Archive | December, 2016

An Insult to Self-Publishing

30 Dec

As a general rule, I prefer to leave fisking – taking an article line by line and dismantling it – to the experts, like Larry Correia. But every so often something pops up on the internet that leaves me rolling my eyes in disbelief before putting hand to keyboard to refute it. And today there was this article: Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word.

I have spent much of the last year reading articles that praised Trump and damned Clinton, praised Clinton and damned Trump, praised them both, damned them both … and I can honestly say that this article is still the most ignorant thing I’ve read. If it had been written in 2008, perhaps – just perhaps – the writer might have had a point. Now … the level of ignorance is staggering. Ignorance is not, of course, a crime. But one should at least attempt to remedy one’s ignorance before starting to type.

Looking at the author’s bio, I note that she has written travel books. I’ve never read them, so I have no idea if they’re any good or not. And, frankly, I have no idea if self-publishing is a viable path for travel books. I may be wrong about this, but I do question the value of her experience – such as it is – in writing about self-publishing.

I am a self-published author. Indeed, by the only definition that matters – earning enough to live without a day job – I am a successful self-published author. I do not claim to be an expert on self-publishing, but I have considerable experience in the field. And most of the article’s claims are, frankly absurd.

I’ve put her original work in italics and quotation marks, mine in plain text.

“As a published author, people often ask me why I don’t self-publish. “Surely you’d make more money if you got to keep most of the profits rather than the publisher,” they say.”

Assuming that the book was successful in both traditional publishing and self-publishing, your friends are quite right.

The problem with traditional publishing houses is that they make an investment in authors, furnishing everything from the advance, editing and cover design to promotion and publicity. (In theory – in practice, promotion is very limited unless you’re one of the big names.) They want a return on their investment, so the first profits will go to repay them. This has to be done before you see anything after the advance. And even after your book has recouped the advance, you’ll still receive only a small percentage of the profits.

And then there are countless other problems. You might be declared unprofitable and find yourself unable to write or publish further books. You might find your rights held hostage, preventing you from continuing a series elsewhere. And so on …

“I’d rather share a cabin on a Disney cruise with Donald Trump than self-publish.”

Would now be a good time to point out that Trump’s book – The Art of the Deal – has sold better than you and I put together?

“To get a book published in the traditional way, and for people to actually respect it and want to read it — you have to go through the gatekeepers of agents, publishers, editors, national and international reviewers. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good. Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.”

And yet, how many of those gatekeepers rejected Harry Potter?

The problem here is that the gatekeepers are no better judges of what appeals to readers than politicians. Indeed, some of them are really nothing more than interns glancing over a few pages before rejecting the book. (I’ve done slush reading. Trust me – it isn’t anything like as much fun as it sounds.) Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes they judge books by their content, sometimes they pick and choose for reasons that make very little sense to a normal sane person.

Even if your book doesn’t fall at any of the obvious hurdles, the publisher still has only a limited number of publishing slots. Their first-rank authors (the George RR Martin types) will have first call on those slots. Your book might be rejected or delayed because they don’t have time to publish it.

I’ve had books rejected by these gatekeepers that I self-published and turned into successes.

I’ve also seen books published that were rejected by the reading public. (Or at least me).

The system has its flaws – and they have become more and more apparent as the internet works to democratise publishing.

“Good writers only become good because they’ve undertaken an apprenticeship. The craft of writing is a life’s work. It takes at least a decade to become a decent writer, tens of thousands of hours. Your favorite authors might have spent years writing works that were rejected. But if a writer is serious about her craft, she’ll keep working at it, year after year. At the end of her self-imposed apprenticeship, she’ll be relieved that her first works were rejected because only now can she see how bad they were.”

There is a lot of truth in this, but …

I had an apprenticeship too. I started work in 2005. My first real success came in 2012. Between 2005 and 2012, I wrote around thirty manuscripts – making all the mistakes common to authors of all stripes. I too had people write in and say “you idiot, you killed this character off in the last book.”

The idea that self-published writers have not learnt their craft the hard way is insulting.

Yes, there are people who put their first manuscript on Amazon Kindle and get laughed at, not without reason. But there are professionally published books that are equally as bad.

“Did you ever hear what Margaret Atwood said at a party to a brain surgeon? When the brain surgeon found out what she did for a living, he said, “Oh, you’re a writer! When I retire I’m going to write a book.” Margaret Atwood said, “Great! When I retire I’m going to be a brain surgeon!””

If this is true – and I admit I have no reason to doubt it – I find it odd that Atwood, a hugely successful author, would need to work after retiring. In truth, I think she was having a quiet dig at his suggestion that writing was easy, compared to brain surgery.

But if she didn’t earn plenty of money, this may be because of her publishing contracts, rather than anything to do with self-publishing. Atwood would make lots more money today if she self-published.

“The irony is that now that brain surgeon really could dash off a “book” in a of couple months, click “publish” on Amazon, and he’s off signing books at the bookstore. Just like Margaret Atwood, he’s a “published” author. Who cares if his book is something that his grade nine teacher might have wanted to crumple into the trash? It’s a “published” book.”

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Marge writes a book. (A soppy romantic book in-universe readers take for a reflection of her married life.) Writers loathe it. The idea that writing a manuscript is easy, followed by getting it published … <shakes head in disbelief>.

This paragraph has the same problem. Yes, a brain surgeon could write a book and self-publish it. But there would be no guarantee of success, no guarantee that he could give up his day job. The idea that he could hop naturally from ‘dashing’ off a book to signing books at a bookstore is absurd.

I am, as I said, a successful self-published author. But it wasn’t until the last convention I attended, a gathering of fans in my field, where I sold and signed more than seven or eight books. Most of my sales are electronic.

But tell me. Do you think I would have any sales – that any author would have any sales – if the books weren’t appealing to a large number of readers?

“The problem with self-publishing is that it requires zero gatekeepers. From what I’ve seen of it, self-publishing is an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature. As an editor, I’ve tackled trying to edit the very worst writing that people plan on self-publishing just because they can.”

On one hand, there is a good point here. Anyone can publish on Amazon Kindle. But that doesn’t mean that there are no gatekeepers. People can and do post reviews, which help raise the book up high or bury it in the dirt. And yes, most self-publishers could benefit from a beta-reader (or ten) and an editor. But most self-publishers simply don’t have the money to afford one.

And yet, the suggestion that we are an insult to the written word is insulting. Half of history’s greatest hits did not come about because someone wanted to write the Great American Novel. They happened because an author wanted to entertain people.

“I’m a horrible singer. But I like singing so let’s say I decide to take some singing lessons. A month later I go to my neighbor’s basement because he has recording equipment. I screech into his microphone and he cuts me a CD. I hire a designer to make a stylish CD cover. Voilà. I have a CD and am now just like all the other musicians with CDs.”

Except you aren’t. Are you trying to distribute your CD? Are you trying to convince people to buy it? Are you singing in bars and trying to make a splash so some record executive will notice you, or putting your music on YouTube in the hopes of selling enough to live on?

This is the core difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing. The former is an exercise in vanity. It matters very little to the vanity author if anyone buys his books or not -all that matters is that he has it The latter is an attempt to sell books to make money – and a splash. How many indie writers have hit it big, then drawn interest from publishing companies? Those gatekeepers you praise love finding an indie because he already has an audience.

“Except I’m not. Everyone knows I’m a tuneless clod but something about that CD validates me as a musician. It’s the same with writers who self-publish. Literally anyone can do it, including a seven-year-old I know who is a “published” author because her teacher got the entire class to write stories and publish them on Amazon. It’s cute, but when adults do it, maybe not so cute. With the firestorm of self-published books unleashed on the world, I fear that writing itself is becoming devalued.”

I’m a tuneless clod too. I sympathise.

But it doesn’t validate you as a musician, ironically for the same reasons you defend traditional publishing. It may be nice to have, but it isn’t developing your career. The thing that does validate your work – singing or writing – is having people pay money for it. Now yes, anyone can publish a book, just as anyone can upload a video of them caterwauling into a mike while performing a silly dance. But the thing that makes the difference between a successful career and a pipe dream is the money.

The great writers are not devalued by indie writers, any more than the Beatles are devalued by some half-drunk idiot trying to sing Penny Lane on karaoke night.

What does devalue traditional publishing is the simple fact that many indie authors are undercutting them. It’s become a competition, all the worse because indie authors sell eBooks cheaply while traditional publishers manage to price themselves out of the market – an unforced error that is costing them sales. And instead of choosing to adapt to the new world, traditional publishers are slamming indie writers.

And the people who are really hurting here are the traditional authors. They’re the ones who cannot go indie, even though they have the reader base to be successful. They are trapped.

“I have nothing against people who want to self-publish, especially if they’re elderly. Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally. It makes a great gift for their grandchildren. But self-publishing needs to be labelled as such. The only similarity between published and self-published books is they each have words on pages inside a cover. The similarities end there.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that all that matters?

“And every single self-published book I’ve tried to read has shown me exactly why the person had to resort to self-publishing. These people haven’t taken the decade, or in many cases even six months, to learn the very basics of writing, such as ‘show, don’t tell,’ or how to create a scene, or that clichés not only kill writing but bludgeon it with a sledgehammer. Sometimes they don’t even know grammar.”

Except I did spend six years learning my trade. So did every other successful indie author. You’re tarring every single self-published author with the same brush.

The real difference, now, is that the mistakes are public. And yes, they can haunt writers for the rest of their lives. But really, this is sometimes true of traditionally published authors too.

“Author Brad Thor agrees: “The important role that publishers fill is to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.””

This is true, but sometimes the wheat gets thrown out with the chaff.

“Author Sue Grafton said, “To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy and s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. … Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.””

Unfortunately, self-publishing is only a shortcut for getting a book online. It isn’t a shortcut if one actually wants to learn the trade, let alone turn it into a living. (And this quote could easily apply to the author of the article.)

“Writing is hard work, but the act of writing can also be thrilling, enriching your life beyond reason when you know you’re finally nailing a certain feeling with the perfect verb. It might take a long time to find that perfect verb. But that’s how art works. Writing is an art deserving our esteem. It shouldn’t be something that you can take up as a hobby one afternoon and a month later, key in your credit card number to CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing before sitting back waiting for a stack of books to arrive at your door.”

Good luck trying to sell those books.

You know, I agree – the art of writing is thrilling. But you know, it’s thrilling for me despite being a self-published author.

“Let’s all give the written word the respect it deserves.”

I quite agree.

But this – and all of this – really leads back to validation. And from where, we might ask, does that validation come from?

There is, I will freely admit, a cachet to being published by a traditional publisher. To have someone make you an offer, to haggle over terms, to be paid an advance and watch as your book is edited, then bound and finally turned into a stack of paperbacks … that’s not something I would deny anyone. A person with a traditional publishing contract has a vote of confidence – a publisher thinks that writer can write sellable books.

Because it’s all about the money, really.

But there are some absolute howlers published by traditional publishers. One doesn’t even have to go into the agreements about books that tick politically-correct boxes or written by celeb authors (just because they’re famous, they think they can write books) to realise that traditional publishing has problems. The explosion caused by the internet has altered the face of the publishing world beyond repair. Traditional publishers are trying to force a sinking ship back to the surface by force of will alone. Instead, the people they’re really hurting are their authors. There are no shortage of horror stories about authors trapped by ironclad contracts that were written in the days before the internet …

There is something unmistakably elitist about the traditional publishing world. And yes, going by the tiny numbers of people who have earned contracts, it is an elite. And the one thing elitists hate is the unclean commoners forcing their way into their world. The idea of self-publishers, publishers who hadn’t paid their dues, becoming successful doesn’t sit well with them. The self-publishers have a status that many in the elite do not share, even though they are traditionally published. And this has played neatly into the hands of those who want to force the genie back in the bottle.

Self-publishing isn’t perfect. But to argue that we self-publishers don’t give the written word any respect is absurd. And there are so many misconceptions in this article that, in the end, it is laughably out of date.

I’ll let Heinlein (Life-Line) have the last word:

“There has grown in the minds of certain groups in this country the idea that just because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with guaranteeing such a profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is supported by neither statute or common law. Neither corporations or individuals have the right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.”

Background Notes: The Summer Isle

29 Dec

Just a little bit of background for the Bookworm sequel series.

The Summer Isle is a large island nation off the coast of Andalusia. Politically, it is divided into the Summer Isle proper (the south), the Northern Realm (the north) and the Wildlands (the east.) The Monarchy of the Summer Isle – the Line of Summer – claims feudal overlordship of all three kingdoms, but the Northern King is unwilling to acknowledge it and the Wildlands have no real monarch. (They’re basically clansmen, willing to fight as mercenaries, but not willing to bend the knee to a weak monarch.)

Unsurprisingly, the Summer Isle claims a glorious past. There are stories of great kings and sorcerers who unified the island and then turned it into a base for the good guys during the Necromantic Wars. Just how many of these stories are actually true is debatable. There are quite a few places – mainly in the north and east – that were touched by dark magic, but the truth has long since been lost to the shadows of history. Only the last five hundred years have been documented to any reasonable standard – and really, the Summer Isle was little more than a backwater during that time, once it was absorbed into the empire. The Court Wizards – and the empire behind them – effectively froze the island in stasis.

King Edwin, the Last of the Summer Line (groan), is regarded as very weak indeed. His fits of madness – encouraged, some say, by his wife – have only intensified in the years since the Golden City’s fall. Even without it, the Crown Lands are very limited – the king’s army (and hired sorcerers/sellswords) might be able to crush one set of rebellious noblemen, but in doing so will weaken himself and unite the other noblemen behind him. In truth, the king’s writ doesn’t really run outside the largest (and most cosmopolitan) cities.

The largest city on the Summer Isle is Allenstown, supposedly named for the first king of the line. It rests halfway up the Summer River. It is also closely followed by Georgetown and Robin’s Bay, both trading cities with commercial links to the rest of the empire. Allenstown is technically ruled by the king, but in truth the magnates have stolen most of the king’s authority. The other two major cities are ruled by their councils.

The king does not have a heir. Queen Emetine is reported to be sterile – after being cursed during the endless aristocratic feuds – but the king cannot put her aside and take a new wife because of her powerful connections (see below). The question mark over the succession has been getting worse as the king becomes incapable of making decisions. Rumour has it that Edwin has promised the throne to King Garwood of Andalusia, if Edwin dies without heir. It is not clear if the Gathering – the assembly of noblemen – would crown a foreign prince if asked.

Below the king – and outside his control – the powerful noblemen scheme and struggle for dominance. They have powerful armies and control taxation within their domains, while plotting to crush their rivals and make a bid for the throne. Indeed, the only thing that kept them in check was constant manoeuvring by the king and the threat of naked intervention by the Golden City.

The most powerful noblemen are the Earls of Hereford, Goldenrod and Oxley. Hereford, probably the single most powerful nobleman in the isle, is the older brother of Queen Emetine. It was originally intended that Emetine’s child would take the throne (putting the family in control), but her failure to bear a child scuppered that plan. Now, Hereford and his family intend to claim the throne themselves after Edwin’s death.

The Earl of Goldenrod is his enemy (believed to be responsible for Emetine’s sterility, among other things.) The Earl of Oxley is the weakest of the earls – he tries to steer a path between the other two.

Below the earls, there are hundreds of noblemen who owe homage to their superiors and have hundreds of other aristocrats – and commoners – below them. The interlocking chains of feudal obligation are so complex that working out who owes loyalty to whom is a nightmarish task. It’s possible for a nobleman to be caught between two competing oaths and loyalties. Indeed, over the last few years, the earls have been working to sever the ties between their noblemen and the crown.

Economically, the Summer Isle is a mess. Outside the big cities, there is almost no middle class at all. There’s almost no industrial base at all. The island doesn’t trade that much with the rest of the (now gone) empire. There are no iron dragons, save for a single line linking the cities together. In theory, the highways are meant to be maintained and expanded by the nobility, but large sections have fallen into disrepair over the last five years. (This makes it harder for a central power to move troops from place to place.)

Education is a joke. The nobility has private tutors and the middle class has a handful of schools, but the remainder of the population is largely uneducated. (The handful of commoners born with magic are generally adopted into an upper-class family, sent away to the mainland or merely killed before they can become a potential threat.) There is no school for magicians on the Summer Isle (some adopted children get private training), nor is it famed for producing any great sorcerers. (Although, as always, there are vast and sweeping stories of great deeds in the past.)

Most commoners are effectively serfs or freemen – the former are not technically slaves, but there’s very little difference between slavery and serfdom. Unlike other parts of the empire, both freemen and serfs are permanently bound to the land and nobility – they cannot leave without permission. There’s no right to flee (and freedom, if one remains ahead of the bailiffs for a year and a day). Most commoners, male or female, struggle to draw a living from the land, knowing that their masters will take over half of their produce. Denied weapons or training, they have little choice. This doesn’t stop the occasional violent uprising that is brutally crushed.

And now King Edwin is dead …

Merry Christmas!

25 Dec

Merry Christmas to All My Readers!

(And please let me remind you about the free books!)


Job Advert–Webmaster

25 Dec

Hi, everyone

This is a job advert, of sorts.

As some of you know, I have been determined to keep my website as simple as possible. I do appreciate the fantastic design of some sites, but they can also be a pain – the more elaborate the site, the longer it takes to load if you don’t have a great connection. Plain text downloads much quicker than huge photographs. I don’t do third-party ads and suchlike because, frankly, I find them very annoying.

Over the last couple of years, I have had less and less time for maintaining my website. I used to think that I could keep making small updates and modifications, but realistically I no longer have the time. Some of my older books, for example, only link to the US version – I barely have any listing for audio books and so on. In some ways, the website I have has outgrown the original MS Expression template I used to create it …

Basically, I’m looking for a webmaster. Someone (preferably someone who’s familiar with my work) who can design, build and maintain the website, either taking over the one I’ve got or building a new one from scratch. Ideally, someone who can make requested changes very quickly. Payment to be determined through haggling – I’ll want receipts and suchlike for tax purposes.

If you’re interested in the job, please drop me an email ( with details of your work.

Thank you – and Merry Christmas!


Independence Day Resurgence – Review

23 Dec

There is no way to hide from the fact that Independence Day: Resurgence is a very poor movie.

Independence Day was fun, in a goofy sort of way. One could sit back and enjoy it if one didn’t think about it too much. (A friend of mind argued that ID4 said a great deal about the way Americans view themselves.) Resurgence, however, isn’t anything like as good, with too many problems to be believable. Even the Special FX aren’t that great.

Twenty (or so) years after the first invasion was defeated, humanity has come together to build a new world – and a defence against a second invasion. However, when the second invasion begins, humanity’s defences are paper-thin and the only way to stop the aliens is a crazy plan that might just work. (Spoiler alert – it does.) Old characters pair up with new ones to defeat the aliens, rekindle their relationships and so on.

ID4 worked, on a personal basis, because many of the relationships were understandable, even relatable. The movie sketched them out for us over the brief introduction before the fighting actually began. But many of the newer characters are far less sympathetic than the older ones, with backstories that come across as annoying. It says a great deal about the hopeless mishmash that the only genuine relationship that works is the (previously unmentioned) homosexual romance between Doctor Okun and someone whose name escapes me.

And ID4 worked on an overall level because much of the movie flowed naturally. The aliens arrive and attack, the humans counterattack … the mistakes made by the characters are reasonable mistakes. (They didn’t know about the forcefields, hence sending the marines to get slaughtered was an unforced error.) Here, they have no such excuse. Sending a relatively small force up against an enemy known to use swarm tactics was stupid. In fact, one expects far more firepower deployed to protect Earth. Give me twenty years, alien tech and an unlimited budget and I’ll have colonies all over the solar system.

The annoying thing is that there were moments of genuine interest. Apparently, there was a ground war against the aliens in Africa. Wouldn’t that have made a suitable setting for a movie? Or a ground war in America? For that matter, why not have the aliens engaged at the edge of the solar system? It would have made a better – and more believable – story.

Overall, it wasn’t worth waiting twenty years to see this movie.

SIM Updates

21 Dec

(Seeing people keep asking …)

Short term, I’ve done the first set of edits for The Sergeant’s Apprentice. The manuscript is now with the second editor. There may be a third set of edits afterwards, but that depends on the publisher. I’m hoping to get the eBook out in January, but we will see.

Sergeants Apprentice Cover

Long term, I’ve been plotting out the next few stories. So far:

12 – The Fists of Justice

13 – Poison Pen

14 – Graduation Day

15 – The Princess In The Tower

16 – The Once and Future Queen

17 – [Classified – gives away too much]

Hope this whets your appetite <grin>


Merry Christmas – And Free Books!

21 Dec

As a change from politics, it is my pleasure to announce that The Empire’s Corps (Book One of a thirteen book series) and Ark Royal (Book One of a eight book series) will be available free from Amazon Kindle on 24th to 26th December, 2016! If you haven’t yet downloaded these books, why not give them a try? And if you know someone who might like them, please share this post!


Ark Royal

If you wish for peace, prepare for war.

-Royal Navy Motto

Seventy years ago, the interstellar supercarrier Ark Royal was the pride of the Royal Navy. But now, her weapons are outdated and her solid-state armour nothing more than a burden on her colossal hull. She floats in permanent orbit near Earth, a dumping ground for the officers and crew the Royal Navy wishes to keep out of the public eye.

But when a deadly alien threat appears, the modern starships built by humanity are no match for the powerful alien weapons. Ark Royal and her mismatched crew must go on the offensive, buying time with their lives And yet, with a drunkard for a Captain, an over-ambitious first officer and a crew composed of reservists and the dregs of the service, do they have even the faintest hope of surviving …

… And returning to an Earth which may no longer be there?

Download now – US, UK

The Empire’s Corps

You Should Never Speak Truth To Power…

The Galactic Empire is dying and chaos and anarchy are breaking out everywhere. After a disastrous mission against terrorists on Earth itself, Captain Edward Stalker of the Terran Marine Corps makes the mistake of speaking truth to power, telling one of the most powerful men in the Empire a few home truths. As a result, Captain Stalker and his men are unceremoniously exiled to Avalon, a world right on the Rim of the Empire. It should have been an easy posting…

Well, apart from the bandits infesting the countryside, an insurgency that threatens to topple the Empire’s loose control over Avalon, and a corrupt civil government more interested in what it can extort from the population than fighting a war. The Marines rapidly find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of political and economic chaos, fighting to preserve Avalon before the competing factions tear the world apart. They’re Marines; if anyone can do it, they can.

The battle to save the Empire starts here.

Download now – US, UK

The System Still Works (For Now)

20 Dec

My son isn’t well, so I ended up writing this instead of We Lead.

There is a story – I don’t know if it is actually true – that goes a something like this.

Ten years after the Vietnam War ended, an American general met his North Vietnamese counterpart in Geneva. Not having any particular dislike for one another, the two generals went out to the bar and ordered drinks. Midway through the second round, the American turned to the Vietnamese and said “you know, you guys never beat us on the battlefield.”

The Vietnamese thought about it for a moment. “That may be true,” he said, finally. “But it is also irrelevant.”

He was right. If one judged by tactical success and body counts, the US won the war by a very long way. But if one judges by the real issue – one side managing to impose its will on the other – the North Vietnamese won handily. South Vietnam fell to the North, the US ended up looking weak and communism looked unstoppable. The US achieved precisely none of its war aims, such as they were, in Vietnam. And that is why the US lost.

The comparison should be obvious. Hilary Clinton may have won the popular vote. (This has been hotly disputed, for various reasons.) But it doesn’t matter. Victory conditions in US presidential elections don’t take the popular vote into account. The winning candidate is the one who commands a majority of the states

… And by that standard, Donald Trump won outright.

The Founding Fathers were not interested in creating a federal government where big states could dominate smaller states. That would have been a recipe for civil war. Indeed, without California, Donald Trump would have carried the popular vote too. Why should California be allowed to dictate the winner to the other states? And wouldn’t Trump (and Hilary) have followed different pre-election strategies if the popular vote actually mattered?

This isn’t (and wasn’t) exactly a secret. These rules have been laid down for years. You can’t demand the rules change merely because you lost, can you? If Hilary had wanted to win, perhaps she should have concentrated her attention on appealing to more states – and not insulting roughly half the American population. In the end, Hilary made so many mistakes that she lost an election she should have easily won.

She lost. Get over it.

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I believed that the vast majority of electors would remain faithful, as indeed they did. (Only a tiny number of electors switched sides, more Democrats than Republicans.) And yet I was nervous, despite it all. The consequences of not confirming Trump’s – perfectly legal – victory could have been dire.

There is a stereotype about conservatives (small-c) and liberals that, like most stereotypes, has a gram of truth. Conservatives are ruled by their heads, coldly logical, intent on the rules; liberals are ruled by their hearts, focused on their feelings. To a conservative, the rules are near-untouchable, applicable to all and only to be changed after long and careful consideration; to a liberal, different groups follow different rules and, when seen as unjust, rules can be changed at a moment’s notice. A conservative believes that facts should be put ahead of emotions; a liberal believes that emotions should trump facts.

In real life, of course, there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ conservative or a ‘pure’ liberal. I’ve known conservatives who were guided by their emotions first, then reasoned out their more logical justifications. And I have known liberals who questioned the emotion-driven arguments they were given, then dismissed them after examination. But conservatives tend, in my experience, to be more questioning than liberals. And, oddly, they are often more tolerant.

The average conservative, for example, may not care for abortion. (To pick a hot-button issue.) But would he support a full abortion ban? On one hand, no more unborn babies would die; on the other, it would create a whole stream of moral headaches and put a vast amount of power into the government’s hands. How long will it be until the power is abused? If antiterrorist laws can be used for trivial purposes, how long will it be before these laws are used to harass expectant mothers who have miscarriages? Given some of the other absurd – and yet somehow legal – abuses of power committed by barmy bureaucrats, my answer would probably be not long.

Conservatives believe that government power should be minimised as much as reasonably possible. And, perhaps more importantly, that private lives should remain private. Very few conservatives would support a government witch-hunt for homosexuals, whatever they may think of homosexuals, because the power used to hunt homosexuals could easily be turned against conservatives next. Or any other group you care to mention. What happens between consenting adults in private should remain private – and legal.

But conservatives also believe that the same laws should apply to everyone. People should not be judged by different standards, based on different factors. Murder is murder, regardless of who carried out the attack; rape is rape, regardless of the situation. And yet, there must be proof of these charges. Conservatives seek to withhold judgement until the evidence is presented, in a court of law, and assessed. Liberals, by contrast, seek to have the accused tried in the court of public opinion long before the court of law can be put together. And when – if – the accused is proved innocent, their lives are still ruined.

Conservatives did not recoil in horror from Barrack Obama because he was black. They recoiled because Obama showed a striking lack of concern for the fundamental structure of American politics. Obama’s famous “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone” statement suggested that Obama thought of himself as an absolute ruler – a king, if you will – rather than a president bound by limits on his power. It was intolerable.

And one of the many reasons conservatives hate Hillary Clinton was that she got away, constantly, with crimes that had seen lesser personages jailed. Her constant evasion of criminal charges was a slap in the face to everyone who believed that the law should apply to everyone.

Conservatives knew, even though they disliked it, that Obama had won a perfectly legal victory in 2008 and again in 2012. The rules were clear. Whoever took most of the states took the presidency. Conservatives did not riot in the streets – unlike liberals, after Cameron’s victory, BREXIT and Trump’s victory – because conservatives are fundamentally wedded to the system. Obama won fairly, so the conservatives gritted their teeth and accepted it. (And concentrated on legal ways to counter his increasing incompetence.) It was their faith in the system that kept them from turning against it.

If there had been enough faithless electors to overturn Trump’s victory – almost certainly by voting for Hilary, as there was no other reasonable option – it would have shattered conservative faith in the system. Trump won, by the rules. If those rules could be changed, if the will of the majority of the states could be overridden, what then?

Trump was elected, at least in part, because the Democrats routinely smeared every halfway-decent Republican with charges of racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, Islamophobia, stupidity, etc. They played dirty. Identity politics were turned into a weapon. Protest groups screamed, moaned and whined at electors, demanding that they change their votes. Trump, as I have noted before, is not the cause of the problems, but an antibody. His election came about because he refused to bow and scrape to nonsensical charges that had been used so often that they became meaningless. Many conservatives had their doubts about him (and still do) but they saw him as preferable to Hilary.

But what would happen if the system fell apart?

I don’t think it would be pleasant. If one cannot win by the rules, if one’s opponents regularly break them without consequence, why keep the rules yourself? Why not pay the other side back in their own coin?

This, thankfully, is a question that won’t be answered – this time. Conservatives see the system itself as more important than any president, regardless of his political affliction. The system did not fall apart, for better or worse. Trump won fairly and he will take office in January. And then …?

Conservatives will not, I think, let him go too far. Liberals, perhaps, should take note.

An Absence of Meat

17 Dec

Apparently – oh, horror of horrors – the Russians hacked the American Presidential Election.

This would be a remarkable feat, if it’s actually true. To ‘hack’ an election suggests, very strongly, that the Russians somehow programmed the American electorate to vote for Donald Trump. Maybe Russian agents stuffed ballot boxes right across the United States. Or maybe the Russians secretly slipped Hillary Clinton drugs to make sure she made a constant stream of unforced mistakes. Or maybe the Russians worked hard to convince the democrats they were winning when they were actually losing. Or maybe they just donated to the Clinton Foundation.

The interesting thing about this, the latest attempt to delegitimize President-Elect Donald Trump, is that there is hardly any meat to the story at all.

Apparently (at least to the best of my knowledge) there has been no official determination by the CIA that the Russians interfered, in any way more serious than the average meddling by American politicians in foreign elections. ‘Unnamed government/CIA sources’ prove nothing beyond rumour. Where is the evidence?

As far as I can tell, the worst – realistic – charge levelled against the Russians is that they backed Wikileaks and provided support in hacking the DNC. This may be true, although Wikileaks has denied it. Of course, the Russians might simply have watched Wikileaks go to work … and done nothing, either to help or hinder their project. It was a Russian who coined the term ‘useful idiots’ and Wikileaks – and people like Snowden – often serve Russian interests without actually taking orders from Moscow. The Russians have ample reason to be pleased at the results of the election without lifting a finger to interfere.

If this is true, where is the evidence?

Much has been said over the last week, of varying degrees of credibility. The files were actually sent, we have been told, by a rogue democrat within the DNC. No, the DNC computer security was weak and the hacks happened because they opened the wrong emails and followed instructions designed to open holes in their security. Or hackers right across the world managed to get in through brute-force measures. Or …

All of this is beside the point. The important detail here, as far as I can see, is this. There would be no evidence of criminal (or at least dubious) behaviour if there hadn’t actually been criminal (or at least dubious) behaviour. Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know:

-The DNC rigged the nomination process to ensure that Hillary Clinton would win. More creditable candidates were frozen out, preventing the democrats from escaping the Hillary Quagmire.

-The Mainstream Media served as an appendage to the Clinton Campaign, to the point where they shrilled for Hillary and tipped the scale in her favour. They even outright cheated by coordinating attacks against Donald Trump and sending her debate questions in advance.

-Hillary Clinton continued to take funds from big business and foreign sources, even though some of her own advisers were deeply worried about the ‘optics’ of such dealings. At best, this was a ‘pay to play’ system; at worst, this was an outright attempt to bribe a future president. Note that many of those foreign sources include nations that are effectively enemy states, including Saudi Arabia.

-Hillary Clinton was cold, dismissive and utterly heedless of her rapidly-declining personal image. She and her senior advisors ignored significant problems, as well as advice from Bill Clinton (of all people) that they were in serious danger of losing. Insulting large swathes of the American population was a losing proposition and Bill, to give him credit, realised it.

In short, the DNC’s credibility is at rock bottom – and we’re meant to trust it?

Look at it this way. There’s a scene in The Fourth Protocol where a British ‘gentleman thief’ burgles an important government official. He discovers evidence that the official was spying for Russia and forwards the evidence to MI5. Does the fact that this evidence was obtained illegally, in the truest possible sense, somehow excuse the official for his treason? Should his crimes be forgotten because the evidence came from a thief?

Blaming Hillary’s defeat on the Russians – the latest in a series of villains, according to die-hard Hillary supporters – means ignoring the many significant mistakes she made during the campaign. Worse, it means ignoring the simple fact that the DNC ignored both the demands of politics and the opinions of the ‘little people.’ Hillary listened to supporters with big bank accounts, not genuine Americans. She deserved to lose.

But there is another point here.

It is very difficult for the US to complain about Russian interference in American elections, for the very simple reason that the US has spent a significant proportion of the last eight years doing the same. Even Hillary admits that Putin had ample reason to want to give her a taste of her own medicine, as she was a major player in such meddling. What is worse, perhaps, is that America is strikingly bad at it. Obama going to Britain to insist that Britain stayed in the EU probably played a major role in BREXIT.

In the end, however, all the evidence suggests that the Russian contribution – if indeed there was any significant contribution – was minimal. Hillary Clinton lost the vote through her own miscalculations.

She lost. Get over it.

JK Rowling Is Not Your Slave

16 Dec

So this article pops up in front of me today. Why Dumbledore must not be the token gay person in Fantastic Beasts.

Must not. Interesting choice of words, isn’t it?

If I am forced to be honest, I am one of those nerds who will happily spend hours creating whole universes, or trying to figure out the real-world implications of a change in history, society or culture. The question of how homosexuals fit into wizard society is an interesting one, well worthy of a reasoned debate. Do they have full civil rights, such as they are in a society that isn’t big on granting civil rights to anyone? Are they tolerated, as long as they produce children? Or are they regarded as traitors for removing themselves from the gene pool rather than helping to expand the population?


But what does this matter?

JK Rowling is a fantasy writer, not a writer of erotic fiction. And she is writing for children, not adults. (Come on – do you think kids won’t demand to go see Fantastic Beasts?) Sex and sexuality was never a very big part of Harry Potter because they were children’s stories, not adult stories. The handful of kisses exchanged during the series is about as far as JKR could reasonably go. Why should JKR focus on such matters when it has nothing to do with the series?

But there’s a more serious point here that needs to be addressed.

JKR is not a slave. Nor are the producers of Captain America: Civil War or Frozen II. Why in the name of all that’s holy do people think they can make demands on them? Why must Sirius Black be gay? Why must the next Fantastic Beasts include a homosexual relationship? Why should Steve Rogers get a boyfriend? Why should Queen Elsa get a girlfriend?

What sort of sense of entitlement allows people to make such demands?

Mrs Rowling gets this a lot, it seems. People complained about cultural appropriation and the absence of Native Americans, then whined that the American Magical Society is apparently an unpleasant place. Such people seem to ignore the simple fact that such appropriation may make perfect sense in-universe, or – for that matter – that British Magical Society is not the sort of place anyone would realistically want to live. Or the racial balance at Hogwarts, even though JKR’s racial balance in the books makes a great deal of sense.

And then people complain about Sirius Black not being gay, having quietly forgotten that there was a perfectly good reason everyone was quite happy to accept the official story of his treachery. You want role models? What sort of role model is a bullying braggart who commits an attempted double-murder at fifteen because he thought it would be funny?

It is a great deal easier to carp and criticise than it is to actually write a book, direct a movie, figure out what sells or build an acting (or whatever) career. What is it that makes the critics think they own the people who do? That they have a right to dictate their actions? Why don’t the critics try to write themselves?

JKR does not have a monopoly on wizard school stories. The first such story dates all the way back to 1953. (TV Tropes has a list of such stories.) If the critics want to write a wizard school story set in America, why don’t they try? Or they could write something more in line with Native American traditions – perhaps a young man, descended from a Native American tribe, is invited to study with his great-grandfather. Why not blend together Native American mythology and Western stories? You could include Native Americans or African-Americans to your heart’s content. Your main character could be homosexual, if you wish. Or bi …

Hell, you could just write a fan fiction. God alone knows how many slash stories there are out there, or stories set in other countries, or stories in different eras, or …

But you have to learn how to tell a story.

There are so many plot holes in Harry Potter that the entire cast of characters could fly their broomsticks through them. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that JKR crafted a story specifically designed to appeal to its audience – young children – that also managed to reach out and touch adults. That’s the true magic of writing. Ticking off boxes on the diversity checklist is not writing. Making your characters one-dimensional, focused on a single trait, is not writing. Writing is creating compelling characters and making readers, just for a while, enter your world.

Harry Potter does not belong to the critics. It belongs to JK Rowling. The idea that JKR has a ‘second chance’ (one assumes to create something more in line with what this critic wants) is absurd. This is her chance to create something she wants …

… And if the critics don’t like it, perhaps they should try to do better.