July 07, 2017

The Secret World Legends

The Secret World relaunched as "The Secret World Legends" a couple weeks ago. I have not played an MMO of any kind since City of Heroes Freedom was taken offline in November 2012. At the recommendation of several people in some of the game forums I frequent, I downloaded it and tried it out. After all, this version is free to play (F2P) with all the good and evil that designation implies. I started playing on about June 26th or 27th, I don't remember exactly. My character is now level 24. Progress has been slow and frequently interrupted by limits placed on F2P players, but I expected that to be true so I was not surprised. Several things have surprised me, some very good and others very bad.

First, the good. The storytelling in The Secret World Legends is genuinely epic and intimate both at the same time. It is branded as a "Mature" game, not a "Teen" game, so there is far too much profanity, a surprising amount of sexual allusions, and very graphic blood-soaked scenery. The important part is the storytelling. Each character has a unique personality. Some are charming, some are rude, some are just ordinary folks doing their best to survive the apocalypse that surrounds them. The player's character is a member of one of three secret societies (thus, "The Secret World"): Templars, Illuminati, Dragon. I choose the Dragon, so I started in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Seoul. The map is small, but quite pleasing, with a good combination of both classic and modern architecture. I have lived in Asia for all of my adult life. This is the finest representation of an Asian city I have ever seen in an online game. It is tempting to think the person who designed it has actually spent time in Asia.

Time in Seoul was very short. I had to delete and recreate my character multiple times when progress was frozen by game bugs (more on that later), but eventually I made it out of the tutorial and into the main game. The hub city, Agartha, is a sort of living tree design. It is not as vast as it first appears. Getting around involves using a sort of jump point between plateaus. It took me a few minutes to figure out how the system worked, but once I had it down getting around was just as simple as it would have been without the long jumps. It's kind of fun, actually, to go sailing through the air between platforms with nothing beneath you but a bottomless well of white light. Agartha is extremely crowded, of course, but it still runs quite well on my ASUS Zenbook Flip, which was designed for word processors and spreadsheets, not games. The frame rate slows noticeably in Agartha, but I have not yet experienced any lost movement or rubber-banding. The game flows very smoothly despite my lack of accelerated hardware.

The first game zone is called, "Kingsmouth", a very weird name for a very weird place. It is supposed to be in the Northeastern United States. It has more of a Vermont feel than a Massachusetts feel, and even that is only marginal. Unfortunately, this area (three zones altogether) is not as authentic and appealing as Seoul (again, more on that later). On the plus side, the characters are quirky and charming in a Hollywood kind of way. They range from Norma Creed defending her home with a shotgun to the Sheriff trying to locate survivors and hold them together until help arrives. The help, in this case, is the player! There are an enormous amount of missions in Kingsmouth. I was only able to complete about two-thirds of them before the main story mission shuffled me off to the Savage Coast (the next zone). After several days there, yesterday the main story mission finally moved me into Blue Mountain, the final of the three early zones. In many ways, all three of these zones function as an extended tutorial with little helps and hints that gradually fade away as the player's character gains levels.

There are basically three kinds of missions: story missions, investigation missions, and action missions. Some investigation or action missions also have stealth elements thrown in, and some are labeled "sabotage" even though there is very little property damage taking place. Outside the tutorial only one mission so far has involved setting bombs, and those bombs clearly targeted monsters not the places they were hiding. Story missions fill in different bits of background and flesh out the main story mission. Action missions are the kind of thing one normally finds in a MMORPG: go here, kill monsters, report the result. Investigation missions are a combination of puzzle-solving and information retrieval. Not all of that information is in the game. The game includes an ingame web browser that always opens to the main site (https://secretworldlegends.com/). I genuinely wish I could set it to open to Google, but as far as I can tell, that is not possible, so I have to manually enter the Google url into the address bar every time I open the browser. Google is your friend. The answer for every question I have had while running an investigation mission has been found through a Google search. The ingame web browser is very slow, it reminds me of Netscape when it first came out. Many people claim it does not work at all. I have not had that problem yet. The only difficulty I have had is controlling my patience waiting for a much needed answer or piece of data so I could continue the mission.

The graphics are pleasing, the game runs smoothly, the story and characters are amusing, the missions are challenging. Those are all good points. Now for some bad points.

While running tutorial missions in Seoul, twice my character lost the ability to progress. In one case, a sewer mission, the mission itself was bugged. I completed the mission, used up all my explosives, killed all the monsters, and could not leave the sewer. After an hour of searching around fruitlessly, I exited the game and went searching for answer. It turned out there is no exit to the mission, only an entrance. A very bad oversight. I deleted the character, recreated her, and skipped that side mission. Then I got trapped in a school where I was supposed to be learning how to upgrade weapons. Another deleted character (this time in anger before I ran my web search, which was a mistake) and another web search. In this case, I was confused by inadequate explanatory text. My own weapon and one of the weapons I was supposed to use in the upgrade process were identical, thus, I failed to use the weapon intended to be consumed in the upgrade process. The game could not handle this exception and would not let me exit the school. The next time through I did not make the same mistake and everything went well. My suggestion: watch walk-through videos and read guides before running the tutorial as a Dragon. It will pay off in a smoother start to your life as a Dragon operative.

Now, my second major complaint. After the wonderful design of Seoul, the three early zones set in the American Northeast were a great disappointment. Two assumptions have clearly gone into the core design of this game:
(1) Americans are all gun-loving lunatics just as dangerous as the monsters in the game
(2) It is far past time for Mother Nature to take her revenge on the evil American industrialists who are turning the North Atlantic into a toxic swamp.

Over and over again, one NPC after another swings around a fancy firearm while bewailing how our lack of respect for nature has resulted in this calamity which we so rightly deserve. As an American, I very quickly got sick and tired of guilt-ridden American NPCs more in love with firearms than nature. There are a few Native American NPCs, of course, but their dialogues are so predictable it is nauseating. It is bad enough when Hollywood pulls this pseudo-spiritual garbage, to have it thrown back in my face by a Norwegian game is simply inexcusable. Ironically, my American response is that the writer needs to be taken behind the barn and shot. (insert Hollywood laugh track here)

Playing The Secret World Legends has not changed my mind in the least. Most modern MMORPGs are junk. They are not designed for players to enjoy. Instead, they are strictly designed to get powergamers of all nationalities to empty their wallets into the game company coffers. The modern gaming world is a great scam being perpetuated by con artists using a simple bait and switch tactic: promise something unique while draining the mark's bank account then abscond with the cash before the poor sap realizes they've been duped.

The loss of City of Heroes is still an open wound that might never heal.

July 01, 2017

Maliki Jurisprudence and the First Amendment

The First Amendment
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment was intended to prevent the federal government from declaring one version of Christianity as the official version of the national government. Period. It was never intended to allow the free exercise of any and every religion imaginable. As an extreme example, religions based on human sacrifice would not be protected. Under the First Amendment, everyone is free to speak on behalf of and to advocate for any religion they like, including a religion based on human sacrifice. However, they are not free to engage in religious practices or rituals that violate the laws of the land (such as, again, human sacrifice). All religious followers are still subject to the laws of the nation, the laws of their state, and the laws of their community. This is why polygamists and those communities which encourage child brides cannot use the First Amendment as a legal defense.

Clear so far? Seems simple enough, right? Here's the wrinkle:

Maliki Jurisprudence

Maliki Jurisprudence is a school of Islamic scholarship and law that serves as the formal legal system for dozens of Islamic nations. It is one of the five major schools of Shari'a. It is the school of law that every terrorist believes is the one true form of Islam. Under Maliki Jurisprudence, if a non-Muslim kills a Muslim then it is murder, but if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim then it is not murder. If a non-Muslim rapes a Muslim woman, the man is castrated and beheaded. The only testimony required to achieve such a conviction and penalty is the testimony of the victim. However, if a Muslim man rapes a non-Muslim woman then she can be beaten or stoned for causing him to be tempted. If a Muslim woman is raped by a Muslim man, she must find four witnesses who will testify against the man. If she cannot, then she can be beaten or stoned for causing him to be tempted. Naturally, infidelity and homosexuality are both punishable by execution. However, if a married Muslim man has sex with a non-Muslim woman, then under Maliki Jurisprudence it is not infidelity, which is why ISIS followers are free to own and use as many sex slaves as they can afford to purchase and maintain. Homosexuality is always prohibited and always punishable by death. Equally important to all of this, under Maliki Jurisprudence anyone claiming to be a Muslim who does not acknowledge the supremacy of Maliki Jurisprudence is not really a Muslim at all. Such a person is no different than any non-believer. This is why the vast majority of terror victims are Muslims. Those attacks which happen in non-Muslim countries, no matter how traumatic and tragic, are merely collateral damage in the war being waged by Maliki Jurisprudence to enforce its supremacy. This war of Maliki Jurisprudence for supremacy has been going on for about 1300 years and shows no sign of letting up any time soon. American involvement in this war is a very recent thing and from the perspective of Maliki Jurisprudence scholars, barely deserving of a footnote.

There are approximately 2 billion Muslims in the world. Around 25% of them regard the supremacy of Maliki Jurisprudence as a fact no different than the rising and the setting of the sun! Under Maliki Jurisprudence they are not required to obey the laws of any nation, state or community. They are only obligated to obey Shari'a as interpreted by Maliki ibn Anas. No, I am not exaggerating. There are at least 500 million Muslim men and women who believe they are not bound by any human laws other than those described and annotated by a Muslim scholar who lived in Medina in the 8th Century. Radical Islamic terrorists are not some kind of aberration, they are the enforcement arm representing 500 million Muslims living all over the world. This is why terrorism is so widespread and has no problem constantly recruiting young men and women. Under one of the leading schools of Islamic scholarship terrorism is not criminal, it is heroic.

Therefore, does anyone honestly believe the First Amendment of the Constitution grants followers of Maliki Jurisprudence the right to practice their religion freely and without interference within the United States of America? Because that is what we will wind up with if we accept a million or so refugees from the Syrian war. We will have communities that refuse to comply with the laws of our nation, that set up their own courts and legal systems, and who believe they can rape and murder their neighbors with no repercussions. In fact, there are many circumstances under Maliki Jurisprudence where murdering a non-Muslim man or raping a non-Muslim woman can be interpreted as an act of mercy.

This is not fearmongering. This is not paranoia. This is happening every single day in nations where Maliki Jurisprudence is the law of the land. This is also happening in European cities and nations with large concentrations of refugees in isolated neighborhoods. This is a simple reality of our world that everyone seems to be ignoring. Violent Muslim behavior against non-Muslims is not aberrant. It is allowed and in many cases actively encouraged by a large, persuasive, highly respected legal and academic school of Islamic thought.

Some links:
The Maliki madhab
Maliki Fiqh Q&A
Wikipedia: Maliki Jurisprudence
Wikipedia: Maliki ibn Anas
Lampost Productions: Special Characteristics of the Maliki Madhhab
YouTube: Maliki Fiqh Online Academy

June 21, 2017

The Prophecy Game 2017

Back in March of 2005 I wrote a satiric post titled, "The Prophecy Game". There had been an upsurge that winter in internet sites dedicated to psychics, eschatology, and end of the world prophecies. Most of those sites are now gone and most of their predictions never came to pass. The "prophecies" I made in that post were entirely off the cuff with no research, no magic, and no serious intent. I was trying to be funny.

In 2008 America was very nearly reduced to third world status by the collapse of Lehman Brothers and dozens of smaller banks.

In 2008 Hillary Clinton did run for president, but she lost the Democratic nomination to a newcomer named "Barack Obama".

In December 2011 the U.S. military completed its withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving behind only minimal forces who were working as trainers and consultants.

In 2015, China completed construction on several military installations throughout the South China Sea, giving them a major strategic advantage if they do invade Taiwan. Even more concerning, this gives them the potential to cut off 20% of all global commerce including the vast majority of food and oil supplies headed to Japan and South Korea.

Clearly, back in spring of 2005 I was far more liberal than I am now. Most of my "prophecies" were merely wishful thinking backed by a liberal political inclination and the unconscious acceptance of liberal progressive ideologies I'd learned going to high school in California. Since Japan is something of a liberal paradise itself, the twenty years I had spent in Japan at that point had only served to confirm my liberal inclinations. It took some hard lessons and bitter defeats to become aware of the fallacies of my own liberal progressive thinking. Still, all in all, roughly 20% of my "jokes" turned out to be realistic. Although these things did not come to pass exactly as I predicted, this result is still far beyond anything I expected when I wrote the post.

Before I launch into my concerns for the near future, it is important to review some of the things that have happened recently:

In Europe there have been at least six attacks by Islamic terrorists since the beginning of the year: Timeline of Terror Attacks

Deaths caused by drug overdoses, especially heroin, have become more common than deaths by car accident, violent crime, or suicide: Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster than Ever

Over the past decade the American murder rate has risen sharply after nearly half a century of steady decline, but most of the violence is happening in ten cities that have been primarily under Democratic Party control since the early seventies: Rising Violence in just 10 Cities Drove up the US Murder Rate

Twenty-six U.S. States now have laws making marijuana use legal for either medical purposes, recreational purposes, or both: State Marijuana Laws in 2017

Ever since about 2010, more Americans have depended on internet streaming, cable/satellite television, or pre-recorded DVD/Blu-Ray discs for entertainment than on standard broadcast television: The State of Traditional Television

"Game of Thrones" has become one of the most popular drama series in the history of television: A City-by-City Glimpse at What Television Shows People are Watching

"League of Legends" is now the most popular PC-based online game in the world while "Clash Royale" leads in the mobile market: Live Game Rankings by Medium

When all of these come together they present an overall image of both American and global culture. In so very many ways, our entertainment defines us. We are drawn to entertainment that reinforces our own preconceptions of how the world operates. Likewise, we are also drawn to entertainment that reinforces our own preconceptions of how the world should operate. In our entertainment we seek to see the world both as it is and as we believe it should be. Therein lies both the peril and the promise of human entertainment and creativity. We choose our entertainment based on pleasure, therefore, in order to succeed the entertainers must present something that reassures us our worldview is both accurate and useful. Society shapes the art that shapes society. It is not surprising that as violent terror attacks rise we seek out entertainment which helps us understand both the nature of terrorism and the effectiveness of our response to terrorism. Even as terror attacks become routine occurrences, violent crime in some of our most densely populated cities has escalated. Violence is all around us. It is present in the daily news, in the shows we watch to relax, and in the games we play. Naturally, this has an impact on how we perceive violence and that perception influences how writers write their stories and developers design their games. Unfortunately, this cycle feeds itself. The only way to break this cycle is for millions upon millions of individuals to suddenly and simultaneously decide they are no longer willing to accept violent behavior as natural and ordinary.

The problem with shows like "Game of Thrones", "Westworld", "Breaking Bad", and "Empire", as well as games like "League of Legends" and "Clash Royale" goes far beyond the way they gradually lead us to accept violent behavior as natural and ordinary. The problem is they present violence as the best form of conflict resolution in human relationships, as something cathartic, and as individually uplifting. These forms of entertainment reward sadism and cruelty. When one king casually orders the assassination of a visiting King and his Dowager Queen Mother after sharing a meal together, or when visitors show up in a wild west theme park to declare loudly that killing or raping a robot is "the best vacation ever", those concepts resonate inside us, reinforcing the idea that violent behavior is good and useful. Violent acting out becomes a desirable form of self-expression because we begin to see it as both perfectly natural and emotionally rewarding. Games such as "League of Legends" and "Clash Royale" also reinforce these ideas by presenting entertainment as a deathmatch between two individuals where only one can win. The winner is rewarded both with ingame prizes and an emotional uplift, while the loser either resolves to try harder or suffers further damage to their collapsing sense of self. Every individual is different, of course, so no general conclusion can be drawn, but when games that reward violence are reinforced by a television show presenting violence as something good and useful, then it confirms in far too many people the idea that violence is justified when they feel overwhelmed. As a society we are now programming ourselves to think of rape, pillage, and plunder as highly rewarding individual behavior patterns. After all, doesn't everyone wish they could walk into work and shoot down that annoying robotic boss or co-worker? Wouldn't it feel good to finally end that conflict once and for all? Isn't murder the best solution for betrayal in love and work?

So here is what I see coming, and this time I am neither joking nor being satiric. I fear with every fiber of my being that 2018 (and possibly 2017) will mark the beginning of a new trend in America. There will be a sharp increase in workplace-related violence, in home invasions, in robberies that end in bloodshed, and in road rage. Everyday conflicts in convenience store check-out lines, parking lots, and government offices will become flashpoints for violence that end in death and destruction. More and more we are going to see "lone wolf" terrorists inspired by internet propaganda from ISIS and Al Qaeda driving through crowds, cutting people down with knives, or engaging in small group swarm attacks against popular night spots. Violent drug users who move from marijuana into more stimulating narcotics are going to cause mayhem in places like Atlanta, Denver, Miami, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Anywhere the haves and havenots are in close proximity to one another there will be increasing outbreaks of violence both large and small.

Many things will be blamed for this sudden upsurge in violence. There is no doubt in my mind that the mass media will split the blame between Pres. Donald Trump and law-abiding American gunowners. Those are, after all, their two favorite scapegoats for everything that is wrong with America today. Academics and scholars will write long treatises with elaborate statistics blaming poverty, unemployment, political disenfranchisement, and social isolation brought on by heavy reliance on communication technologies rather than face-to-face communication. I am saying here, now, at the very opening days of the trend, that none of these are to blame. The real problem is we as consumers and creators have decided that sadism is fun, relaxing, and cathartic.

"These violent delights have violent ends," is not just a quote from an ancient play, it is a time-honored sacred truth confirmed by 5000 years of recorded history.

May 31, 2017


Shards is now available worldwide

My third Kindle book is now available worldwide. Shards is a small collection of poetry. I am even less prolific as a poet than I am as a fiction writer and thus my entire life's work fits into one tiny volume. Nonetheless, it is now available worldwide on the Amazon Kindle.

American poetry in 2017 is in pitiful shape. Inner city black or hispanic poets have an almost infinite number of venues to publish their work in. Apparently, the rest of us have too much "privilege", and therefore we are not acceptable to poetry journals all across the United States. It is a very odd world indeed when "white privilege" means no one wants to publish your writing. Apparently "privilege" in 21st Century America has a different meaning than it did back in the 70s when I was in high school.

I have hesitated to publish this collection. In point of fact, I started laying the groundwork back in April 2014, but I just could not bring myself to put it on the market. A few days before my 56th birthday, struggling to find the motivation to keep writing anything at all, I pulled the poetry from my portfolio at Writing.com for the third time and began the long work of revision and arrangement. Yesterday I deleted my portfolio at Writing.com and uploaded the final version of Shards to Amazon.

Poetry is an odd beast. For some insane reason people want to assign poetry a "truth" value that it does not merit. Poetry is no more "true" than any other art form. Let me take a moment here to be blunt and offensive: there is no truth in art! All art, even sloppy art devoid of meaning, begins out in the real world. Something or someone has an impact on the artist and the artist tries to communicate that impact. It does not matter if the artist sculpts a statue, paints with oil, or colors with crayons. The art they produce has been filtered through the internal world of the artist. It is, at best, a reflection of the artist's reaction to their subject rather than a "true" representation of the subject. Poetry is no different than any other art. The only "truth" it carries is the prejudices and preconceptions of the poet. By the same token, that inability to create pure "truth" is the very thing that makes all art so important and valuable to us as individuals, as communities, and as societies. Art is our experience of this life in this place and at this time. It is only "true" to the extent it reflects the internal world of the artist. Therefore, there is nothing "true" in art in the sense that there is nothing "real" in art.

It will be very tempting for some people to read these poems and try to find themselves. Doing so would be a mistake. Shards is neither historical nor autobiographical. Most of it is pure fantasy. Anything autobiographical is buried beneath metaphor and symbol. I did this on purpose. I made no effort in these poems to record my real life or my real experiences. Instead, my entire focus is on conveying a combination of emotion and context. All of these poems began with something real, but none of them now contain the reality that inspired them. My effort was focused on finding images that would carry the emotion of the moment, not the reality of the moment. I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not I succeeded.

May 23, 2017

Normalization of aberrant behavior

I'm sure by now most people around the world with access to either the internet, radio, or television are aware that a terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England has claimed the lives of at least 22 people and wounded at least 59 more. Just in case you haven't, here's a link to the most recent Fox News report as of this writing: "Manchester Terror Attack Suspect Identified".

Now begins the same round of questions without answers that always follows one of these attacks. "How could this happen?" "Why would anyone do such a thing?" "What kind of monster targets children?" "Why didn't the police know about it ahead of time?"

And the same answers will be offered that are always offered. "He's not a real Muslim." "Police resources are stretched too thin." "There is no way to know ahead of time who is blowing off steam and who is seriously planning violence."

One of the reasons police have so much difficulty determining who is serious and who is not is that our modern world has become far too tolerant of aberrant behaviors and attitudes. In game forums all across the internet PvP fans lovingly throw around terms like, "slaughter", "massacre", "kill them all". Television, internet, radio and print journalists alike, all of them feel no hesitation in calling for the assassination of world leaders they disagree with. Politicians in France, the United States, the United Kingdom, and hundreds of other countries routinely give interviews where they compare their political opponents to Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, or some other genocidal dictator. Not two days before the Manchester bombing, this went viral on social media platforms:

During the most recent national elections in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, street graffiti calling for the assassination of candidates became commonplace during street protests. This particular photo is after a street protest in Oakland, California:

Even more ominous is the graffiti showing up in cities all across the United States calling on people to "Kill all police", "Kill all blacks", "Kill all whites" or "Kill all Muslims". This photo is from Detroit. "James Craig" is the Detroit Police Chief:

Even President Donald J. Trump, the leader of the free world, is routinely criticized for the outrageous bursts of emotion that routinely fill his personal Twitter feed: @realDonaldTrump.

All of these behaviors, from PvP players calling for virtual massacres to Pres. Trump's blanket condemnation of American news media, are abnormal. These attitudes of violence, hatred, blanket condemnations of entire groups of people, these calls for political assassination, are all completely aberrant behaviors. And yet, in today's world this kind of outrage is considered both normal and healthy. Being able to scream profanity over the internet in defense of some political agenda, some personal objective, or some dissatisfaction with a popular television show has become normal, everyday behavior for otherwise rational adults. People who treat their neighbors with kindness, who take care of their children and spouse, and who show up on time for work everyday, turn into violent, slathering animals when they post to social media. If we truly want to understand why a man born and raised in England feels free to build a bomb and slaughter children at a pop concert we need look no further than our own social media accounts. We have allowed ourselves to normalize such outbursts. Emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically, we have all become thugs and terrorists rampaging through the information superhighway with profane calls for destruction of anything and everything we find disagreeable.

Slamming someone online is not the moral equivalent of setting off a bomb at a concert. Absolutely not. However, both behaviors originate from the exact same emotional and psychological core assumptions in the individual. Far too many of us in today's world are running around with the delusional belief that we as individuals are entitled to dictate social morality. Whatever we feel inside, especially if it stems from emotional pain, is automatically accepted as reality and as fact. If we feel angry or offended we assume that someone else is to blame. We believe that other people are responsible for conforming to our internal expectations and therefore, any reality which contradicts this assumption is immediately dismissed as false. Our internal emotional world has become our reality, regardless of any facts that exist out in the physical world that surrounds us. Instead of starting with real-world facts and choosing our emotional response to those facts, we start with our emotions and demand other people shape their personalities into some form that will please us.

This kind of thinking is aberrant because it creates very real problems for us as individuals, for everyone around us, and for society at large. No one can read our mind. No one can see inside our hearts and know what we desire. No one can serve our emotional needs through instinct or through shared assumptions. No one knows our internal emotional world. Even those of us who "wear our hearts on our sleeves", who are prone to passionate emotional outbursts both positive and negative, are not completely true in how we express ourselves. Countless tiny events, combined with a nearly infinite number of variables in our physical bodies, contribute to our emotional state in ways that no one truly understands. We cannot predict our own emotional response to any given situation because it is wholly dependent on biological factors we cannot control. The one thing that every one can do, and has stopped doing, is consciously choose to ignore our emotions. This is something we are supposed to learn as adolescents. Part of the process of learning to be an adult is learning that our emotions can, and regularly do, betray us. Unfortunately, in the modern world we have begun teaching adolescents that whatever they are feeling is appropriate and true. We tell them over and over again, as parents, as educators, in cartoons and in television dramas, that they are wiser than the adults who surround them. Because we keep repeating this message that there is something sacred and right about hormone-driven adolescent mood swings, adolescents never learn to become adults.

Perhaps I am only a tired old man. That is always possible. However, I look out at what is happening in the world around me, both online and offline, and the future looks to be a very dark place. What good does a global communication network serve if all it does is reinforce old prejudices? Old, destructive ideas about socialism, capitalism, nationalism, aristocracy and peasantry are becoming more acceptable everyday. Instead of helping us overcome self-destructive highly aberrant behaviors, the internet is reinforcing the idea that every individual's internal emotional reality is more true than the physical world around them. It has become natural to assume that everyone is wrong. Partly as a result of this assumption of wrongness in everyone around us, the opinion of some expert we emotionally agree with has become a kind of sacred truth that cannot be debated. You and I, both of us, all seven billion individuals walking around interacting with one another, we are all naked emperors parading our invisible robes of gold so finely spun we cannot feel it and no one can see it.

Yes, it is possible I am the naked emperor. It is also possible I am the child asking their mother, "Why does the emperor have no clothes?"

May 15, 2017

Reading the writing on the wall

Recently I have begun feeling somewhat aimless and driftless in my writing. I am currently working on two books, a short story collection and a poetry collection, so it's not like I'm totally devoid of goals. However, I am becoming less convinced that even with proper marketing I'll be able to find an audience. Japanese trains are the problem. Once upon a time almost everyone on the trains could be seen reading books or manga. The Japanese were vociferous readers and they had the largest per capita expenditures on books, magazines, and newspapers of any society in the world. Not even the book-loving French could keep up! Now, however, everything has changed.

We went to Barcelona a short time ago. Spent a week wandering around Barcelona and even took a day trip up to Madrid. Everywhere we went people were staring at their phones. Getting on a Japanese train these days is the same. There used to be a dozen bookstores here in Koenji, and half a dozen used book stores. Now, those few people who still buy manga get them at convenience stores. Gone are the days when every Monday there would be thousands of two-inch thick manga magazines stacked in front of the kiosk at Koenji station. Most Mondays now see only a single stack. There are still two bookstores here in Koenji, and one used book store, but the used bookstore is almost always empty. The situation in the States is just as bad.

Granted, some of this results directly from the success of Amazon.com and their Japanese counterpart. However, my honest impression is that a much greater factor in the decline of reading is the explosion of smartphones as a mobile gaming platform. Sure, there are manga apps that carry all the major titles, and just like everywhere else in the world, Japanese readers can download a Kindle app for free in order to read ebooks. However, I don't see people reading. I see them playing games. All kinds of games. From recreations of classic arcade games, to elaborate RTS games, to cute pet simulators, the mobile game market in Japan has exploded and is only getting larger. How can I, a simple writer, ignore such an obvious reality? I can't!

I'm still working on those two books. Once they are finished, they're going straight into the Kindle store. Once I have four titles, I will arrange for paperback print-on-demand versions to be available and I will spend a little money on Amazon.com promotional advertising. Nonetheless, I am not optimistic. Mobile gaming is the future. Unfortunately, when I tried to learn programming back in my thirties I failed miserably.

On the other hand, a great deal has changed over the past two decades. Massive libraries of pre-built, pre-tested, reliable code are everywhere and a surprising number of them are open source. I was one of those who honestly believed the open source movement was doomed. I could not imagine anyone taking the time to build, test, and verify a massive programming library just to give it away. I was wrong. Almost every program and app in the world these days is build from pre-written code libraries. Most people who publish games to Google Play or the Apple Store have one or two libraries they are deeply familiar with, libraries they acquired free from one of the thousands of open source libraries around the world. They combine, recombine, and experiment with the libraries in the same way a child plays with Legos. In exactly the same way, as a matter of fact. So much so, that the comparison has become a modern cliche.

On Friday, after a month or more of grievous emotional self-flagellation, I broke down. I downloaded the Java Development Kit and the Android Studio Took Kit. There is no way I can work this out on my own, so I downloaded three books by a fellow named John Horton. Sunday morning I got everything set up and spent some time reading online material. I also watched several videos of people using these tools to make games. I found an interesting online article published in December 2016. Apparently the top ten independent game studios are literally one person uploading stuff to either the Apple App Store or Google Play. Ten of their most successful games, in turn, are retro-style RPGs. I'm glad I found that article. It linked to a couple of YouTube videos introducing even more "indie" games that various "experts" are expecting to see succeed in 2017. Overall, I found it very encouraging.

For me, this is extremely difficult study. I have barely finished chapter three in the first book. This is going to take a long time to learn, especially if I am trying to write two books of my own at the same time. But, the future is mobile gaming. The fact that I absolutely hate this idea does not change the reality of it. Now that mobile games are being written with VR capability, it is even more undeniable. I can become one of those old curmudgeons complaining about the foolishness of youth, or I can take this bull by the horns and ride it.

Maybe one of these days I can turn some of my story ideas into a killer RPG. If that is the only kind of storytelling the future holds, then I have no choice but to find a way to adapt to it. Heaven knows I'm not going to see another City of Heroes get released any time soon. To be frank, with the pace these superhero MMORPG studios are working at I might even learn enough to write my own before any of them get a finished product into the market. Wouldn't that be a shock? My own MMORPG available on mobile platforms all over the world before studios I've been following for half a decade manage to get their games finished? It won't happen, naturally, but what if it does? The irony would surely kill me.

Android Developers : Android Studio and Android Development Tools
Oracle : Getting Started Developing with Java

May 07, 2017

Ship of Heroes

For five years I have been following Heroes and Villains, City of Titans, Valiance Online, and Atlas Park Revival, along with half a dozen more that have now fallen by the wayside. Obsession is a funny thing. Different people have different obsessions. Some people are obsessed with sex, some people are obsessed with vodka, some people are obsessed with robotics, some people are obsessed with classical music, and some people are obsessed with their own self. Everyone has some kind of obsession. If nothing else, they are obsessed with avoiding obsession. City of Heroes, especially after the release of City of Villains, was my obsession for a very long time. I was there for the first Open Beta, I was still there when they shut down the servers. Every single game in existence pales next to the achievements of City of Heroes. It was not an easy game to understand, and on some days it was not an easy game to love, but it embodied innovations in creativity and versatility that no other game has been able to match. In a world of equipment-based medieval fantasy clones, City of Heroes offered dramatically different character creation, character enhancement, and combat strategy. Nothing else even comes close, not even Champions Online, which was also created by Jack Emmert and Cryptic Studios.

It is an odd thing in life that from time to time something arises out of the mist that completely rewrites a paradigm. City of Heroes rewrote the paradigm of online gaming, but no one else followed their success. Bits and pieces here and there were borrowed, but the overall product still stands alone in the history of online gaming. The degree of customization, the powerful strategic importance of secondary effects of combat powers, the ability to use enhancements to completely personalize how one character's powers function, remain completely unmatched. So I have waited five long years, following all of the most likely successors, dreaming of the day I could once again fly through the skies of a modern city fighting evil, and all for nothing. No one I have been following is even close to creating a worthy successor. And then suddenly Ship of Heroes appears out of nowhere! The connection to Jack Emmert's brainchild is as clear as day, but original thinking and the carrying forward of the paradigm into even greater innovation, are also present.

I confess. I had completely given up hope. Five years is a very long time. Half a decade. I have published two books, written over two hundred blog posts, made online friends in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, built a house in Ohio to reconnect with my father, and renewed my love of firearms. It has been a very busy five years. Just recently I finally accepted that I would never again find a game that appealed to me. My newest computer, an ASUS Zenbook Flip UX360UA, is a masterful tool for writing and drawing, but completely unsuitable for playing a MMORPG. This is the only computer I have bought since 2003 that could not run a MMORPG, the first time in over 15 years I have bought a computer from the middle of the pack instead of the fastest, most powerful top-of-the-line game machine I could afford. This is a very fine, very useful computer and I am very happy to have bought it, but if either Ship of Heroes or City of Titans actually launches in 2018, this computer will become my second-best because I will definitely need a primary gaming computer.

Now all I have to do is figure out a way to make money playing superhero games...

April 12, 2017

The Blind Faith Argument

Many of America's earliest colonies were political sanctuaries established by Christian Puritans seeking freedom from religious persecution. Those same theological foundations are present in America today and they color our thinking in very destructive ways. There is in American culture a profound tendency to believe the most outrageous delusions. This happens because so many of us are happy to accept abstract logical arguments on blind faith alone, ignoring real world facts that don't fit the logical framework. We learn this thinking in childhood. Children are assumed to be wise in their naivete. We talk fondly of "the wisdom of babes in the wilderness" as if it were something real, solid, and dependable. It's not. Children left alone in wild lands almost never survive more than a few days. Those few that do usually get lucky and find a water supply clean enough that avoiding death by dehydration doesn't bring on death by microorganism.

When I first saw the Tweet above about Ninjas stealing cookies, I quite literally laughed out loud. It was so typical of childish logic. Being a parent, I know from experience that sometimes it is impossible to debate with a child. One of the less pleasant aspects of being a parent are those occasions where the child is lying, and you know the child is lying, but you have no proof. It is very hard in those moments to explain to the child why you know they are lying and why it is important not to lie. If they persist, then they must be disciplined. The purpose of the discipline is to reinforce in the child that deception produces negative consequences. Unfortunately, it is hard to discipline a child just for being a child. It is sometimes difficult to set down hard rules and enforce those rules without explanation until the child is old enough to understand why the rules exist. It sometimes feels impossible to teach children both the importance of obeying rules and the importance of having their own mind, thinking their own thoughts, and making their own decisions. Demanding blind faith in parental authority while discouraging blind faith in favor of realistic thinking is one of the great paradoxes of nurturing children and teaching them to think for themselves.

The American progressive movement has decided that Pres. Donald Trump is a mere puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It does not matter how many facts are presented to refute this belief. There exists a simple, childlike blind faith in the reality of the Trump-Putin collusion, so much so, that it colors their ability to grasp the true significance of real-world events. The day the news broke that Pres. Trump had ordered a missile strike on the Al-Shayrat airbase in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, stories immediately began circulating online that this entire episode, from the chemical attack to the missile strike, was some kind of conspiracy between Trump and Putin to shift attention away from their "obvious" collusion. The simple fact that the only real world evidence of this collusion is Trump's victory over their beloved Hillary Clinton along with a couple of routine meetings between Trump campaign staff and Russian embassy staff does not dissuade them. These were perfectly ordinary meetings, by the way. Senior members of Clinton's campaign staff had a series of identical meetings with the same Russian embassy staff members, but somehow that simple fact has completely escaped the attention of American progressives. When it is pointed out to them, they insist the Clinton campaign staff meetings are routine (or they never happened at all) but the Trump campaign staff meetings are nefarious. How do they know this? They just do. It's "obvious". It is a blind faith logical argument identical to the five year-old claiming that Ninjas stole the cookies.

These two Tweets are identical. The content and context are different, but the logical abstraction is the very same. Something is true simply because "everyone" knows it is true. Facts, reality, the sheer impossibility of their contention, are all irrelevant. They believe in their heart that Trump colluded with Putin to defeat Clinton, therefore, Trump is Putin's puppet and anything that demonstrates otherwise is simply not real. It's "obvious" Ninjas stole the cookies and nobody saw them because nobody ever does. It's "obvious" Trump and Putin colluded together to create the Syrian crisis because if they hadn't, the crisis would never have happened. Random, unrelated logical abstraction has become the foundation for their faith, making it impossible to dissuade them from their delusions.

China-Russia-Iran-North Korea have formed a new, powerful series of military and economic alliances. How far this alliance will carry them is still unclear, but no one in the American left can even see this alliance. They are blind to its existence, and blind to the very dangerous implications it presents. Rather than seeing this new alliance for the dangerous potential it contains, they are focused on their delusional logical construct that has Putin magically controlling the American government through Trump. They cannot see the very real and imminent threat of global thermonuclear war that is hovering on the horizon because they cannot see the alliance that has brought us here. Anyone who points out this very real alliance is labeled a conspiracy theorist because their delusion will not allow for the possibility of its existence! In their delusional thinking, it is supporters of Pres. Trump who cannot see the "obvious" reality they have all blindly accepted as a way of explaining Clinton's loss in a Presidential election that every pundit and pollster expected her to win. Their inability to accept Clinton's defeat has created a huge blindness in half the population, a blindness that the leaders of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are happy to exploit. Any effort Pres. Trump takes to thwart this danger will be greeted with derision and claims of "false flags". This is an incredibly dangerous moment in American history. We stand on the verge of a global thermonuclear war because half the people in our country cannot accept the reality of a Trump presidency. This is unprecedented. Not even Pres. Lincoln's adamant and vocal critics entertained this kind of childlike, blind faith in their own worldview. None except John Wilkes Booth and his circle of co-conspirators, that is. But even they in their mad delusions of tyrants and dictators did not assume Pres. Lincoln was acting on behalf of a foreign power.

Raising two sons in a foreign capital taught me to cringe whenever someone in America started prattling on about the importance of being childlike and filled with dreams. This philosophy is highly destructive. The real world destroys anyone and everyone who refuses to acknowledge the dangers it contains. We in the United States of America, partly as a result of our Puritan roots and partly as a result of our comfortable economic hegemony, have made delusional thinking a key cornerstone of our national culture. We call it, "visionary" or "idealistic" or "childlike fascination", but it is none of those things. It is pure delusional thinking and if we cannot break this habit immediately, we will pay the price long before Pres. Trump leaves office. The delusional thinking of half our population empowers both terrorists and nation-states that dream of a world without the United States providing the moral compass that ended fascism. That moral compass is not perfect, nothing ever is, but it has kept the world from self-annihilation for over half a century. If it fails now as a result of these delusions, then not only is America doomed, the world at large is doomed. There will be no one who speaks truth to power if we the American people abandon truth in favor of a comforting delusion.

Earlier, related blog posts:
Putin vs. Clinton, beating the drums of war
The countdown to nuclear war has begun
Book Review: Crisis of Character
Project Veritas reveals Democratic Party tactics
If Hillary becomes President than Syria is America's future
Hillary Clinton, the Second Amendment, the future of America
The facts about Hillary's "experience" are damning enough
Hillary's stance on gun control may have helped Trump win
The world is still on the cusp of global war
A story of two maps

April 06, 2017

I also write poetry


"Shards" is a notebook of poetry I started over a decade ago. I don't often add entries to it, even less frequently than I update this blog, but there it sits collecting virtual dust in a quiet corner of cyberspace.

I went back Writing.com today to check my mail and look for updates. I don't often go there anymore. Most of the writing I do nowadays is intended either as background material for publishable storytelling or as a piece of publishable storytelling. I am trying to build up a collection of Kindle books which I will then advertise using Amazon's PR tools. That's the plan anyway. Family vacations, head colds, influenza, real money work, and writer's block tend to dominate my time far more than actual writing. Right now, for example, I have a bad cold (or perhaps a mild flu) that makes it difficult to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. After a pretty good writing month in February and early March, the last week of March was a family trip to Spain followed by this head cold, which means I haven't done any real writing since about March 15th. There are just too many distractions in today's world.

Where was I? (See? I cannot focus to save my own life!) Oh, right! Shards. I went to Writing.com and when I checked my email there, I found a review. The person who wrote the review read the first poem (and only the first poem) in Shards then wrote about 700 words extolling his love of poetry and reviewing poetry. After this long description of himself, he wrote a twenty-word review of my 50 or 60 word poem. I really hate it when people open Shards, read one poem (usually the first), then write a review. It's beyond silly. At the very least they should read five or ten of the poems before writing their review. How can they develop a sense of what the poetry in Shards is really about just by reading the first poem? That would be analogous to writing a review of a thousand page textbook after reading the 1500 word introduction!

Shards is a "book" item at Writing.com. I did this very intentionally. It annoys me when I open a item for review and find a single haiku or sonnet. Being a poet, I fully understand how much time and effort often goes into creating a single piece, but seriously, not even Shakespeare would bother publishing a single sonnet for review. He would expect any reviewer to read through at least a dozen sonnets in order to compare the techniques employed in each sonnet and examine in detail the ability of the poet to consistently capture emotion within the very strict rules of the form. Reviewing a single sonnet by Shakespeare would be like trying to compose a 2500 word news report based on a five line field note from a unknown journalist. To write the news report (or to review Shakespeare) the writer must provide a full context that illuminates the deeper meaning of the piece.

After I wrote a reply to the reviewer, I went to his portfolio looking for something to review. I found a 13-line "free verse" poem about how evil European colonists had stolen the North American continent from the natives. The language of the poem was very harsh, very self-righteous, and very condescending. It reeked of Howard Zinn and his unabashed love of Mao-tse Tung, who in turn was inspired by Karl Marx. I wrote a review. I was not kind. I hope I was not offensive, but anyone who opens a review with a 700 word self-congratulatory bio is probably going to have a very sensitive personality, so he will probably be offended. Thinking about his propaganda piece disguised as a poem, thinking about my current disenchantment with American political culture, thinking about my current level of disgust with American news media, drove me to write a short poem. Naturally, since I was already at Writing.com, I added the poem to the end of Shards.

I knew I'd started Shards a very long time ago, but I was unsure how long ago. When I checked the date of creation I was shocked to learn it had been over a decade since I wrote the short poem that opens the book. Well, technically, the introduction and the first three poems were all written at about the same time. Still, June 2006 was a very long time ago. This, in turn, got me to thinking how sad it is that almost nobody reads or writes poetry anymore. There are maybe a dozen poets in the entire world who actually earn money off of their poetry. It is not surprising that all of their work is highly politicized. They write in either "free verse" or "prose poetry". The first category is one I often use, the second is one I completely abhor. Prose is prose. Even if prose paints a pretty picture, it is still prose. Personally, I don't find any of the work of the dozen or so working poets to have much merit. All of it that I have read completely lacks music or any emotion beyond self-righteous anger.

I posted a link to Shards at all my social media accounts. Somehow though, that was not enough, so I opened my blog for the first time in months and wrote this entry. Poetry is ancient magic. When done well, it takes the complexity of life and reduces it down to manageable, bite-size pieces. It allows for a level of focus, rebuttal, and even enlightenment that no other form of communication can provide. Many people down through the ages have insisted that poetry is the highest form of art. I don't know if I agree completely with that sentiment, mostly because I am not inclined to lift any one artistic media above the others, but I will agree that poetry is an important art form that carries a special power all its own, a power that no other art form contains. I hope there is poetry in the future. Real poetry, not propaganda.

February 17, 2017

Lost in Cyberspace

New MeWe Group: Lost in Cyberspace

I have been online for a very long time. Longer than most of the internet's most loyal fans have even been alive. The first cyberspace hangout where I became a regular user was back in USENET days. "rec.arts.prose" back in the old days was a wild, rambunctious place where anyone with a USENET reader could post short stories, novel chapters, article drafts, or any other prose composition and receive a wide array of responses. If they preferred, a person need not post anything at all. They could just as easily spend hours and hours every day responding to the work of others. I learned a lot about writing through participation in rec.arts.prose. I also learned a lot about flame wars, temporary alliances, cyberspace coup d'etat, and waging war using nothing but well-timed sarcasm. It did not take long for me to learn about rec.arts.poems and rec.arts.poetry, two groups with similar names and widely divergent goals. The first was an open newsgroup, just like rec.art.prose. The latter was a closed newsgroup. Closed newsgroups back in the day were carried on USENET news servers just like any other group, but participation was strictly controlled. A person could not post in a closed newsgroup, nor could they reply to posts in a closed newsgroup, until the moderator had added their name to a member's list kept on the main server for the closed group. Anyone could read a closed newsgroup but no one who was not pre-approved by the moderator could participate. Even back in the earliest days of cyberspace there have been people trying to shield themselves behind impenetrable walls. Closed USENET newsgroups were always the home of closed minds. That was another painful lesson learned in those early days.

Then one day I stumbled across an open newsgroup called, "alt.cuddle". Alt.cuddle was an open newsgroup with one very strictly enforced rule: Don't feed the trolls! Any participant could post anything they liked as long as it was not harmful, offensive, or worded as an aggressive attack. Anyone who tried to kindle or feed a flame war quickly found themselves completely ignored. The participants carried on with their own conversations and storytelling as if the troll did not even exist. Alt.cuddle taught me that the "invisible" rule from childhood could become a very real thing in the right circumstances. It was powerfully effective. Belligerent posts very quickly dropped completely off the visible post list simply from being ignored. Bellicose people never stayed for long because absolutely no one in the group paid them any notice. There was never any need to transform alt.cuddle into an actual closed group because the "Don't feed the trolls!" rule functioned with equal effectiveness while allowing anyone who came into the group and enjoyed the repartee to stay and "play in the meadow". The rise of Facebook, however, ended alt.cuddle as surely as if everyone had woken from a dream.

Facebook is an odd place. It combines the best and worst of USENET, supplementing it all with the ability to share photos, videos, news headlines, or random graphics that have become known as "internet memes". The strength of Facebook is the ability to remove from your newsfeed anyone or anything that disturbs you. I assume all of my old alt.cuddle friends are on Facebook somewhere, but I have been completely unable to find them. Facebook uses real names while USENET almost always used pseudonyms. Facebook taught me how powerful a pseudonym can be at preserving anonymity.

Facebook, however, has begun a slow decline. People are fracturing it up into tiny enclaves devoted to the same single mode of thinking, just like in the old closed USENET newsgroups. Trolls thrive on Facebook in unbelievable numbers. Every single day I find myself forced to block or ignore someone, some group, or some company. I like to think of myself as open-minded, but as I get older I have less tolerance for delusional thinking or naive idealism, especially when both come together in a single person or an impassioned social movement. I suppose, if USENET were still active, I'd be a member of a closed newsgroup devoted to firearms or the daily news as seen through a conservative lens. I like to think of myself as "open-minded", but it is clear my mind has been slowly closing down over the past ten years or so. It used to be I honestly believed every idea had merit. Nowadays I find most ideas to be nothing more than a simple, stupid rephrasing of an older idea that has never in all of human history accomplished what it promised.

Now there's a new kid on the block. It's called, "MeWe". Like both USENET and Facebook, the centerpiece is an open newsfeed. This makes it a "social media" site. Anyone who joins can post their thoughts, ideas, an internet meme, a cat video, or whatever, and their post will be carried to the newsfeed of everyone in their contact list. Unlike Facebook, the individual's activity is not added to a giant metadatabase and sold to advertisers. They claim this makes MeWe more secure and more "private" than Facebook, which is laughable, but does make for good advertising copy. One of the most important lessons a person must learn in order to maximize their enjoyment of cyberspace is that nothing here is private. All of it is public information that is readily available to anyone with decent search engine skill. MeWe does not sell their metadata to advertisers, and this is commendable, but this is a long way from being even the simplest form of privacy, let alone anything approaching true privacy. In reality, the only thing this means is that advertisers wishing to take advantage of monitoring the activity of MeWe users will have to set up metadata search parameters and compile their own database from the public posts.

Rule number of one of internet privacy: If you don't want the entire 7 billion people living on planet Earth to know something, then don't post it on the internet and don't put it an email! When you need to keep your conversation private either pick up the telephone and call the person or, better yet, go over to their house and talk to them one-on-one. By assuming that everything you post on the internet or send in an email is public information you can avoid much of the humiliation experienced everyday by celebrities who find their nude photos or most intimate lovemaking videos suddenly available to the entire world. Not all of it, because sometimes someone you trust will put your information online against your wishes, but most of the problems can be avoided simply by not posting it yourself or sending it in an email. Nowadays even text messages between phones can wind up online with the accidental push of a button.

MeWe is still new. I just made a profile there and did a contact search. Their search only uncovered one other person among my friends and family with a MeWe profile. This means one of two things: either their privacy controls are much better than Facebook or no one else has made a MeWe profile yet! Probably the latter. Still, I downloaded the app onto my Japanese smart phone. I'll play around it for a little while and see how it goes. Perhaps it really is, "the next big thing!" Given a little time and more widespread participation, I'll find out firsthand. After all, sooner or later Facebook will go the way of USENET and something will replace it. That something might be MeWe, or it might be an all-new virtual reality cybervillage that no one alive has yet imagined, let alone programmed into existence.

January 22, 2017

Linda Sarsour and Modern American Politics

Let me open today's blog post by saying I was moderately impressed with President Donald Trump's Inauguration Day Speech. I thought he touched on many important points. The point that struck me closest to home was his promise to remove control of the federal government from career politicians and return it the American people. I applaud this idea wholeheartedly. I am not convinced he can actually pull it off, but I am looking forward to watching him try.

The day after the Inauguration of President Donald Trump there was a nationwide march organized by a variety of women's rights groups. One of the organizers was a woman named Linda Sarsour whom I had never heard of prior to today. Her sudden entrance onto the national stage has captured the interest of many people on both sides of the aisle. Since the Democratic Party remains obsessed with identity politics, her connection with yesterday's Women's March has sent a wildfire burning through both liberal and conservative social media.

Apparently, the radical wing of Islam in America is far less impressed with Linda Sarsour than Jan Morgan realizes.

Ikhras: Linda Sarsour, Fake Activist

Former friends of Sarsour tell us with her rising public profile came a remarkable change in her private and public behavior. Her unabashed, self-serving approach has alienated many people and her early connections to the community and former colleagues are now virtually non-existent. She has also cultivated a public persona that those who knew her tell us is dramatically unlike the Sarsour they had encountered and previously worked with. Even Palestinian-Americans who do not know Sarsour personally recognize a caricature type quality to her public behavior.

The fundamental problem with politics in America today is that it has become impossible to distinguish between the corrupt, self-serving narcissists who use the system to enrich themselves and those individuals who are deeply concerned with protecting and improving the lives of we who are not members of the political class. The professional politicians have become very skilled at misdirection, deception, and hypocrisy. For all intents and purposes, the most corrupt politicians in Washington D.C. look identical to those politicians dedicated to public service. Even those of us with highly developed internet search skills often have problems accurately discerning between the heroes and the villains. This is true across both major parties along with the myriad of tiny, independent parties that dot the American political landscape. The unfolding story of Linda Sarsour and her growing fame within New York City is a perfect example of this conundrum.

As of this writing, Linda Sarsour's Wikipedia entry has only three sentences:

Linda Sarsour (born 1980) is a Palestinian-American activist who is the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. Sarsour was a National Co-Chair of the Women's March on Washington, held on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.

In 2016, Sarsour endorsed Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders for President of the United States.

And yet, judging from Jan Morgan's Facebook post, along with the blog post at Ikhras, she has been very active in local New York issues for quite some time. Since she is a woman, a Muslim, and a Palestinian, she is the perfect identity politician for the modern Democratic Party. Between now and 2024 I suspect that not only will we see much more of Linda Sarsour, her Wikipedia entry will rapidly expand. Clearly she has been tagged by those within the New York and national political establishments as someone who has both the charisma and the background to become a female version of President Barack Obama. 2024 will probably see her already serving in either the House of Representatives or the Senate and no doubt she will be a highly visible component of the 2024 political season. If a Republican wins the White House in 2024, then no doubt Linda Sarsour will be pushed into the front of the party as a candidate for president in the 2028 season.

Those on the far right have already begun their campaigns to cut the legs out from under her political aspirations. In addition to Jan Morgan's Facebook post, there are a couple dozen "conservative" blogs and "news" websites where her ties to radical Islam are being listed up along with links to both one another and to all the available news reports about her past activities. Meanwhile, MSNBC, CNN, and the rest of the "mainstream" media have been very careful to list her as the National Co-Chair of the committee that organized yesterday's march. It is not accidental that her connection to this protest is the very first item mentioned in her brand-new Wikipedia entry. This is how political careers are born. They start with a few minor mentions in national news, then a local political campaign, then a national political campaign.

But who is she really? The dichotomy between her alleged links to radical Islam and her public presence is going to continue to grow. Meanwhile, as time goes by reports by minor players such as Ikhras and myself will vanish into the background. The search for genuine clarity will be ignored, questions about her motivations will be side-stepped, and no one except her immediate family will ever have a true measure of who she is as a person. From today forward, her public persona will be carefully cultivated and controlled. Provided she, like Barack Obama before her, is able to avoid any form of public scandal, there is nothing to stop her from making a run at the White House in 2024 or 2028. She is clearly ambitious, she is clearly loved by the fundraisers and organizers who make a presidential campaign possible, and her background in activism is a perfect launching pad for an identity politician of the kind the Democratic Party now prefers.

Let me state here and now, at the very cusp of her meteoritic launch onto the national stage, I believe it is possible for a Muslim woman to both become president and to be a good president. There are a few caveats. Her love for America must be greater than her love for Allah. Her devotion to the Constitution should be greater than her devotion to the Qur'an. She can have no tolerance or acceptance of any aspect of Shari'a, although making jokes about its perceived "advantages" would probably be a good strategy for winning support within the Muslim American community. If a Muslim woman can be dedicated to the Constitution, the nation, and the people of these United States then I have no problem with her running for president. If she puts forth a platform dedicated to a smaller, less intrusive, less expensive federal government and an absolute adherence to the Second Amendment, I would even vote for her, regardless of which party banner she ran under. If either of the major parties can find a Muslim woman who has all of these qualities and is also a veteran of the Afghanistan/Iraq wars, then she would have no problem winning enough support to become president. Linda Sarsour is not a veteran, but is she a woman capable of appealing to the full range of the American political spectrum? I don't know, but I'll be keeping an eye on her as she rises through the ranks.

I am not endorsing Linda Sarsour. I am merely using her as an example of how our political system works and how she could use the system to one day run for president. At this point, she is not someone I could trust for city council, let alone for the highest office in the land. I am not impressed by her ties to yesterday's Women's March. If anything, for me that is a major demerit. But she could redeem that demerit by taking on New York City's oppressive gun control regimen and restoring the Second Amendment rights of people living in New York City. If she does run for New York City Council, wins, and uses her new platform to create incentives for better access to firearms and firearms training by the people of New York City, then I would be very impressed. However, if she runs under the Democratic Party banner, then no doubt her emphasis will be better educational opportunities for minority children, higher taxes on New York's elites, stronger gun control within the city, and further restrictions on the ability of the New York City police department to do its job. The only aspect of such a platform I would find attractive is improved educational opportunities for minority children, provided it can be accomplished without raising taxes.

Naturally, since I do not live in New York City, my opinion is completely irrelevant. The only reason I am offering it here and now is to point out that if she begins her political career as a member of the New York City Council, she is going to have to remember that when she goes national she will also have to find common ground with people like me: small government, fiscal and social conservatives who emphasize the Constitution and whose first priority is preservation of the Second Amendment. As I pointed out on November 14th (Hillary's stance on gun control may have helped Trump win), people like me are a very important voting block at the national level.

So, Linda Sarsour, if you are hoping to one day be President of the United States, then it would behoove you to keep in mind the Jan Morgans of the world and their complete disdain for Islam. Calling them "Islamophobes" is not going to help you become president. The best counter to their inherent distrust of Muslims is to champion their love of firearms by fighting to both reverse gun control and to expand firearms ownership.