Thursday, April 29, 2010

Migrating Headache

It's funny how online news pieces often have a section after where people can leave comments. This is so you can read about how dumb people are. Most of the comments are frightening. Originally, our founder fathers only allowed rich, educated, land owners to vote. I don't think we should return to that, but it does make you wonder if they were on to something.

I find it amusing how creative people try and get with their name calling in these comments. Names like "Libtards," "Repubithugs"--that one's kind of a stretch, "Democraps / dummycrats," and of course the "Tea Baggers." Although people throw around that last one so often, I don't think most people realize it's an offensive term.

Being a Republican living in California, I'm used to the dumbest people on the planet trying to pick political fights with me. I sometimes wonder if most people even understand the most basic principles of politics in this country. Case in point, the stupid "Oh yeah, well the Republicans ruined the economy!" argument. I'm a Republican. Did I ruin the economy? Political parties are not sports teams. The only thing that makes someone a Republican is because they say they are. Yeah, Bush wasn't exactly the greatest political mind of our times, and if I were to name Republicans I think personify the party, he wouldn't be on my list. But on the same token, Ted Kennedy murdered a woman. What if I said, "You can't trust Liberals. They kill people." Does that make any sense? That's just as stupid of an argument. Btw, the Republicans are not "the ones" that ruined the economy, though many of them had a hand in it(and have since been voted out).

The individual does not define the political outlook they claim to ascribe to. If George Bush wasted money, it's not because he was a Republican. It was because he was a poor leader. If a bunch of Republicans in Kansas vote to ban the teaching of evolution in the classroom, it's not because they're Republicans. It's because they're a bunch of idiots. There is absolutely nothing in the political ideology of Republicanism that dictates any thing that threatens the credibility of a particular religion should be banned. In fact, this position runs contrary to the Republican idea that government should stay out of our lives(including what our schools can teach our kids).

The Tea Party movement seems to be vastly misunderstood by most people--including the media. Tea Partiers are conservatives who are angry at Republicans who've turned their backs on conservative principles. They're also angry at Democrats who've caved to the Liberals in their party and stopped fighting for what they believed to be responsible governance. Of course, there's also people in the Tea Party movement that are just idiots and are along for the ride, but I think they're a small minority.

Obama recently said that the Tea Partiers should thank him. After all, if they care about taxes, he's lowered them for most people. The original Boston Tea Party was a protest on taxation without representation. But the modern day movement has morphed considerably since then into a protest against big government(sort of the opposite cause). Obama isn't stupid. This was a calculated statement--one he knows is highly misleading. Because the Tea Party has no leaders and can't fight back, many Liberals who see them as a threat would like to marginalize them and mischaracterize them into being a bunch of angry white people mad at a non issue. But while Tea Partiers are mad at Republicans and Democrats that haven't been representing their conservative wishes, they're even more mad at government spending. And although taxes haven't changed much, they're going to explode soon. Obama is talking about a national sales tax--something that has decimated the economy in Europe. In Obama's first year, he will have spent more than Bush did in his first term. At this rate, before Obama's first 18 months, he will have outspent Bush's entire 8 years. And don't forget, yeah Bush spent a lot of money fighting this war in Afghanistan. Obama voted to go to war there. This is as much Obama's unfunded war as it is Bush's. Everything Bush did wrong, Obama is doing several times over.

I've seen a few dumb people mention that Obama's health care plan isn't much different from Mit Romney's or Richard Nixon's, therefore, what are the Republicans so mad about? First off, "If Nixon thought it was a good idea," is probably not a very strong argument. After all, Nixon felt it was ok to bomb Cambodia--a country we were not at war with--and lie about to the UN when the Cambodian government complained. Second, bad ideas are bad ideas no matter which party the proposer is from. Not to mention, Federal mandates are contrary to Republican ideology. Having those ideas come from people calling themselves "republicans" doesn't change that. Bad ideas are bad ideas.

This would be funny if it wasn't so sad. Over 40 of the biggest employers in the country have announced to their share holders(as required by law) they might start dropping health insurance for their employees. The bill that was supposed to lower premiums have instead caused them to rise--well duh, force insurance companies to take on high risk patients(pre-existing conditions) and they have to charge more to cover a higher risk of loss. And employers have done the math and determined that it's cheaper to pay the fines than it is to provide insurance. So the bill that was supposed to cover more people, might actually translate into less people covered. Obama's people are now admitting that the bill will not lower the deficit, but will actually increase it. So on all three fronts of controlling government costs, lowering premiums, and insuring more Americans, this bill might just make things worse for all three. The health care bill is Obama's only "accomplishment" so far. In a way I'm happy. 8 years of people bashing me because I voted for Bush, now it's the Democrats' turn. Not so easy, is it?

I guess the other big thing in the news is the immigration thing. When I first heard about Arizona passing a law allowing cops to stop anyone they felt like who looks like they might be an illegal alien, I wasn't happy about it. But then I did some more research on it. Turns out if a police officer stops you without probable cause, it's still illegal under this bill. So as Obama incorrectly said, police can't harass you as you go around with your kids to buy ice cream. The only thing the bill does is make it against the law to be here illegally. Huh? That wasn't already illegal? Apparently not. The law is now that police may not check to see if someone is an illegal alien until after they've committed another crime. Now with this new law, being here illegally is a crime in and of itself, and law enforcement can now deport you based solely on the fact that you're here illegally--something they can't do now. Now, if a cop pulls you over for driving while Mexican, you can still sue the state of Arizona for harassment and violation of your civil rights(racial profiling). This new law doesn't change that. I'm sure cops *are* pulling people due to racial profiling now, just because some cops are racist jerks. This law will not increase or decrease that. But you can bet the publicity will cause cops to be a lot more careful about it once the law goes into effect. It will still probably happen though, and will no doubt make the news when it does.

Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, has declared(out of ignorance) his city will be boycotting Arizona businesses. So some conservative states / cities have been talking about doing the same to SF. I'm all for civil rights. I think Cesar Chavez was an American hero for standing up for the fair treatment of migrant farm workers. But I'll bet you right now that Mayor Newsom's hasn't even read the bill. I haven't either. And my conclusion about it might be wrong. But then, I'm not a mayor putting my own ego above what's best for the people I represent.

I respect Newsom's fight for gay marriage equality in California. I've long been a supporter of civil rights on all fronts, but either the Liberals making a stink about this are alarmists or they're just trying to score cred with their Liberal voter base. Ignorance or posturing?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Still writing

So writing's been going slow. The reason, I think, is I've been taking the unreasonably hard route. This is a common theme for me. I do everything the hard way. It's usually because I need to challenge myself. This is something I do with school projects as well. I tackle really hard problems or issues that sometimes goes over the heads of my professors who give me a B, then someone who does a brain numbingly easy project skates by with an A just because they colored within the lines.

I'm pretty excited about this project. I've been working on it for a really long time now... since 1998. I took a business calculus class then, and while bored out of my mind, I began sketching out notes for this universe. A good vs evil story is too over done. Also, dragons and elves in fantasy is about as fresh and original as a vampire story. Not saying that a story needs to be original to be good. Just saying that I don't like coloring within the lines.

The other thing I really like is hard fantasy. This is a really rare and unusual combination. Some might even say an oxymoron. Basically, it means you still have fantasy elements: be it unicorns, dragons, vampires, or magic, but you give a scientific explanation for it. It's not that fantasy writers are incapable of doing so. It's that few feel the need to do so. Really, what weirdo watched Lord of the Rings and said, "Hold on a second, there's no such things as hobbits," and walked out of the theater? No one cares if it makes sense. The story and the characters is what sells it. But I like hard fantasy anyways. Here's why.

I think giving the reader a feeling like the world you create has more impact if it's plausible. I used to play dungeons and dragons a lot as a kid. I know. You're shocked. But when I was the dungeon master, if I played strictly by the rules, my players would use those rules as a standardized tool kit to solve mysteries in the world. In other words, let's say there's a murder mystery. The victim was killed by lightning, indoors. That means it's not a druid(they can only cast lightning outside). It's not a cleric--they don't cast lightning at all. It's no other spell caster, but a magic user. The Lightning Bolt spell is from the school of Evocation. A Necromancer specialist doesn't have access to Evocation. So the players can use these clues to narrow down their suspects and unravel the mystery. Maybe, if they're really good and one of them knows an awful lot about magic, they can judge the power of the spell by examining clues and find out if the killer is a lackey or something more dangerous.

Now other DMs might think, "The rules are too restricting. They hamper my creativity." And I watch these DMs work, and when they give tasks to their players to solve, the players try a few things then give up. Why do they give up? Because since the DM doesn't play by the rules, they cannot use the rules as a toolkit to narrow down leads, so in a sense, they're wasting their time even trying. The world now has no structure and no meaning. It would be like an episode of CSI where DNA evidence, finger prints, etc, are never completely reliable. After a while, you'd just give up.

So, I've tried to make a world that's physically plausible. The "planet" itself is a flat world where the sun rises and sets in the same place. Ok, so that's a challenge. A number of things wrong here. If the earth was flat, gravity would cause us to all slide towards the middle, just as our round earth pulls us to the center now. But a flat planet is plausible if the people live on one side, and on the other, a distance away, is an object of incredible mass. The flat planet essentially becomes a shelf keeping us from falling into the massive object on the otherside. But what keeps the shelf from falling?

What keeps the earth from colliding into the sun? After all, the sun does pull us towards it. What pulls us away? You've probably heard about centrifugal force. It's that thing that keeps water in a bucket, even when you spin it upside down. So at the same time the earth spins around the sun, causing the earth to want to fly off into outer space, the sun pulls the earth towards it due to gravity. The two forces exactly cancel each other out. Now before you think, "See? Only God could have reached such an amazing balancing act!" Keep in mind, this is the same thing humans have figured out how to do to keep satellites up in the sky by orbiting around the earth. If a satellite didn't spin around the earth, it would instantly start plummeting towards us. Sometimes satellites do come crashing down. But the earth took billions of years to work out its balancing act. No doubt other planets weren't so lucky and crashed into our sun long before life started here. But I digress.

The sun rising and setting in the same place in my world is a hard system to explain, but I'm happy with how I have it. It has to do with the creation of the planet and the final mystery--and that, I'm keeping under wraps for now.

Ok, but on to what's been causing me the issue. I cut out 3 other main characters and just focused on one. She has a lot of crap to deal with, and she transforms throughout. It's a very emotional journey for her. I'm happy with her and the issues she faces. But I picked a really hard narration style to do this story in--Third Person Objective. It means the narrator is an objective reporter that only mentions what can be observed. No "In the character's heads" kinda stuff. So if a character is sad or angry, instead of saying so, I describe what the expressions look like and assume the reader knows those signs. It's basically like script writing. It works ok 80% of the time and allows the reader to be a more active participant, coloring in the story with their own interpretations along the way. Unfortunately, it's not a story open to a wide variety of interpretation, so readers keep coming up with weird conclusions that wreck the enjoyment of the story. I feel like I'm wasting too much time trying to micro manage details to shape reader perceptions of scenes.

This writer's group I'm in, I'm pretty happy with them, but they're just not feeling the impact from the story like I want them to. So I'm going to play around with it, and write with the exact opposite narration style--First Person Stream of Consciousness. Hell, I'm even putting it in present tense. It's similar to how people write blog style only for events happening in real time. In this blog, I'm assuming that I'm writing conversationally to another person. In this case, no one's actually reading this blog, but it does help me if I pretend like people are. Keeps me on my toes and in practice giving out as much information as possible with the least amount of words.

The narrator in the story is a little different. She's not assuming she's talking to another person, but rather trying to sort things out in her own mind for herself. Also, events interrupt her thoughts. I like this because Stream of Consciousness writing can fall into a trap of losing sense of time. Time is really important in fiction. I'll give you an example of writing that loses time:

"The detective scanned over the crime scene, her trained eyes soaking up every detail. Suddenly, she noticed something the other investigator missed. Is that a tiny spot of blood on the hallway? Would it match the killer's or the victim's? Carefully, she crept towards the spot and took a sample. Not a match to either. She shook her head at the lab results. An accomplice or an unknown, second victim?"

Wait, what the hell? What lab results? Is she still at the crime scene or is this several days later after a lab did a DNA test? You, as the reader, have no idea. What it is, is bad writing. If the problem instead is a lose sense of rhythm, then that can be equally jarring. Ok, more bad writing:

"The Space Commander looked over the palate of carbonite transductors in Storage Room 4. How many Nebulons could have been saved had only his crew been able to reach Orion IV and deliver these sooner?

It took three weeks for the Star Gazer to reach the jump point. Orion IV was now on screen. The Commander paced in front of his command chair. He rose his hand ready to give the order to plot course when the tactical office spoke. Nerubians. Not now!"

Ok, first off, he was in one room, then three weeks went by, I think, now he's on the bridge. I say "I think" because I don't know if the author's saying in the past it took three weeks and they're there now, or if he looked at the transwhattawhats and then it took three weeks. But even if we take this as sequential order, it's like the writer is yanking the reader through time. The pace is unpredictable and causes the reader to slow down and try and figure out what's going on. Any time the reader has to stop and go, "Ok, what's going on now?" it means reading your piece has become work.

Time cannot always flow at the same speed in writing. Characters sleep and do other uninteresting things that do not and should not be explained or detailed in real time all the time. But rhythm should still be predictable. What I like to do is pick real time scenes and use scene breaks to separate them.

Speaking of that, I should get back to it. Trying this new narration style, I should be able to crank through this faster and have a book with the emotional impact I was shooting for.