Reflections On The Horrific Events In Paris

Friday evening on my way home from work I heard about the horrific events that had occurred in Paris.  I began to think about writing this blog post as I continued toward home and then later after arriving home.  I wrote the majority of this post Friday evening but decided to wait until Saturday morning to see if sleeping on it would lead to significant changes.  And after some reflection this (Saturday) morning I realized that my post had a flaw.  But I am going to make this post with the flaw and then at the end add a short discussion of what I considered the flaw.

I expect that much ink will be used and many electrons excited about the horrific events in Paris being the responsibility of either religion in general or one religion in particular.  But I think this misses a crucial point.  In my opinion there is something even more basic.

The more I reflect on our world today the more I see there is a decision that each person needs to make.  Under what conditions will you take direct action to kill, kidnap or otherwise seriously harm another person?  This action could be by bomb, gunshot, knife, bare hands or many other methods.  The question is what situation would prompt you to take action?  And to be clear the question of harm coming to someone due to inaction is being left for another discussion.  So your ideology says that your particular set of beliefs about the transcendent are the most important thing in the entire universe; would you attack your neighbor who does not share that belief and chooses to live their life differently?

Just as not all persons professing to be Muslim advocate the killings in Paris so also not all Catholics sanctioned the mass slaughter at B├ęziers in 1209.  But what does the events of Beziers in 1209 have in common with the events of Paris in 2015?  What they have in common is that the persons involved took the position that there were ideas about which there was no personal choice; there was only obedience or be subject to attack.  In the thirteen century the murderers at Beziers and other perpetrators of the crimes of the Inquisition appeared to hold the position that it was better to kill than allow persons to choose their own theological positions.  And today there are still persons who will kill rather than allow others to choose how to live or which religion to follow.

But it goes beyond religion. If we consider the last half of the twentieth century we have a clear example in the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong which lead to millions suffering death, imprisonment, beatings and other assaults.  For example a scholar could not choose to continue studies nor a small shop keeper continue their selling but rather they were forced to the country to labor or into re-education camps; they were no longer free to engage in the basic choices of living.

The commonality between ISIS, Maoism and similar movements is that followers of these movements will kill people rather that allow persons to be free to choose.

Now I will address what I consider a flaw in the above.  The flaw is in considering the events in Paris as primarily a religious matter.  Based on early reports the attacks were prompted in large part by anger over the French involvement in the anti-ISIS military campaign.  If one looks at attacks in the USA and Europe many have been against countries that have been involved militarily in predominately Muslim countries; UK, Spain, USA, France.  If it was only a religious matter why do we not see these attacks in Brazil which has the largest Catholic population in the world?  If it is only a matter of Islamic fundamentalists lashing out against what is commonly referred to as  Enlightenment then why are the large scale attacks primarily in UK, Spain, USA, France and not other countries which have at least in large part embraced most of the Enlightenment?  Of course this is not an absolutely perfect categorization; for example consider the 2004 murder of Theo van Gogh in Netherlands. [Update this example to include the Charlie Hebdo attacks which did occur in Paris].  But as a general trend the large scale attacks tend to be in countries with military involvement in the Middle East.  If those who are carrying out the attacks are combining a feeling of self-defense with a fundamentalist religious ideology then an analysis which focuses on just on religion is going to be incomplete.  I do not have a full insight into all of this but I very concerned that some people are focusing on just one aspect of the situation and ignoring the larger picture.


A Work Of Fiction: Finding A New Story

The following is a work of fiction. All entities and events appearing in this work are fictional. The author desires that all who need to read this Fantastical Story will do so and become better.

Title: Finding A New Story
Author: F. C. Moulton

Box Say lived on a planet along with a few billion others. Box Say had experienced some ups and downs in his professional career as a writer of Fantastical Stories. He had been thrown out of two of the three professional organizations for writers of Fantastical Stories. He was not universally well liked; nor was he universally reviled; to be honest only a tiny fraction of the billions had ever heard of him. But the number who had heard of him and agreed with him were sufficient that Box Say kept being moderately successful making a living writing in the Fantastical mode and blogging as well as selling merchandise from various websites.

Box was very dissatisfied with quite a few things in the world and expressed his views in his blog. Some read the blog and agreed with Box. But a much larger number disagreed and they often debated if the posts were racist, sexist, or just plain rude but Box did not care. He ranted and railed as he pleased.

One day a few years back Box ranted in a blog post that 'enough was quite enough' and that 'he had taken all he was going to take' and similar sentiments. The Fantastical Stories and Novels that he liked were not even finalists for the Big Fantastical Award in any category and further he himself had never been a finalist in any category of the Big Fantastical Award. It was time for action. Box rallied the readers of his blog to nominate a slate of works and the slate took most of the finalist slots in the various categories. However when the votes to determine the winners were tallied his slate was not successful. Those who had been long time supporters of the award were not happy with Box and his crowd and began making plans to modify the rules two years in the future to blunt future actions such as which Box had just organized. The next year Box ran his campaign again and while he was not a winner he did finish above No Award in each category.

The year following the rule changes were in place but not as intended. The new rules allowed Box to switch tactics and focus on making sure that in each category his single most desired work was one of the finalists. And Box Say was successful. Then came the round of voting to determine the winner and Box made sure as many of his followers as possible become members so they could vote and that they knew which work to rank first in each category.

It is an old saying that Generals fight the previous war not the current one. And so it often is with rules changes. And Box Say is one to plan ahead.

Finally success; well partial success; Box Say won in both the Novella category and the Novelette category and would have won Novel and Short Story if he had not lost in the final comparison to No Award. Still, two awards in one year was something. Many great and legendary writers of Fantastical Stories never won even once during their careers; some were never even finalists.

Yet a month later Box was feeling a bit unhappy. The afterglow of victory had started to wane. Box was no longer cheered even by recalling the wailing of the social justice, laissez faire, rationalist and other similar groups when his wins were announced. The day after he won Box referenced them in a tweet "Their tears of anguish nourish me like spring showers nourish the vineyards" and that saying was now generating income via t-shirt and other merchandise sales. But Box was still a bit unsettled; so one day he decided to go out and take a long walk to get some fresh air.

As Box made his way along the path he expected that his mood would improve but it did not. Still he had business to consider so as he walked he was planning about the things that needed to be accomplished during the coming week such as putting out a big blog post. The path he was on merged with another path and Box was so lost in the planning of his next blog post that he almost collided with someone on the other path. Both stopped and quickly did the "excuse me" exchange almost by reflex. Then the newcomer extended his hand and said "Since we are now on the same path let me introduce myself; I am Nathaniel Noble Ware; call me Nano".

Box Say grasped the hand and said "I am Box Say" making sure to leave a long pause between Box and Say otherwise his name was often heard as Boxy.

"Good to meet you Box".

"Nice to meet you Nano" Box replied. And Box realized that he really meant it; Nano seemed like a really fine fellow. Box had not seen him before but he seemed like an agreeable sort.

They continued down the path and fell into a conversation about the local flora which morphed into a discussion of aesthetics by the time they had reversed their course and were walking back. Box did notice that Nano would occasionally hum softly to himself but Box did not find it unpleasant; it just seemed like a small nervous habit. Other than the humming Nano was calm and friendly with dark eyes that were deep and inviting above a warm friendly smile; about the same height as Box, trim and well tanned with wavy dark hair and a warm voice.

By the time they arrived back at the point where they had met Box had told started to tell Nano about winning the awards. Nano listened as Box explained about the awards with a particular emphasis on Box's own ideas and about gaming the rules. Nano's only comment was "Incredible."

As Box made his way home he realized that he did feel better. The conversation with Nano had lifted his mood although Box felt that he had spoken more than Nano. Perhaps he might see him on the path again but perhaps not.

Two days later Box was again starting to feel a bit off; his mood was dragging so he decided to go out again and headed down the path. A short way past where the paths joined Box saw Nano sitting on a bench looking up. When Box approached Nano glanced over and smiled warmly "Hello Box; have a seat. I was just taking a look at the clouds."

Box sat on the bench next to Nano and looked up to the clouds. Soon they were discussing the clouds and the images they formed and then onto the science behind different cloud types. Eventually they fell silent; Box was unusually quiet and Nano humming softly.

After many minutes Nano asked Box what was bothering him.

"Nothing is wrong with me" Box snapped.

"Really?" Nano questioned.

Box said "Well I am a bit annoyed at the names some of my detractors give me. You know. Deliberately insulting names. Not that I really care personally but it does sometimes hurt my public image and that can cut into revenues. Actually Box Say is my pen name not the one on my birth certificate."

"I know" replied Nano. And Box wonder if he had mentioned this previously but let it pass when Nano asked "So what are these names? I won't laugh."

Box took a deep breath and said "It started with some calling me Box Fay since Fay is an allusion to effeminate behavior. And then it went on to Box Gay as if I was queer. Then someone started calling me Kox Say because they thought it the height of humor to call me what sounds like a slang term for male genitals and next was the combination Kox Gay which sometimes got flipped to Gay Kox. Another group started calling me Pox Say as if I was a plague then flipping it to Say Pox. It finally peaked with them combining into Say Pox Gay Kox. Yes they managed to combine a reference to disease plague, homosexuality and slang for male genitals into one phrase to apply to me. In a way it is almost brilliant; I might think of adding it to my repertoire. Well actually of course I don't rally care; I don't let what others think about me cause me any concern as long it does not impact revenues by way of damage to my public image."

"Sure Box I understand" and Nano put his arm around Box and gave Box's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. After a long pause Nano said "So Box have you ever said or written anything insulting about anyone else based on sexual preference or race or gender or even taste in literature."?

Box mused "Well yeah but that was different."

"Oh really? I wonder if they thought so." said Nano.

Except for Nano humming softly they sat in silence for a while then Box stirred and Nano slipped his arm from around Box's shoulders. Box stood and said "Time for me to head home, I have work to do."

Nano said "Goodbye. Have a nice evening" and watched Box walk away.

Four days later despite the weather being a bit cool and the sky a bit overcast Box went out again. Box had been turning the previous conversation with Nano over in his head for the past few days and he had finally started to think that maybe, just maybe in a few but not all cases he had been slightly too harsh in what he wrote about certain individuals and groups. But only in a very few limited situations where his rhetorical exuberance had gotten to the heights where it might perhaps have been just a wee bit excessive. That was what he keep telling himself. But Box kept thinking about it. And then he asked himself why was he considering his process of thinking and writing so much. Everywhere Box looked there seemed to be a 'Why' popping up.

Soon he came to the bench and he sat down and looked at the clouds becoming more dark and roiling. A few minutes later Nano arrived, greeted Box, sat down and hummed softly as Box talked about his day. When the temperature dropped slightly Nano put his arm around Box; this warmed Box and he felt calmer. When Box was silent they sat watching the clouds until a gust of chill wind caused them both to shudder. Box said "Come back to my place before the storm starts." Nano stood up and "Great" and they started back to Box's home.

Part way back Box pulled out his mobile phone and ordered pizza delivery with a six pack. They arrived just as the first drops of rain fell and about five minutes ahead of the pizza delivery. They sat on the sofa; enjoyed the pizza and beer and watched rain through the large window. Then they talked late into the evening; taking the cushions from the sofa and placing them in front of the sofa so they could sprawl on the floor looking out the window. Eventually it became dark as they lay there talking; finishing the beer. Box was starting to get drowsy; Nano was humming softly. Their conversation had wandered from weather to world events to popular culture then to the differences and similarities in the famous songs "You Are My Sunshine" and the less popular "You Are My Destiny".

Nano turned to look into Box's eyes and said "You are my Teddy Bea..." and the rest of the words were lost as Box impulsively kissed Nano; affectionately not passionately and then Box dropped his head to Nano's chest and fell asleep.

The next morning Box woke up a bit befuddled since he was not in his bed. Then the events of the previous evening came rushing back to Box and he turned to see Nano just starting to stir beside him. Box was going into deep denial mode thinking to himself that it was the beer; yeah the beer was responsible. But they had not had that much to drink; only three beers each. Box wondering if he had really lost control after three beers. Oh Crap. Oh Crap. Box was starting to tense up. Just then Nano opened those beautiful dark eyes and said "Good Morning". Box took a deep breath and answered "Yes but a bit earlier than I am used to." Nano agreed "Yeah me too."

Box realized that one thing which had awakened him was that his bowels were asking for relief. Box stood and headed toward the master bedroom with its attached bath and as he passed the guest restroom he tapped the door and said "Guest restroom here; make yourself at home."

In the bath off the master bedroom Box sat on the commode and was able to fall into his usual routine. Each morning sitting on the Throne Of Inspiration as he called it Box would pick up the small tablet he kept there always charged and scan the news. Sometimes scanning the news was for his own edification and amusement, sometimes for getting an idea to kick start a Fantastical Story that was stuck but most often as a source for his blog. He had been neglecting his blog recently.

While he had made a new entry each day of the past week Box was honest enough with himself to know the posts were a bit short and bland. If he did not throw some red meat to his blog readers soon they would leave or worse yet might turn on him. No, they would not turn on him but abandon him, probably. Box scanned the news aggregators and found nothing he wanted to pursue even though there were a couple of items about a court case concerning teaching about the history of the idea of race that he was sure that his blog readers expected him to cover. But for some reason he was not interested in going after that case now.

Box sat there with his legs started to get numb and getting anxious when he spotted a news article about someone totally messing up their smartphone due to not understanding the basics of the technology. He had done a blog entry a few months back about someone who had gotten a new car and driven it until the engine seized up due to lack of service and regular oil changes. That had been a hit; letting the blog readers think about how much smarter they were than the dummy with the seized engine. Now he had the germ of the idea of his next blog post.

As he headed out to the kitchen he smelled coffee.

Nano smiled "You said make yourself at home so I found the coffee and coffee maker and started coffee. I hope you don't mind? It is ready now."

"No, coffee is great. Just what I need now. I have a long blog post that I need to get out today and I finally got the germ on an idea."

Nano poured them each a cup. The dark French roast was wonderful. Box pulled the pizza carton from last night out of the fridge where he must have stored it but did not actually remember. Opening it he saw four slices. He turned to Nano "Want pizza? Warmed or cold?"

"I will take a piece as is. Cold pizza - the breakfast of champions."

Box laughed "Yes. Well actually Cold pizza and beer; the breakfast of champions but we finished the six pack last night." Box paused and then mumbled something about the beer really hitting him last night and he did not remember much.

Nano said "No beer for me this morning anyway. Coffee is what I need since I need to get going to take care of some business that will tie me up today and probably tomorrow." Nano paused for a moment then continued "We should do lunch sometime."

Box swallowed his coffee and answered "Yeah, sounds good."

Box told Nano about the blog entry he was planning and Nano said he expected it would be a hit.

When they had finished their coffee, Box told Nano to just put his cup in the sink and he would take care of it later.

Nano said "You know that new restaurant, the one that opened last month? I hear they are good. Morning after tomorrow I have business across the street. After I finish with my business that morning how about I pickup something from them and bring it here for lunch."

Box gave a cautious "Sounds good."

Nano gave Box a squeeze on the shoulder and left with a smile and a wave.

Box stood there for a moment then put the rest of the pizza back in the fridge; washed the coffee cups while composing the new blog piece in his head.

The blog post took longer to compose than Box had planned but it was finally up on his website and he could relax. The rest of the day flew by on small errands. The next morning Box reviewed the comments and found his blog post was a great hit; the URL was getting passed around on social media. He should have felt great and in a way he did but at one point he wondered if the owner of the ruined smartphone had seen this blog post and if so how they had felt.

Box made another small somewhat related blog post so he could focus the rest of the day on other business. Several times he recalled that Nano would be by for lunch tomorrow.

The next morning when Box awoke it was still early but he could not fall back asleep. So he got up. After his morning routine he made another blog post not as good as usual but at least it was up and he did not need to think about the blog for the rest of the day. Then a few minutes past noon Nano was there with Chinese food and a six pack. The food was good, the conversation was better. The day was unseasonably warm and they sat outside in the shade in the chairs next to the pool.

Box usually swam several times a week to stay in shape but had missed the past few days. After a couple of hours of conversation he got the urge for a swim. He said "I am going for a swim, join me if you want." Box followed his usual habit of shucking his clothes where he stood and diving in since skinny dipping was the default for him. The pool was mostly out of view of his neighbors and if they looked out their window well that was their problem. Box had already swam to the far end and paused when he looked back to see Nano also shucking his clothes and diving in.

After swimming and tossing a beach ball around they climbed out, Box grabbed a couple of towels and threw one to Nano. Box dried and wrapped the towel around his waist and then returned to his chair. Nano did likewise.

After a few minutes Nano asked "Box, what is it? What is bothering you?"

Box looked over "Well since you asked I was .. ah ..just .. ah .. wondering if you a nudist since you ..ah.. are ..ah.. tan all over."

Nano smiled "Oh, this is my usual skin color. My background is a bit complicated but the answer I can give you now is that it is mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia with a bit of Scottish, a bit Chinese, and a bit other. "

Box said "Oh that explains it" and then fell silent again while Nano hummed and looked at the clouds. Eventually Nano stood up and started pulling on his clothes saying "I have a business meeting tomorrow and I need to prepare for it so I need to get going."

"Yeah" Box said "I need to get busy myself. Day after tomorrow is Sunday. How about we meet at the bench around 10AM Sunday morning and walk down to that new French restaurant for brunch? I just got a royalty check so I am buying."

Nano smiled "Sounds wonderful. See you then" and gave Box a big hug then a quick kiss on the cheek and then he was gone.

Box stood there for a moment. His mind was a jumble; had he cuddled with a man on more than one occasion and a mixed race man; well actually a mostly black man at that? He felt light headed and sat down. After a while Box realized two things; first that he wanted another beer and second that he need to put all of this out of his mind and focus on work. He put his realizations into action.

Sunday morning Box still in a bit of a mental jumble. He wanted to see Nano for brunch but thinking of Nano brought up the questions and thoughts he had sequestered. Still a few minutes before ten o'clock Box was at the bench and at the stroke of the hour Nano arrived and said "Let's get going" and they started down the path.

About two hundred meters along the path suddenly a young fellow jumped into the path followed by two more; the three were late teens or early twenties and did not appear friendly. The one in the front said to Nano "We don't like your kind around here. Box here seemed an alright type until you came along and now you have him holding your hand in public." Box had not realized that soon after starting down the path that his hand had sought Nano's. Or was it that Nano's had sought his?

Nano said "We do not want any trouble and ..."

Before Nano could finish the thug in the lead throw a punch and caught Nano in the jaw. Box moved to catch Nano because that punch would surely knock down if not out. But Nano did not fall; it was as if his face deformed slightly and the thug's punch had no affect.

Nano just looked at him and said "You and your companions will leave now and not bother either of us again."

"No fag tells me what to do" and with that snarl the thug swung again putting as much force and weight behind his punch as possible. In hindsight probably the thug considers that a mistake. A very big mistake.

Box moved to try to block the blow because he could not imagine how Nano could take another blow particularly one with that force behind it. But Box was too late; the punch as already on the way and he looked in horror at Nano's upper jaw where it was headed. Just before the blow landed Nano's face changed in texture. The blow landed. The sound that followed was like something breaking; actually many things breaking. Of course Box may have imagined the sound, his brain filling in the sounds it expected. What Box saw was that when the thug's fist connected with Nano's face the fist began to collapse back into itself and then the forearm bent in an odd manner. The thug did not scream, it was as if he had gone immediately into shock and then collapsed.

Nano spoke calmly "He has multiple broken bones in his hand and as you can see his forearm is also broken in both bones. You need to take him to a hospital immediately. With proper surgery and physical therapy he should regain full use of the hand and arm. Maybe even learn to play a musical instrument. Take him and go now. And never bother either of us again."

The two thugs picked up their friend and departed without a word.

Nano looked at Box "Box. You look very pale. And I am a little tired. How about we skip brunch and head back to your place." They did; Box a bit mystified and Nano humming.

At Box's place Nano got him to drink some water, then put together a decent meal with whatever was found in the fridge and after they had eaten Nano brought each a beer. Then he said "I suspect you have some questions." Box realized that he had not spoken since the incident on the path said "Ah .. well ..ah ..well .. ah .. yes; a few."

"OK ask your first one or would you rather I anticipate your question; such as what happened?"

Box just nodded and did a keep going sign with his hand.

Nano grinned and said "You have probably been thinking that nobody takes a punch like he threw and stays standing; much less breaks the puncher's arm with their jaw. Are you wondering if I am a pro boxer or Superman?"

Nano sat and hummed softly as Box stared for a long time and then finally Box asked "Who are you? No. What are you?"

Nano thought for a moment "Well I obviously am not like you. I am from somewhere else; for now consider me as just an alien space visitor."

Box was a writer of Fantastical Stories so he knew what to ask next "OK. Are you biological or are you electromechanical or a cyborg combination?"

Nano thought for an extra half instant "I am not biological nor am I electromechanical in the ways you use those terms. I am a collection of small nanoscale machines organized into a coherent entity. That is why I can rearrange my jaw to be as hard as a steel block. Although that takes a lot of energy particularly if I do it in hurry."

Box blinked slowly "Ware. Your last name is Ware and you said most call you Nano. Nanoware!". Box started laughing and Nano joined in.

Nano continued "I did not arrive here on Earth in this form. I arrived as a small nanomachine; mostly memory and a limited set of manufacturing tools. I essentially built myself and learned about your planet."

Box said "So all of that stuff about ancestry; you know about Ethiopia and Somalia was just a bunch of BS?"

Nano said "Well not exactly BS. It is actually not totally false but my answer was incomplete and if you remember I phrased my answer as what I could tell you then. So I did not actually totally lie to you; it was what I felt I could tell you at the time and there is some accuracy to what I said including the Ethiopia and Somalia part; it is all very complicated. So anyway I am the first of my species to come here to Earth. I am sure you want to know if there will be more like me coming. The answer to that question is that I don't know for sure. My trip was sort of an experiment."

Box stared for several seconds then said "So you are like an adventurer or an explorer?"

Nano took a long time to answer "Not exactly. This whole thing is an experiment and the details are complicated and some of them are outside my area of expertise. Suffice it so say that back in my home world I committed an ethical transgression against several individuals and I volunteered for this because it would help with the reparations for those that I had harmed. But it is a grand adventure. However it was being too attached to adventure that lead to my ethical lapse. After a lot of consideration and personal reflection I came to a better ethical position and reformed of my previous ways and it was due in part to my change in perspective that I was allowed to be considered for this trip. That is not all exactly accurate but it is as close as I can come using your language and concepts in any reasonable amount of time. So you can view this entire thing as a punishment for an ethical transgression or you view it as a reward for improving my ethical perspective. I am not entirely sure how I view it myself. But however you view it I am not likely to ever be able to go home again."

Box sat for a long time not saying anything, then pointed to the cabinet in the next room "Please bring me a bottle of single malt. No, not the Oban; the Laphroaig. And a glass, two if you want to join me."

Nano returned with the bottle of Laphroaig and two glasses and said "The alcohol will not affect me but I will drink with you. I have never had Laphroaig and I have heard the flavor profile is interesting."

So Box and Nano talked and drank. Eventually it was more Box talking and Nano listening and humming and asking questions. Soon Box was asking "I am not sure about some things any more. At one point I realized I have been cuddling with a man then a few days later I realized that I have been cuddling with a black man. Then today I realize it was not a man at all but an alien. Oh shit. Oh shit. What am I doing? What is happening?"

Nano said "First, why do you find any of what you just described morally wrong? And secondly, what aspect of the definition of a man would you consider disqualifies me from that category and which would qualify me?"

Box sat there for a long time. Opened his mouth as if to speak; then closed it. Opened then closed without a word again. Finally Box took a deep breath and his pronunciation was a bit off as he said "I think I have some answers to your questions but I need to work on how to express them properly. I have had just a wee dram too much. I also think I am about to be sick and puke all over my table. And if I stand up to take care of the situation I will likely pass out." Box slurred his words a bit more when he said "My dilemma is ..." then laid his head on the table and went to sleep.

The next morning Box became about half awake; awake enough to realize that he was naked and in his own bed and that his bladder was demanding urgent attention. So he slowly make his way through his hangover haze to the attached bath and took care of his bladder. And took the opportunity to drink a glass of water and then head back to bed. About half way back to the bed his bowels decided to awaken and ask for relief so back to the commode. When he sat on the Throne of Inspiration Box reached for the tablet by reflex but put it down when looking at the numbers on the unlock screen made him slightly nauseous.

His urgent bodily needs satisfied Box realized that as tempting as the bed looked he needed to get his internal biological state back to some semblance of balance so he headed to the kitchen.

Of course there was Nano with an open ended "Good Morning?"

Box just grunted.

Nano said "I found some bread and butter so I am making toast. After you have had that and settled your stomach then we can consider future arrangements."

Future arrangements were that by lunch time Box felt sufficiently recovered for a more normal meal. Then some coffee revived him further but he was still hurting.

They sat out on the chairs by the pool. Nano humming softly and looking at the clouds. Box starring into the distance and then frowning.

Nano finally asked "What is it?"

Box turned his head to look at Nano; "What is the humming about?"

Nano smiled "I found a pitch and beat that would slightly slow some of your fast habitual thoughts and induce a bit more reflection as well as being a bit calming. Decisions based on anxiety and fear tend to have comparatively poor outcomes. I was not trying to brainwash you; just allow you the opportunity to consider things in a more reflective and nuanced manner. I did not know if you would change or not; in any case all of the thoughts were your own."

Box was silent for a long time "I have changed; hopefully for the better. I have more doubts now and I think that is good. Many of the positions I previously held I no longer hold. In my blog I will be honest. I am going to do a short blog post that I am feeling under the weather and will be away for a few days but to expect something big later. And that is true, I am still under the weather with this wretched hangover. And thanks for taking care of me in my time of need. And the blog post I will do in a few days will be big. It will repudiate many of my previous views and I will apologize to those I have harmed with my words. So my blog audience will likely all abandon me."

Nano said "Perhaps you will get a new audience. And you still have your Fantastical Story writing."

Box said "Yes perhaps I will get a new blog audience but I doubt if it will be as large or as lucrative. And as for my career as as Fantastical Story writer, I don't know."

Nano just looked at Box and smiled and hummed softly.

Box exclaimed "Wait. I am a Fantastical Story writer and I have just had a first contact story drop in my lap. I need to get writing."


Hugo Final Ballot Controversy

For those who do not know about the Hugo awards please read about them at
http://www.thehugoawards.org/ or other online sites.

The finalists for the Hugo Awards were announced a bit over a week ago. When I read the list of finalists I was concerned. The results appeared to have been affected by slate voting of a type which is outside the social norms of the SF Fandom. It was not technically against the rules as written but it did violate the social norms. As might be expected there has been much written about this during the past week and easily found via your favorite search engine.

I will use the term Puppy Contingent to refer to the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies and their various followers; if you do not know about the Sad Puppies or the Rabid Puppies please use your favorite search engine. And rather than focus on the details of the activities of the persons involved in this contravention of the social norms I am going to comment primarily on some broadly issues.

My first observation is that introducing politics explicitly and overtly into a situation where there is not already overt and explicit political considerations can lead to unpleasant results. And I fear we are already seeing signs of the unpleasantness. As far as I can tell the Puppy Contingent tends to refer to themselves as either conservative or right-wing. Since I am neither conservative nor right-wing please excuse me if I get some of the details a bit wrong and as I use the term conservative below remember that the definition is in flux; even as far as I can tell amongst self-identified conservatives.

My understanding is that they claim either a) that some writers have not received awards because of their political views or b) works with 'conservative themes' are ignored and not given recognition. Or both. Or something else because there is also talk about getting more best selling popular authors on the final ballot regardless of political stance.  Or maybe it is having fewer works considering issues of race, gender, identity or something. The problem is that the complaints of the Puppy Contingent are not quite clear and as far as I can see the main evidence they present is that the voting history for the Hugo Awards does not make them happy. One person involved with previous Sad Puppy campaigns was a Campbell Award (Not a Hugo Award) finalist and as I understand his complaint he feels that there was a whisper campaign by certain persons to urge people not to vote for him due to his political views. Was there such a campaign? I do not know. All I know is that I was one of the voters that year and I am unable to recall anything like that.  All of this is to say that attempting to consider all of this is a bit frustrating but I think these are important issues and I will give it a try.

While it might be possible that many Hugo voters share some political leanings; I have not seen any serious scholarly study of the question and thus in the absence of such a study I urge caution because the political views might also be more diverse than some realize. And let us remember that political leanings do not necessarily always predict taste in SF.

Another concern I have is with conflating political positions and aesthetics as expressed in fiction. A story may contain detailed discussion of firearms, graphic descriptions of military tactics, combat and violence; not to mention space wars and laser battles. It is quite possible for someone to enjoy that story as a story regardless of their political position. My position is that we need to avoid conflating politics and values and aesthetics. Obviously it is a logical fallacy to say in the absence of strong evidence that when the voters of an award do not vote for works which is full of firearms and violence that they are necessarily doing so on political grounds. It might be aesthetics; the majority of voters just might not like stories with violence and firearms. Or possibly the story itself did not measure up to their standards of character, plot, world building, etc. Or maybe the voters liked the story overall but felt that it was not really award quality.  Let me emphasize this point again:  people may enjoy a story enough to make it a run-away best-seller and the author very famous but still not feel that it is at a level where it should be considered for the one of highest awards in the SF field.

Most people have heard of the 'Wisdom Of The Crowd' where there are certain types of questions that if asked to a sufficiently large number of random persons will generate answers which on average in the aggregate converge on an answer which is reasonably close to correct. Voting to determine the list for the final Hugo ballot is not exactly a 'Wisdom Of The Crowd' situation however it is close enough that in some respects it often tends to have similar behavior and function. For the past few decades one function of the final ballot is a person who is not a specialist in SF could typically take the Hugo finalist list and be reasonably sure that the works listed were of at least award level in terms of the craft of writing. A person may be looking for Steampunk instead of a near future urban fantasy but whichever they select it would likely be up to a certain standard in terms of the craft of SF writing. And it is typical to find a variety of works on the final Hugo ballot not just Steampunk or just urban fantasy or any other sub-genre.

I am concerned that slate voting might tend to break this dynamic both in the quality and the range of the works making the final ballot. Now at this point some of the Puppy Contingent might want to claim that all they were doing is putting works they like into the process. To which I say: No that is not an accurate statement. Having a slate misses the point since a slate lacks that individual variation that can counteract group think.  Even if the slate was produced in a bottom up fashion it can inadvertently swamp the votes of 'conservatives' who are not part of the slate creation process thus possibly leading to the final ballot having fewer quality works.  And remember there is a big difference between creating a recommendation list of works that people might want to consider and doing slate voting.  Please do not confuse the two.

Another item which appears to be part of the complaint of the Puppy Contingent is about the concern with issues of race, gender and related matters; which some refer to as the concerns of the Social Justice Warriors aka SJW. At least I think this is one of the complaints since I see what I think are Puppy Contingent members making derisive references about persons and issues that are labeled as SJW however the specifics are a bit vague to me. It is as if they are complaining about the amount of consideration of issues of race and gender in contemporary SF. Yet what would they expect? Seriously? As has often been observed much of SF is about addressing contemporary issues by imagining a different time or place. So why are they upset?  We need to understand this is 2015 not 1955 and I think SF Fandom and society at large have make great strides in understanding people as individuals as well as people in social groups.  We are (I hope) more compassionate and comfortable with diversity and I posit that encountering these issues in fiction is part of the catalyst that has lead to this change.

As has been pointed out by several people such as Mary Robinette Kowal there has been a decades long discussion of race, gender and related matters in much of the SF community. The discussion has been in many venues including blog posts, email lists, panels at SF cons and increasingly in social media. And also in the broader culture at large. Views on race and gender have changed tremendously in recent years and some might be surprised. The reasons for this change is a whole other essay. My point is that people have participated in this discussion to different degrees and those that have not been very much involved in the discussion might find it disconcerting when it starts changing from something relatively small which might be ignored to something that is increasingly part of broader SF discussion. Now of course not everyone is the discussion agrees. And you can find people claiming to speak on issues of race and gender as if they had the final word when actually they have at best a not well thought out position.  My suggestion is for open discussion and a bit of intellectual humility.

My admonition is that just because discussions of race, gender and related topics are unsettling do not point to the most extreme, loudest and most strident voice and say because that voice is extreme then there is nothing to discuss. Instead I urge everyone to try to understand the other person's point of view. Understanding does not mean acceptance. What understanding does is facilitate furthering the discussion.

In closing I will quote the view of one of the Puppy Contingent:
'SAD PUPPIES simply holds its collective hand out — standing athwart “fandom” history — and yells, “Stop!”'

My response is to please consider the phrase from Bob Dylan:
For the times they are a-changin'.

That phrase comes from an era when many thought that the changes in race and gender would cause havoc but we survived.  And if we all behave like reasonable and rational persons we can survive this latest controversy.


Reflections on the attack on Charlie Hebdo

The attack on Charlie Hebdo and the deaths and injuries are horrific. 

Yet sometimes when something like this happens there are a few people who say that religious satire and sarcasm not should be published.  Some of these people want legal prohibitions; others do not want legal prohibitions but just want people to self-censor.

To those who say that religious satire and sarcasm not should be published my response is that on the contrary people should be able to heap ridicule, satire and sarcasm on religion.  And politics.  And which OS is better.   Anything. The point is that I have never seen a convincing argument that religion or any thing else should have a special status. 

My position is that through the criticism of ideas we improve both individually and as a species.  And that criticism can take the form of ponderous tomes written by philosophy professors or it can take the form of a satirical cartoon pointing out the absurdity of some idea.  But sometimes we hear the lament: what about the emotional grief that the cartoons caused to some people?  This position assumes that the emotional grief is caused by the cartoon.  Let me propose that the problem is caused in part by people committing so strongly to an idea that they think it is the most important idea in existance and that it defines them.  How tragic.  Tragic because as mentioned above criticism of ideas is a method of identify false, illogical and harmful ideas and if one abandons the criticism of ideas then they have abandoned reason and rationality in order to commit to some an idea that they will never fully test.

Consider a gardener who tends the garden to pull out the weeds; what I advocate is that each of us have a similar process of eliminating false, illogical and harmful ideas that each of us may have.  Is this easy?  No, it is hard.  Is it worth doing.  I certainly think so.

There are many book, essays, blogs and other tools.  One that I have often recommended to persons with an interest in philosophy is the book The Retreat to Commitment written by W. W. Bartley however be warned this is a dense book.  The position given in the book is that of Pan-Critical Rationalsim.  A more accessible summary of Pan-Critical Rationalism is at
written by my friend Max More.

So let us look a decade or two in the future; how do we avoid similar attacks on those who publish satire and sarcasm?  Perhaps each of us should practice cultivating our own mental garden of ideas and encourage others to do likewise.  And when it comes to criticism of ideas remember that satire and sarcasm are useful tools. And the master of any craft knows how to use all of the tools.