. Repeatedly.

 

Corcoran: Naturally. Unfortunately, although I’m unlikely to change anyone’s mind with this assertion, that’s a case of putting the cart in front of the horse. Arvid and I were not schemers who fell upon an opportunity to power: we were friends who could trust each other and were in the right places to establish a long-duration initiative to accelerate the pace at which Earth might accrue the advances essential to its survival.

 

Interviewer: As I’m sure you are aware, your detractors prefer the first interpretation of your relationship with Tarasenko: that you were power-seeking illuminati.

 

Corcoran: I’m sure they do: it makes for better copy. But if they stopped to think through the details, they might find some contradictions that they’ll be at profound pains to explain away. (Seems puzzled momentarily) I must admit, though, that I have no actual knowledge of such detractors. But your report of their existence doesn’t surprise me.

 

Interviewer: Well, we’ve certainly followed a circuitous course in getting to the answer to my original question, which was: “Your detractors charge that your manipulation of government agencies, commercial entities, and even other nations through information control and influence peddling constitutes one of the most sustained and successful conspiracies on record.” What’s your verdict upon yourself, guilty or not guily?

 

Corcoran:Unfortunately, I’d have to say guilty as charged. But some deeds are not well understood—or judged—without context. A few—particularly those to feed perverse personal appetites for power—don’t require careful contemplation: people who kill others simply to feel a rush, to bathe in the sewage of their own megalomaniacal egos, can be judged pretty summarily, I think. But the sad truth is that there are innumerable shades of grey. Unfortunately, that is the most frequent rationalization employed by zealots to perpetrate atrocities: “the ends justified my means.”

Of course, sometimes they do—but not just because the person employing the means claims they do. Ultimately, it is history that will sit in judgment—and it is often true that an analyst looking back from a distant point upon the unspooling historical timeline will see the context more clearly than a more proximal viewer.

 

Interviewer: Do you think that will be the case with your own deeds—that they will be better understood, and perhaps more widely-praised—with the increasing passage of time and accrual of greater perspective?

 

Corcoran: I’d like to think so. But then, there’s so much that was done that never came to light, and so much we encountered that had to be addressed that was never revealed. I’m not sure that the complete story will ever—or should ever—be told.

 

Interviewer: Because people can’t handle the truth?

 

Corcoran: No, because some truths are so profoundly convoluted and byzantine in their pathways and nuances that it’s almost impossible to lay them all out briefly in any reasonably comprehensive fashion. Yet, to do any less ensures that those truths are likely to be misunderstood, generating misperceptions so profound that one might easily make inferences that are 180 degrees reversed from the actual underlying facts.

So how do you correct that, how do you provide more context? By sharing more information. But that’s like cutting the heads off a hydra: in the process of clearing up the first misperception you often create two or three more. And so it goes. At some point, the problem is not that most people fail to comprehend the backstories: it’s that they get weary of the onion-layers you have to keep peeling back in order to get to the fundamental exigencies that shape and motivate deep intelligence work. The number of variables involved, and the way they tug on each other—the fact that there is almost nothing immutable in that extremely dynamic equilibrium—is really difficult to appreciate unless you are working inside it.

 

Interviewer: The rejection of that perspective—the difficulty of ensuring that non-insiders have a reasonable appreciation of the paradoxical and often counter-productive effects of working toward full disclosures—has been voiced repeatedly and stridently by Earth’s megacorporations. And they have been among your most vocal, and suspiciously well-informed, detractors.

 

Corcoran: No surprises there. Either in terms of their being vocal or suspiciously well-informed.

 

Interviewer: As you say, no surprises. But I wonder: if you had it to do over again, would you take such a hard line against the megacorporations?

 

Corcoran: I think I need to unpack that question before I can answer it.

 

Interviewer: Please do so.

 

Corcoran: Firstly, I’m not sure I can accept the allegation that I adopted a “hard line” against the megacorporations. As anyone who’s done any research knows, I coordinated regularly, and was as forthcoming as classification allowed, with the Industrial megacorporations. Not my distinction: the Industrial megacorporations.That is not chance, and it cannot be airily explained away by simply asserting that, since they are the other half of the “military-industrial” complex, that they were IRIS’ willing tools. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is utterly ludicrous. Multi-billion dollar manufacturing concerns that supply multiple nations are not anyone’s puppets. But likewise, their sales and therefore survival is directly tied to the nation-states. In many circumstances, that has been a major problem. It’s no secret that there has been a long history of fiscal abuses arising from what many rightly characterize as that inherently incestuous relationship, particularly as concerns the inefficiencies of the materiél procurement process. It was worse in the last century, but it’s still not great.

However, in some circumstances, the extant relationship between Industrials and government has been singularly advantageous. In the case of getting ourselves ready for a robust expansion into space with an eye towards self-defense, our prior work together put us on the same page in three important ways.

Firstly, much of our joint work has always involved both achieving scientific breakthroughs and then actualizing them in terms of real-world engineering. That was the very foundation of our extant working partnership, and in many ways, our new goals in space were actually a better fit for our relationship. This was a case where we had comparatively very long development cycles and where the only objective was to get the job done. There was no room for favoritism and regional pork-belly competition. We were operating under the aegis of a special mandate that necessarily could not be open to conventional Congressional oversight. There was oversight—more than a lot of folks presume—but it is in the nature of secret projects that they cannot be subject to line-item review. Kind of defeats the “secret” part.

And that brings up the second way in which we started out on the same page: we were used to working with the Industrials through a set of security protocols that allowed for a pretty broad mix of classification levels and compartmentalization firewalls, all safeguarded on their side. It’s probably hard for someone not familiar with the defense and aerospace industries to understand how important all that is. Normal companies are just not set up for the complex demands of being responsible for projects involving various intel-sensitive fabrication sites, and design teams, and coordinators, and maintaining adequate internal security while also being on the lookout for external penetration. I’ve heard people try to compare this level of security challenge to that faced by online data firms, or financial institutions. Sorry: orders of magnitude of difference, just at the level of evidentiary footprint alone. Industrials maintain and do their work in factories—physical plants—that have traffic numbering in the hundreds or even thousands of persons. They literally have a shop floor, from which various pieces of technical intelligence can be swept and used as the basis of inferential analysis of what they are working on. I repeat: we are talking about easily accessed, highly suggestive, physical evidence. We’re not talking about securing data streams or proprietary code: we’re talking nuts and bolts handled by hundreds of people every day. And the Industrials already had a pretty good system in place to protect secrecy in those kinds of environments. Given some extra latitude, they were able to do the necessary security job without involving more people on the government side. And they were all accustomed to not only having limited knowledge of what they were protecting or why, but more importantly, they had already been acculturated to know the difference between critically examining an order that seems ill-considered —a good trait—and being nosey to sate their own curiosity—a very very bad trait.

Lastly, but possibly most importantly, the industrials shared, deep down, an intangible but crucial cultural value with those of us who’ve spent a lifetime in military or space endeavors: the sovereignty, and importance, of the nation-state. And not merely according to some blind, team-spirit reflex. The women and men in the board rooms of the Industrials are no less educated than those you might find in the other megacorporations, but you might say they’ve drawn different lessons from their educations—and from their life experiences. Many of the people in the Industrials have taken oaths of service, or have spent years serving alongside those who have. Most of them have lived lives negotiating the compromises that arise between pursuing one’s own happiness and the preserving its pursuit–along with life and liberty—for others. It would not be correct to say that the Industrials embody a service ethos, but they maintain close ties to it—too close for them to forget that other people are depending upon them. And I’m happy to say that when the chips are down, that’s when they really rise to the occasion, when they really shine. I’d like to think that about not only all Americans, and all members of the United Commonwealths and Allied States bloc, but humans in general. But I know I can say it about the majority of the Industrials because, in the years leading up to the Parthenon Dialogs, I saw them do just that: rise to the occasion, take on an incredible set of challenges and not only meet, but exceed all expectations.

 

Interviewer: With that said—and thank you for unpacking what has been a much-debated matter—I’d like to return to the question that launched us into the topic in the first place. Which was this: if you had it to do over again, would you take such a hard line against the megacorporations? (A long pause.) Admiral Corcoran, would you rather skip this question?

 

Corcoran: No, no. Unless compelled to do so by official secrecy constraints, I hate agreeing to an interview and then hiding behind “no comments.” I’m just trying to think carefully before I answer your question, because it’s a very good one. It troubled me a lot, over the years, in fact. Frankly, I did not foresee the problems we had with so many of the non-Industrial megacorporations.

 

Interviewer: How did they surprise you?

You can find the rest in Doug Dandriges’s Website.

You can buy his books here:

Fire with Fire

Trial By Fire

(Sorry, I tried to insert images but WordPress Delenda Est — SAH)

Throwing a Rope

Or, this black dog is following me around, but I don’t want to keep him.

I don’t think it’s news to any of you that I’m depressive. No, let me rephrase that. I’m depressive by nature, and I usually compensate for it mentally. It’s sort of like being born lame, but doing your best to walk on both feet, normally even if one hurts.

I’ve stayed away from medications for various reasons. This is not a judgment on people who take them, but I’m one of those people who hated sleeping as kids, and who still hates drinking too much, and who refuses to take pain meds, because I’d rather endure pain than not being sure who is doing my thinking for me.

Perhaps it is a function of having many people in my mind. It’s important to know which voice is yours.

But the last two years have been challenging and I have come very close to throwing in the towel and asking for meds.

Part of it is politics and world affairs. Part of is personal health. Part of it is the economy making family economics shaky. Part of it was various struggles the kids went through. Part of was the fact my neighborhood is simply not safe for me to walk alone anymore, so if I can’t get a son to go with me, I don’t get the exercise I need to stay sane (let alone this side of a mac truck.) (Yes, I have a treadmill, bought used, but I haven’t had time/help to turn it into a standing desk, and I hate exercise machines because I get SO bored. Finding a good show to watch while running helps, but the last one was the prime backlog of Foyle’s war, almost two years ago.)

All of these fed on each other.

This was not the most depressed I’ve been. I was never suicidal. I was just at a bottom of a pit and couldn’t reach out.

I could write these blogs, but not write fiction, because fiction is emotion, and I couldn’t bear emotion. It’s like a magnetic repulsion. I “read” because I have a need for story, but I “read” by listening to audio, which can be done while cleaning, which further distances the emotions.

And I didn’t read. Not really. I skimmed a few books there in the middle. Even Romance which I mostly consider “not real” was too serious for me.

This was gradual, so that at the end of last year I was reading less and less.

And what I wrote – well, I’ve said this – the first version of Through Fire, which is getting fixed, read like a profoundly autistic main character.

This year I’ve been making a conscious effort, been trying to dig out. But there are relapses. The problem of being that close with the black dog so long is that any slight “bad news” no matter how minor revive that feeling of futility and push you back into the pit and then the climbing back out takes longer than falling in.

When Jagi Lamplighter asked if I’d read and blurb her book, The Raven, the elf and Rachel, I should have said no, because I was having trouble making myself read things. But I said yes. And she sent me both books, because I hadn’t read the first one yet.

As deadline approached I thought “I’ll skim it.” But then I found myself reading it. Both of them, back to back.

And suddenly I was reading again. Which has helped, because writing needs to be “fed.” You can’t write too long without experiencing reading.

I re-read things that I barely remembered reading before the depression clamped down. Like Dog and Dragon.

And I’m on the way up.

But remember I said this is all very frail. Anything can push you back all the way again.

This last week I got sick. Seems to be a virus mainly characterized by making you feel exhausted, so it’s a dangerous one, because you feel blah and don’t know why. I felt better (psychologically) when I realized I had a fever, because that’s not psychological.

And I’ve been getting better.

But yesterday we had some disappointing news. Nothing really bad, and most of the time I’d not even have thought about it, but where I am right now it was enough to knock me on my can.

I’m looking at the writing backlog of two years, and I’m still tired from being sick, and suddenly the writing shut down again and I was tottering at the edge.

And then a friend, on Facebook, asked me if I’d finished a story he read the beginning of. He’d been searching Amazon for it. It’s a minor little thing, not a novel, and not something I thought anyone would be waiting for.

But he was. And he told me. And suddenly the world refocused.

It’s very easy when you’re a writer to forget that people receive your writing; that it matters.

It’s very easy to see fans asking for things as demands, as pushing at you when you can’t do everything at once. It’s easy to get rude at readers (the whole George R.R. Martin is not your bitch thing. No, he’s not, but he has a contract with the readers that he’ll finish the series. It’s easy to think of this as an imposition, but we writers shouldn’t. It’s a tie. A human connection. All those can be burdens or occasions of grace.)

Kris Rush, who understands me pretty well, once told me – when I was frustrated and angry at my publishers – “Ignore all that, Sarah, write for your readers.”

Only that’s not so easy because when you’re writing, you’re writing alone. Which is why writers are prone to the black dog, as Dave blogged about yesterday.

I was going to blog about fascism, (no, real one) and about intolerance of dissent.

But I still feel frail from yesterday. Not depressed, just tired. Part of it might be a hangover from being sick, since as I said whatever this was was mostly characterized by tiredness.

I don’t feel I have the… ah… force to blog about something like that.

So I thought I’d blog about how sometimes we need a rope. We’re down there, struggling, and we don’t even realize we’re drowning, until someone throws us a rope and we pull up a little and go “Oh.”

Before I wrote this, I sent Jagi a thank you note. It occurred to me I never told her. I don’t know if she struggles with the black dog, but every writer this side of J K Rowling struggles with not knowing the impact they have, or what importance what they do has.

Writing is a lonely business. Too lonely.

I hadn’t told her how I felt because I thought it sounded stupid. So other than teasing demands for more, I didn’t tell her. Then I realized it’s not stupid. Yes, she might know, but she might not.

I’m not fishing for compliments – please don’t – I got my rope last night, unexpectedly, from someone who didn’t realize he was throwing it; from someone I can trust not to say it just because.

And that’s important. Don’t say it just because. And don’t say it just to writers. But if someone knit you a scarf, cooked you a meal, took time to talk to you, and it mattered – it really mattered and it really helped, let them know.

Tell them. They might need a rope, or they might not, but they should know. And even if you didn’t need a rope. Even if it was just something you really liked/enjoyed, something well done that someone put effort into, something that gave you joy, let them know.

Don’t think “surely they know.” Achievement and accomplishment and reward aren’t often covalent in the world, nor is ability and self-confidence.

And you might not know it – I suspect there are a lot of people like me out there, doing their best to walk on two feet even if they were born lame – but you might be throwing someone a rope into the pit and shining a light into the abyss.

So do it. It costs nothing except a little embarrassment. And the ripples go on forever.

 

Rebuilding Humanity- Cedar Sanderson

Rebuilding Humanity- Cedar Sanderson

 

I had to write a paper this week on the state of human trafficking in the Balkans. As I wrote for the paper, this requires a deeper understanding first, of the current and historical role of police in the region, the socio-economic status of the people in the region who participate in trafficking, and finally, the role of external monitors who ostensibly would be a deterrent to such trafficking. However, outside the confines of the classroom, I can add my own editorial comments about the state of affairs morally and politically that has led to this situation. Slavery, and in particular what is now euphemistically termed ‘human trafficking’ has been around since the dawn of time. This is evident in literature and archaeological evidence from the dawn of pre-civilization eras. How is it possible such an archaic tradition can linger on it our enlightened world?

The more modern woes came about with the fall of communism, and in the struggles that followed, as a generation of people brought up without the ‘burden’ of Western morality and religious teachings tried to make ends meet in any way they could. That they could sell their wares, as it were, to the ‘more civilized’ UN peacekeepers and various NGO personnel is indicative of other issues, more close to home for those of us who frequent this blog. I am going to allow you to draw your own conclusions, and suggest your own resolutions to these problems. I am merely going to say that when the philosophy that is taught either directly, or by omission, is morally bankrupt because morals are no longer a thing, and good is indefinable, then what is evil?

The shattering of the former communist state of Yugoslavia in the late 1980s led to the creation of several smaller states in the early 1990s, and a civil war that tore the new countries apart from their beginning. Previous to this, however, the police during the reign of the communist Tito were tasked with many other things than an American observer would anticipate, as the role of the police in the United States is quite different. Aleksa Djilas, in an article for Foreign Affairs (http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/51216/aleksa-djilas/tito-s-last-secret-how-did-he-keep-the-yugoslavs-together) says, “The main guarantors of Yugoslavia’s unity were the communist police and army. No force in the country could challenge them, and Tito always had complete control of both.”

During the civil wars the police took on an even uglier role, as discussed by Dr. Robert Winslow,

At the end of May, Federal and Serbian Government authorities began exhuming five mass grave sites discovered near the towns of Batajnica, a suburb of Belgrade, and Petrovo Selo, in eastern Serbia. More than 300 bodies were recovered during the year; an estimated 700 bodies are expected to be found. The victims were assumed to be ethnic Albanian men, women, and children, most likely victims of 1999 massacres by the Yugoslav police and army in and around Pec in Kosovo.”

(http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/rwinslow/europe/yugoslavia.html)

Is it any wonder, then, that the people in the Balkan states fear and despise their police forces? The European Union has made it a part of their criteria that the police must be separated from their former roles in the military, de-politicized, and reformed before the EU will accept the new states. To this end, the United Nations has been working with the new nations for the last decade and a half to restructure and reform the police from a terror group to trusted law enforcement agents.

Human trafficking in the Balkans exploded in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union (and that of Yugoslavia in the same time frame). “By the mid-1990s, the Global Survival Network estimated that upwards of 500,000 women were being trafficked from Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union into Western Europe each year.” (Human Trafficking, Human Security and the Balkans.) We now know that the economy of the Soviet states was stretched beyond bankruptcy. The estimated national income of a Serbian, for example, was only $988 USD. The new reality was that in a warn-torn land, with unemployment keeping more than a quarter of the workers from earning a living, the temptation to make a living through crime was insurmountable. For the first time, a measure was pushed through the UN with the funding that made it seem possible to combat the wave of traffickers. Friman writes

“Unlike earlier steps against human trafficking, the United States also supported the Trafficking Protocol through funding for foreign anti-trafficking programs and personnel training, and, more importantly, threats of shame and sanction linked to assessments of the activities of foreign governments as published in the annual TIP Report” ((Human Trafficking, Human Security and the Balkans.)

Unfortunately a great deal of debate has slowed the fight against human trafficking, as there is no firm definition of what it is, and thus, what actions should be taken against it. Another paper from the same year (2007) points out that perhaps a ground-up approach would be more effective.

“Many of these actors respond to human trafficking as if it were a social and criminal phenomenon that can be isolated for moral condemnation and addressed separately from other problems. Such efforts, we argue, are destined to fail, because the connection between trafficking and poverty, unemployment, discrimination, violence in the family, and the demand in countries of destination is undeniable.” (Combating trafficking: international efforts and their ramifications)

With the United Nations, then, tasked with peacekeeping in the area, one might expect the incidence of trafficking to be reduced. Instead, we see between 1999 to 2004, the premises listed as being suspected of forced prostitution local to the peacekeeping forces rise from four, to well over two hundred. While the initial patrons inviting these establishments to believe they could make money and risk the penalties may have been the UN personnel, it is now believed that their patronage is also significantly local.

Sadly, the UN peacekeepers have been implicated worldwide and for many years in atrocities either implicitly, or complicitly. In Africa, in 2008, in the Congo

(http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2009-10-13/dr-congo-civilian-cost-military-operation-unacceptable), in 2011, in the Ivory Coast (AP, 2011), and again in Congo, in 2012 (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-20422340). The BBC, in investigating the Ivory Coast claims, found many who were willing to come forward about what they had endured at the hands of the purported ‘peacekeepers.’(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7420798.stm)

A 13-year-old girl, “Elizabeth” described to the BBC how 10 UN peacekeepers gang-raped her in a field near her Ivory Coast home. “They grabbed me and threw me to the ground and they forced themselves on me… I tried to escape but there were 10 of them and I could do nothing,” she said. “I was terrified. Then they just left me there bleeding.” No action has been taken against the soldiers.”

Reports of “Rampant corruption”( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/17/AR2007121701914.html) have been brought forth since the early 1990s against UN peacekeeping missions in Africa, the Balkans, and Cambodia. “In response, in 1994 the United Nations created the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), but it has a poor record of holding corrupt officials to account.” Stepping forward twenty years, we see again that little has changed. Mark Pyman of Transparency International:

“There is external corruption in the host nation which is “likely to be endemic” and where greater efforts are needed to keep it from becoming embedded, he said, and there is corruption within the peacekeeping force which needs stronger oversight than the U.N. has today.” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/10/09/united-nations-corruption-report/2956565/)

It seems clear that not only is the UN neutered when it comes to real power, it is a corrupting influence on countries where it is supposed to bring peace and stability. Or perhaps it is corrupted by those nations? Whatever else is or is not clear, it is certain that history weighs on this part of the world, and it cannot be ignored in looking at today’s reality. The states and their newly-minted police forces did not spring forth fully-formed, as Athena from the head of Zeus, and they are in need of guidance and support if they are to fully return humanity to countries ravaged by war and reduced to animalistic behavior under the veneer of civilization. What can accomplish this? No less, I would suggest, than solid educations and the freedom to make their own choice, to build their own markets and sell what they can, to bring their nations up out of the pits they have been cast into by the scourge of what came before. Who can give this? Ah, now there is the question. Not, I think, the USA, which is still a bastion but would do well to look within for the signs of that corruption of police and politics that led to the likes of Tito ruling over a nation that only endured until his iron fist was gone before shattering in a bloody mist of lost lives and innocence.