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Authors and their Politics

So apparently, the whole “Demonization of Orson Scott Card” thing is bugging me more that I realized. It came up on a friend’s feed on Facebook, and I went over and wrote something horribly, amazingly disjoint on the subject. (No link, because it’s embarrassing.) I figured I’d take another shot at explaining myself, in case it came up again.

Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that Card is imperfect, and deserves to be criticized for some of his views. That’s actually important, because if you’re not willing to enforce a principle defending people you don’t like, then you don’t actually have principles — you have sophistry that you trot out in defense of principals.

(Full disclosure: I haven’t read any Card in about twenty years. At the time, he only seemed able to write the same three stories, over and over again. I have no real clue what he’s written since then, except Ender’s Shadow, which supports my critique.)

Secondly, what got me going was the idea that, “if the wrong people believe something, then what they believe must be wrong.” I can go into the example of what Card believed in detail, but that’s not very important to the discussion. It’s that Slate presented this belief as obviously wrong because Card believes it. In this manner, they actually treat Card as worse that Hitler, as nobody seriously argues that vegetarianism, animal rights, and conservation are wrong because Hitler supported them.

(In fact, it’s more a sign of how messed up Hitler and the Nazis were — they would do things to Jews that they outlawed doing to animals.)

And so, extending that thought, this means that an author (Card, in this case) is perfectly capable of doing something right, separate from his beliefs. Just because you disagree with an artist on one point, doesn’t mean you should discount his work out of hand. This would mean I, as a libertarian, would dismiss Firefly out of hand because Josh Wheedon’s politics run entirely counter to what is presented in that work. And, in this case, a leftist would miss out on Ender’s Game if they judged an author simply by his private beliefs.

All that said, Firefly and Ender’s Game play fair with the audience. The plots of both go where they need to go, and don’t get sidetracked by the authors’ politics. I’m not telling you that you should read an author who gets preachy — those that write “message” or “advocacy” fiction generally don’t do a very good job, no matter their politics. Avoiding them because they can’t write is perfectly fine in my book.

Zelda as Hero

Dueling Analogs has put up Aaron Diaz’s proposal for a Zelda-centered Link game.

To be blunt, I think it sucks. In this proposal, Zelda is Link in drag, and Link is an effete poseur. It’s just a Link game reskinned, without any attention to what would really make Zelda different.

But me being me, I’m not going to just opine on the subject. I’m going to propose a different alternative: Princess Zelda.

Seriously: the Tetra incarnation aside, Zelda is a princess. What do princesses do? Keep in mind that Zelda has no brothers and sisters, so she’s the heir to the throne. She should be groomed to rule.

In no particular order:

  • Running your kingdom.
  • Lead your people in war.
  • Direct “special” operations.
  • Negotiate treaties and alliances.

This leads to several different mini-games that I can see:

  • Sim: Hyrule.
  • Zelda: Tactics.
  • Link-in-a-Dungeon.
  • Dancing (as in the latest version of Sid Meier’s Pirates!).
  • Princess dress-up.

Given Nintendo’s occasional paired releases, you could release this as two games: the traditional Link-centric game, where he’s running off getting the artifacts like he always does, and the Zelda-centric game, where she’s fighting a war with Ganon. The two games would have common cut-scenes wherever Link and Zelda interact. (Obviously, if you make this a console game, rather than a Gameboy game, you’d merge the two threads.)


Why the Worst Get on Top

It is in connection with the deliberate effort of the skilled demagogue to weld together a closely coherent and homogeneous body of supporters that the third and perhaps most important element of selection enters. It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program — on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off — than on any positive task. The contrast between the “we” and the “they,” the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action. It is consequently always employed by those who seek, not merely support of a policy, but the unreserved allegiance of huge masses. From their point of view it has the great advantage of leaving them greater freedom of action than almost any positive program. The enemy, whether he be internal, like the “Jew” or the “kulak,” or external, seems to be an indispensable requisite in the armory of the totalitarian leader.

— F.A. Hayek, The Road To Serfdom, from the chapter entitled, “Why the Worst Get on Top.”

Obama is Jimmy Carter?

Explanation by parable:

Back in the ’50s, a bunch of the Yankee players were eating out together, when old wizened Ty Cobb walked into the restaurant. This sparked a speculation among the New York Nine about what Cobb’s batting average would be against today’s pitchers. Yogi Berra chose “.260, maybe .270.”

“Really?” was incredulous answer. The guy with the lifetime average of .366? Only .260?

“Well, yeah,” Berra replied. “He’s what? 80 years old?”

What does this have to do with Obama?

He’s Carter, but Carter’s 80 years old and senile.

(In response to: )

Kill or Capture

And this is why I’m a lousy blogger: it takes me three days to seriously answer questions about my previous post. Taking the concepts in turn:

No. Really. You don’t talk about Fight Club.

There is the argument that the electorate deserves to know about Usama’s death. All I can say is that I disagree — that in any conflict between operational security and the public’s desire to know, the public loses. This is one of the advantages of a representative (as opposed to a direct) democracy: the people can still have a say without exposing details to our enemies.

That said, there is also a practical argument against secrecy: the public is going to (eventually) find out that Usama is dead, and the government may want to control that narrative. In that case, the proper statement should have looked something like this:

On May 1st, U.S. forces conducted a raid on an al-Qaeda command center in Pakistan. During the course of the raid, four militants were killed, and Usama bin Laden was positively identified as one of the dead. Operations are  ongoing, so we are unable to comment further at this time.

As it is, the current administration seems to be in a race with the military to see if they can piss away all the intelligence faster than the military can act on it. Assuming, of course, that anything we’re hearing form “highly placed sources” is actually real information, and not simply posturing for the media by folks pretending to know more than they do.

Kill or Capture?

The confusion on my  second point is my fault: I brought up the Ford/Carter/Reagan ban on assassinations in an attempt to speak in short-hand, and fouled up my own argument. The problem, of course, is that the ban is on political assassinations in the absence of war. Obviously, those conditions don’t apply.

No, my real gripe was with the “kill only” meme that was being presented by the media, attributed to the same “highly placed sources” as before. My objection is this: it is illegal for a member of the U.S. military to refuse an offer of surrender. It is also illegal for an officer of the U.S. military (including the C-in-C) to order a subordinate to kill an enemy when surrender is offered.

This means that, had Usama thrown up his hands and shouted “I surrender!” as the operative entered his room, (in the words of Froggy, an ex-SEAL who posts at Blackfive):

he would have taken a muzzle strike to the face, but not any rounds. He would have swallowed some teeth, been flex cuffed, and dragged roughly out to a marshalling area and then onto the helo.

My objection is to the posers want to look hard-core by saying that the team was sent to summarily execute Usama. Usama had an out, had he chosen to take it.

The usual source of confusion is a competing rule of war: you are not required to invite surrender. This means that, had Usama been targeted by a sniper (or a drone), he’d still have the same out — but he’d probably have been dead before he know he could take it.

(Of course, he might not have believed — or wanted to, if he knew — that he could ask for quarter in that situation. Which is why I’m griping about the media presentation of events, and not the actions of the actual shooter.)

The crashed helicopter seems to be a new-fangled stealth chopper.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning a contradictory point to my previous theory: the helicopter that was destroyed on-site appears to have been a stealth helicopter that the public hadn’t seen before. While it is possible that the special operations team might have deliberately crashed such a beast, it is less likely (because in doing so we reveal its existence).

Harshing your Geronimo E-KIA Mellow

As those of you reading my Facebook have probably already surmised, there are aspects of Usama bin Laden’s death this weekend that leave me disquieted. Not in the way the military operation was executed, but in how the administration has handled the aftermath. As the media storm has calmed a bit, I can now try to break down what’s wrong (keep in mind that this all depends on my sources telling me the truth):

The first rule of Fight Club is, you never talk about Fight Club.

The same thing is true of Special Operations. The White House has been overly forthcoming with information about the operation, starting with the big one: revealing the target.

That’s right, I’m telling you that the President should not have told the public that JSOC had just killed Usama. An idea that seems counter-intuitive at first becomes much more obvious when you remember that al-Qaeda was organized in a cell structure. A cell structure is designed so that the subordinate cells don’t know anything about their superiors, while the superiors only know about their immediate subordinates.

In Usama’s case, this meant that (theoretically) only his trusted courier knew how to find him. If the press had announced that the wreckage of a stealthy helicopter was found in a compound containing three dead bodies, then the bad guys wouldn’t know anything immediately.

The U.S. could then examine the supposed treasure trove of intelligence gained from Usama’s computer, and use it to track down Usama’s subordinates. If secrecy could be preserved, a large portion of al-Qaeda (and possibly the Haqqani network) could have been rolled up before they knew what hit them. As it is, the subordinate cells are probably on the move: both because they know that Usama’s been capped, and that we got his computers.

Now was not the time to suddenly discover transparency, Mister President.

Point number two: I Hate the Media.

One of the narratives that was put forth during the media storm was the idea that this was an assassination. I blame the genius wordsmith who wrote the President’s speech (emphasis added): “After a firefight, they killed Usama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”

The obvious implication was that the JSOC team killed Usama after all the shooting had stopped.

I spent a few hours railing (inside) at the administration for throwing away the opportunity for more intelligence. (Despite getting the computer, there was still a lot of new information inside Usama’s brain.) But I paid attention to all the former SEALs on the forums I read: they all said, to a man, that they would not perform an assassination.

Remember, it’s been technically illegal by Executive Order since the Carter administration. Pretty much everyone in the military at this point has never known anything else.

No, the most likely explanation is that the Rules of Engagement for the mission were such that Usama didn’t have much chance of getting out alive. Leon Panetta said (basically) that Usama had to throw up his hands and surrender.

Those are rough RoE, but not an assassination.

Final note: Special Operations Guys are Nuts.

One of the things that has been claimed is that the strike team lost a helicopter to mechanical failure. I don’t think this was the case: I think it was deliberately crashed in an unpowered landing. This would get part of the strike team into position quickly, and allow them to approach without the helicopter’s engines giving them away.

If you think this isn’t likely, I refer you to Operation Ivory Coast: U.S. Special Forces deliberately crash-landed one of their helicopters into the middle of the Son Tay prison camp in 1970.

I’m glad they’re on my side.


JSOC: Joint Special Operations Command.

Qur’an Study Update

So I’ve been grinding through the Qur’an. It’s kind of a slog — it’s not organized in any “normal” narrative order. Instead, it’s arranged (except for the first) with the longest chapters (or suras) first. I’ve gotten through the first ten (out of 114) so I’m about halfway through.

It hasn’t been much fun to read. Even putting aside the horrible King James style that Muslim translators use, the content isn’t very happy. If you had told me that the Qur’an was written by Gary Gygax as an in-character supplement describing the religion and philosophy of an adversary race, I’d have believed you. It’s that bad.

In fact, I can say without reservation that the author(s) of the Qur’an would consider me their enemy, and want me dead. You, too.

Assisting in my study: Robert Spencer’s Qur’an Commentary. And yes, I know, Spencer is of the opinion that “there are moderate Muslims, but there is no moderate Islam.” One of the things he does is this commentary is stick to quoting Muslim sources, so (at the very least) it matches how al Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood see their religion.

Mecca delenda est?

Those of you familiar with my old LiveJournal writings will remember that I occasionally joked that I was channeling Cato the Elder, he of “and Carthage must be destroyed” fame. As I was drifting off to sleep last night (and after linking to Doc Zero’s post), he came to me in a dream and said, “Mecca delenda est.”

The heck? Really?

Driven by Cato’s ghost, I have begun pondering the proposition. It is an odd thought for a modern American — we look upon religion as something separate from the state — but is not, so far as I understand, the way our enemies think of religion. For al Qaida (and those of its ilk, such as Iran), religion is government; they are inseparable.

The government espoused by Islam is not an acceptable one. If my sources are correct, sharia law is incompatible with the Constitution. Islam is, in this sense, similar to fascism and communism. If it is acceptable to resist Nazis and Commies (and it is), then why should the attachment of a god to the ideology suddenly make it tolerable?

If the Carthaginians were suddenly reborn, would we put up with Moloch simply because the sacrifice was religious custom? Or would we intervene, a lá Kosovo?

Is it acceptable for the orcs to pillage the country simply because Gruumsh demands such?

The answer is clear, but only if the assumption holds. Thanks to USC, I can follow up on this question; the Quran and the Hadith are both on-line. Hopefully the prose is nowhere near as turgid as Mein Kampf.

(For completeness: the Communist Manifesto.)

Recommended: How We Decide

I finished How We Decide (by Jonah Lehrer) three weeks ago, and I’ve been remiss in recommending it. The book is about how the human brain works (or doesn’t) and how to take advantage of it. The book is so good that I’m planning to get a copy when I buy my iPad. (I originally checked it out from the library.)

One of Lehrer’s conclusions is that your brain can be thought of as two computers. There’s the one that we’re aware of, that’s maybe as powerful as an old calculator. Its advantage is that it can be directed consciously, so is useful for novel situations and simple decisions (or math). The other one is usually referred to as the emotional brain. It’s like a massively parallel computer that outputs a heuristic: an output that’s good registers as a happy emotion, while an output that’s bad registers as fear or anxiety. It’s good for really complicated decisions (if you spend the time giving it input), but can be overwhelmed by novelty.

Obviously, there’s more to it than that, or Lehrer would not have been able to write a book about it. Read it.

California Primary Approaching

As some of you probably already know, I’ll be participating in the 2010 California Primary in just under two weeks. The blog will reflect that; I’ll be posting my thoughts on the elections that I’ll be voting on.

Now, these will generally be Republican elections. I found it necessary to register Republican this year, given that the Democratic Party in California is the party of government, as are the national Democrats. Since I can trust the incumbent members to maintain their views, and cannot trust rebels to resist the Party (see Stupak, Bart), this has led me to realize that I’m likely voting a Republican Party line in the fall.

So, in order to properly influence events with my vote, I am currently a Republican.