"Experiment In Rebellion"

I've been reading "Experiment In Rebellion", a 1946 book by Clifford Dowdey which is a biography of Jefferson Davis and the rest of the Confederate government. Interesting stuff.

Dowdey argues consistently that Davis' worst fault was his idealism. It shows up in two ways: a belief that the pure rightness of his cause would be enough to win a knock-down, drag-out fight with a soft-spoken but ruthless Lincoln, and a really-not-endearing tendency to put "proving himself right" about "getting anything done" or "not making enemies of his own crew". By his own admission he tended to take every disagreement as a personal attack, and others said of him that he was intelligent and articulate (and a good husband and father) but always assumed that everyone agreed with him. Regarding Davis' unusually calm reaction to state governors who interfered with his conscription and other actions, the author says:

"There are revealed the man's innate idealism and bloodlessness. He appealed to these buffoons on the grounds that he respected -- logic and justice -- when a strong arm or skillful politics was all that could possibly help."

Dowdey blames Davis' background as a Southr'n gentleman of leisure who'd always been more interested in abstract ideas and gallantry than in real politics. He didn't even really want the job of president, and showed it by putting way too much of his effort into micromanaging the War Department, an area where he thought he was competent and he enjoyed the work. (That idea of officers reacting to stress by obsessing over one detail they find manageable and comforting seems to show up a lot in military history.) It also looks like between Davis' mistakes and the political process, he got a terrible crop of cabinet advisers, including some bloblike useless guys and one outright slimeball, Judah P. Benjamin. (Trope: "Smug Snake".) The few stars were Reagan his post office clerk, and the navy secretary Stephen Mallory, who were both ingenious with what little they had to work with. (Also the unsung heroes among his unofficial European diplomatic corps, the ones Davis ignored, who actually made headway toward getting the CSA diplomatic recognition while obtaining crucial supplies.) The various advisers did a terrible job of coordinating, too, to the point that not even the army and navy had any coherent planning together. Davis was too oblivious to the friction, and too dependent on Benjamin who "was more interested in expediting for the president than in what was expedited", to fix anything. (And it took a while to put that guy over in the SecState slot, the one where you kind of _want_ a snake.) Even his willingness to be conciliatory toward the governors, Dowdey says is due to the fact that they weren't trying to command the army, so they weren't directly stepping on his ego, the department he most cared about.

Davis, and the Confederacy's people, just weren't prepared for the kind of war the Union was willing to fight. Regarding the attack on New Orleans by Gen. "Beast" Butler: "Davis' suffering was beyond personal fear. Something terrifying had been turned loose on the land outside all his carefully evolved theories of secession and destiny of caste. He was a swordsman who had delivered a challenge on a point of honor and then been set upon by thugs who kicked his womenfolk while they spat on his rules of combat. Nothing in his character prepared him to comprehend the real nature of the fight..." (Yes, the author's not talking about instances of brutality by Confederates.) It's not the only case where the Confederates are portrayed as not understanding how and why they were being treated this way. Another example given is the near-hanging of a CSA ship crew for "piracy" on the grounds that there was no war -- until Davis threatened to start hanging Union prisoners from First Manassas because they must not be POWs.

It's been a tragic story to read so far, from seeing how many systematic errors there were in hindsight. It's a very different portrayal of the war from the simpler, incomplete theories that the generals didn't fight well enough or that the Union had overwhelming resources.

"Fallout" For Free
Nothing earthshaking to report, but the first "Fallout" games are free for the next day or so on The first two are classic PC RPGs with a post-apocalyptic setting and an early example of open-world gameplay, but are recent enough to have decent graphics.

DRM-free downloads rather than commitment to using their service in the future. Looks like they're doing it to spite Bethesda or somebody because they're losing the rights to those games.

I'm also amused that Fallout 4 got announced as taking place in Boston, involving evil-future MIT as a producer of slave robots. The campus is already a good dungeon-crawl location, what with the large multi-floor tunnel network. I predict an MIT campus hack celebrating the announcement.
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    relieved relieved

National Novel Writing Month Victory!

"You, mighty author, have officially reached NaNoWriMo 2013′s winner screen."

50,198 words after stripping the "#"s and "--"s, 50,314 by NaNo's count if I just copy-paste everything. Definitely above 50K actual words. So, "a winner is me"!

Next: TAKING A BREAK FROM WRITING, and GETTING SOME ICE CREAM (check). I'm one or two story parts behind on what I've posted to TSA-Talk, so I get to infuriate people by ending on a cliffhanger. The plan is to come back and finish the story, but only after doing the above things and doing much-needed exam studying. Also I'm interested again in doing the "TGChan" quest thing, in the same world.
  • Current Mood
    productive productive

National Novel Writing Month

I'm gearing up to try writing a novel called "Striking Chains" for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). is my official entry on the site. I have... not a great deal of confidence about actually getting to 50K words in a month, what with work and my classes, including the assignment due tomorrow that I should be working on now. But I do have lots of notes on the characters and setting and part of the plot. Will post the first bit here and DA, and possibly the rest of whatever I get through to the TSA-Talk mailing list!

This one's fantasy, set in the same world as Striking the Root but focusing on humans this time, something a bit more mainstream. I'm allowing myself one furry character plus probably partly-transformed humans with familiars. And... it's looking kind of dark so far. Sketchy map is at , with the story taking place in the eastern half.

National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month is coming up in November and I'm considering trying it. I don't know what to write, though. Some people have said things to the effect of "write about necromancer foxes!", but that's not how I operate. I need a theme I care about. In the first novel (SF) it was "freedom", and centered around characters trying to build a new life for themselves despite physical disability, economic hardship, and different kinds of oppression. In the second (fantasy) novel it was "loyalty", and involved people questioning their loyalties to their gods, kings and countries.

Idea A: The obvious option is to take up my unfinished fantasy novel sequel ("Striking Flags") again. Its theme is "treason". Why do people turn traitor, and what does it mean? I reread this one recently and liked the general idea. The big problem with it I see so far is Elias' story: I haven't hurt him enough yet to justify the treason he commits, and he's assigned to play policeman despite being physically abnormal and un-subtle. A partial answer to both problems is to have him become increasingly unable to join with his griffin, representing an increasingly unquiet mind, and have his colleagues not-quite-order him to take a long trip because he's becoming a troublemaker by not signing on to the new religion. Also his father should triumphantly announce that his peasant girlfriend's cheating on him with a "real man", so that he can set Elias up with a political marriage. Meanwhile I've been doing world-building stuff with a city called Suncove in that setting, so that helps develop the setting a bit.

In short, that novel could probably be salvaged. Wouldn't be a new novel for NaNoWriMo though.

Idea B: A totally different fantasy novel set in the same world, probably in the eastern lands where there are few to no talking squirrels or griffins. Why bother writing in that setting at all, then? It's got some established history and facts like how magic works. Why not write in squirrel-land? To answer the objection that "this is just a furry story so it's instantly in the furry ghetto". The trouble: so far I've got no ideas leaping out at me beyond the region's proposed sub-theme of "binding" (commitments and other relationships), the notion of familiars and water-related magic, and a vague idea of magic users being expected to get familiars (which cause minor transformations) and enter service to "the Boundless One". Also, the idea has to strike me as fun, so no grim-and-gritty throne games.

Idea C: Science Fiction. For years I've been wanting to write SF that's optimistic (a future I might want to live in), plausible (reasonably possible tech, no intelligent space aliens stopping by, no cosmic space wedgies hitting Earth), and near-future (roughly within 100 years of now). That's damn hard, partly because I'm quite pessimistic about the near future. Closest I've come to having a new SF novel idea is a set of notes on a future called "The Rift" involving secession, and many rehashed attempts at a story called "Fifth Freedom" which rips off Phil Guesz's "Freedom City". Something about a guy going to a seastead to "get rich quick or die trying" to cure his fatal brain disease, becoming a dolphin as a job, then leading a charge up San Juan Hill. As a dolphin. Probably to raid nearby Guantanamo. Doesn't seem like it'd make for a novel though. So... scrap that; need a near future in which liberty somehow survives and the plot doesn't grow out of random disasters like meteor impacts.

Idea D: That Japan kitsune novel. Wrote a couple thousand words of it. Secretly Christian samurai travels to Hokkaido ca. 1700, discovers kitsune, then starts wreaking havoc on Japanese history just as there's a major earthquake, a weird dog-obsessed overlord, and the "47 Ronin" incident scheduled. Important to get the history roughly right. I'd surely get it partly wrong despite having done some research, and have little interest in blurring it into a Wutai, a Vaguely Japanese World.

I'd also like to go back to what I did in the first novel, in terms of focusing on an active protagonist whose actions drive the plot instead of just being a reaction to some bad guy's scheme. I don't know; fantasy seasteading using water magic? =p

Fate and Other Simple Games

It's been a long time.

One thing I've been paying attention to lately is simple RPG systems. Mini Six is a free system using only d6, described in a pamphlet of 38 pages of which most are optional rules like magic, plus sample settings, vehicles, and common characters. There's also Mythic (about $5-10), which runs on answering yes/no questions with 2d10 and has a variant here that I've used in its "GM Emulator" mode to help with story writing.

Then there's Fate, a remake of the old FUDGE system, which is available through "pay what you want" downloads. Everything is described using "Aspects" that define the setting but have little mechanical effect unless you spend points per use to make them more significant. Eg., you might be "Wielder of the True King's Sword". That means there's said to be a True King in the setting, and that you can fight with a sword... but you get no specific bonus for it except when spending Fate Points. Well-designed Aspects can also be used by the GM against you to make your problems relevant and harmful, eg. by siccing regicidal assassins on you who get a one-time +2 to attack. I prefer the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) which is about 64 pages to Fate's 200+, but refer to the main book for more detail. FAE has simpler rules that replace skills with "approaches", so that a character might get +3 to Clever actions but only +1 to Careful ones. You customize PCs with their Aspects and with Stunts that do specific cool things. A neat thing about the system is that anything can be described using the same basic tools as a character: a ship, a country, an organization or a plotline.

Lately I've been playing a lot of Pathfinder (ie. D&D 3.75) in person at a game shop. My enthusiasm is just about gone for that, but I had some fun with it for a while. Doing "organized play" like these games requires a lot of sacrifice to the game design, so that players can enter or leave the game each week or play at a different location with different people.

It's been an interesting exercise to try looking at the same character in a different rule system. For instance, what might I do with my usual Pathfinder character, Pine the Sorcerer, in Fate?
-PF magic is generic do-anything stuff. Let's give him a theme! Do that by giving him the Aspect "Force Mage" reflecting a few of his spells: Mage Armor and Toppling Magic Missile. Now, pretty much any spell he casts will be described in terms of raw mystic force. The GM should use this Aspect against him if he tries to cast something unrelated to his specialty.
-His negligible backstory is that he's from the nation of Andoran but disillusioned with their fledgling democracy; he joined a formerly-evil watchdog group called the Shadow Lodge. Aside from the existence of the Shadow Lodge as a provider of secret secondary missions (one of Pathfinder's best ideas), that story never came up. So, give Pine a more negative Aspect of "Andoran Dissident", which gets him into trouble by having the GM suggest foolish behavior or lead him into traps -- but which he might use to help himself at a task like researching Andoran history.
-The most fun aspect of the character has been a running gag about his possibly-evil familiar. With PF there's hassle over exactly what abilities it can get and which books I have to buy to get permission to use them, and I really should've gone druid if I wanted the critter to remain useful at high levels. In FATE, the red tape is gone. Give Pine an Aspect like "Dire Squirrel Familiar", and then it's there and I can amuse myself for RP purposes, but it's no more powerful than another character's Mage Hand or something unless I spend Fate Points to make it so. Then maybe give him a stunt to define the ability further like, "My Dire Squirrel Familiar gives me +2 to overcome obstacles sneakily where a small, aggressive critter can help."

Also I tried writing up a character called Papyrus (squirrel-world mage) in both Mini Six and Fate, and found it interesting to see what each system emphasized and what additional info I had to invent about the character.

I came close to joining a Pathfinder game online where the GM would've let us use pretty much any race we wanted to design (so, no organized play restrictions), but gave up when I noticed I was obsessing over buying specific items of camping gear and calculating weight limits. Not fun. I've been GMing some Fate online, and am still clumsy with the system but liking it so far. Most interesting part for me has been setting up a situation with various obstacles, where the PCs have three rounds to prepare for a battle, and seeing what they do to overcome the obstacles and create advantages like weapons and training.

So, if you're interested in RPGs but not in excruciatingly complex rules, you might check out Fate, Mythic or Mini Six.

They Could Have Fought

They could have fought. They chose not to, over and over. Damn them.

Best part is, this article has people yelling at Boehner as though the decision to fund a law that he himself has repeatedly said is unconstitutional -- so that he's violated his oath of office by his own admission -- is his alone. His fellow representatives re-elected him, and choose not to depose him now, so they're complicit.

Meanwhile, there are now two dueling budget proposals. One says we should raise federal spending by T$3 over the next ten years, and the other says we should raise it by T$1.3. The two wings of the Party agree that we need massive spending increases, forever.

A Word From Lewis

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.
-C.S. Lewis

A Third Party and the Story of Freedom
The other day, "moderate" David Brooks wrote for the NYT that there should be a new Republican wing, one that isn't hung up on actually defending the Constitution or reducing the size of government. I disagree with his conclusion, but his analysis is correct about something important:

"Deep down people have mental maps of reality — embedded sets of assumptions, narratives and terms that organize thinking. Since Barry Goldwater, the central Republican narrative has been what you might call the Encroachment Story: the core problem of American life is that voracious government has been steadily encroaching upon individuals and local communities. The core American conflict, in this view, is between Big Government and Personal Freedom. While losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, the flaws of this mentality have become apparent. First, if opposing government is your primary objective, it’s hard to have a positive governing program. The second G.O.P. wouldn’t be based on the Encroachment Story."

What I draw from his reasoning is that a voting majority doesn't see freedom or the Constitution as particularly important. I agree. The people don't buy that story anymore. They want someone to take care of them (or they're really intent on gay marriage), and don't care that the cost is their freedom, and other people's. I've actually written their story in fiction form several times; it doesn't end well.

But why would anyone vote for Brooks' party? If you want someone to run your life for you and promise to take care of you, there's already a party for that, and some of their members are honest about seeing the Constitution as a huge mistake that they're fixing. What would the benefit even be in winning?

I've already changed my voter registration to Independent, and would support a third party that actually cared about liberty, as opposed to Brooks' idea. Let the GOP, politically, rot and die. Elections don't really matter at this point, though, because a majority of the culture as a whole is lost and can't peacefully coexist with the rest.