WATWB – Your Monthly Shot Of News That Doesn’t Suck

Ask any good dictator or fascist regime what the single most important facet of maintaining control is and, without a doubt, they’ll tell you regulating the flow of information. Now, these are usually thugs and low-brained idiots, so “regulating the flow of information” may be beyond their vocabulary. Some will talk about outside influences, some will shout about fake news, some will simply shoot you for asking, but the general gist will always be the same. Control information and you can control people. It’s one of the things that all dictators have in common.

And, coincidentally, the free flow of information is one of the best ways to kick fascist regimes in the balls. For a fascist regime to stay in power, it requires the few to control the many. That requires a population that won’t fight back. Because no matter how many people you have on your secret police force, no matter how brutal they are, there will always be more people than thugs and as soon as the people rise up, the thugs tend to find themselves on the wrong end of a rope.

The question, of course, is how do you get the necessary information to the people who need it when there’s a functional information blackout? Think North Korea’s traditional model of keeping all foreign influence out by keeping all foreigners out or the Great Firewall of China or simply complaining about fake news at every opportunity.

In the case of North Korea, the rest of the world will periodically do things like drop DVDs, DVD players, cell phones, papers, books, and other things into random parts of the country. Such contraband will get the holder killed, but information has a way of leeching into the soil of society. It’s a long-term process, but it will slowly erode the stone bulwarks. But it doesn’t work in semi-open societies since they already have those things. The trick there is present the other side of the news – the one not allowed by the government – and to keep the people consuming that other side safe.

Here’s a fun fact for you: If it weren’t for Phil Zimmerman, the Russian Revolution might very well have failed. Zimmerman got hold of one of the early RSA asymmetric-key encryption mechanisms. He realized just how useful a functionally unbreakable code could be to keep information safe from prying eyes. As the NSA was breaking down his door, Zimmerman released the very first instance of PGP to the world. Much to the chagrin of people who liked to paw through your email to find out when the revolution was starting. By blocking that information, you make it much harder to keep control.

Crypto maintains the free flow of information by preventing its interception. Now, the really cool thing about good crypto is it can free information by preventing its interception on a large scale. As noted before, one of the biggest problems with distributing information that governments don’t want distributed is making sure the people consuming that information don’t get their teeth knocked for consuming it.

For that, you need some way to browse information safely without worrying about who’s watching over your shoulder while you’re reading about all the atrocities being committed by your leaders. That means something like Darknet and our good buddy Tor.

While Darknet has largely become the purview of drug dealers, kiddie porn, and assorted scoundrelry, it’s also potentially a powerful weapon for information warfare. The ability to get information securely to people who need it is immensely useful. Arguably, it’s a better weapon than any bomb or gun could ever be because gunshots and explosions are isolated things. Information spreads like a virus. It’s amazingly useful for tearing down walls and the dictators that built them.

So, you can imagine how my eyes lit up when I saw BBC News was mirroring its site on Darknet. It’s brilliant. It’s a perfect way of getting information past censors and firewalls and protecting the people consuming it. Putting BBC News on Darknet is a weaponizing information and pointing it straight at the fascists who would stop it from spreading. And that is a far better use for Darknet than slinging drugs.

Check out the story here.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts of the month are: Sylvia McGrath, Lizbeth Hartz, Shilpa Garg, Mary Giese, and Belinda Witzenhausen

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

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And now your moment of Zen.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

One of the things college debate teaches you is whatever argument you use has to have an impact. The bigger the better. That way, whenever the opposing team comes up with something else and says if their plan isn’t implemented it will lead to nuclear war, you can counter with “If our plan isn’t implemented, the Earth is going to spin off into the sun causing an explosion that will take out the solar system.”

You laugh, but the last year I was coaching and judging, one of our debate teams was researching HAARP and found evidence that said exactly that. It was bullshit, but it was published so it was considered valid evidence. The fact that it was published by a complete loon in Angels Don’t Play This HAARP was beside the point.

In case you’re wondering, yes, that team swept through their first tournament leaving bodies in their wake because no one had ever heard of HAARP at that point.

At any rate, the big harm if the plan isn’t implemented isn’t relegated solely to the realm of collegiate debate. It’s a common theme in most persuasive speaking to some degree or another. Religion loves to use it as do politicians and nosy neighbors. And so do environmentalists.

Now, here’s where this little diatribe is going to get kind of weird. Let me start by saying, I don’t think Global Warming is a hoax created by the Chinese. I’ll relegate that kind of thinking to low-grade morons. Nor do I think it’s a myth propagated to bring down America. I recognize it as a serious threat even if we’ve probably passed the point of stopping Global Warming and need to focus now on how to deal with it. Global Warming has a great harm – the destruction of all life on Earth – but it’s simply too big for most folks to comprehend. Plus, you have people saying things like, “How can there be Global Warming when it’s snowing outside?” and that kind of limited-use logic is hard to debate against.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think hitching the environmental horse to Global Warming might not have been the best idea. As I said, it’s too damned big to comprehend. What’s easier to comprehend, however, is that water you’re drinking right now? It’s not supposed to be brown and it’s probably giving you cancer. That deer you feel like eating? The meat has so much mercury in it, it’s poison. You like fishing? Sorry. All the fish are dead. Stuff like that is right in your face.

The corrolary to that is pointing out the good things that can happen when we keep the environment cleaned up. I get it; it’s a hassle to have to dispose of chemical waste properly, but think of this way: By containing chemical waste correctly, you’re keeping the possibility of getting super powers all to yourself. Seriously, it happens all the time. Read a comic book.

Anyway, one of the most polluted places in the world used to be New York harbor. It was so bad that pretty much nothing could live in there. And don’t get me started on the number of people who swam in the harbor and spontaneously developed super powers. Thanks to environmental regulation, though, those waters have been cleaned up and starting to see life returning. Teeny tiny life and really damned big life. That’s right: Whales have been returning to New York Harbor. That, in and of itself, is causing some problems and the incidences of spontaneous super power generation has dropped off, but those are easier problems to fix than a whole damned harbor made of poison.

So, the next time someone tells you environmentalism is a crock of shit, punch them in the nose. No, actually don’t do that. Just remind that a little effort has returned life to a harbor that was effectively dead. While fishing off the piers may not be the greatest idea yet, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it could be someday. Plus, let’s face it, whales are cool.

Go check out the full story here.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented co-hosts this month are
<a Sylvia Stein, Eric Lahti, Shilpa Garg, and “https://www.authorlizbethhartz.com/blog/”>Lizbeth Hartz/a>.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented co-hosts this month are
Sylvia Stein, Eric Lahti, Shilpa Garg, and Lizbeth Hartz.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now your moment of Zen

Book Review – R.A. McCandless’s Company Of The Damned

Back in 2014 the first of RobRoy McCandless’s angelpunk stories dropped and changed the world’s view of angels. That book was Tears of Heaven (check out my review here). In case you’re wondering, every time I use Tears of Heaven as a drink in one of my books, that’s what I’m referring to. Tears of Heaven kicked off the Flames of Perdition series about the Nephilim Del and her ongoing task to rid the world of rogue demons escaped from Hell and tearing up the world.

Since then, two more books in the series have dropped and this time Del the rogue-demon slayer has come a long way from the absinthe-swilling anti-heroine we saw in the first book. She’s been beaten down, seen friends killed, and found herself in a shaky alliance with a hidden group of elves. Hell Becomes Her set up the longer-running story line and Company Of The Damned knocks it out of the park.

This is McCandless at his finest, digging into the action and bringing the character’s to life on the page. Like all good writing, it started with “what if?” question. In this case, what if some of the Biblical elements were right? Maybe not all of them, and Del is certainly not given to quoting Bible verse. But what if demons were a real and constant threat? What if angels were the nigh-undefeatable soldiers of the Throne? What if, stuck in the middle of that, were the Nephilim, struggling to find a safe way for themselves in a world that would be perfectly content to see them dead?

That’s the world McCandless built in the first two books. In Company of the Damned, he takes full advantage of that world and doesn’t hesitate to tear the hell out of it. This is like reading a Hollywood blockbuster – it has battles, and magic, and Norse goddesses, and golems, and even Lucifer himself. With all that, it would seem like a complicated mess of a story. And perhaps it would be in the hands of a less story-teller, but McCandless weaves this stunning menagerie with a deft hand and gives us a rare gem in the world: A Hollywood blockbuster that has a heart. It’s not all style and no substance.

If you like your characters tough, your dialogue sharp as a tack, and your action scenes plotted out as well as any John Woo movie, this is a good series to get into. With a bit of luck, we’ll see Del on the silver screen someday.

Del’s life was supposed to be easier. She had safety, support, and a small army of immortals to help her banish rogue demons. She should have known better. When the Archangel Michael himself orders her to account for her actions and face judgement, Del finds herself at a crossroads. Trapped on an island in the Mediterranean, Del is outgunned, outnumbered, and outmaneuvered. While her shaky alliances are falling apart, old enemies and new traitors appear around every corner. It may take everything Del has to save all she’s worked for—including her own life. \

Get your copy on Amazon

Check out Rob’s blog

Follow Rob on Twitter

Blurbing. Again.

Ask any author and they’ll tell you the most hated part of writing is the damned blurb. Something about condensing down 100k words into a few sentences is breathtakingly terrifying. Spend a year or so writing and editing and then cut that sucker down to something slightly longer than the TV Guide entry for Star Trek V. And don’t forget to make it exciting.

In the latest installment of the epic space series, the crew sets out to find God.

I usually don’t agonize over words in the book, but writing a blurb is a different kind of writing. It has to tell enough of the story that the reader knows what they’re getting, but it has obscure enough of the details that people want to read it to find out what happens. And it had better be coherent.

I’m not usually one to back away from a challenge, though. In order to get a little better at it, I’ve been writing imaginary blurbs in my head, trying to make the most mundane subjects sound dynamic and exciting. My old drama teacher used to say we don’t write plays about people brushing their teeth, but that’s not to say we can’t write a blurb about it.

In the harsh white light of the bathroom, Jake Hughes found a version of himself staring bleary-eyed from the mirror. He didn’t know how he got there or where he was going, but he had a brush in one hand and a tube of something in the other. Would he be able to solve the riddle in time or was his washed-out reflection right when it told him the woman he woke up with was about to burst in and shoo him out?

Jake Hughes was a legend in the cutthroat world of competitive solitaire until a string of harsh losses dimmed his star and left him deep in debt to the mob. He was about to play his last card when a hand with red fingernails stopped him. Now, to get back in the game, he has to learn how handle the cards and the woman who saved his life before the mafia shuffles his deck forever. In the process, he might just learn that even though it’s called solitaire, it doesn’t have to be played alone.

Jessica Hayha has felt the universe’s whiplash smile more than once. Down on her luck and running late for an interview, she feels the cruel hand of fate slapping her again. Of all the socks in her drawer, there’s not a single matching pair. Now, with time running out and the smoky voices of half-caf double-decaf lattes taunting her, she’s got one last shot at redemption before she resigns herself to being a barista forever. Find a matching pair or whither away like so many of her friends.

Anyway. Not perfect, but one of those things I like to do when I need to take a break from programming. And you know what they say, if you want to get better at something, do it a lot.

Book Review – Warriors of Understone by B.K. Bass

Medieval fantasy was never really my bag. I’ve only read a few books set in the classical fantasy world that caught my attention and those have been few and far between. Terry Brooks’s Shannara series, Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern series (although that almost tips into sci-fi. At the very least, it’s debatable), maybe handful of others. This isn’t necessarily a flaw in the genre itself, it’s just harder for me to wrap my imagination around swords and sorcery than it is to wrap it around some epic battle between giant bugs and dudes in power armor. Even though, when you get right down to it, the differences are mostly cosmetic.

Anyway, I haven’t read much fantasy lately, which is really a pity. Maybe my tastes are changing and I hadn’t realized it, but I really enjoyed Warriors of Understone. Not necessarily because it’s fantasy, but because the genre becomes just the setting instead of becoming a character unto itself. Sure, there are elements of world building – you have to have those when you’re dealing with dwarves – but the world fades nicely into the background and allows you all the free time you need to focus on the characters and the action of the story. That, in my mind, is a hallmark of a great writer. It’s all too easy to spend page after page detailing the intricacies of a fictional world but, let’s face it, that can get tedious after a while.

What B.K. Bass gives us in Warriors of Understone is character-driven fiction that uses the fictional world and all its nuances as a jumping-off point for the actual meat of the story. And the story, for all its fantastical elements, is a very human story about very human things. That’s what makes it special and, arguably, what makes any fantasy story magical: Less time spent describing a feast from a thousand years ago and more time focusing on motivation.

Even if fantasy isn’t your bag, give Warriors of Understone a read. It’s a novella, so it’s not like you’ll have to dedicate the next several years of your life to one story like some other authors I could mention *cough Tolkien cough*, but it’s still a very filling story. You’ve got action, adventure, intrigue, and folk getting swatted in the face with battle axes. Plus, hey, it’s got dwarfs as the main characters and those folk are pretty damned cool.

Durgan must struggle to overcome not only his common birth, but also the prejudices of a stagnant and isolated society to become one of the warriors of Understone. The sprawling dwarven city lies deep beneath the mountains, at the heart of a kingdom that has not changed its ways in centuries. Plagued by threats both within and without, life is a constant struggle to survive and furious battle is around every corner. Durgan may overcome opponents with axe and shield, but can he change the very values of his society with the same tools?

Get your copy on Amazon

Check out B.K. on Twitter, Kyanite Publishing‘s Author Page, his website

Book Review – The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

The strange and wonderful world of superheroes and villains has always been a fertile field for new ideas to take root. From the original mortals that stood up to the gods to the Shadows and Doc Savages to modern mega-blockbusters, the idea of better than regular people fighting evil has been around since we first said, “Man, those gods are jerks. I’d love to kick that Apollo guy right in the balls.” Through those superheroes and villains, though they be better, stronger, smarter, more powerful than us, we get the chance to explore our own humanity.

The idea of flawed heroes is nothing entirely new, though modern mainstream movies are only just beginning to explore it. The Shadow was hardly a nice guy. Doc Savage may not have killed anyone outright, but he had no qualms about letting a temple fall on a bad guy.

It is kind of wonderful to see someone take a powerful character and expose their weaknesses. Not necessarily kryptonite, but those little things inside their heads that slowly break them down. The failures they can’t quite get over, no matter how much they drink.

They say the Golden Age of Superheroes was the 1930s. This was the era that brought us Superman and Batman, albeit slightly different than their current incarnations. This was also the stomping ground of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Phantom. It was a vibrant time and the panoply of colorful characters represented that time. But once you strip away the veneer, the world was a mess.

It’s into that world that Alexander Thomas drops us. Organized crime, honest cops, random violence, and very real magic. Our guide is Anson Walker, a stage magician with actual magical powers who got dragged into the role of a hero and found more than he bargained for.

Part superhero story, part love story, part mystery, The Magician’s Sin is a caterwauling romp through the weird and wonderful world of the Golden Age of Superheroes. A time when the ethics of one hero are being supplanted by the twisted ethics of another and right around the corner a magical anomaly is waiting.

This is a well-crafted story that deserves attention. It may be easy to throw a bunch of genres at a book and see what resonates, but it takes a gifted master to weave elements of heroism, failure, magic, detective noir, and romance into a single, cohesive story. And that’s what Alexander Thomas has given us in The Magician’s Sin.

Simply brilliant. Go buy a copy. Now.

Titan City: 1933

Anson Walker is a retired wizard who has spent the last two decades trying to put his past to rest. His cynical retirement is thrown into chaos when the daughter of his ex-wife hires him to rescue her mother from the dark forces who’ve taken her. The kidnapping is only days before the Aberration, a time every century when the rules of magic don’t apply. Anson’s investigation reveals an ancient conspiracy, the return of a decades-old nemesis, and feelings he thought long gone.

Will he rescue his old flame, or succumb to the forces against him?

Get your copy on Amazon

Check out Alexander on Twitter, his website, Facebook, and on Kyanite Publishing‘s Author Page

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

Here’s an interesting tidbit of historical knowledge for you: America’s first “Drug Czar” was a guy named Harry J. Anslinger. He was the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics and held that post for an incredible 32 years. Prior to that post, he was deeply involved with the Department of Prohibition, those fun-loving guys responsible for smashing every bottle of bourbon in the country. During America’s brief flirtation with alcohol prohibition, Anslinger dismissed marijuana as a harmless weed, not a problem, harmless, and felt it was absolutely absurd that it caused violence in people. After the U.S. came to its senses and repealed prohibition in favor of getting drunk on the weekends, Anslinger saw his role in the Federal Government might be creeping to a close and did a quick 180 on the chronic. At the time, marijuana was largely the purvue of poorer classes and immigrants, so it was a relatively easy sell to say, “Marijuana users are getting high and raping white women.” Banning it largely impacted people who no one in charge cared about. It was the perfect bogey man. If you wonder why you can’t do a little wake and bake without the Feds busting down your door, you can thank Mr. Anslinger for his tireless devotion to keeping himself relevant and his career afloat by going after weed like it was slashing tires and knocking up little girls.

Another fun fact: In 2017, 1,394,514 people were arrested on various posession charges. Meaning they weren’t trafficking the stuff, just carrying. Not all were incarcerated for posession, but plenty were. All of them now have a record for violating federal narcotics laws, which means jobs can be trickier to come by. This, of course, means people have to settle for lower-paying jobs or no jobs at all. As a result poverty goes up, bringing its good buddy crime along with it. Now, you can conflate Mary Jane with poverty and crime and you’ve got a nice spiral of destruction going on. We won’t even bring up the amount of money the private prison system brings in by incarcerating people for getting stoned and listening to Pink Floyd. Money talks, cages lock. And all because Harry J. Anslinger didn’t feel like getting another job.

Of course, the recent trend – started by Colorado, which is frankly making a killing in taxing weed – is for states to start effectively decriminalizing weed. Thirty three states have effectively said they don’t care: Toke up. The Federal Government has not followed that trend, but it’s probably only a matter of time. So what about the people who got popped before the changes in the laws went into effect? Well, some of them are still in prison and most of them still have a criminal record for carrying a few joints. But all isn’t lost, states and private companies are working together to start puring criminal records for low-level posession crimes. To the tune of possibly hundreds of thousands of convictions being overturned. Cook County in Illinois, for example, is looking at expunging tens of thousands of convictions automatically. And that’s one county.

Now, all this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m saying go get baked or even that I’m planning on getting baked, I’m just saying we tried the exact thing with prohibition and it was a miserable failure. In fact, it could be argued that prohibition alone gave rise to the power of the Italian Mafia just like the war on drugs is giving power to a bunch of Mexican cartels. Too many people have been caught up in Mr. Anslinger’s desperate need to keep his job. Fortunately, that’s looking like it could finally be corrected. Without wasting time on weed, it frees the country up to deal with bigger problems like meth, crack, and opioids.

Go check out the full story here

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented co-hosts this month are
Susan Scott, Peter Nena, Shilpa Garg, Mary J. Giese and Damyanti Biswas/a>.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now your moment of Zen