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.

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And now your moment of Zen.

PMRC And Writing

Back in 1985, a group known as The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) dropped a bomb on musicians. That bomb was set off (or so the story goes) when Tipper Gore walked in on her daughter listening to W.A.S.P. album and the detonation is still felt today, albeit less seismically than back in 1985.

The bomb was the idea that some music (namely W.A.S.P. albums) needed some kind of mechanism to inform parents that the albums they were buying for their kids might be less than vanilla. As if any parent picking up Inside The Electric Circus would think they were getting savory easy listening.

After months of Senate hearings and Dee Snyder folding like an amateur poker player at pro night, a mighty black and white sticker started appearing on music deemed inappropriate for kids. You still it sometimes today, for those of you that actually look at CDs rather than ripping them to MP3 and tossing the disc.

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The sticker that guaranteed a good album

Now, the funny thing about all this – at least in hindsight – was all the hysteria on both sides. Tipper Gore and her Washington Wives Club were absolutely terrified that heavy metal music would turn kids into Satanists, which was largely unfounded. Sure Blackie Lawless is on the cover of a W.A.S.P. album wearing nothing but body paint and fake nails, but the album itself wasn’t bad. Especially once you got the image of Blackie Lawless wearing nothing but body paint and fake nails out of your head.

On the other side of the spectrum, artists were apoplectic that they were being censored and, like many other things, the move would destroy freedom of expression. Again, this was largely unfounded. Although, to be fair, after the PMRC bombshell, W.A.S.P.’s next album – The Headless Children – was surprisingly tame. Whether that was due to the efforts of the PMRC or the band simply got older and ran out of alcohol and floozies is a question for the ages.

But remember, this was all going on in 1985. It was in 1986 that the Beastie Boys taught us how to party with License to Ill, 1989 saw 2 Live Crew releasing As Nasty As They Wanna Be, and Body Count dropped Cop Killer on us in 1992. Any one of those would likely have caused Tipper & crew to seize and shake violently.

Music went on. It’s still going on. In the end, all the PMRC did was give a bunch of bands free advertising and cost record labels extra money.

So, what does all this have to do with writing?

Well, I was reading blogs this morning and came across an interesting entry by A.A. Frias titled “Should Books Come With Content Warnings?” My first, immediate reaction was “Not only no, but hell no.” Fortunately, I’ve been living up to a promise to myself to listen not only to what people have to say, but why they’re saying it, so I read the whole piece with an open mind. Or at least a mostly open mind. It was early and I hadn’t finished my coffee.

Especially after I read the whole post and realized she wasn’t advocating content warnings, just trigger warnings.

She makes some interesting points and does a great job of differentiating between Content Warnings and Trigger Warnings, and establishes a case for why trigger labels could come in handy for some people. It’s a thought-out post and I suggest you read it, especially if you don’t really get the difference between content that offends and content that can trigger.

Now, her post was on the net benefit of trigger warnings and I’m not in any position to debate that. She also doesn’t agree with content warnings on books. So, essentially, we’re on the same page.

But it got me thinking. We have warnings on all sorts of media. Movies get MPAA ratings. TV shows get ratings and warnings. Music has warnings. Guess what doesn’t have warnings?

I will pretty much guarantee there is someone out there right now, sick to death of seeing 50 Shades of Grey at Target and wondering what can be done about this awful, awful thing. To some people, that book is the literary equivalent of walking in on your child listening to W.A.S.P. So, the question of the day is, should there be, or will there be content warnings on books? After all, it happened in music, movies, and TV, what makes us think it can’t happen in books, too?

I’m pretty dismissive of the idea of warning labels ever showing up on books. Frankly, I’m dismissive of warning labels in general. But remember Rule 34: if it exists, there’s porn of it. The explosion of erotica might just be what’s needed to jump-start someone’s campaign and once that happens, it’s a forgone conclusion that we’ll all (well, at least me) be putting warning labels on our books.

Did you know there’s Trump/Putin erotica out there? I’d heard the rumors and, yes, they are true. No, I haven’t read any, but I can imagine coming across the following line when it wasn’t expected (consider yourself warned):

“His tiny hands searched in the darkness, desperately seeking a way to make his own perestroika from a tower of glasnost.”

Go ahead, get that one out of your head. I dare you. I double dog dare you. BTW, I totally made that up.

Also by the way, the cover of that book should be content warning enough for anyone. Yeesh.

So, would I freak the heck out if I read that line? Not gonna lie here,  I’d probably laugh my ass off. But, yeah, it’d be unpleasant and leave me wondering what kind of book I picked up and how to get my money back.

But does it warrant a warning label on the book? No, not really. After reading the blurb, and the title, and looking at the cover I really should expect lines like that and know to leave that book alone. If, perchance, you happen to have written that book, you’re welcome for the free publicity.

Because of all that, and the fact that the PMRC’s warning labels accomplished diddly squat, I don’t think we really need content labels. Just like Blackie Lawless on the cover of Inside the Electric Circus (and song titles like “95-N.A.S.T.Y.” and “King of Sodom and Gammorah”) gave listeners a pretty good idea of what to expect, a book cover and blurb should give readers a pretty good idea of what to expect.

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This looks like wholesome, family music. Besides, wasps are neat bugs.

A title like Putin on the Trump: A Vladimir Putin Donald Trump erotic journey helps give the reader insight into what they’re in for, too. And let me just say, um, yuck.

But just because I don’t think we need content warning labels on books doesn’t mean someone out there isn’t looking to kick start their career by going after books they don’t like. We’ve seen plenty of times where books were burned (by the way, never burn a Kindle, the smoke is lethal), so it’s not too much of a stretch that we’ll see warnings at some point in the future.

Should it happen, should the stark fist of government intervention find its way into the literary world, there will likely be much wailing and gnashing of teeth along with wails of 1st Amendment violations and stifling of creativity. But I have a feeling the literary world would soldier on just like the musicians of the 1980s. We’ll just have warning stickers on our book covers and, just like the music warning stickers, they’ll guarantee a good time.

What do you think? Are warning labels a good idea or a bad idea? Do you think we’ll see a time when they’re mandated? I’m not in any way, shape, or form informed enough to debate trigger warnings, but feel free to weigh in on those, too.

 

Ban My Book – Part 2

In my ongoing attempt to extend an olive branch to the crazies I’d like to offer some very compelling reasons to ban my latest book. I wrote up a point-by-point analysis of why Henchmen and Arise should be banned, but in the interest of saving someone some very valuable time, I’ve compiled this list of excellent reasons why The Clock Man should – nay, must be banned immediately.

  • Alluding to the idea that neutrality is better than good or evil.
  • A group using a long-running battle between good and evil to make profit for themselves. Something like that would certainly never happen in the real world.
  • Use of witchcraft, Dia De Los Muertos statues, magic, and a talking weapon designed to kill Gods. Heck, just the idea that a God could be killed is considered heresy in some places.
  • Magic and ghosts. Actually The Protectors is pretty tame, but should probably be banned just to be on the safe side. It wouldn’t do to risk wrath, now would it?
  • The idea that human can capture a God and that God can start a brand new religion. Heresy. Political figures shown in a negative light. Not as negative a light as in Henchmen, but pretty negative.
  • A morally ambiguous hero.
  • Taken one way, The Clock Man can be allegory for a human killing God.
  • Murders, allusions to sex, a woman in lingerie trying to seduce someone, a woman who’s not only powerful but thinks for herself.
  • Norse Gods as real beings.
  • Magic, witchcraft, a monster that’s something less than despicable, a hint that a monster is sent as punishment.

I’ve done the heavy lifting here, so it’s up to the morality police to use their power to make sure everyone knows about this book and just how filled with moral turpitude it is.

“A coward turns away, but a brave man’s choice is danger.” – Euripides

“The truth, no matter the cost.” – Spider Jerusalem

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Clean Reader

So, if you haven’t heard of Clean Reader you’re probably not an author and there’s a high chance you’re sane.  It’s an app that removes offensive words from a text so people who can’t handle reality can still enjoy reading.  The backlash among authors was, to say the least, pretty spectacular.  Unfortunately, once a book is out there it’s in the hands of the readers and there are always people who will like the general story and the writing but the occassional use of “fuck” or “shit” or “goddamned mother fucking shit eaters” is just too much for them to bear.

Sure, it smacks of censorship, but it’s really no worse than an edited for TV version of “The Terminator”; clean to be sure, but insipid as all get out.

The app kind of got me wondering; sure, you can remove the offensive words but can you remove the offensive content?  Will reading about about a man’s groin moving into a woman’s buttocks still turn you on?  Strangely, and this may just be because that’s how Americans think, the app apparently did nothing about an axe running through a person’s heart.

Which makes you wonder what’s worse: a little cursing or a lot of killing?  Henchmen doesn’t have an enormous amount of cursing in it but it does have no small amount of violence.  Plus there’s that whole “trying to kill Congress” thing going on.  When you get right down to it, if you want to censor a book to make it more palatable for you by all means, go for it.  I’ll kind of feel sorry for you living in your limited little world, but if that’s how you want to live, that’s how you want to live.  Clean Reader is, after all, self-censorhip and I’m basically okay with that.  If you decide it’s time to start outright censoring a book because you don’t like the contents, then we’ll have an issue.

Until then, if you want a cursing free copy of Henchmen or Arise, you have my blessings.  Just realize that even though you removed the curse words it won’t necessarily make the rest of the story palatable for you.