Archive | November, 2016

Hell is Fouler …

27 Nov

… With the presence of Fidel Castro.


I wish I could say I was surprised by the tributes pouring into Cuba from world leaders who really should know better, now that Fidel Castro is dead. Apparently, Castro was a great man, who did a lot for social justice – which tells us all we need to know about ‘social justice’ – a great moral and spiritual leader who will be sorely missed. World leaders, intellectuals, anarchists … they unite in praise of Castro …

And that tells us all we need to know about them too.

The simple truth is that Fidel Castro was a monster.

Like many other dictators, Castro adopted the language of communism and socialism as a mask to hide his true nature. His sole goal was to take and hold power as long as possible – everything he did, in Cuba, was designed to uphold his primacy. He enriched himself and his inner circle, while countless innocent civilians starved to death or risked their lives to flee an island that, like so many other dictatorships, could justly be called a prison camp above ground and a mass grave below. Under Castro, Cuba became a police state where people could be locked up for daring to speak out against the regime, an island now divided between two economies – one for the rich foreign tourists and one for the rest of the population.

Castro’s crimes and atrocities – some call them excesses – are often excused by his worshippers, few of whom have ever lived under tyranny or seen the real Cuba. To them, Castro’s credentials – leader of a successful socialist uprising, defeater of a right-wing dictatorship, crusher of multiple (and farcical) US attempts to assassinate him and overthrow his regime – provide all the burnishing his narrative needs. No reasonable person can possibly believe that Castro’s savage repression of his own people, even after the end of the Cold War, was justified. Unlike other post-WW2 dictatorships – South Korea, Taiwan – Cuba was never allowed to develop a free market economy. Instead, Castro doubled down on failure, creating a hellish nightmare for his subjects. And subjects they were, because none of them were ever offered a choice.

One may argue that Cuba’s internal affairs are Cuba’s own business. But Castro was not content to remain within his borders. Cuban fingerprints can be found across the world, from troops in Africa fighting pointless wars to support for Castro’s fellow socialist regime in Venezuela (now suffering social collapse as the impact of socialism becomes unavoidable) and, worst of all, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro played a major role in laying the groundwork for nuclear war, a war that would have claimed Cuba as its first victim. It would not have been the last. Nor did Castro have the sense to back down when it became clear that matters had gotten out of hand. His brinkmanship nearly took the world to war.

Indeed, the well-being of his own people was always low on his list of priorities. Much has been made about Cuba’s health service, but Cuba has dispatched vast numbers of doctors overseas (thus creating a shortage back home) and refused to fund proper supply and procurement systems. Simple items like aspirin are like gold, to the average Cuban … if, of course, they can find them.

Castro was no George Washington or Nelson Mandela. Both of them chose to leave power, even though they might have been able to keep it for far longer; both of them, although flawed, chose to work for the good of their people. Castro, by contrast, was solely concerned with himself. There was no attempt to draw in talented newcomers, let alone start a gradual shift to democracy. Instead, Castro remained firmly in power until ill-health finally took its toll. About the only good thing that can be said about Castro is that he allowed a transfer of power – onto healthier shoulders, at least – before his final meeting with death.

This was not inevitable. A true patriot could have accomplished much, first by developing the rule of law and then allowing the growth of a genuine middle class. Cuba has remarkable potential, far more than just a tourist spot in the middle of the Caribbean. And yet, Castro was unwilling to accept the threat to his power this would have – inevitably – caused. Given a chance to turn Cuba into a shining star, Castro chose – instead – to go for nightmare. And he was hellishly successful.

I would not care to utter any predictions about Cuba’s future, now that Castro is gone. His brother – the sitting president – is unlikely to rock the boat, despite Barrack Obama’s pathetic attempts to burnish his legacy by reaching out to Cuba. Such regimes are often prisons for the wealthy and powerful as well as the peasants in the fields. But Cubans are no less intelligent than any other nationality. The discrepancies between what they’re being told and the truth in front of their eyes are glaringly obvious. How long will it be before Cuba collapses into civil war?

Castro’s legacy, therefore, is a ticking time bomb a mere three hundred miles from the United States. But his legions of fans and admirers are not the ones who will have to deal with the problems, nor are they the ones who will starve (or be raped or killed) when the country finally falls apart. They will go on believing Castro’s lies even as utter darkness falls across his country.

For many, death comes too soon; for Castro, it came too late.

Schooled In Magic Updates

21 Nov

Hi, everyone.

First, I’m on CH29 of The Sergeant’s Apprentice. I’m hoping to finish the first draft by Friday, barring accidents. I’ve got a long list of suggested changes and edits from the betas to fumble though, so I think the manuscript should be in the publisher’s hands by Tuesday 29th. After that, there will be at least one major edit, but hopefully the e-book will be out soon.

I’m actually torn about the next few books in the series. Book 12 – The Fists of Justice – will deal with the fallout from TSA, but I’m not sure if there will be a book set during her summer vacation between 5th and 6th year. I have a vague idea that 6th year will be a second set of paired books – Poison Pen and Graduation Day – but a lot depends on how things shake out over the summer. I may wind up inserting The Pen and the Sword between Poison Pen and Graduation Day. However, as my rough plot notes for Pen and Sword end badly, there will have to be a move to [Classified] too. After that, we have Mirror Image and The Artful Apprentice. We shall see.

On a different note, the audio version of Work Experience should be available on audible from 6th December. (Pre-order will be mentioned on the Facebook page as soon as it’s up.) If things go according to plan, there should be a book a month after that until the whole series (as it stands) is up, but the schedule may slip.

Beautiful young witch casting a spell

Thank you for reading <grin>.


The Second Final Reflection

20 Nov

It has been just under two weeks since the world woke up to President-Elect Donald Trump.

Since then, certain things have become clear. Hillary Clinton’s unfitness for office – for anything, really – has been illustrated by her refusal to address her supporters after the results were clear. Reports have it that she was drunk, violent or both. Regardless, the reaction of many of her supporters have provided an excellent rationale for voting for Trump. Crying college students, riots on the streets, calls to adjust an electoral system that has worked very well over the last few years …

In short, a great many people have behaved like children.

This is dangerously counter-productive. Peaceful protest is a time-honoured American (and Western) right. Violent protests, on the other hand, make the vast silent majority cry out for heavy repression. No one can claim the moral high ground when they’re screaming insults and threats, beating up dissidents, burning and looting and generally remaining everyone of why they voted for Trump in the first place. In the long term … how can these people possibly be trusted to handle their own affairs, let alone govern a country?

There is no such thing, in the real world, as a prize for participation. There will always be winners and losers. And in politics, you win by convincing the majority of people in each state to support you. You have to convince them that it is in their best interests to support you, not that they’re somehow obliged to support you or that you’ll blackmail them (emotionally or physically) into supporting you. The latter two breed resentment. No one is entitled to win – no one, not even Hillary Clinton, is inevitable. You want to win – you have to earn it.

If you cannot handle losing, how the hell are you going to handle the real world?

Politics – American and European – have steadily become poisonous. And part of the reason they’ve become poisonous is that both sides have steadily become convinced that the other side is the personification of evil. And that anything is justified because the cause, the defeat of evil, is right. Individuals vanish without trace in the fog of social justice, where the details are forgotten or twisted in service to the narrative. And now there are elements of the Right that want to pay the Left back in their own coin. Why should they not?

I could argue – and I will – that we should not sink to their level. But a right-winger could easily counter my argument by pointing out that such treatment deserves retaliation, that we should give the Left a taste of the punishment they’ve meted out. And, in the increasing tribalisation of politics, he may have a point. If identity politics can be used to blame right-wingers for everything done by other right-wingers, why can’t they be used to blame left-wingers for everything done by other left-wingers?

Live by identity politics, die by identity politics.

The core of the problem remains, as I have said before, that the elites and their supporters – the media, etc – have lost touch with the real world. And it is that problem, more than anything else, that needs to be fixed. But I fear it is beyond them.


The irony of the problems facing the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is that both parties are facing essentially the same problem. Both party elites attempted to put forward candidates chosen by them, as opposed to the rank and file. The Republicans pushed Jeb Bush, hoping he would be the third Bush to serve as POTUS; the Democrats pushed Hillary Clinton, after the Clintons effectively sewed up the nomination process.

Both party-preferred candidates faced heavy resistance from the rank-and-file. The Republicans had little reason to love Jeb or the handful of other establishment candidates, particularly as both George HW Bush and George W Bush were widely disliked. The Democrats, too, had little reason to love Hillary Clinton. Her history was dubious at best, while she had a reputation for being a flip-flopper. And so both candidates were challenged, by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Perversely, despite all the hyperbole about Donald Trump breaking the Republican Party, I think there is a good argument to be made that he fixed it. Trump never enjoyed the support of the elites (who chose to effectively commit treason, given that they were supposed to support the nominee) but he did have the support of the rank and file. Trump, for better or worse, reflected the desire of the rank and file for a plain-speaking candidate who would defy the elites and actually win. The elites recoiled in horror because the idea that anyone would find Trump appealing was unthinkable to them. But the rank-and-file showed its power by nominating Trump.

Pretend, for the sake of argument, that the entire command crew of USS Nimitz were summarily sacked. Would this actually put the giant supercarrier out of service permanently? Of course not – a new command crew would be appointed and the carrier would head back out to sea, rapidly overcoming teething troubles as the new crew learned the ropes. And, just like the carrier, the Republican Party will survive. It does not need the elites to survive.

By contrast, there is a very strong possibility that Hillary and Obama wrecked the Democratic Party.

We do not know if Hillary would have won the nomination fairly. We do know she rigged it in her favour. The DNC was effectively an arm of the Clinton Campaign. Reasonable candidates for the nomination were edged aside, leaving an outsider – Bernie Sanders – as the sole opposition candidate. And he was sabotaged by the DNC. And so the levels of shattering distrust between the elites and the rank-and-file have risen sharply. How many voters stayed home because they couldn’t bear the thought of voting for a cheat?

On the micro scale, the DNC should never have even considered Hillary a potential candidate. She had too much baggage. But on the macro scale, the Democratic Party is in serious trouble. It’s leaders are, if anything, more isolated from the common herd than the RNC. They assumed, arrogantly, that minority groups within the US would continue to provide mindless support. But such support was no longer forthcoming. If the living conditions of black Americans, for example, failed to improve after eight years of a black president – and democratic control of majority black areas – why should black Americans trust the Democrats?

And now, the Democratic Party is facing a major crisis. The system failed – it didn’t just fail, it was deliberately broken. It would have been problematic even if Hillary won – which would have provided minimal justification for stealing the nomination – but she lost. Now, the DNC needs to come to terms with its problems in order to face the future. And it is doing this after the Republicans won a crushing victory.

The rank-and-file needs to kick out the elites and reassert control. But that isn’t going to be easy.


The implications of President Trump will not be contained within America’s borders, even if Trump does build a wall. And I suspect that, whatever they may say openly, a great many foreign leaders are relieved. Hillary Clinton was a deeply suspect nominee from the start, a woman of terrifying incompetence and zero credibility mixed with a complete disregard for the optics (let alone anything else). The prospect of Hillary accidentally – or deliberately – starting a war with Russia could not be overlooked.

If nothing else, there will probably be a pause in the endless geopolitical power game as Trump takes office. Hillary could reasonably be assumed to be following in Obama’s footsteps, but Trump is a different issue. There will be an opportunity for the US and Russia to strike a deal that will please neither side, but one that both sides will find tolerable (and certainly preferable to a war with an uncertain outcome). And this will also be true elsewhere. Trump may recommit American power to defending Saudi Arabia, but also demand concessions in exchange. (The Saudis are still fuelling extremism and this has to be stopped.) Indeed, in many ways, the sense that Trump is irrational works in his favour, at least in his early days. One does not poke the rabid dog.

And yet, President Trump raises other concerns. European powers have been skimping on their defence contributions, despite a treaty obligation to spend at least 2% of their GNP on defence. In 2015, only Britain, Poland and the US met those treaty obligations. Trump has a point, as little as Europeans might want to admit it, about free-riders. This is not 1945. The European powers, if they want to be secure, can afford to spend more money on their own defence. Why should the US pay? And why should American boys and girls be sent to defend Berlin when Germany is unwilling to defend itself?

This actually has deeper implications. The US, for better or worse, is a proactive force on the world stage. Europe often feels differently. Can one reasonably expect the US to put up with absurd rules of engagement? Or outright sabotage – the Italians were accused of bribing Taliban insurgents, for example. Or sanctimonious speeches from politicians safely isolated from global politics? Or uncontrolled immigration that destabilises politics and may spread to the US?

At what point does the US conclude that the protectorates have a choice between shutting up and doing as they’re told … or being shoved back into the cold and ordered to look after themselves?

The real question is how this will play out over the next few months. Trump’s rise is the sign of a populist uprising against the elites, but it isn’t the only one. BREXIT happened, at least in part, because the elites made the fatal mistake of convincing the voters that they didn’t give a damn about them. The rise of other right-wing parties across Europe is another sign – on matters ranging from the economy to immigration, voters have come to believe that the elites just don’t care. Angela Merkel’s letter to Donald Trump, I suspect, pushed many buttons … and not in a good way. What respect has the elites shown for the safety, let alone the dignity, of their own citizens?

The blunt truth is that the European Union is nothing more than a castle built on sand – and the tide is coming in. There’s no such thing as European unity. The idea of merging a dozen different nations, with very disparate economies, into one was absurd right from the start. No one should have been surprised by the disaster slowly tearing Greece and the other weaker economies apart. The political delusions of the elites led to disaster.

Why should they be surprised, therefore, when their policies are rejected?

Trump has an opportunity to re-establish links between the ‘rebel’ European states and the US. It is not an opportunity he should miss.


There are three possibilities that should be borne in mind by all Americans, of whatever political views.

First, Trump may be unable to push his proposed legislation into law. The Republican elite still maintains a great deal of influence … and they don’t want Trump to succeed. His success spells their doom. It is therefore possible that all of his proposals will die in committee and nothing will be done.

Second, Trump may be seduced by the political elite. He would hardly be the first reformer to enter power and then be led astray. (Tony Blair, anyone?) His pro-change agenda may be quietly dropped and the current unsatisfactory situation will be allowed to continue.

Third, the naysayers might be right and Trump genuinely is a fascist, with plans to establish a dictatorship. Or he will turn authoritarian – following precedents set by Bush and Obama – after the rest of the government blocks his reforms. I don’t think that’s remotely likely, but the possibility should be acknowledged.

And even if none of these possibilities come to pass, his ability to be effective may be more limited than you suppose.

The political revolt that led to the rise of Trump – and BREXIT, etc – must not be allowed to fade away. Westerners must strive to regain control of government, to bring the bureaucracy to heel and keep local control in their hands. The idea that someone in Washington can propose a ‘one size fits all’ policy for the entire USA has proven disastrous, just as the same problem has torn Europe apart. Political power must be devolved as far down the line as possible, allowing maximum input from those who have to live under it. Common sense must be allowed to dominate. Change – real change – needs a grassroots movement that won’t give up, even when the odds seem hopeless.

The elites may have good intentions. But any organisation, as Jerry Pournelle noted, eventually becomes dominated by people more intent on bolstering their own power rather than the overall goals of the organisation. A sufficiently large organisation will effectively go to war with itself – witness the rise of obnoxious HR departments – as its people forget their true purpose. The RNC and DNC became dominated by people more interested in their own power and position – the Cuckservatives, in particular – and lost sight of their true goals.

This is not the beginning of the end, to quote Churchill. This is merely the end of the beginning.


I’d like to close this essay – and hopefully this series – with a rather droll observation – and a warning. Reality has a conservative bias.

I say ‘conservative’ instead of ‘right-wing’ because there are people on the right who are just as prone to absurd flights of fantasy as people on the left. The only real difference, at base, between fascism and communism is the lies told to maintain the elite in power. And both sides tell so many lies that they eventually start to believe them. Their rulers become deluded into believing that they can change reality with the stroke of a pen.

You can get a credit card, if you like, and defer payment for months or years. Or you can take out a loan (for education, perhaps) secure in the knowledge you won’t have to pay it back at once. I recall students who did just that, back when I was in university. They lived high, spending their student loan as though the money would never run out. But debt will eventually catch up with you. One day, your creditors will arrive to repossess everything you own. And that will be that.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. The safety and security enjoyed by the vast majority of westerners depends on both a solid defence and the rule of law. Both have been grievously weakened, by politicians who believe the good times will never end and ‘social justice warriors’ more concerned with appearance than reality. As our laws become warped and twisted, with different levels of justice offered to different people, trust in society weakens and breaks. People voted for Donald Trump and Bernie Saunders because they were outsider candidates, when they could no longer trust the elites.

The core problem facing the Left is that many of its ideas sound good – and sometimes they are good – but they don’t know when to stop. Political correctness started out as an attempt to convince people to be polite. But it has become a mania for policing speech, when anything can be deemed offensive … in a world where the rules keep changing. How can anyone listen to politicians trying to explain away the latest terrorist atrocity and not feel disgust. The truth – that all decent people, including many Muslims, are at war with Radical Islam – is undeniable. And yet most politicians are unwilling to even consider whispering the truth.

It gets worse. Good intentions lead to hell … for other people. Affirmative action taints everyone who benefits … and those who didn’t benefit, but fit the favoured demographic; well-intentioned bids to forbid employers from checking criminal records lead to increased unemployment among black males, who are disproportionally likely to have criminal records … and so on and so on. Is it any surprise, therefore, that Donald Trump’s pledge to drain the swamp proved so popular?

The Left – and the Right is often guilty of this too – does not attempt to win arguments by reason. Instead, it appeals to emotion; the sense of doing good or the fear of being publically shamed by being called a racist, sexist or worse. One may have free speech, as long as one mouths politically-correct platitudes; one may have tolerance, as long as one is part of a favoured demographic. The hierarchy of victimhood breeds nothing, but utter contempt from the average person. And so does the crap spewed out about every right-wing politician over the last fifty years.

Indeed, if Donald Trump is a fascist, he owes his rise to the media crying ‘racist fascist bigot’ at every GOP candidate. They’ve cried wolf so often that no one believes them any longer.

The rule of law – that the guilty must be proven guilty – is forgotten. And now many – many – people on the right want to retaliate in kind. And so we have the warning, a quote that has always lingered in my mind.

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

It’s a bad idea to dismantle something purely because its inconvenient. You never know when you might need it.

The next few months are going to be very interesting indeed.

However Did He Win?

19 Nov

There’s an interesting scene in Faulty Towers – a classic BBC sitcom – where Basil, a jackass to the core, discovers that his hotel is about to play host to a German family and he is not to mention the war. Cue Basil capering around like a … well, like a capering jackass. The entire episode ends with the German wondering, sadly, “however did they win?”

Over the last week, the question has been asked time and time again. How did Donald Trump win? And the answers range from embarrassed to condescending. American voters, we have been told, are too stupid to understand their own best interests. No, American voters are racist sexist bigots too thick-headed to appreciate what Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have done to them. It was the FBI’s fault! No, it was Obama’s fault! Trump won because Americans are scared of strong women. And so on and so on.

And let’s face it. Most of these answers are utter nonsense.

With that in mind, why did Trump win?

First, Hillary Clinton was an appallingly bad candidate. Quite apart from the reasons I discussed earlier, Hillary was a very poor choice. She stole the nomination, she was the establishment candidate, she had the media and Hollywood stars on her side, she was openly contemptuous of the ‘deplorables’, she was allowed to get away with some very serious offences, the idea that she was the ‘feminist’ candidate is laughable … she was, in short, utterly unlikable. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump everywhere except where it mattered.

In short, given an election they should have won easily, the Democrats messed up.

Second, Donald Trump was not actually a bad candidate. His political instincts were far superior to his opponents. He won the nomination battle fairly (unlike Clinton) and commanded respect, if not liking, from many other Republicans. He put his finger on many problems facing the country (something Hillary could not or would not do) and promised to do something about them. And the media loathed him, which actually worked in his favour – the voters had heard too much crap about successive GOP candidates to believe the latest volley of absurdities from the media.

In short, Trump had a whole series of advantages that played nicely against Hillary’s weaknesses.

Third, and perhaps most important, Americans are fed up.

I’ve mentioned many – many – of the reasons before. Political correctness, government overreach, lawlessness on the streets, illegal immigration … Donald Trump was the ‘hope and change’ candidate in a year where the entire country was crying out for a change. What could Hillary offer that compared to that?

The underlying cause, I suspect, was the left’s focus on identity politics. To them, looking for ways to put people in neat little boxes, everything from the colour of your skin and your sexual identity was more important than your character. Their goal was, effectively, divide and rule. But, as I mentioned earlier, this approach suffered from two significant problems that were literally insurmountable. On one hand, the Left needed to balance the competing demands of different identities, somehow trying to be all things to all men; on the other, as various identities became mainstream, the Left would lose its grip on them. The horrified reaction – and the naked racism/sexism – hurled at black or female republicans is a reflection of the Left seeing its own doom. If minority groups can succeed without the Left, then how is the Left to survive?

The result was inevitable. Straight white men, seeing themselves (rightly or wrongly) increasingly marginalised in their own country, were not going to vote for Hillary. But many black Americans, looking at the legacy of Barrack Obama, also regarded Hillary with suspicion and contempt. Women, too, had good reason to feel that Hillary was not a feminist icon. Hispanics who fought hard to earn the right to live in the United States weren’t keen on simply granting citizenship to every illegal who crossed the Rio Grande. And homosexuals, reeling after Orlando, realised that Hillary was not going to defend them. She couldn’t even bring herself to point the finger at terrorists!

Hillary Clinton – and the vast majority of her supporters – are isolated from the realities facing ordinary Americans, whatever their colour and creed. What does a woman like her truly have in common with a single mother working two jobs, knowing that taking a day off will bury her under crippling debts? What does a young black man have in common with Obama? Or what does a young man or woman have in common with a Hollywood actress who pledged to leave the country if Trump was elected? Or …

I could go on, but why bother?

Donald Trump was elected because Americans were desperately crying out for a change. He was the only person who stood up and pointed his finger at the problem. And that great mass of frustrated and angry people, feeling that there was no escape from the growing power of the federal bureaucracy, heard his call.

And so they made him President.

This may or may not be a good result. We won’t know until after the first couple of years of President Trump. But it was predictable. I predicted it …

… So why didn’t the media?

Hope and Fear

13 Nov

The world did not end on Tuesday 8th.

Not that you’d know it from some of the articles online. Or from the news media as it struggles to cope with the simple fact that bloggers – like me – called it for Trump while the MSM was so deeply involved with Clinton that it missed the significance of cultural change in the United States. To them, it’s the end of the world.

People who have taken Trump’s victory badly fall into three categories.

The Scolds have spent the last four days telling off America for daring to vote for Donald Trump. They are shaking their (hopefully metaphorical) fingers at Trump voters, calling them stupid or racist or homophobic … the old dirge that no one believes any longer. They cannot believe that they, the enlightened, could possibly have been wrong. And so they are blaming every last Trump voter rather than taking a good hard look in the mirror. They have been wrong so often that their opinions can be safely discounted.

The Cry-babies have been moaning and whining and crying. Like children, they allowed their emotions to overload their reason; like children, they throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want and they don’t know how to cope with it. And, also like children, they clung to a simple narrative and ignored the shades of grey. Some of them have turned violent, reminding every reasonable adult why children are not allowed adult freedoms; others are seeking to recast themselves as the victims of the whole affair, rather than either spectators or guilty parties. Their refusal to engage their brains before putting their mouths in gear means that their opinions can be safely discounted.

And then we have the Concerned.

Many of my friends are Concerned. Some of them believe that Trump is inherently a bad man, a monster who will do monstrous things. Some of them believe that Trump will seek out military conflict, either because his feelings were hurt or because he may feel America has to make a stand as soon as possible. Some of them believe that Trump’s victory will unleash reactionary forces across America, that there will be an upswing in racism and sexism and general unpleasantness. And some of them believe that Trump is by no means qualified to be President.

(Yes, I listen to people on the other side. Sue me.)

There are actually a number of very good reasons for believing that President Trump will not be a monster, neither the political reincarnation of Buchannan or Nixon.

First, Trump won the nomination – and the election – because he tapped into the feelings of a great mass of people (mainly Republicans) who felt that they had been left behind by the changing nation. Those people have sensed their strength, even as Trump used them to crush his opponents and rise to win election. Those people will not respond well to any form of Trump betrayal. Conservatives, historically more suspicious of the growth in government power, will continue to retake power in the Republican Party – despite Trump, if necessary. I think the push to limit the power of the federal government will continue.

Second, Trump will not have a free ride from either the Mainstream Media or the Alternate Media. The Mainstream Media, once it gets over its freak-out about Trump winning, will no doubt try to continue to undermine him. And while the alternate media will be more Trump-friendly, it will also be sceptical of the government, regardless of who is in the White House.

Third, and ironically, society has changed. These are not the days of Jim Crow. The vast majority of Americans are tolerant of homosexuality, for example, even if they find it distasteful. One does not need approval, merely tolerance. Combined with a belief that the federal government should not be poking into people’s private lives, I don’t think homosexuals have much to fear from Trump’s America. The time when homosexuals could be subject to large scale discrimination, at least in America, is over. And this is true of many other groups. We may well see a much-deserved crackdown on Black Lives Matter, but I don’t think there will be a mass return to Jim Crow.

Fourth, Trump has many admirable qualities. He has known failure, he has known opposition … and he has adapted, reacted and overcome. He can pick subordinates who know what they’re doing (one sign of a good manager). Trump is smart enough to reach out to potential partners, to understand their points of view and try to come up with a compromise they can live with. And he isn’t weak enough to back off the moment he is challenged, the moment someone calls his bluff. Trump will not give up.

And fifth, consider this.

The news media was in the tank for Hillary Clinton. She had everything on her side. Could it be possible, just barely, that the impression they crafted of Donald Trump was just a teeny bit exaggerated? That they made mountains out of molehills? That their hysteria came from a desperate desire to anoint Hillary as the first female president rather than perform objective reporting?

Not everyone will agree with this, of course. But it is food for thought.

Battling the Vamps

10 Nov

A little distraction from the election.

A friend of mine pointed this out to me and it got me thinking.

Peaceful co-existence between humans and vampires is vanishingly unlikely. The traditional vampires – even the ones from Twilight­ – are predators; humans are their prey. The idea that humans would tamely accept being turned into cattle is absurd. We would look for ways to fight, ways to take the battle to them. And vampires – outside Marty Sues – have weaknesses.

Traditionally, vampires cannot go outside during the day. Nor can they go inside a building without an invitation. That limits their ability to find prey. (And if a single bite is enough to turn someone into a vampire, they’re going to be adding predators while lowering the amount of pray.) The average person would not open their doors after sunset if they thought there was a very real chance of being attacked. Maybe the average vampire is weak during the day or has to sleep.

Does Holy Water kill Vampires? What happens if you fill water pistols with holy water? Can you bless a river or a lake? Or the seas? Can you water your garden with holy water and turn it into a minefield? Would a vampire explode if he stepped on it? What about water vapour?

Traditionally, stakes kill vampires. What about toothpick-sized weapons? Could you have a gun that fired wooden bullets? What about sawdust? What is it about the traditional stake that kills vampires? Suggestion – wood reacts badly with the magic keeping the vampire alive. What about garlic? Does it have some chemical the vampire can’t stand?

Vampires are supposed to be strong. How smart are they? Do they lose their intellect as they start to grow hungry. Are they stronger than the average SAS trooper? Are they smart enough to hunt in packs? How much blood do they need? Will a single human feed a dozen vampires or do they need one each? What must happen to turn a human into a vampire? A bite? A drain? Or what?

Vampires are supposed to be able to influence people. What limits does the ability have? Can they control someone at long-distance or do they need eye contact? Can they implant suggestions? Will music or some other distraction cancel out their commands?

Can they actually turn into mist or bats? If the former, what happens if they get caught in a fan? Or strong winds?

There has to be a story here, surely. <grin>

Marie Antoinette Clinton

10 Nov

Marie Antoinette is probably best known for saying ‘let them eat cake!’ (There is some dispute over if she actually said it.) And yet, as a noted SF writer pointed out, Marie Antoinette’s remark wasn’t quite as stupid as it seemed. Based on what she knew at the time – Marie Antoinette had no direct contact with the teeming mob – the remark actually makes sense. The price of bread was going up (because price controls made it impossible for bakers to actually bake) so why should the poor not eat cake?

But to peasants who could no more afford cake than they could afford bread, the line seemed a cruel joke.


Marie Antoinette brought many of her troubles on herself. Her mother – Marie Teresa – expected her to uphold Austrian interests, which caused her to clash with Frenchmen she really needed to conciliate. She fitted poorly into Versailles, making no attempt to fit in; she placed a touching faith in many who would seek to use her or betray her; she was on the fringes of a criminal investigation (yes, really); she was the victim of scurrilous libels and horrific accusations. Indeed, when she was put on trial after the revolution, the charges against her were largely outrageous. But, by then, she had become so unpopular – as a symbol of everything that was wrong with France – that her execution was a certainty.

And yes, there is a distinct whiff of Marie Antoinette around Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton lost the election, I think, because – at base – she was fundamentally unappealing to vast numbers of Americans. She was so far out of touch with ordinary people that she literally had no idea what appealed to them and what didn’t. She acted as though she was on a higher plane, as though nothing would ever stick to her, as though she would continue to get away with everything. Her personal accomplishments were practically non-existent, her corruption was strikingly blatant, her willingness to cheat during the nomination turned unknown numbers of supporters away from her …

Marie Antoinette existed in a bubble. The closest she ever came to the peasants was living on her fake peasant village. She – and the remainder of the aristocracy in pre-revolutionary France – had no idea how bad things were becoming. Even when reality did break through the bubble, the aristocrats were dismissive. They considered the commoners to be lesser beings, subhuman creatures whose only purpose was to slave for their betters. Their attitudes made the slaveholders of Dixie look like paragons of morality.

Hillary Clinton also existed in a bubble. She was protected from the consequences of her own actions. The media abandoned all pretence of neutrality and strove mightily to get her elected. But it never seemed to occur to Hillary that the world was changing. Nothing was forgotten. She might escape indictment by the FBI, but the alternate media made sure that everyone knew that she’d been let off. She hadn’t been innocent. Others, including genuine heroes, had been broken for far lesser offences. Everyone knew that Hillary Clinton had benefitted from a blatant double standard.

Her greatest fans were also isolated from the common herd. Ordinary Americans rolled their eyes when deluded Hollywood stars threatened to leave the United States if Trump won the election. (Hands up anyone who believes that most of them will actually leave?) A person with a vast income is protected from the realities of the world in a way that most people can only envy. How can a Hollywood starlet understand the life of a man on minimum wage?

The thing I have noticed about Americans is that they admire achievement. Americans adore people who achieve, from football players to … well, Donald Trump. There are people who detest Trump and yet admire his achievements. But Americans also despise nepotism, favouritism, affirmative action … anything that hampers meritocracy. Americans, at base, despise elites. And Hillary Clinton is the ultimate elitist. Bill Clinton, whatever else can be said about him, won election. Hillary Clinton merely rode on his coattails.

To be fair to Hillary, the post of First Lady is an awkward one these days.

It was expected, back when America won her independence, that a wife would support her husband. The First Ladies from Martha Washington onwards were expected to be society hostesses, not politicians in their own right. They might give advice, in private, but they didn’t wield power in their own right. The role of women in society might have changed over the last two hundred years, yet First Ladies – formally – remained society hostesses. They had no more formal role than Prince Charles.

A woman as ambitious as Hillary Clinton would not find this a comfortable role. (Some society hostesses did manage to build up a power base behind the scenes, but that requires skills Hillary doesn’t seem to possess.) Indeed, she might well find it a humiliating role. These days, a woman is expected to have a job – staying at home and looking after the kids isn’t regarded so highly. Hillary cannot be blamed for seeking to expand the role, for trying to shape out a position for herself. But her attempts to declare herself a ‘co-president’ looked bad. She was attempting to claim power she had no right to have. Bill was the President. Hillary was merely his wife.

I think this weakened Hillary, both as a professional politician and as a person. She had no direct experience of fighting a political campaign, or working her way up into a position of power. Her run for the senate was launched from a very safe Democratic state. Worse, because she had earned a bad reputation, she drew more and more hostile eyes. Her response to this was to try to control the flow of information, which made her even more suspicious in the eyes of ordinary Americans. Worst of all, she couldn’t get away from her husband. Bill’s reputation will overshadow hers for the rest of her life.

Lacking her husband’s experience, Hillary’s attempts to gain support in 2008 and 2016 were clumsy. Obama beat her because – like Trump – he could and did speak to the nation in a way Hillary simply could not match. There is no way to gain this experience without actually doing it. Hillary never let her hair down and talked to the common people. And when Obama won election, he gave Hillary the Secretary of State post … again, she didn’t win it. And perhaps it should have surprised no one that her performance was disastrous.

Hillary Clinton’s worst enemy was always Hillary Clinton. Scandal after scandal plagued her, each one weakening her still further. She had zero credibility even before she cheated her way into the nomination. The email scandal, the Clinton Foundation, her aides and their suspect links … Hillary, apparently convinced of her own entitlement, never sought to change course before it was too late. She preferred to lash out at her opponents rather than seek to understand them. Worse, she alienated many of her own voters.

Why would blacks, or women, or homosexuals vote for Trump? Hillary offered them nothing, but words. Trump offered the prospect of change. Trump offered the prospect of defence. Clinton lost a great many homosexual voters, I suspect, after Orlando. She didn’t promise to protect them. She didn’t point her finger at the threat.

Hillary Clinton did not lose because she was a woman. Hillary Clinton lost because she was Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton lost because she had a past that overshadowed her future; Hillary Clinton lost because her cover-ups were often worse than the crimes. Hillary Clinton lost because she had no connection with the average American. Hillary Clinton lost because she had no idea what made the ‘deplorables’ tick.

I do not know Hillary personally. I will probably never meet her. All I have to go on is her public image, the impression created by her words and deeds. And, in the end, I found that impression repulsive. A woman who considered herself above the common herd, a woman who brought corruption to everything she touched, a woman profoundly unsuited to power on a global scale … Trump, for all of his flaws, seems a paragon of political skill compared to Hillary Clinton. Maybe this is a false impression. But it’s the one that stuck.

Marie Antoinette had very little control over her own life, even as Queen. Hillary Clinton had a great deal. A genuine patriot – or even someone devoted to the Democratic Party – would have stepped aside, clearing the way for someone with much less baggage. Instead, Hillary chose to fight it out and lost.

Hillary Clinton lost, in both 2008 and 2016, for the same reason. Her opponent promised hope and change. Hillary Clinton …

… Merely offered more of the same.

The Election is Over …

9 Nov

The election is over. Donald Trump won.

I’ll be writing more about this later, both a post-mortem of Hillary’s political hopes – now gone – and an assessment of the future. But for the moment, I just want to share this quote from Foundation’s Edge:

The Seldon Crisis is over and it is a tradition, and a wise one, that no reprisals of any kind-either in deed or in speech -be taken against those who supported the wrong side. Many honest people believed they had good reason for wanting that which Seldon did not want. There is no point in humiliating them to the point where they can retrieve their self-respect only by denouncing the Seldon Plan itself. In turn, it is a strong and desirable custom that those who supported the lost side accept the loss cheerfully and without further discussion. The issue is behind us, on both sides, forever.”

It is something, alas, that needs to be remembered.

The Sergeant’s Apprentice (SIM 11)–Snippet

7 Nov

This is the first draft so, as always, comments are welcome <grin>

Prologue I

Gwyneth took a deep breath as she walked along the edge of her family’s farm, tasting sand in the air as the wind blew across the fields. Her footsteps crunched on sand blown in from the desert, slowly strangling the life out of the farm. The field below her was already dying, the corn turning a sickly yellow as it died of thirst. It wouldn’t be long, she knew despite her father’s boundless optimism, before the farm died, before her family had to take flight and head west. If they were lucky, they would be able to find work on another farm; if they were unlucky …

She gritted her teeth as she reached the boundary marker at the end of the farm. The sandstorm in the distance was blowing closer, but she could still make out the remains of an older farm. Her best friend had lived there, only two years ago; now, the girl and her family were sharecroppers, slaves in all but name, on a farm further to the west. Gwyneth and her family might go the same way, if they were unlucky. The thought of giving up their freedom was appalling, but there was no other way to survive.

And I may be married off, she thought, numbly. Forced into someone’s bed to keep my family alive.

She felt a pang of bitter regret, mixed with sadness and grim understanding. Tom had come to pay court to her – she’d known him long enough to believe he would make a good husband – but his father had vetoed the match. Gwyneth’s family was on the brink, he’d said, when Tom had asked for his blessing. He didn’t want to have to take them in, let alone feed and care for them … and he would have been obliged to take care of them, if Gwyneth had become his daughter-in-law. Gwyneth wanted to hate him for forbidding the match, but she was a farm girl. She understood the logic all too well. Tom and his father couldn’t support an entire family, if – when – they were forced off their farm. The entire region was dying and no one gave a damn.

The wind picked up speed, just for a moment. She covered her eyes, cursing under her breath as sand blew against her face. Nothing, no matter what they did, seemed to be enough to keep the sand off their fields. She spent half of her days clearing the land, only to see the sand blow back time and time again. The water wells were already drying up. It wouldn’t be long before they had to leave. Already, agents from further to the west were prowling around, looking to see what starving families might have to sell. And with dozens of families on the brink of total disaster, it was a buyer’s market.

She peered into the distance, her eyes seeking out the abandoned farmhouse. They’d stripped it bare, of course, once the farm had been surrendered, leaving only the shell of a building in the hopes that – one day – someone would return to the fields. But she knew, as the sand blew around the farmhouse, that it was a futile hope. The fields had been strangled so quickly, once the farmers had left, that there was nothing left but endless sand. She’d once played in those fields as a little girl, back when the land had been green and wet. Now …

Her father had forbidden her to walk into the desert. But he needn’t have bothered. There was something about the sand that scared her, something that chilled her to the bone, even though she couldn’t have put it in words. No one went into the Desert of Death willingly, not even the bravest man in the village. There were too many strange stories of things lurking in the sand.

And something was moving within the sandstorm. Gwyneth stared, unsure if her eyes were playing tricks on her. There was nothing out there, but abandoned buildings and dead fields, now buried under layer after layer of sand. Animals shied from the desert, refusing to go near the sand. And yet, there was definitely something moving within the sandstorm. She watched shapes within the sand, strange figures that seemed to be coming closer. Surely, nothing could survive out there …

The sandstorm receded, just for a second. Gwyneth froze in horror as she saw the men advancing towards the farm, towards her. They were men, but they weren’t men. Their faces were twisted and warped, their eyes bulging or their faces twisted and mutilated … a handful had animalistic eyes or legs. And there were hundreds of them, an entire army advancing out of the sandstorm, carrying swords and spears and weapons she didn’t recognise. Her family had no weapons. They weren’t allowed to carry anything more dangerous than a knife.

She turned to flee, too late. Strong arms caught her before she’d run more than a couple of metres, knocking her to the ground. Gwyneth was hardly weak – she’d been working on the farm almost from the moment she could walk – but resistance was futile. The man – or the creature – holding her had skin like rock. She was plucked off the ground and slung over its shoulder as easily as she would pick up and carry a knapsack. It was hard to see anything as the creatures swarmed onwards, but she saw enough to know they were storming the farmhouse and tearing the farm apart … she heard, just for a second, a scream torn from a very familiar throat before it stopped abruptly. Her father was dead.

Her head swam as the creature carried her onwards, its comrades surging into the village and smashing through the buildings. There was hardly any resistance – how could there be? The villagers had no weapons either. She was carried through the village, then dumped unceremoniously in the middle of the square with a handful of other prisoners. Once, she’d prayed to the gods there; now, now she wondered if she would die in the square.

“Sit,” the creature grunted. “Stay.”

Gwyneth glared at its retreating back, then looked around in hopes of finding a way to escape. But there was nothing. An endless stream of creatures was making its way out of the desert and heading west. It wouldn’t be long before they reached the nearest town, then the nearest city … the king would send soldiers, surely? But the soldiers might not be able to stop the creatures. All they seemed to be good for, these days, was bullying farmers and demanding tax. And more tax. And …

She glanced at the other prisoners, feeling cold. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason – there were old men and young men, old women and young women – and it puzzled her, more than she cared to admit. Youngsters made good slaves, if the creatures wanted slaves; oldsters weren’t worth keeping alive, not now their village was gone. And yet …

A man stalked past her, his eyes crawling over the prisoners as he silently counted them. He looked reassuringly normal, yet there was something in his eyes that terrified her. She lowered her eyes, but watched him as best as she could. Who was he? What was he doing with the creatures? What were they?

He reached into his pocket and produced a sheet of parchment and a pen, then wrote something down. Gwyneth frowned, trying to understand what he was doing. Was he a slaver, recording the useful prisoners? Or was he up to something else? She had no way to know. She’d never been taught how to read or write.

“On your feet,” the man ordered, returning his parchment to his pocket. He jabbed a finger westwards. “March.”

Gwyneth stood, then assisted one of the older women to stand. Maybe they had been enslaved after all. Or maybe … gritting her teeth, she began to stumble west, helping the old woman to walk. There was no way to escape, not yet. They were surrounded by an entire army of monsters. All she could do was follow orders …

… And pray, desperately, for a chance to escape.

Prologue II

“Are you out of your mind?”

“No, Grandmaster,” Sergeant Miles said. “I believe there is no other choice.”

Grandmaster Gordian didn’t look happy. Miles wasn’t surprised, not really. Gordian might be a stiff-minded bureaucrat, powerful magician or not, but he took his responsibilities seriously. And with his school in disarray, following the near-collapse of the pocket dimensions, the Grandmaster had too many other things on his plate.

“You intend to take a fifth-year student to the wars,” Gordian said. “Is that correct?”

“Yes, sir,” Miles said. It spoke well of Gordian, Miles supposed, that the Grandmaster wasn’t prepared to just let Emily go. He didn’t like her – he’d made that clear – but he wasn’t willing to send her into danger. “She is no ordinary student.”

Gordian’s face darkened. To him, Emily would always be a dangerous student. Miles understood, but life was dangerous. No one, not even a Lone Power, could guarantee their own safety. And Whitehall, on the front lines between the Allied Lands and the Blighted Lands, was far from safe. Miles knew, deep inside, just how close the school had come to utter disaster, four years ago. Emily had saved them all from a fate worse than death.

“Politics,” Gordian said, finally. He looked up. “I know better than to think this was your idea.”

“General Pollack requested her specifically,” Miles said.

“And it would be politic to grant his request,” Gordian said. “He is her future father-in-law, is he not?”

“If the courtship comes to a successful conclusion,” Miles said. Formal courtships were relatively rare. He was surprised, more surprised than he cared to admit, that Caleb had opened one with Emily. He’d met Caleb’s mother, years ago. She hadn’t struck him as a strict traditionalist. “But I believe he wants the Necromancer’s Bane.”

Gordian’s face darkened. “Does he?”

“Yes, sir,” Miles said. “And he has called in a number of political favours.”

“Of course he has,” Gordian said, dryly.

He leaned back in his chair. “You do realise this will harm her education? She may have to repeat fifth year just to make up for it?”

And you don’t want Emily hanging around for another three years, Miles thought, sardonically. Gordian had tried – hard – to find grounds for expelling Emily, rather than allow her to return to Whitehall after his predecessor had died. The quicker she graduates and leaves, the better.

“I will offer her private tuition over the summer, if she needs it,” Miles said. “And I believe Barb will do the same. If worst comes to worst, she can sit the remedial exams before sixth years begins. It isn’t an ideal solution, but it will have to do.”

“She won’t like that,” Gordian predicted.

Miles nodded. Emily was one of the most studious students in Whitehall, yet even she wouldn’t want to spend her entire summer trying to catch up with the rest of the class. It wasn’t uncommon for students to retake entire years, if they failed their exams, but it would be humiliating. And with Emily’s rather … odd … status, retaking a year would probably reflect badly on her.

Gordian tapped the desk, meaningfully. “You may ask her,” he said, flatly. “No tricks, no games … just a simple request. If she chooses not to go, you are not to force her. And I suggest you clear it with her father first.”

Miles nodded, feeling a flicker of grudging respect. The temptation to just order Emily to go to Tarsier had to be overpowering. It would have gotten her out of the school, with no blame attached to the Grandmaster. And if Emily happened to get herself killed … somehow, he doubted Gordian would spend overlong mourning her. A student like Emily was always a mixed blessing at best.

He pushed the thought out of his mind. “I will ask her,” he said. He had no intention of trying to manipulate the girl. Lady Barb would cut off his unmentionables if he tried. “And I will … attempt … to communicate with Void.”

“Very good,” Gordian said. “Ask him first. She is still under his authority.”

Miles shrugged. Only a handful of people knew Emily’s real origins and Gordian wasn’t one of them. Void … had played along, when people had started to conclude that Void was Emily’s father. It would hardly be out of character for Void to hide the existence of a daughter, then send her to school as soon as she turned sixteen. And he’d even sent her on a dragon …

And he is her legal guardian, he thought. He rather doubted that Emily understood all the implications, but it wasn’t his place to discuss such matters with her. She does need his permission to go.

“She will be my apprentice, if she chooses to come,” Miles said. He had no illusions. It was not going to be a comfortable experience. “She will be under my protection.”

Gordian looked displeased, but he said nothing. Miles didn’t really blame him. It was unusual for anyone to take on an apprenticeship before completing their sixth year, although some students occasionally managed to jump ahead. And yet, having Emily listed as an apprentice, if only for a few months, would make life easier. He would have grounds to teach her spells and tricks that weren’t normally discussed with students. But then, Emily was no ordinary student.

“Take care of her,” Gordian said. “And good luck.”

Miles nodded curtly, although he knew that they would need more than mere luck. The reports were grim. This was no raid, no attempt to capture prisoners for the necromancers … this was an all-out invasion. The necromancers had been quiet, since Shadye’s death, but few had believed it would last. And now the cold war had finally come to an end. If Tarsier fell, the Allied Lands would face attacks on three fronts …

And if the necromancers have finally managed to learn to cooperate, he thought as he headed for the door, it could be the beginning of the end.

Chapter One

Emily snapped awake.

Her mind raced. She’d been enspelled … she’d let herself be enspelled. And then … her head felt hazy, her memories slightly jumbled. It wasn’t uncommon, if magic was used to stun an unwilling victim, but … she pushed the thought aside as she tried to move and discovered she couldn’t. Her hands were tied – tightly – behind her back.

No magic, she reminded herself sternly.

She forced herself to concentrate, silently assessing the situation. Her hands and ankles were tied so tightly they were starting to go numb, while … something … covered her head. It felt more like a piece of sackcloth than a blindfold, she thought … she stuck out her tongue and felt rough sacking, far too close to her skin for comfort. Someone hadn’t just tied her up, she realised as she tested her bonds. They’d made escape practically impossible without magic.

No magic, she reminded herself, again.

She gritted her teeth as she rubbed her head against the hard wooden floor. The room was warm, alarmingly warm. Sweat trickled down her back as she tried to remove the sackcloth, just so she could see, but it was tied loosely around her neck. Panic bubbled at the back of her mind as the room started to grow warmer … where was she? Somewhere in Whitehall or Blackhall? She sniffed the air and shuddered, helplessly, as she tasted smoke. Was the entire building on fire? She listened, carefully, but heard nothing beyond the beating of her own heart. A spell could easily make the air smell of smoke …

And yet, the room was growing warmer.

She twisted her body, trying to weaken her bonds, but it was futile. Sergeant Miles and Lady Barb had taught her all sorts of tricks to escape captivity, yet whoever had tied her up was clearly an expert. She couldn’t budge the knots, no matter how hard she struggled. And she didn’t dare try to roll over without knowing the layout of the room. For all she knew, there was a bottomless pit right next to her. Or a fire …


Emily started. Someone was calling for her. The voice was muffled, the sackcloth making it hard to tell who was calling, but there was someone out there. She lifted her legs and banged them on the floor, hoping the sound would attract her rescuer. Perhaps it was unwise to draw attention to herself, she thought a moment too late, but she was already tied and helpless … as long as she didn’t use magic. She knew a dozen spells that could get her out of the trap, yet she didn’t dare use them.

“Emily,” the voice said, again. Emily heard footsteps, then felt strong fingers untying the rope around her neck. “Found you!”

The bag came free. Emily found herself staring up at Frieda, the younger girl’s face streaked with sweat. She was lying on the floor in a small room, utterly barren save for the wooden door. Frieda plucked a knife out of her belt and sliced through the bonds on Emily’s ankles, then freed Emily’s hands. Her ponytails bobbed alarmingly as she helped Emily to her feet, muttering a spell to help soothe the pain. Emily’s legs felt utterly unreliable.

“We have to get out of here,” Frieda said, half-carrying Emily towards the door. “The whole place is on fire.”

Emily stopped as they stumbled out of the door. Flames were clearly visible down the corridor, licking at the wooden floor. She glanced down at her feet, wondering if the floor was going to catch fire soon … or simply collapse, plunging them into the flames. If the entire building was on fire … Frieda yanked her down the corridor, dragging her towards the stairs. Emily caught sight of a portrait hanging on the wall, an aristocratic-looking man with a mouth set in a permanent sneer, a moment before it exploded into flames. The stairwell was on fire.

“Crap,” Frieda said.

Emily’s mind raced. There were spells they could use to protect themselves, but the odd flickers of colour amidst the flames suggested that they were magic. The spells might not be enough to keep them alive. And the air was already starting to thicken … she ducked down, trying to stay low. If the smoke wasn’t rising … perhaps the smoke was magic too.

Frieda caught her hand. “This way …”

Emily nodded and followed her further down the corridor. If they were in Blackhall – and she was sure of it, now – they should be able to find another stairwell and get down to the ground floor. But it was growing hotter and hotter … she heard the floor creak, an instant before it started to collapse, sending them plummeting downwards into the flames. Frieda gasped out a protective spell, then tried to levitate them both into the air. But the levitation spell gave out a second later …

Frieda threw a pressure spell downwards, cushioning the fall. Emily’s mind raced, searching for mundane options. If they couldn’t use magic … if she couldn’t use magic … there were other options. But what?

“Water,” she gasped. It was growing hard to breathe. A water spell might not work in the local environment. Perhaps … “Cast breathing spells, then …”

She glanced up, alarmed, as a chunk of debris fell from high above, landing far too close to them for comfort. Frieda yanked her forward, waving her free hand desperately to cast spells as she pulled Emily down the corridor. The entire building was creaking loudly, on the verge of total collapse … the roof shuddered, more and more pieces of debris crashing down around them, one smashing into Frieda’s wards and disintegrating into a sheet of flame. Emily nearly cast a protective spell of her own as Frieda’s wards weakened, the temperature rising steadily. They were about to die …

Frieda dragged her through a door, then froze. The room was small, utterly empty save for a window looking out over the forest. Emily peered through, then swore. They were on the third floor, at least. Given time, she was sure they could climb down and make their escape, but they didn’t have time. She wasn’t even sure if they could open the window before it was too late.

“Hang on,” Frieda said.

Emily sensed the wave of magic, an instant before the younger girl wrapped her arms around Emily and held her tight. She closed her eyes as the world lurched around her, something crashing into the wards hard enough to weaken them badly. Frieda screamed as they flew through the air and hit the ground, the magic protecting them lasting badly long enough to save them from the impact. And then the temperature dropped rapidly …

“Ouch,” Frieda said.

Emily opened her eyes. She was lying in the snow, Frieda lying on top of her. Their eyes met, just for a second, then Frieda rolled off her and sat up. She looked utterly exhausted, her face paler than usual. Emily gathered herself, then stood and undid her hair. It just didn’t feel right to tie her long hair into a bun.

“Well done,” she said. She helped Frieda to her feet, then turned to look at Blackhall. The old house was wrapped in flame, but the fire didn’t seem to be doing any real damage. “You made it.”

“In the nick of time,” Frieda said. It was clear she could barely stand. Emily wrapped an arm around her to hold her upright. “Do you think we would have been burned?”

“Of course,” Sergeant Miles said.

Emily jumped. The sergeant had been right behind them … and they’d missed him? Lady Barb would be furious, when she heard. And she would hear, Emily knew. She’d certainly heard the lecture often enough. Letting someone sneak up behind you was asking for a knife in the back. She turned slowly, supporting Frieda. Sergeant Miles smiled at them both.

He didn’t look like an army officer – or a sergeant. Or, at least, he’d never matched her conception of what a sergeant should look like. He was short, with short brown hair and a friendly face … a face she knew she could trust. But she also knew he was a combat sorcerer with more experience than most of the other teachers put together. A very dangerous man hid behind his friendly smile.

“The flames wouldn’t have killed you,” he assured them. “But yes, you would have been burnt.”

Frieda shivered against Emily. “Did I pass?”

Sergeant Miles looked back at her. “Did you?”

“Yes,” Frieda said, stubbornly. “I got Emily out of the building.”

“You also smashed a hole in the wall,” Sergeant Miles pointed out.

Frieda twitched. “The objective was to get her out before it was too late,” she said, before Emily could say a word. “You didn’t say anything about how I was to get her out.”

The Sergeant smiled. “True enough,” he said. “You pass. And congratulations.”

He turned. “Jove!”

Emily glanced behind him as the third student stepped into view. Jove was in Frieda’s year, a young man with dark skin and green eyes. She barely knew him, beyond Frieda’s comment that he’d asked her out several times. He never seemed to give up.

“Take Frieda to the infirmary and make sure she gets some sleep,” Sergeant Miles ordered, shortly. “And then report back to the Armoury.”

“Yes, Sergeant,” Jove said. He held out an arm for Frieda. “I’ll take her at once.”

Emily hesitated, then let go of Frieda. Jove wouldn’t do anything stupid, she thought; Frieda might be drained, but she was hardly incapable of defending herself. And besides, Sergeant Miles would take a very dim view of anything stupid. Friendly or not, Emily knew she wouldn’t want to do anything to risk his displeasure.

She watched the couple walk off, then looked at the sergeant. “I don’t like being the damsel in distress.”

“No one does,” Sergeant Miles said. He snapped his finger at her. “Remember.”

Emily winced in pain as she felt a spell – a spell she hadn’t even known was there – flicker and fade into nothingness. Her memories returned a second later … she’d agreed to serve as the victim, she’d agreed to refrain from using magic … she’d … her head swam, just for a second. She hated spells that affected her mind.

“You didn’t have to use the spell,” she said. She knew she sounded petulant and she didn’t much care. “I wouldn’t have done anything without it.”

“There were reasons for it,” Sergeant Miles said. He looked up at Blackhall for a long moment. The flames had gone, leaving the building suspiciously intact. “And we will discuss those at a later date.”

Emily nodded, reluctantly. She knew there was no point in trying to draw the sergeant out, not when he was determined not to talk. He’d tell her the other reasons when he felt like it.

“I need to talk to you about something else,” Sergeant Miles said, instead. “Go back to the school, take a shower and then report to my office. Do you have anything planned for the rest of the afternoon?”

“I was due to help clear up the library in an hour or so,” Emily said. “Lady Aliya …”

“I’ll speak to her,” Sergeant Miles said. “Go shower. I’ll be back in my office in” – he glanced at his watch – “thirty minutes.”

Emily hesitated, then turned and hurried back down the path towards Whitehall. She wasn’t in any trouble, she thought, but it was odd for the sergeant to want a meeting. And a long meeting, at that. What could he possibly want? She puzzled over it as she walked through the side door, shaking her head at the mess. Only two days since the entire school had come close to a complete collapse … they were still cleaning up the mess. It felt like longer … but then, it had been longer for her. Her trip to the past had made her several months older than everyone else. It still surprised her when her friends talked about events that – to her – had been months ago.

Time lag, she thought. It was like jet lag, only worse. At least I don’t think its midnight when its actually noon.

The wards pulsed around her, silently welcoming her home. The Grandmaster had realised the implications of her work in the past, even if no one else had. But then, he had cautioned her to keep the whole story to herself. She had been there when the nexus point was tamed, she was the sole surviving founder … she, in a very real sense, owned the school. And yet, the knowledge was as much a curse as it was a blessing. No one had managed to duplicate Whitehall in the nine hundred years between Lord Whitehall and the present day. If someone realised she knew how to do it, they’d want her to show them how …

… And they wouldn’t ask politely either.

She glanced into one of the spellchambers and smiled when she saw a couple of boys practicing their spells. Sergeant Miles had put her to work repairing several of the spellchambers, although she wasn’t sure if it was a reward for hard work or a punishment for nearly destroying one of his chambers several months ago. Except it had been only a few weeks for him … she shook her head, then headed onwards. The remainder of the Armoury was completely deserted, save for a hopeful student browsing the small collection of books on military tactics and strategy. Emily silently wished him well, although she knew he needed more than book learning to pass Martial Magic. Sergeant Miles had made it clear, more than once, that nothing could substitute for experience.

Putting theory into practice isn’t easy, Emily thought. Jade had admitted as much, back when he’d been writing to her during his apprenticeship. Master Grey had been a good teacher, whatever his faults. Jade had problems leading men at first too.

She pushed the thought aside as she stepped into the washroom, checked the wards to make sure she was alone and started to undress. She’d picked up a whole series of bumps and bruises during the escape from Blackhall – and there were nasty marks around her wrists and ankles – but she was otherwise unharmed. Frieda’s charms had held up, despite the flames and heat. She walked into the shower, turned on the water and allowed it to run down her body, enjoying the sensation. Several months with nothing but sponge baths – at best – had reminded her, again, of the sheer luxury of being able to have a shower whenever she wanted one.

But there was no time to relax and enjoy the warm water. She stepped out of the shower, used a spell to dry herself and hastily tugged her robe over her head. The ill-fitting tunic she’d worn earlier would have to be washed before it was returned to the general pool, waiting for the next person to wear it. She scooped the tunic up, dumped it in the basket and left the room, pacing down the long corridor. A couple of first-years were playing hide and seek through the tunnels, risking worse than a ticking off if they were caught so close to the Armoury. Emily had been the only first year student in decades to be allowed to enter the Armoury and train under the sergeants.

She stopped under a large portrait of Sergeant Harkin and looked up at it for a long moment, feeling a wave of bitter grief. Nothing in her life had prepared her to like a man who looked like a gym teacher from hell, but she had. He’d treated her as just another student. And he’d given his life to save hers and beat Shadye. Whoever had drawn the portrait, she thought numbly, had never known him. The basic details were accurate enough, but the subtle points were lacking.

Shaking her head, she walked through the door into the sergeant’s antechamber, then sat down on the bench and waited. She knew better than to try to enter the sergeant’s office without his presence, even though he had asked her to meet him there. The protective spells were so powerful that she could feel them from halfway across the antechamber. Trying to break in could wind up costing her more than she cared to pay.

The door opened. “Emily,” Sergeant Miles said. “Come with me.”

He led the way into his office, the protective spells falling back at his touch. Emily smiled in genuine admiration at how easily he handled the spells, then glanced around the office. It was simplicity itself, bare save for a handful of pieces of wooden furniture. The sergeant could probably replace everything in the room himself, without spending his hard-earned gold. Emily had watched him work miracles with wood during long excursions into the wildlands surrounding Whitehall.

“Take a seat,” Sergeant Miles said. He motioned to a chair. “Kava?”

“Yes, please,” Emily said. She couldn’t help a flicker of relief. If he was offering Kava, she wasn’t in any trouble. “Thank you.”

She sat, smoothing down her robe, as the sergeant poured them both Kava. He passed her a mug, then sat down behind the desk. A handful of pieces of paper – she smiled as she recognised a chat parchment – lay on the table, one unfurled to show a map. She wasn’t familiar with the country.

“Emily,” Sergeant Miles said. He sounded oddly hesitant. That was odd. She’d never seen him at a loss for words before. “There is a serious problem.”

Emily forced herself to meet his eyes. “What?”

“Four years of relative peace have come to an end,” Sergeant Miles told her. “A Necromancer has invaded the Allied Lands.”

The Final Reflection

6 Nov

“I am, of course, not a lover of upheavals. I merely want to make sure people do not forget that there are upheavals.”

-General Aritomo Yamagata, Imperial Japanese Army, 1881

I have been asked, over the last few months, why I am so invested in the 2016 American Presidential Election. I am a British citizen. I’m certainly not eligible to vote in an American election. And I reply that the American President is, de facto if not de jure, the most important person in the world. The person sitting in the Oval Office is the Head of State and Head of Government of the United States, the one who will set the tone for the next four – perhaps eight – years. It is no exaggeration to say that the lives of vast numbers of people will be changed, perhaps drastically, by POTUS. The selection of the right POTUS is thus a matter of global importance.

This has been, in many ways, a truly dishonest election. Donald Trump, undisputed winner of the Republican Nomination, has been attacked savagely by his own party leaders. Hillary Clinton has been exposed as a cheat, rigging the nomination process to ensure she – instead of Bernie Sanders – was nominated. The FBI covered for Hillary Clinton, proving that the Clintons are above the law; the media has cheerfully done everything in its power, up to and including the deliberate falsification of both news and poll results, to blacken Trump’s name and standing. Indeed, it has even been suggested that Putin has been exposing Hillary’s crimes … and that, somehow, this excuses them.

Depending on which news sites you read, you could be forgiven for thinking that Trump is the Antichrist and Hillary the Messiah … or vice versa. That’s how bad it has become.

trump c;linton

What is truly unbelievable about the whole affair is this. The US population is, according to the internet, somewhere around 324,227,000. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that 24,227,000 are ineligible for the nomination. That leaves 300,000,000. There’s a standard rule of thumb that one third of the US is solidly Republican, one third Democratic and one third undecided. That gives each party a solid pool of 100,000,000 potential candidates. And yet, they have managed to lumber themselves with two badly flawed candidates!

The only good thing that can be said about this is that it should serve as a wake-up call for both parties. Political elites have proven devastating to their electoral chances. But realistically, I don’t think they’ll listen.

This is, I think, the last post I’ll write on the election. And I suspect some people will probably consider that a relief.


There is a witty observation from Japan that notes that the first generation is often very capable, the second merely competent; the third outright incompetent. Japanese history bears that out. So does the history of aristocracies and elites in Europe. Those who had to struggle for their positions were often more capable, more understanding of the true nature of power, than those who merely inherited them. Thus – in England – we have Henry Plantagenet (Henry II) followed by red-blooded Richard, treacherous John and the child-king Henry III. Edward I was followed by Edward II, a weakling king; Edward III, forced to fight for his throne, proved far more capable and competent than his father.

By this standard, Hillary Clinton is not likely to prove a good President.

As I noted earlier, Hillary Clinton has very little experience of working her way up into a position of power. Many of her positions came through marriage or were practically handed to her by her connections. She ran for a very safe Senate seat, Obama appointed her Secretary of State. Indeed, the only genuine contest Hillary can be said to have won is the 2016 battle for the Democratic Nomination – and we now know she cheated. She had to cheat to beat an old and probably unelectable man.

Her scandals just keep coming. Her private email server was utterly against the law, yet the FBI rolled over and allowed her to get away with it. (Why – apparently, Obama knew full well it existed.) And now it has been reopened. The Clinton Foundation is apparently nothing more than a giant money laundering machine. She takes donations from Wall Street – her speeches, which she tried to hide, make it clear she promised to defend them – and foreign regimes that are effectively enemy states. Her foreign policy is based on – at best – wishful thinking; at worst, she strives to please the states that fund her. She is surrounded by people who are at best dubious and at worst potential traitors.

And her history of trying to rig the nomination raises questions about her potential victory, if indeed she wins the election. There is good reason to be concerned about the validity of the outcome.

Hillary Clinton has simply never been in a position where she might have to answer for her failures. A common or garden citizen of America would be in jail by now. She is not the person who will suffer for her diplomatic failures in Ukraine, nor is she the person who will die when rogue regimes – which she has encouraged – go to war.

Domestically, Hillary wants to expand the federal government – a dangerous thing, when the federal government is already far too large for its own good. There will be far more intrusion into the lives of ordinary citizens, higher taxes and entitlements … none of which will make life easier in the long run. And there will be more unvetted immigrants allowed to enter the US.

Internationally, Hillary has no credibility at all. None of her allies trust her, while her enemies hold her in contempt. At best, she will be seen as Obama Mk. 2; at middle, she will be seen as a weakling sitting in the White House, a woman who can be blackmailed into doing nothing as the world continues its descent into chaos.

And at worst, she will do something stupid.

It is often claimed – unfairly, particularly in Thatcher’s case – that female political leaders are weak, that they change their minds often. And this often casts a baleful shadow over their careers. Thatcher refused to back down on the Poll Tax, even though it destroyed her career; Merkel is still refusing to rethink immigration into Germany, even though its destroying her country and her people’s faith in government. Hillary may well feel that she has to stand up to Russia and Putin, even though the US is in no position to reverse Putin’s gains without a major war. And if Hillary miscalculates, there will be a major war.

There is no reason to welcome President Hillary. She is flat-out untrustworthy – and dangerous. It’s as simple as that.


Donald Trump is not, in my opinion, that much of an improvement. But then, the bar isn’t set very high.

That said, Trump has shown a number of extremely good traits over the last year. He’s proved himself to be adaptive, to understand where he’s going wrong and how to fix it, to refuse to give up at the slightest hurdle, to refuse to allow the media to dominate (and crush) his campaign … most of all, he has shown a talent for pointing to real problems and promising to fix them, all the while avoiding the curse of political correctness. Trump may be a rump – a rhyme I am particularly fond of – but he has a point. Trump has known success and he has known failure – and he has not allowed the latter to get him down.

And let’s face it. His success in overcoming fourteen of the most powerful Republicans in America and winning the nomination is a remarkable achievement, while Clinton had to cheat to beat an unelectable socialist.

His weaknesses, through, are dangerous (and blown out of all proportion by the media). He has a particularly filthy mouth, which could easily get him into trouble. (And it has.) And he will probably be hampered by ‘Cuckservative’ republicans more intent on trying to reassert their dominance than putting their country first. Fixing the problems facing America – and the West – will require more than fine words. Trump seems to understand that, but can he deliver?

Truthfully, I think that Trump will win – and that he will be a disappointment. The blunt truth is that no one, no matter how knowledgeable, cannot fix the federal government. It requires a devolution of power back to the people, the scrapping of regulations written by unelected and ignorant bureaucrats, the election of men and women who aren’t part of the political class … in short, it requires constant engagement from the public, not from those who can shout the loudest or come up with endless streams of buzzwords to justify themselves.

And, in a world where the political and media elites will do everything in their power to stop or co-opt an upstart, it will not be easy.


The one good thing about this election, as insane as it has been, is that it has exposed a number of uncomfortable truths.

First, the existence and power of political elites. For the Democrats, Hillary’s nomination was ensured through cheating, by the DNC arranging matters so Hillary’s nomination would be largely unchallenged. (Which it singularly failed to do in 2008, when Obama won partly because he was not Hillary Clinton.) The rank and file Democrats now know that their candidate is grossly unlikable – and that she cheated. One doesn’t have to detest Clinton or support Bernie Sanders to realise that this is impossible to defend. Whoever wins the coming election, the Democrats are in for a major shake-up.

For the Republicans, the rank and file of the party has been made aware of the existence of ‘Cuckservatives.’ The political elite – Jeb Bush and his ilk – are (were) comfortable where they are, making them unwilling to take risks. The elites already had it all – they didn’t want or need to rock the boat. It was easier for them to do nothing, to refuse to take a stand. On one hand, they were fearful of being accused of Bad Think – racism, for example; on the other, the last thing they wanted was someone proving that they weren’t needed. Their attacks on Trump were fuelled by an awareness that Trump’s success undermines their position, even if Trump loses. Trump has already shattered their grip on power. And don’t they know it.

Again, whoever wins the coming election, the Republicans are in for a major shake-up.

Second, the media has been proven to be nothing more than paid shrills for Hillary Clinton (and the Democrats in general). Their lies, quickly exposed on social media, have undermined whatever trust Americans were prepared to rest in them). It is no longer possible to trust the media – and, indeed, companies like Facebook and Google have been exposed cooperating with Hillary Clinton. The long-term effects of this, I suspect, are likely to be catastrophic. A free press is one of the cornerstones of democracy, but a press that blatantly supports one side and slams the other at every opportunity is a national menace.

Third, and finally, the election has exposed deep divisions within America.

Obama has been disastrous for the social cohesion of the United States. Race relations are at their worst for decades. Everyone is a victim now as the narrative of social justice continues to wipe away individuality and replace it with mob mentalities, with a hierarchy of victimhood and political correctness that is truly pathetic. Truth takes a backseat to whining and wishful thinking; facts take a backseat to opinion and feelings; free speech is shoved aside and truth hidden because someone – somewhere – might find it offensive.

This isn’t all Obama’s fault. Many of the social trends now coming into the open have been brewing for decades. But they have been made worse in the last eight years – and that I blame on Obama. Like Tony Blair before him, Obama concentrates more on appearance than reality. It is better to look good than be good. But imagine a cancer patient who was deluded into believing that some make-up and nice accessories would make her feel better. That’s the problem facing the United States. Anyone with half a brain would know that make-up and nice accessories would not take away the cancer.

But politicians have tried to deny this truth.

People are not always selfish. Truly selfish people are relatively rare. But people are self-interested. They ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ And a person in one position will do something that seems to make no sense, to an outside observer, because it makes sense to them, from where they’re standing. This is true of people living in flyover country – and it is true of politicians in Washington DC. Their decisions may seem poor, from our point of view, but they feel they’re the right decision.

This election has exposed, all too clearly, just how wide the gulf is between politicians and the average American voter. Obama hasn’t had a life outside politics – and he’s spent the last eight years in one of the most luxurious buildings in the world. Hillary Clinton hasn’t been an ordinary civilian since she married Bill Clinton. Her understanding of the realities of civilian life is apparently non-existent. Jeb Bush never grasped just how unpopular he was amongst the rank-and-file. Sanders and Trump did so well purely because they came from outside the political world. They weren’t tainted with a history in politics.

I am not sanguine about the future. Whoever wins the election, the United States – and the world – are in for some tough times.