Archive | January, 2015

RavenCon (April 24-26)

29 Jan

Hi, everyone

Assuming we manage to get a passport for Baby Eric – this shouldn’t be difficult, but British bureaucracy is world-renowned for high levels of stupidity, bloody-mindedness and general irritation – we should be making our way to RAVENCON (http://www.ravencon.com/) for late April. I was invited, so I may be sitting on a handful of panels. (Probably connected to Indie Publishing, but we will see.)

I’m currently hoping to get a table (probably with a couple of other authors) somewhere in the dealer’s room, where my books will be available for sale. Problem is – I have no idea just how many I should expect to sell, let alone how many I should bring. (And I don’t want to be lumbered with a large number of books after the convention, which will be impossible to get back to the UK.)

What I’d like to do is the following:

The books listed below are currently available in paperback (or should be available by the time the con rolls around). I will try to get a small number of them transported to Richmond, plus whatever number of signed copies people request in advance. (In the event of us being unable to make it after all, I will probably sort out postage somehow and mail the books.) If you want to place an order with me now, please email me directly.

This is probably rather cumbersome, but it’s the only way I can deal with it at the moment.

Books available: The Royal Sorceress, The Great Game, Necropolis, Bookworm, The Very Ugly Duckling, The Best Laid Plans (I hope), Sufficiently Advanced Technology, A Life Less Ordinary, The Mind’s Eye, First Strike, Schooled In Magic, Lessons In Etiquette, Study In Slaughter, Work Experience, The School of Hard Knocks (I hope), Barbarians at the Gates, The Shadow of Cincinnatus (I hope), Ark Royal, The Nelson Touch, The Trafalgar Gambit, Warspite, A Learning Experience.

Check my Published Books page for links and free samples.

I estimate rough costs of $14 per book, but it’s something I will need to sort out.

I’m hoping to sort out some promotional materials as well <grin>. Any ideas would be more than welcome.

Hope to see you there.

Chris

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The Empire’s Corps 10 – Never Surrender

19 Jan

Prologue

From: The Day After: The Post-Empire Universe and its Wars. Professor Leo Caesius. Avalon University Press. 46PE.

When the Empire fell, it fell into war. Planets that had been held under the crushing grip of the Empire fought to free themselves, military officers and planetary governors sought to claim power for themselves and old grudges, held in check by the Empire’s overpowering military might, returned to haunt the human race. It is impossible to even guess at the sheer number of human lives snuffed out by war, or condemned to a horrific existence in the middle of a war zone, located in what was once a peaceful sector. Indeed, there was so much devastation in the former Core Worlds that putting together a viable picture of what actually happened when seems impossible.

However, of all these wars, the most important was, perhaps, the Commonwealth-Wolfbane War. It is also the one where we are able to access records held by both sides in the conflict.

They made an odd pair. The Commonwealth, based on Avalon, was an attempt to escape the mistakes that eventually, inevitably, doomed the Empire. It was a capitalist society, based around maximum personal liberty; indeed, unlike so many other successor states, the Commonwealth never had to force a member world to join. And it flourished. Five years after Avalon was abandoned by the Empire, and the Fall of Earth, it was perhaps one of the most advanced successor states in existence. Personal freedom and technological innovation went hand in hand. By sheer number of ships, the Commonwealth was puny; by technology, the Commonwealth was far stronger than it seemed.

Wolfbane, by contrast, was a corporate plutocracy. Governor Brown of Wolfbane successfully secured control of the sector’s military, once he heard the news from Earth, and worked hard to put the sector on a self-sustaining footing. His skill at convincing corporate systems to work together, and his eye for talented manpower, allowed him to save Wolfbane from the chaos sweeping out of the Core Worlds. Indeed, two years after the Fall of Earth, Wolfbane was already expanding and snapping up worlds that would otherwise have remained independent, after cutting ties with the Empire.

It was natural that Wolfbane and the Commonwealth would come into conflict. In the marketplace of ideas, the Commonwealth held a natural advantage that Governor Brown could never hope to match, not without dismantling his own power base. Like other autocratic states, Wolfbane chose to launch an invasion rather than wait for their system to decay, or face violent rebellion when its population started to ask questions. The operation was carefully planned.

The Commonwealth had an Achilles Heel – a world called Thule. Thule was unusual in that it had a sizable minority of people who resisted the idea of joining the Commonwealth, mainly for local reasons. However, it was also an economic powerhouse that could not be disregarded. And so, when the local government, faced with an insurgency that was clearly receiving support from off-world, requested Commonwealth help and support, the Commonwealth reluctantly dispatched the first Commonwealth Expeditionary Force (CEF), under the command of Brigadier Jasmine Yamane, to uphold the planet’s legitimate authority.

Those who held misgivings were proved right, however, when the long-dreaded war finally began. Wolfbane’s forces surged across the border at several places, targeting – in particular – Thule and its industrial base. The Commonwealth Navy struggled to evacuate as much of the CEF as possible before it was too late, but a number of soldiers – including the CO – remained on the planet when the enemy ships entered orbit. They were forced to surrender.

But while Wolfbane seemed to be winning the war, cracks were already appearing in the enemy’s defences …

Chapter One

It will come as no surprise that the Empire was disinclined to coddle prisoners of war. As far as the Empire was concerned, it was the sole human power and all other states were in rebellion against it.

– Professor Leo Caesius. The Empire and its Prisoners of War.

Meridian, Year 5 (PE)

Jasmine was not used to being alone.

In truth, she had never really been alone, save for her short stint as Admiral Singh’s prisoner on Conidian. Her family had been large, large enough for her to always be with her siblings or cousins, while no one was ever alone in the Terran Marine Corps. She had lived in barracks ever since joining the Marines, like her friends and comrades. But now, even though she was surrounded by hundreds of people, she felt truly alone.

The prison camp wasn’t bad, not compared to Admiral Singh’s dungeons or the cells used for the dreaded Conduct After Capture course. She had been primed to expect interrogation, perhaps drugs or torture; the Empire had shown no mercy to its prisoners and there was no reason to assume its enemies would do any better. But instead, the remains of the CEF had been transported to Meridian and dumped in a POW camp, some distance from whatever passed for civilisation on a stage-one colony world. It was a mercy part of her would have happily foregone.

She blamed herself. Each and every one of her decisions had been the best one at the time, she was sure, taking into account her limited options and incomplete knowledge. And yet, it had ended with her and her subordinates in a POW camp, while the Commonwealth was under attack. She had failed. She had failed the Commonwealth, the CEF and her fellow Marines. Guilt warred within her soul, demanding retribution for her failures. She was a prisoner, isolated from the war by countless light years, yet she wanted – needed – to get back to the Commonwealth. But how?

The POW camp wasn’t quite standard, she’d noted when they’d been unceremoniously dumped off the shuttles and prodded through the gates. Instead of the standard prefabricated buildings, they’d been given barracks made of wood, suggesting the locals had built the POW camp for Wolfbane. They probably hadn’t been given much of a choice, Jasmine was sure; a stage-one colony world couldn’t hope to defend itself against a single orbiting destroyer, let alone the battle fleet that had hammered Thule into submission. But, non-standard or not, it was secure. There was no way for the prisoners to escape.

They don’t care about us, she thought. On one hand, it was something of a relief; she’d expected interrogation precisely because she’d been in command of the CEF. But on the other, it suggested the enemy were very sure they would remain prisoners. And they think we’re irrelevant to the war.

She closed her eyes, then opened them and looked around the barracks. The guards hadn’t bothered to try to separate senior officers from their subordinates, let alone segregate the sexes. Jasmine wasn’t bothered – she’d slept in the same barracks with men from the day she’d enlisted – but some of the other prisoners had taken it hard. Wolfbane had set up the POW camp long before the war had begun, she suspected, judging by some of the prisoners held behind barbed wire. She’d been in the camp for four days; they’d been in the camp for five years.

Cursing under her breath, she rose to her feet and walked towards the open door. Outside, rain was pouring from the sky, splashing down around the various buildings and collecting in great puddles under her feet. It would have been fun, the child in her acknowledged, if she hadn’t been far too certain that it was wearing away at the wooden buildings. How long would it be, she asked herself, before the roofs started to collapse, or simply leaked water onto the bunk beds? And what would the guards do then?

She sighed, then walked into the rain and made her way slowly towards the edge of the camp, where the barbed wire held the prisoners firmly secure. It wasn’t a bad design, the officer in her noted, even if she was on the wrong side of the wire. The POWs were all confined in one place, allowing the guards to keep them all under control – or simply hose them down with machine guns, if necessary. A prison riot might be left to burn itself out, or the guards would intervene with overwhelming force. Jasmine would have preferred somewhere more secure, she knew, but even if the prisoners overcame the guards they would still be stuck on Meridian. The only hope was to find a way to get off the planet.

The rain ran down her face and soaked her clothing as she walked away from the wire and round the side of one of the barracks, where two of her former subordinates were waiting for her. Riflemen Carl Watson and Thomas Stewart nodded politely to her – they’d agreed that salutes would only draw more attention to Jasmine – then glanced around, making sure they were alone. Jasmine looked behind her, then leaned against the wall, trying to look nonchalant. There was no one in view, but it was far too easy to imagine microscopic bugs being used to track their movements and monitor their conversation. The guards might have good reason to assume the camp was inescapable.

But if we assume we’re doomed, we are doomed, she thought, morbidly. It was their duty to try to escape, no matter the risk. And if the guards catch and kill us trying to escape, at least we will have tried.

She knew better than to remain in the camp, if it could be avoided. The war would be won or lost – and if it were lost, Wolfbane would have a free hand to do whatever it liked to prisoners of war. The Empire had normally dumped POWs it considered to be beyond redemption on penal worlds, where they would either fight to subdue a world that could be later settled by the Empire or die, countless light years from home. Wolfbane might treat them better, but nothing Jasmine had heard from any of the other POWs suggested that Governor Brown was interested in anything other than efficiency. He might leave them on Meridian indefinitely – a stage-one colony world would welcome an influx of trained manpower – or he might just transfer them to a penal world. There were several candidates within the Wolfbane Sector alone.

“Brigadier,” Watson said.

Jasmine sighed, inwardly. There had been a time when she’d been a Rifleman too … and she looked back to that time with a certain degree of nostalgia. She had been a Marine, one of many, and she hadn’t had to worry about making more than tactical judgements in the heat of battle. Captain Stalker had been in command of the company and she’d just been one of his Marines. But the company had been scattered around the Commonwealth after they’d been abandoned by the Empire, leaving only a handful to continue serving as Marines. She envied Watson and Stewart more than she cared to admit.

“Let us hope they are not watching us,” Jasmine said, curtly. “Have you met anyone interesting?”

“A handful,” Stewart said. “It looks as though Meridian was used as a dumping point for quite a few people from Wolfbane.”

Jasmine frowned. It wasn’t common to put civilian and military prisoners together, but Governor Brown’s people seemed to have ignored that stipulation. Maybe they only had one major POW camp … she shook her head, dismissing the absurd thought. It would have taken less effort, much less effort, to set up a POW camp on an isolated island on Wolfbane, well away from any hope of rescue. Anyone sent to Meridian had to be someone the Governor might want to keep alive, but didn’t anticipate freeing for years, if at all.

“And a couple from Meridian itself,” Watson added. “I think you might be able to talk to one of them, Brigadier. She won’t talk to any of us.”

“Understood,” Jasmine said. She rubbed her scalp, where her short hair was itching under the downfall. “Anyone particularly important?”

“We seem to be sharing a POW camp with a former Imperial Army officer,” Stewart said, with the air of a man making a dramatic announcement. “He claims to have been the former CO at Wolfbane, before the Governor took power for himself.”

Jasmine felt her eyes narrow. “And he’s still alive?”

“He was ranting and raving about how his clients wouldn’t let him be killed,” Stewart said, dryly. “I don’t know how much of it to take seriously …”

“None of it,” Watson said. “If he had enough clients to make himself a serious concern, he’d be dead, not mouldering away in a shithole on the edge of settled space.”

Jasmine was inclined to agree. Patrons and clients had been the curse of the Empire’s military, before the Fall of Earth; senior officers had promoted their own clients into important positions, rather than using competence as a yardstick for promotion. Each senior officer had enjoyed a network of clients, which had allowed them to bolster their positions … and probably set themselves up as warlords, once the Empire had collapsed into chaos. If this former CO had been outsmarted by Governor Brown, it was a wonder he was still alive. He wouldn’t be dangerous once he was buried in a shallow grave.

And if he had enough of a power base to make himself a threat, he wouldn’t have been removed so easily, she thought, darkly.

“Talk to him anyway, see what you can learn,” she said. “What’s his name?”

“Stubbins,” Watson said. “General James Stubbins.”

Jasmine shrugged. The name wasn’t familiar, unsurprisingly. There had been literally hundreds of thousands of generals in the Imperial Army, ranging from competent officers who had been promoted through merit to idiots who had been given the title as a reward from their patrons. The latter had been incredibly common in the dying days of the Empire, if only because everyone knew a competent officer was also a dangerous officer. She told herself, firmly, not to let prejudice blind her to the possibility that Stubbins had merely been unlucky …

But if he had a power base, she thought again, he shouldn’t have been so easy to remove.

“He has his aide with him,” Watson added. “Paula Bartholomew. Very pretty woman – and smart too, I fancy.”

“Then talk to her, see what she says too,” Jasmine ordered. There was something about the whole affair that puzzled her, but there was no point in worrying about it. If Stubbins was a plant, someone charged with watching for trouble from the prisoners, they would just have to deal with him when he showed his true colours. “And see if you can separate her from him long enough to have a proper conversation.”

Watson grinned. “Are you ordering me to seduce her?”

“Of course not,” Jasmine said, dryly. “I would never dream of issuing an impossible order.”

Stewart laughed as Watson glowered at both of them. “I don’t think she was hired because she has a pretty face, my dear Watson,” he said, mischievously. “And she certainly wouldn’t have been sent out here if she hadn’t been regarded as dangerous by someone.”

“Unless they were making a clean sweep,” Watson objected. “There have to be millions of pretty girls on Wolfbane.”

“And if they were making a clean sweep,” Jasmine pointed out, “they would have wiped out his whole patronage network.”

She shook her head. “There’s no way to know,” she added. “Talk to him, see what he says … and then we can decide how to proceed.”

“Getting out of the camp will be easy,” Stewart said. “We just tunnel under the fence.”

“Assuming they’re not watching with sensors for us to start digging,” Watson countered, darkly. “They might wait for us to pop up on the other side, then open fire.”

“Then we will need a distraction,” Jasmine said. She had thought about trying to dig a tunnel out of the camp, but the soaking ground would make it incredibly dangerous. And besides, the guards hadn’t been fool enough to leave them any digging tools. “Something loud enough to keep their attention away from any sensors they might have.”

“A riot would do nicely,” Stewart said.

He broke off as the rain started to come to a halt. “The girl I mentioned – Kailee – is in Building 1,” he said, quickly. “I think you should definitely talk to her.”

Jasmine nodded, then glanced from Stewart to Watson. “We’re going to get out of her,” she said, firmly. “Whatever it takes, we’re going to get out of here.”

“Of course,” Stewart said. “I never doubt it for a moment.”

The rain came to a stop, leaving water dripping from the rooftops and splashing down to the muddy ground. Jasmine shook her head, cursing the prison uniform under her breath. It was bright orange, easy to see in semi-darkness … and it clung to her skin in a manner that revealed each and every one of her curves. Being exposed didn’t bother her – she’d been through worse in basic training – but it was yet another problem. They would be alarmingly visible if they happened to be caught tunnelling under the fence.

She nodded to them both, then headed towards Building 1. It was simple in design, nothing more than a long rectangular building. Judging by the jungle just outside the fence, Meridian was not short of wood; hell, clearing woodland was probably one of the first tasks the settlers had had to do, when they’d landed. And they’d thrown away a small fortune, if they’d been able to get the wood to Earth before the Fall …

Inside, it was no more elaborate than Building 8, where she’d been placed, but it had an air of despondency that suggested the inhabitants had been prisoners for much longer. They’d reached a stage, she realised, where they’d come close to giving up. A handful of bunk beds were occupied, mainly by women, either sleeping or just staring listlessly up at the wooden ceiling. There was nothing to do in the camp, save eat rations and sleep; there were no footballs, no board games, nothing the prisoners could use to distract themselves from the numb tedium of their existence. Given enough time, Jasmine had a feeling that the ennui would wear her down too.

You expected torture, she thought.

It was a galling thought. Conduct After Capture had warned her to expect torture, mistreatment, even rape. Admiral Singh’s goons had tortured her, intent on trying to break her will to resist. But the POW camp was nothing, but mindless tedium. There was no gloating enemy to resist, no leering torturer to fight … merely her own mind. Perhaps, just perhaps, the true intent of the camp was to erode her will to resist by depriving her of an enemy to fight. And it might just work.

“You’re new, I see,” a voice said. An older woman smiled at her, revealing broken teeth, although there was a hint of wariness in her expression. “What are you in for?”

“I’m looking for Kailee,” Jasmine said, shortly. The woman sounded cracked, like so many of the older prisoners. “Where is she?”

“There,” the older woman said, pointing towards a dark-haired girl lying on the bunk. “Be gentle, my dear. She’s had a rough time of it.”

Jasmine nodded, then walked towards Kailee. She was young, around twenty, although it was hard to be sure. Like so many other colonists, she would have aged rapidly during the battle to settle a whole new world. She turned to look at Jasmine as she approached, her dark eyes fearful. Jasmine realised, grimly, that the girl had been through hell. No wonder she had refused to talk to either of the men.

“I’m Jasmine,” she said, sitting down by the side of the bed. It reduced the height advantage, hopefully making it easier for Kailee to talk to her. “I understand you were born on Meridian.”

“Earth,” Kailee said. Her accent was definitely from Earth, although several years of being away from humanity’s homeworld had weakened it. “I was born on Earth.”

Jasmine frowned. “How did you wind up here?”

Kailee laughed, harshly. “I won a competition,” she said. “I didn’t enter the competition, but I won anyway. And they sent me out here, where I was happy after a while. And then they took me away and shoved me in the camp.”

Jasmine frowned. She could understand imprisoning the planetary leadership, or anyone who might have military experience, but she rather doubted Kailee was either connected to the leadership or an experienced military officer. Indeed, Kailee held herself like someone from the lower classes of Earth, a sheep-girl who knew herself to be vulnerable. She wouldn’t have survived an hour of Boot Camp, let alone six months.

“If you’re from Earth,” she said finally, “why are you here?”

“Because of Gary,” Kailee said. “They want to keep him under control.”

Jasmine felt her frown deepen. “Gary?”

“My … my boyfriend,” Kailee said. “We came from Earth together and … and … I …”

She caught herself, then scowled at Jasmine. “There aren’t many people here who like modern technology,” she said. The bitterness in her tone was striking. “Gary’s one of the few who do. And they wanted him to work for them, so they took me as a hostage.”

“I see,” Jasmine said. An idea was starting to flower at the back of her mind. “Tell me about him, please.”

Kailee gave her a sharp look. “Why do you want to know?”

“Because it might be the key to getting out of here,” Jasmine said. “And I need you to tell me everything you can.”

Us and Them: The Problem with Europe (Part II)

17 Jan

Humans are intensely tribal creatures.

Think about it. We automatically separate the world into people like us and people who aren’t like us. Manchester United supporters, for example, see themselves as separate from any other particular group of fans. This ranges from various SF fandoms to race, religion politics and sex. The tribes define themselves both by what they are and by their opposition to everything else.

It also tends to colour our thinking. We see ‘us’ as a group made up of individuals and ‘them’ as one vast hive mind.

Cold logic, of course, will tell us that that isn’t so. But when emotions are running high, cold logic has little to do with it. A British citizen may consider himself to be Scottish, rather than English or Welsh, but he may not recognise the difference between a Frenchman from Paris and a Frenchman from Toulon. But that Frenchman might be able to tell the difference between himself and someone born in Toulon, yet not be able to tell if the Briton is Scottish, English or Welsh.

In our groups, we tend to be sensitive to nuance. A Scotsman is not an Englishman and we recognise the difference, then determine it to be immaterial when laid against the French, Germans or Americans. But we are not so inclined to be sensitive to differences between Prussian Germans and Bavarian Germans. They are all, well, German.

This is how national stereotypes come into existence. Again, cold logic should tell us that stereotypes are at best misleading and at worst insulting, but they still exist. Why? Because it is much easier to regard ‘them’ as being all the same, at least on one level. British citizens see Frenchmen as inherently different from us, French citizens see Germans as not-French, Germans see Poles … etc, etc. The curse of European unity is that there is really no such thing.

Humanity’s willingness to tolerate differences has always been limited, not always without reason. Someone who was different could not be trusted to put the interests of ‘Us’ ahead of ‘Them’ or even work for both ‘Us+Them’. This tolerance reaches its limits when there is a real or perceived threat to ‘Us,’ hence the old phobia of black uprisings in the USA and the more modern bouts of Islamophobia. Generally, the greater the difference between ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’ the less willingness to tolerate differences.

This is pretty much the human condition. Smart groups think ‘me and mine first.’ People who think of others after themselves – when they have the luxury to think of others – are smart; people who are investing in others at the expense of their own people are dumb.

Can this be changed? One theory, put forward by well-meaning people, is that greater contact between the different tribes will slowly wear away those old stereotypes. There’s some truth in that, I must admit, but it can also reinforce them. Indeed, because we are conditioned to take pain more seriously than pleasure, encounters with bad ‘them’ can colour our thinking permanently, even though (once again) cold logic should tell us differently. A slap, as the old saying goes, is remembered longer than a kiss.

This is not fair. A hundred members of Community A who live next to Community B, a hundred people who are decent, friendly and hard-working, will have less impact on Community B than a single moron who acts badly. But it will happen, because humans are tribal and our instincts tell us to believe the worst of other tribes. The greater difference between Community A and B, the greater the chance for misunderstandings, obnoxious behaviour and ‘get them before they get us.’

How does this relate to Europe?

Historically, Europe was one of the most tribal places in the world. Indeed, Europe’s expansion overseas was powered by tribalism, both through a desire to outdo the other European tribes and simple inability to crush them. No would-be conqueror, not even Napoleon or Hitler, held Europe under their sway indefinitely. The sheer fury and bloodshed of both world wars, and the later war in the former Yugoslavia, pay testament to the depth of tribalism within Europe. No matter what the elites do, those currents remain below the surface.

And, when times are bad, they begin to surface.

The elites bear a large part of the blame for this problem. Their attempt to bury the hatchet of tribalism under a mountain of EU rules and regulations might not have been ill-intentioned. However, there was no attempt to either come to terms with the past or to examine the reasons behind tribalism. Instead, people who acted tribally were told to shut up, stop speaking and were often threatened with legal action. Charges of racism were hurled around freely.

And it was disastrous.

What people believe to be true is often more important, politically speaking, than what is actually true. If people believe that one tribe is being elevated above another tribe, they rapidly start to resent that tribe, even if it isn’t actually true. If people believe that their rights – like the right to protest – are being taken away, they give credence to those feelings. When people feel that their taxes are being spent to benefit someone other than themselves, they start hating the elites whose decide where the money goes. And their resentment, fuelled by a kind of helpless rage powered by a simple inability to tell people that the Emperor has no clothes, can be channelled into madness. What happens when that resentment finally finds a voice?

One thing we are told as writers is that it is better to show, rather than tell. A reader who notices the discrepancies between what we are told and what we are shown is a reader who will give up in disgust. If we consider Left Behind’s two heroes, we can see that we are told that Steele is a brilliant airline pilot, while Buck Williams is the greatest investigative reporter of all time. However, what we see is very different; Steele is someone of dubious competence, while Buck Williams seems not to have the faintest idea of how to do his job.

It’s a sad thing for a book, really, when the villain (the antichrist himself!) seems better than the designated heroes for the first three volumes.

How does this apply to real life? Simple. We are told that multiculturalism is right, tribalism is wrong, that immigrants do not pose a danger to Europe, the elites are always right … and anyone who suggests otherwise is a worthless racist/nationalist/sexist/etc. But real life tells us something different.

And the discrepancy between ‘show’ and ‘tell’ will eventually rip us apart.

Storm Warning: The Problem With Europe

14 Jan

Maybe I’m just depressed – I’ve had too little sleep in the past couple of weeks – but I can’t help feeling that sixty years of peace and (relative) prosperity in Europe are about to come to an end. And it is, I feel, the fault of the political elites.

JesuisCharlie

The political elites are very different, if I may paraphrase a famous quote, from you and me. They are almost completely disconnected from the results of their decisions.

Why? Because there are layers upon layers of government and bureaucracy between them and the ordinary people they purport to rule. Bad news gets massaged until it becomes ‘less bad’ news, long before it reaches the people who actually make the decisions. Politicians, particularly those who have been in politics for life, simply have more in common with their fellow politicians than they do with the common people.

In such an environment, insanity can thrive. The common person cannot pass a bill to cover the cost of his own spending – and if he tries, the results are likely to be poor. A politician, however, can fall into the trap of believing the money will never run out, or that there will be no consequences for bending or outright breaking the rules. If you don’t believe this, all you have to do is look at the UK Expenses Scandal. Politicians didn’t just fiddle their expenses – flying Business Class when Economy would be suitable – they actually stole from the public purse.

The European Union is a very elite-driven institution. This is not too surprising. The EU was founded, at least in part, to homogenise Europe in the hopes of avoiding a third war with Germany. This could not be done if the politicians were accountable to a national and nationalistic population. Accordingly, they chose to run roughshod over nationality and national independence in the hope – and it was far from a poor hope – of uniting the continent before another war could begin.

However, as time went by, the elites started to buy into two separate – and dangerous – delusions.

The first was that they are always right.

The second was that multiculturalism is a good and viable solution to Europe’s problems.

They don’t seem to go together, do they? But they do. French politicians have more in common with German politicians than they do with ordinary Frenchmen. The politicians might not always like one another, but they shared a position that allowed them to understand one another. They shared a dream – European unity – that transcended whatever differences they had. Accordingly, they came to believe – like poorly-moderated internet forums – that they were really all one under the skin.

(This is not unprecedented in Europe’s history. The various Royal Families of Europe were always closely related to one another, even though this caused local political problems. For example, people may say that Hilary and Michelle are/were albatrosses around the necks of Clinton and Obama, but they are nowhere near as bad as Philip of Spain (married Mary Tudor) or Henrietta Maria (married Charles I). In both cases, the marriages were strongly resented in England.)

What happened to the politicians was what always happens when a group of people come to live in an echo chamber. When no dissenting opinions are allowed, people can come to believe the most absurd things. Lacking the common touch, let alone a connection with the common man, they simply failed to grasp the importance of certain issues to the national populations. Thus, while free movement throughout Europe seemed a sensible step towards European unity, it had (or was seen to have had) unpleasant effects in local communities.

And so we come to multiculturalism.

Like most political buzzwords, multiculturalism is hard to define. I see it as an understanding that all cultures are both equal and deserving of existence – and that they can co-exist. The EU saw this as not only true, but vitally important. Culture and intolerance had played a large role in the wars that tore Europe apart, so in future tolerance was to be enforced – by force, if necessary. The EU elites were reluctant to risk opening the can of worms that would be opened, if they allowed an open debate on cultural supremacy. This was not necessarily a false move on their parts.

Unfortunately, multiculturalism is based on two false premises, both of which are morally and intellectually wrong.

First, that all cultures are equal.

Second, that all cultures share the same opinion of multiculturalism.

I am not going to apologise for saying that I believe some cultures are superior to others. I simply know too much history and current affairs to believe otherwise. Humans have done terrible things to one another in the name of culture, from foot-binding to female genital mutilation, things so repulsive that I shed no tears for the demise of cultures that regard such practices as natural and right. It would not take more than a few minutes to come up with a list of practices that were common in Britain 100 years ago, but have now been largely eliminated from our lives. Are those things common elsewhere?

Let me put forward a simple example. In Britain, a large number of people convert to Islam every year. Do those people face attacks, pogroms, imprisonment, slow torture and eventual death? No, they don’t. On the other hand, if you happen to convert AWAY from Islam in the Middle East, you’d better have your will in order. Chances are, you will be killed for apostasy.

So tell me – are these two cultures equal?

Multiculturalism has one massive fundamental flaw. It assumes that all people shame the same basic attitude to multiculturalism – and that that attitude is that multiculturalism is correct and perfect tolerance is the way forward. This is somewhat paradoxical. A doctrine based around different cultures and beliefs – and respect for those differences – must assume that everyone is the same in a certain way.

Let me put it as simply as possible. That Culture A believes one thing does not mean that Culture B believes the same thing. Of course it doesn’t. If A = B then there would only be one culture. Accepting that A =/= B means accepting that they will differ, perhaps on something fundamental. If A believes that black men are equal to white men and B believes that black men are only suited to be slaves, then is it really a good idea to extend tolerance to Culture B? What happens when people raised up within Culture B attack black men from Culture A? Or is it somehow acceptable if Culture B only picks on its own blacks?

And what happens if Culture B uses their culture as an excuse to attack Culture A?

By the dictates of multiculturalism, all cultures should respect one another and live and let live.

But it doesn’t work out that way, does it?

I mentioned converting to Islam above as one example of the extraordinary (and unprecedented) tolerance the West extends to its citizens. However, this tolerance is not shared by every culture. Parents from immigrant communities will react with horror when they discover (and they often do) that their children are ‘converting’ to the West. Why would a young teenager (male or female) want to marry someone his/her parents suggested when they could choose their own partner? Why would a young woman accept being mistreated by her parents-in-law (and husband) when she could just leave? Why would a young man feel inclined to accept a restrictive lifestyle when he could go clubbing or drink alcohol? Why would anyone choose to remain in a restrictive culture when there are so many other options out there?

The question is not entirely rhetorical. I am often surprised to learn just what some people want from life – and, even if it is something I do not approve, it is no matter, as long as they choose it freely. The West will tolerate almost anything as long as it is done in private, between consenting adults. Its citizens do not need to fear physical harm for their choices. But they also need to learn to deal with the consequences.

But, back to immigrant parents, why would they accept their children making their own decisions? Would they tolerate their children embracing a culture they find alternatively shocking, disgusting and irreligious?

This is no idle question. Young girls (and boys, although on a much lesser scale) have been abused, forced into marriage or even killed, merely for daring to live their own lives. These people have committed criminal acts against their own kind. But trying to stop them raises an uncomfortable question. Should they be stopped if the tenets of multiculturalism are to be observed?

I could go into considerable detail, but I’m not going to bother. What I will say is this; the elites, having no contact with the victims of their decisions, will think twice about ordering any outsider intervention in an immigrant community (tacitly accepting that the immigrants are separate from the host community.) They will be fearful of arousing the spectre of racism and, perhaps more importantly from their point of view, riots on the streets. Therefore, they will not be inclined to either support the victims of barbaric cultural practices or outsiders who might be adversely affected.

But this has set the stage for long-term disaster.

There’s a theory of policing that goes a little like this. Take care of the smaller crimes (broken windows, as the theory states) and you will have fewer larger crimes. When it comes to policing immigrant communities, the ‘broken windows’ were everything from wife-beating to families and thugs trying to enforce community law. At no point prior to 9/11 did anyone say to the immigrants “if you want to live in our country, you must honour our standards and follow our laws.” It was deemed racist, or culturally imperialist, to tell immigrants that their cultures were unacceptable. There was no attempt to separate out individualist acts accepted voluntarily (and thus, at worst, stupid rather than evil) from acts imposed on people by their parents, religious leaders and the rest of their community.

The elites didn’t care. They were never touched by their acts. Indeed, they received plaudits for their tolerance, while those who questioned the presence of immigrants, including radicals, were charged with racism. There was never any attempt to open a genuine dialogue because that would, inevitably, call the European project into question. Instead, the whole subject was declared verboten.

However, the common people slowly started to lose their patience.

What is actually true, you see, is often less important than what people believe to be true. The average commoner in Britain might believe that immigrants constantly receive the best of everything, while they can get away with anything, as long as they can claim they’re the victims of racism. Thus, there was a growing suspicion that the immigrants were dangerous and the elites downright evil, which has started to manifest itself in the rise of euro-sceptic parties. The elites might insist that immigration is a good thing, but the average poor labourer in the UK might have a different impression of cheap workers coming in from overseas. So too might someone forced to go to a GP and talk to a doctor whose English is surprisingly poor. Or someone who gets into trouble for daring to question why schoolchildren, visiting mosques, have to cover themselves.

Or a cartoonist, who poked fun at everyone, gets murdered in broad daylight by a team of armed gunmen.

Immigration is not, of course, the only problem. Any commoner needs to undergo a credit check before taking a loan to buy (for example) a car. This is plain common sense. However, the EU elites failed to do a credit check on Greece (or Spain, Portugal or Ireland) before allowing them to join the EU and gain access to cheap credit. This act, which was politically motivated, caused a major credit crisis that spread rapidly across the EU and ruined hundreds of thousands of lives. But did the elites suffer? No.

Right now, the attack in Paris, the attack on free speech, has illuminated the colossal failure of the elites. They have NOT stood up for free speech. They have moaned and groaned and wrung their hands and created a situation where free speech is riskier than ever before. And it hasn’t been enough to appease terrorists who will not be satisfied until the world is under their control. The simple fact that so many people have tried to make excuses for the terrorists shows just how deep the rot has spread into our society.

And so the elites are going to face more and more challenges to their power as the years roll on.

They will fight back, of course. They will deploy all the weapons at their disposal to maintain the European Union. But this will only cause worse problems for them when they finally run out of time.

And that leads to my final thought for the day. Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution a certainty.

The Free Marketplace of Ideas

9 Jan

There is no one to blame for the attacks in Paris, but the terrorists themselves. Nothing said or done by the cartoonists justifies murderous attacks. Nothing. But it behoves us to try to understand just why the terrorists went so far to silence their critics.

JesuisCharlie

One of the West’s greatest advantages is its ability to assimilate ideas and concepts from other nations, then use and improve on them. Thus, Latin numerals, which were rather hand to handle, were replaced by the far superior Arabic numerals. This is not cultural appropriation, a concept that is badly flawed, but a willingness to take ideas and make use of them. This is part of the free marketplace of ideas.

In an even world, everyone – and every group – has the right to share their ideas and concepts with everyone else. The sound concepts will take root, grow and flourish, while the unsound concepts will die out and be consigned to the waste basket of human history. Indeed, some political concepts only exist in their present-day form because they have grown and evolved in the free marketplace of ideas. Others faded when exposed to the test of history and are now long forgotten.

How is this proven, one might ask?

Throughout the history of the Soviet Union, there was a vast number of people who risked life and limb to get the hell out of communist-ruled territory. They didn’t build the Berlin Wall just to be assholes, you know. The communists built it because they knew that their populations were voting with their feet and leaving communism behind, hoping to grow and flourish under the bright lights of capitalism. They knew they dared not risk free elections or they would lose power.

The Soviet Union was not part of the free marketplace of ideas. When communism met resistance, be it from Russian farmers, workers or occupied populations, the communists ruthlessly crushed all opposition. They did this because they knew they could not win in the free marketplace of ideas. Anything that opposed communism (and that included religion as well as political concepts like democracy) had to go. Indeed, the Soviet Union was so bullish about imposing communism on the rest of the world purely because it knew that capitalism was far superior.

This is, in many ways, true of most Islamic nations today. Mullahs from Algeria to Pakistan worry about what would happen to Islam, if it was forced to compete on even terms in the free marketplace of ideas. Like the communists, they are unwilling to tolerate the concept of open competition, largely because they know their subjects will be tempted. The West offers freedoms – including the freedom to convert to Islam – that no Islamic nation dares match. So we are treated to the spectacle of religious policemen beating women for daring to show their ankles, attacks on non-Muslim communities and murderous attacks on people who dare convert away from Islam, all carried out because they fear, in their deepest darkest hearts, that Islam is fading away.

But it’s worse than that. They also fear what the free marketplace of ideas will make of Islam, given time. There are people who embrace Islam willingly, but are they inclined to accept the dominance of moral and spiritually bankrupt mullahs? Or, if questions are asked openly, what will it do to the Muslim mindset? If someone prays five times a day, because they fear a beating if they do not pray, what are their prayers worth? And what does it do to the value of prayers offered willingly, without any form of coercion? What is the value of Islam if it is imposed, by force, on an entire population?

The mullahs will probably claim they are carrying out their duty to God. The communists said pretty much the same thing. But both of them would be lying. It isn’t about doing one’s duty to an all-powerful being who could convert the entire world’s population tomorrow, if He felt like it. It’s about fear – the fear of becoming irrelevant, the fear of losing control.

As a writer, I’ve had many bad reviews. Some of them are nothing more than trolling, written by people who just want to annoy me … and some of them have come uncomfortably close to the truth. So too are Muslims reacting reflexively against critical remarks by non-Muslims, partly out of a sense of insulted dignity – and partly out of an unspoken fear that the critics might be right. There is no need to hammer one’s opponents, to use force to silence them, unless one fears being unable to compete in the free marketplace of ideas.

What we saw in Paris, what we see when charges of Islamophobia are hurled around like pieces of faecal matter hitting the fan, is fear. Fear that the critics might be right, fear that the age-old debate cannot be won fairly, fear that the only way to win is to crush all opposition until no one dares debate openly.

To suggest that Islam is somehow immune to criticism is to allow their fear to drive us into abandoning one of the strongest and most important precepts of our society. Free speech, the freedom to criticise, allows us to test each and every idea, then take the good into our society and expel the bad. To cripple free speech is to cripple the West.

And that is what the terrorists want.

UP NOW – The School of Hard Knocks (Schooled In Magic V)

7 Jan

Mountaintop Academy, sister school of Whitehall, has secrets, deadly secrets – and its MageMaster is dying. When he finally leaves the mortal world, it will trigger a power struggle that may tear the school apart. When a cabal within Mountaintop plots to kidnap Emily and seduce her to their side, she is asked to go undercover into Mountaintop in the hopes she can uncover some of their secrets before they explode out into the open.

But when Mountaintop’s Administrator begins to introduce her to entire branches of forgotten or forbidden magics, Emily finds herself torn between her love for knowledge, her sense of what is right and wrong … and the mission she agreed to undertake.

And when she comes face to face with the dark secret at the heart of the school, it may kill her … or leave her corrupted with a darkness that will never leave her soul.

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The School of Hard Knocks