Archive | October, 2018

Musings on Kavanaugh

14 Oct

I’ve got a cold which is making it hard to concentrate on anything, so – in a bid to jumpstart my writing – I decided to write a political post instead. I’ve done my best to be even-handed, but – under the circumstances – a great many people are going to disagree with me. Please keep the angry objections to a dull roar <grin>.

If I am forced to be honest, I had simply never heard of Brett Kavanaugh until he was nominated by Donald Trump to the US Supreme Court. He seemed, as far as I could tell, to be reasonably qualified for the post. I certainly didn’t see any major reason to disqualify him from consideration. Given the howling and screeching about the prospect of Trump nominating someone entirely unsuitable to the role, Kavanaugh was almost a relief.

And then the accusations started.

The thing that sticks in my craw – the thing that makes the accusations impossible to believe – is that they were held back until it was impossible to investigate them properly. There was ample opportunity for Kavanaugh to be questioned – under oath – about possible dark secrets in his past, but Dianne Feinstein declined to bring the accusations forward until the very last minute. As a stroke against a nominee who was almost guaranteed to be confirmed, it was a political masterstroke; as a piece of political dirty-dealing, it was unmatched. Feinstein, with a single accusation, created an impossible problem for the GOP. If they supported and confirmed Kavanaugh, they would pay for it in the next set of elections; if they dumped Kavanaugh like a hot rock, they would also pay for it in the next elections.

It did not seem to occur to Feinstein that her actions are likely to have thoroughly unpleasant consequences.

Those of us who believe in the Rule of Law understand that we must apply a strict standard of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ The charges levelled against Kavanaugh by Christine Ford are serious, yet the accusation is not proof of guilt. Kavanaugh does not (did not) have to prove his innocence; Ford and his other accusers (and whoever happened to be ordered to investigate the matter) have to prove his guilt. This is an impossible task. Quite apart from the question marks raised by Ford’s story repeatedly changing, and the lack of witnesses to her tale, the time between the alleged sexual assault and Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings is so great that it is literally impossible to produce enough evidence to satisfy a judge and jury. If Ford was indeed assaulted, by Kavanaugh or anyone else, she should have gone straight to the police. Now, it is impossible to prove anything. No responsible prosecutor would take the case. And no responsible politician would turn such a weak accusation into a weapon. It says a great deal about Feinstein that she chose to do just that.

In the short term, Kavanaugh’s enemies had two lines of attack. On one hand, Kavanaugh was a sexual predator (the absence of proof did not deter them) and therefore should not be confirmed; on the other, Kavanaugh’s openly-displayed anger was proof that he lacked the temperament to sit on the Supreme Court. Open-minded people, devoted to the Rule of Law, recoiled in disgust. There was, on one hand, an understanding that Kavanaugh had not been proven guilty, that he could not be proven guilty; on the other hand, there was an understanding that Kavanaugh had every right to be angry. And, on the gripping hand, there was an understanding that Kavanaugh was being held to an impossible standard. The suggestions that Kavanaugh drank to excess during his student days is meaningless to his conduct today. Who could possibly survive having events from thirty years ago dragged up and used in evidence against them?

I do not know if Ford was genuinely assaulted. I do know that none of the charges levelled against Kavanaugh are particularly creditable. There is simply no proof.

Kavanaugh’s supporters, as I said above, were placed in an interesting position. They simply could not win – it seemed. If evidence actually surfaced that Kavanaugh was guilty, they would be branded guilty by association. (The simple fact that they had chosen to support Kavanaugh based on what they knew at the time would not, of course, be mentioned.) But they had to win. They had to show Feinstein and her ilk that such tactics would not work, that they would rebound badly on the Democrats. Let’s be honest here. Donald Trump was elected, as I have noted before, at least in part because the GOP base was sick of watching their elected representatives surrender whenever they were accused of everything from racism to sexism. A failure to support Kavanaugh meant incurring the anger of the GOP base, which would be disastrous. They therefore had to confirm Kavanaugh.

Some people – Jordan Peterson, most notably – suggested that Kavanaugh should be confirmed, then resign. This suggestion brought scorn from a great many quarters, as he noted himself, but there was some merit to it. An understandably embittered Kavanaugh might put the chance to hurt the Democrats ahead of actual justice, if asked to rule on one of their Sacred Cows. I certainly wouldn’t care to have Kavanaugh as my judge, were I Dianne Feinstein! There is no way he could be considered impartial in such circumstances. However, however many advantages it would bring, the resignation would certainly be seen as an admission of guilt. Kavanaugh has to sit on the bench if the GOP base was to be satisfied. Anything less would be considered a betrayal.

And yet, Kavanaugh’s reputation will be forever overshadowed by a charge that – as far as anyone can tell – is completely unjustified.

But it won’t stop there. The long-term consequences will be unpleasant.

One of the problems, as many commenters have pointed out, is that #METOO has become politicized. Worse, it has been turned into a weapon against the GOP and, by and large, the GOP alone. The charges against Bill Clinton and Keith Ellison are far more creditable than anything levelled at Kavanaugh, yet the Democrats – by and large – ignore them. If Kavanaugh can face rumination because of an unproven decades-old charge, why not Clinton and Ellison? Why should anyone take one set of allegations seriously when others have simply been ignored? The media spent more time having hysterics over Kavanaugh than investigating more serious complaints.

More seriously, it should be noted, is the development of a conceptual superweapon – and an entirely understandable response.

A conceptual superweapon, according to an article I read a few months ago (which seems to have disappeared from the web), is a social attitude that can be used against you. To use a simple example, pretend you’re a Muslim who hears someone say ‘all Muslims are terrorists.’ This statement will anger you – and you will not want to leave it unchallenged, because you are a Muslim. If all Muslims are terrorists, then you’re a terrorist too. And someone will use this against you.

This is why everyone from PETA to CAIR spends so much time defending the undefendable. They dare not allow a conceptual superweapon to be built against them.

This creates obvious problems for any group. If they cannot concede that some of their people are bad apples, because their enemies will use the suggestion that some of their people are bad apples to imply that all of their people are bad apples. This is perfectly understandable. But, at the same time, this creates a further problem. The mere act of defending the undefendable is, in itself, undefendable. By failing to strike a balance between the need to remove the bad apples and, at the same time, defending the entire group, the entire group is condemned. The rise of identity politics has only made that worse.

The Left built a conceptual superweapon against the Right when it ensured that any charges of racism (and sexism, etc) were effectively career-ending. This worked, at least in part, because the Right had fewer qualms about kicking out unsuitable people (while the Left firmly believed that ‘there are no enemies to the Left.’) However, the Left was unwilling to let the matter go. Having found a weapon that constantly weakened the GOP, they used it again and again. And the GOP allowed itself, like Charlie Brown, to be lured into kicking that football again and again, only to have it snatched away by Lucy.

This also provoked an angry and embittered reaction from the Right. The GOP base was so desperate for a leader – and so divorced from the GOP elite, which they saw as cowards – that they threw themselves behind Donald Trump. And why should they not?

More significantly, they started to automatically dismiss charges of racism and other such issues. If one charge of racism was clearly spurious, then all charges of racism were clearly spurious. (Etc, etc.) They saw that charges of racism were being used against them, so they learnt to dismiss them. Worse, they became aware of political dirty tricks – and learnt to dismiss them too. Trump steamrollered over charges that would wreck a more conventional political campaign because his backers had heard them so many times before that they simply rolled their eyes.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you happen to believe that Trump is a fascist, and you’re looking for someone to blame for his election, look at all the idiots who cried wolf …

The Kavanaugh Affair has created another set of conceptual superweapons and counter-superweapons. On one hand, charges against candidates for important posts will simply not be believed; on the other, given how many politicians have engaged in improper behaviour, it is quite likely that a genuine sex offender will slip into high office. On one hand, Kavanaugh will not be considered legitimate by a goodly portion of the country; on the other, how many other potential candidates – decent candidates – will look at what happened to Kavanaugh and decide they don’t want to be nominated after all? On one hand, further charges – against anyone – will be ignored; on the other, people will simply stop believing them. Real victims will suffer because Feinstein has created a climate where believing victims is no longer seen as a sensible course of action.

I’ve seen people online suggesting that the Pence Rule – never be alone with a woman who isn’t related to you – is the wave of the future. They may well be right. It would be unfortunate indeed if women were denied everything from mentoring to promotion because men were unwilling to be alone with them – and how can you build up a proper mentoring relationship if you cannot be alone with your mentor? How can you form a rapport with your boss if he’s unwilling to talk to you, for fear that he’ll say something that you’ll take out of context and use against him? It does not matter, as Kavanaugh found out, that criminal charges will never be filed. The mere accusation is enough to ruin lives.

And this brings us back to dirty tricks. The worst impact of the Kavanaugh Affair, for both Democrats and Republicans, is that it has destroyed any faith in the other side. To Republicans, Democrats set out to smear and ruin an innocent man in hopes of seeking partisan political advantage; to Democrats, Republicans gleefully trampled on women and elected a sexual predator to the Supreme Court. This follows a trend I have noted before, but this time there doesn’t seem to have been any smoke, let alone fire. If one party dares not give up power, as Tom Kratman put it, for fear of what the other side will do to them, what does that mean for the United States?

Feinstein handled the whole situation appallingly badly, so badly that I am inclined to agree with the people who said she knew the charges were baseless (or at least impossible to prove) all along. If she’d brought the matter forward as soon as she heard of it, she could have ensured that it was settled (one way or the other) before the final vote.) Or she could have had it investigated herself, found Ford to be lacking in credibility and simply ignored the whole affair. Instead, she created a political nightmare that cannot fail to have long-term repercussions for the United States.

I cannot help thinking that the repercussions will last long after Brett Kavanaugh is gone.

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Slightly Better Updates

9 Oct

Hi, everyone

The good news (well, the first piece of good news) is that I had the second set of treatments last Friday and, so far, no serious ill-effects have materialised. I’ve therefore been able to return to writing, with the aim of completing Para Bellum before the third set of treatments on the 26th. I don’t have a due date yet because A) I might not meet that deadline and B) the editing will have to be more intensive because I had to leave the project for six weeks. I can handle leaving a project for a week, although I prefer to avoid it, but six weeks is a bit much.

The next bit of good news is that I managed to do the first set of edits for The Broken Throne; hopefully, I will get the second set of edits done within a week or two and it can be slated for publication ASAP.

I’m not sure what I want to do next. Should I go for The Alchemist’s Apprentice, which is Zero 5, or Family Magic, which is the homeschooled magic kids idea? What do you want?

Chris

Updates–And Godpower Notes

1 Oct

Hi, everyone

Things have been a little better over the past few days – the side effects have started to clear up, allowing me to actually get some work done. I’ve sketched out a set of background notes for a universe that grew out of a discussion with Leo Champion – see below – and I’ve started to edit The Broken Throne. It’s an extensive edit because the manuscript was sent to both editors while I was in hospital, but I am fairly confident of finishing it before Friday. If things go well on Friday, I hope to return to Para Bellum on Monday.

Thank you – once again – to everyone who used the cookie jar to send donations. They will be put to good use.

Let me know what you think of the background, please.

The World of Godpower

For generations – the Age of Ignorance – the natives of Rhyamdine have been blessed and cursed with Godspeakers, men and women who briefly wielded the power of God to work miracles. The Godspeakers showed their powers, altering the course of history, then faded back into obscurity as the power left them. God, it seemed, rarely shared his gifts for long, even with the most faithful. (Indeed, heretics questioned if the Godspeakers were really drawing their power from God; they argued, sometimes quite convincingly, that the Godspeakers had merely found a way to tap into a supernatural power source.)

And yet, it could not be denied that miracles happened. The blind could be made to see, the sick could be healed, the crippled could walk again … indeed, there were even cases of the dead being resurrected by the Godspeakers. A handful even gained the power – very briefly -to alter the course of wars, raining fire and blood on the enemy army. Very few dared to stand against a Godspeaker. Did he not have God on his side?

And yet, Godspeakers were relatively rare … and when they came into being, they never held the power for long.

This changed with the advent of the First Speaker, a Godspeaker who seemingly never lost the power. He was born during an age of conflict, yet was regarded – even by his enemies – as a singularly pious man. His Godpower was strong enough for him to take control of his hometown, build an army – the first Army of God – and start a crusade against the warring kingdoms. The kings, originally unimpressed despite his power, soon found out that they had underestimated him. Unlike his predecessors, the First Speaker never lost the power. Worse, his disciples – the Sinless – were wielding Godpower for themselves. They led the Army of God as it struck out in all directions, steadily bringing the kings to heel. It was not long before most of the continent fell under the First Speaker’s control.

Previous Godspeakers had rarely held the power long enough to make lasting change. The First Speaker could – and did. Shunning the urge to take control directly, he supported kings and princes who were prepared to rule justly and live in peace with their neighbours. It rapidly became a golden age as laws – religious laws – were codified and enforced. Those who might have resented the loss of power rapidly came to fear the people’s devotion to the First Speaker. The clerics who had taken over the schools – and established a range of monasteries and nunneries across the land – had done their work well. The obvious benefits of the peace ensured that even the ungodly had reason to support the First Speaker.

Precisely what happened to the First Speaker is not recorded (official dogma says that he was the first person to be taken into God’s arms without dying). Anyone who might have hoped that his death would weaken the new empire was rapidly disappointed. The Sinless hastily elected a new speaker – the Second Speaker – who proved himself able to wield Godpower without his mentor (although to a far lesser degree). Despite the lack of raw power, a combination of raw ambition and sheer talent allowed the Second Speaker to put the empire on a more formal footing. The Church, led by the Sinless, became a supranational organisation that would arbitrate between the kings and princes, allowing it to maintain a balance of power. It also maintained the schools – and provided clerics for the kingdoms – that ensured the local population remained faithful. As it also collected a considerable amount of tribute, the Church was also wealthy enough to – if necessary – raise an army or bribe kings who might otherwise be reluctant to follow orders. The city of Speaker’s Rest was built from scratch to hold the Church’s senior officials and bureaucracy.

The key to the Church’s power, however, was the Godly Chain. The First Speaker had discovered (or been taught) how to open a link between a Godspeaker and a prospective disciple. If the disciple was properly prepared – purified, in the Church’s lexicon – the link would open and the disciple would be able to wield Godpower in his own right. Curiously, the disciple was only able to wield half the power of his mentor – and anyone he linked to would only have a quarter of the original mentor’s power – but the Church has steadily discouraged inquiry into the matter. Instead, it was merely relieved to have more Sinless who could be dispatched to serve the Church across the empire. (There are non-Sinless within the Church, as it would be impossible to operate a vast bureaucracy without them, but every senior post – without exception – is held by a Sinless, who outranks every non-Sinless he may encounter.)

At the top of the Church’s hierarchy is the Council of Sinless, headed by the [Number] Speaker. The Speakers give up their names when they are elected, as it is presumed they now speak for God; they are simply referred to by title. Technically, the [Number] Speaker is an absolute ruler; in practice, he takes advice from the Council of Sinless before making his pronouncements and decisions. Each councillor rules a Canton, ranging from the Canton of Holy Words (education) to the Canton of Justice (law and order) and the Canton of Inquisition (anti-heresy). Although they are all Sinless, there is a constant battle for resources amongst the Cantons and it isn’t unknown for their rivalry to have a unfortunate effect on the Church’s ability to maintain order. The Canton of Sisterhood, the sole female Canton within the Church, is the only exception. Practically speaking, they are a separate organisation in their own right.

Below the Council, there is a strict hierarchy amongst the Sinless. Archbishops have responsibility for entire kingdoms; they are appointed by the council, something that has led to tensions between the council and the kings they rule. Bishops have responsibility for either cities or monasteries; clerics have responsibility for smaller towns. Monks and deacons assist their masters, but are rarely Sinless themselves. (That said, there are a handful of low-ranking Sinless who have steadily refused higher rank.) The Sisterhood has its own hierarchy – Daughter, Mother, Grandmother, Mother Superior – and, while the sisters are technically outranked by their male counterparts, it is generally agreed that they don’t take orders from them.

Each member of the Church is expected to follow a strict regime. Their lives are very spartan, at least at first; they are expected to eat simple food, sleep as little as possible and have no sexual contact with the opposite sex. Church dogma states that the Sinless are incapable of breaking the rules; non-Sinless who are caught breaking the rules are generally flogged and then expected from the Church. (Oddly, the Church is quite tolerant of a non-Sinless marrying, although it ensures they have no further hope of advancing.)

Outside the Church – and the castles and manors of the nobility – the Church’s hand is quite light, but omnipresent. A marriage cannot be duly solemnised without a priest – ideally, one of the Sinless; a dead man cannot be buried without the last rites being spoken over his corpse. Every man is expected to attend prayers at least once a week; women are expected to pray at home, except during religious holidays, where they are permitted to attend public prayers and take part in the celebrations afterwards. Locals who can afford it are also expected to make donations to the Church – although, it should be noted, the Church has an extensive charity program to assist the less fortunate.

Upon claiming a vocation, a prospective churchman (generally upon reaching the age of twelve) will present himself at his local monastery. (A prospective sister will visit the nearest nunnery.) The local priest will interview the lad, then inform him that he will spend the next year performing tasks of mindless drudgery. If the candidate remains within the monastery for a year – he is free to leave at any time, having discovered that he doesn’t have a vocation after all – he will either be sent to a seminary or dispatched to Speaker’s Rest, where he will enter a far harsher period of his life. Church dogma and writings – the First Speaker’s Words, the Commentaries on Faith, The Nature of Sin and The Essence of Godpower – will be hammered into his head, along with prayers and vast numbers of precedents for churchly action. If he qualifies, a senior official will attempt to induct him into the Sinless; if the induction is unsuccessful, the candidate will be encouraged to meditate on his sins and confess them to his tutors. Small sins may be punished by the tutors; serious sins may result in immediate expulsion. (The Church believes that if you pay for your sins, you rise above them.) A candidate who fails induction three times will be expelled, on the assumption that he is corrupt.

The Church dwells quite heavily on corruption, which it deems a grave threat to the moral and spiritual realm. Corruption is two-fold, the willingness to sin and the willingness to preach heretical teachings. In the case of the former, the corrupt is either unaware that he is committing a sin or unwilling to confess; it is not so much that the corrupt has done something wrong, but that they do not know (or admit) that they’ve done something wrong. A man who batters his wife to death in a fit of rage might be forgiven by the Church; a man who cold-bloodedly plots his wife’s death would not be forgiven. Worse, someone who followed a heretic would be sinning against God himself. The Canton of Inquisition is charged with hunting down heretics and executing them. It also censors publications that touch on matters the Church would prefer left firmly alone.

***

Despite the two thousand years between the First Speaker and the present, Rhyamdine has developed far slower than Earth. This is indirectly the Church’s fault as it has, by and large, proven quite successful in preventing conflict amongst the various kingdoms. The handful of skirmishes have not spurred technological development in quite the same manner that open warfare did on Earth, although there is constant pressure to develop better ways of farming, metalworking and suchlike. Gunpowder exists, but serves as a mining tool rather than a weapon (although the military applications have not gone unnoticed.) Contact with two extra-continental empires has introduced quite a few new ideas to the continent. The Church has considered a crusade against one or both of the empires, but has been stymied by a lack of enthusiasm amongst the temporal powers.

It would be wrong to think of the continent as being trapped in stasis. The combination of kingdoms, princely states and city-states has encouraged a surprising amount of social mobility, with ambitious commoners picking up sticks and heading to the cities. (The nobility is divided on the issue, with some seeing the cities as safely valves (peasant revolts are always merciless) and others seeing their human capital disappearing into the teeming mass.) The Church itself isn’t sure how to treat the cities; on one hand, the Church granted their independence and doesn’t want to go back on its word, but on the others the cities are havens for freethinkers and heretics. That said, the number of such undesirables is relatively low, as the Church still has a great deal of influence.

That said, the majority of the population still lives in towns, villages and farms.

The kingdoms are ruled by kings, who enjoy the support of the Church as long as they follow orders (and accept the Church’s primacy in religious matters). The princely states are a little more complicated – the ruler is often elected from and by the local nobility – while the cities are experimenting with various different forms of government. The Church is not amused, but does nothing as long as its primacy is acknowledged.

***

The Church has ruled, indirectly, for nearly two thousand years. But cracks are beginning to appear in the edifice. The slow advance of technology has presented the Church with new problems, problems it has failed to solve. The failure to ban the printing press, for example, has kicked off a whole new range of problems, ranging from people openly questioning the social order to heretics propagating their beliefs to far greater audience than ever before. Trade with countries outside the Church’s empire has upset the balance of power, discontented noblemen (upset because the Church ruled against them) have been looking for ways to subvert the Church or provide quiet support to its rivals. They understand that not even the Sinless are immune to quiet bribery or subtle manipulation.

Worst of all, however, are reports that the Godpower is failing. Sinless who should have been able to work miracles have reported that the power has left them. The Church has been trying to cover it up, while it works frantically to find a solution, but the Council of Sinless knows it’s just a matter of time before the news leaks out. And, with reports of heretics wielding Godpower of their own, who knows what will happen next?

[Unknown to the Church, it’s dogma regarding Godpower is only half-right. Godpower is a reserve of power that can be tapped into, assuming that the would-be Godspeaker is pure enough to handle it. A selfish man would rapidly be destroyed by his own mind, if he was able to tap into Godpower in the first place. The First Speaker was autistic, allowing him greater understanding and control of Godpower than any of his predecessors. The Godly Chain allows less pure minds access to some of the power, ensuring that they aren’t likely to accidentally destroy themselves.

However, the Godly Chain is a chain. If someone within the chain becomes corrupt – and thus unable to wield Godpower – everyone below the corrupt man loses access to the power too. (For example, if Bob inducts John and Sarah, and then succumbs to corruption, John and Sarah will lose their powers too … as will everyone they have inducted.) The Church hasn’t realised – yet – that this is a problem because most of the Sinless, particularly the ones in high office, are rarely called upon to demonstrate their command of Godpower.

This does not, of course, stop heretics from accessing Godpower like the Godspeakers of old.

The exact nature of Godpower is not clear, intentionally so. Is it truly an aspect of God, with the First Speaker a Prophet? Or is it nothing more than a reserve of immense power, with the First Speaker nothing more than a man who set out to do good and succeeded. Like several other religions I could mention, the Church’s empire – at least at the start – was so much better than what had gone before that most people were delighted. It took time for disillusionment to sink in.]