Archive for July 2007

FLICKR moments

July 31, 2007

Okay. Why can’t we all just get along? Maybe because these two cats are of different colors.

Now this is a classy photo. [of a woman. Magic words for some reason]

Why Do They Hate US: Perspective from Pakistani-American

July 31, 2007

The title pretty much says it all. Courtesy of Katana.

For those without Washington Post accounts.

He held a copy of my latest novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” and examined the face on its cover, comparing it to mine. Then he said, nodding once as if to dip the brim of an imaginary hat: “So tell me, sir. Why do they hate us?”

That stopped me cold. I’ve spent almost half my life in the United States, arriving from Lahore, Pakistan, with my parents in 1974 when I was 3 after my father was accepted to a PhD program at Stanford. I learned to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” years before I could sing the Pakistani national anthem, played baseball before I could play cricket and wrote in English before I could write in Urdu. My earliest memories are of watching “Star Trek” and “MASH” while my parents barbecued chicken in the back yard. I was an American kid, through and through. Part of me still is.

But when I was 9, I moved back to where I came from. And because where I came from was Pakistan and I was about as all-American as a foreign-born brown boy could be, my perspective a quarter-century later on the question of why “they” hate “us” is perhaps a little more textured than most.

For one thing, part of me identifies with “they” and part with “us.” For another, growing up in Pakistan in the 1980s let me see firsthand the devastating effects that the best of U.S. intentions can have.

Talk about why so many Muslims hate the United States these days, and you’ll hear plenty of self-flagellation, at least in some quarters of post-9/11 America. I have too much affection for the United States to join in. These people make up the “We deserve to be hated because we’re bad” school of thought, which is simplistic and unhelpful. It is simplistic because there are 300 million different components of the “we” that is America. And it is unhelpful because it ignores so much that is good about the nation.

Part of the reason people abroad resent the United States is something Americans can do very little about: envy. The richest, most powerful country in the world attracts the jealousy of others in much the same way that the richest, most powerful man in a small town attracts the jealousy of others. It will come his way no matter how kind, generous or humble he may be.

[…]

But that was about to change. Soviet troops had recently rolled into Afghanistan, and the U.S. government, concerned about Afghanistan’s proximity to the oil-rich Persian Gulf and eager to avenge the humiliating debacle of the Vietnam War, decided to respond. Building on President Jimmy Carter‘s tough line, President Ronald Reagan offered billions of dollars in economic aid and sophisticated weapons to Pakistan’s dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. In exchange, Zia supported the mujaheddin, the Afghan guerrillas waging a modern-day holy war against the Soviet occupation. With the help of the CIA, jihadist training camps sprung up in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Soon Kalashnikov assault rifles from those camps began to flood the streets of Lahore, setting in motion a crime wave that put an end to my days of pedaling unsupervised through the streets.

Meanwhile, Zia began an ongoing attempt to Islamize Pakistan and thus make it a more fertile breeding ground for the anti-Soviet jihad. Public female dance performances were banned, female newscasters were told to cover their heads and laws undermining women’s rights were passed. Secular politicians, academics and journalists were intimidated, imprisoned and worse.

One part of this was particularly unpleasant for those of us entering our teens: the angry groups of bearded men who began enforcing their own morality codes. They made going on dates risky, even in a fun-loving city such as Lahore. Meanwhile, a surge of cheap heroin — the currency often used to buy the allegiance of Afghan warlords — meant that Pakistan went from having virtually no addicts when I was 9 to having more than a million by the time I completed high school, according to a lecture that a U.S. drug-enforcement official gave at my school.

[..]

The residue of U.S. foreign policy coats much of the world. It is the other part of the answer to the question, “Why do they hate us?” Simply because America has — often for what seemed good reasons at the time — intervened to shape the destinies of other countries and then, as a nation, walked away.

There is so much about the United States that I admire. So when I speak of that time now, and encounter the pose of wounded innocence that is the most common American response, I am annoyed and disappointed. It is as though the notion of U.S. responsibility applies only within the 50 states, and I have no right to invoke it.

How then does someone like me reconcile his affection and frustration? Partly by offering a passionate critique. And partly by hoping for change — by appealing, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did, to what is most attractive about the United States, to what it claims to stand for, to what is best in its nature.

Americans need to educate themselves, from elementary school onward, about what their country has done abroad. And they need to play a more active role in ensuring that what the United States does abroad is not merely in keeping with a foreign policy elite’s sense of realpolitik but also with the American public’s own sense of American values.

Because at their core, those values are sound. That is why, even in places where you’ll find virulent anti-Americanism, you’ll also find enormous affection for things American. That’s why Pakistani rock musicians listen to Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, why Pakistani cities are full of kids wearing blue jeans and T-shirts, and why Pakistanis have been protesting to give their supreme court the same protection from meddling by their president held by its model: the Supreme Court of the United States.

All of which leads us to another, perhaps more fruitful question that Americans ought to consider: “Why do they love us?” People abroad admire Americans not because they back foreign dictators but because they believe that all men and all women are created equal. That concept cannot stop at the borders of the United States. It is a concept far greater than any one nation, no matter how great that nation is. For America to be true to itself, its people must broaden their belief in equality to include the men and women of the world.

The challenge that the United States faces today boils down to a choice. It can insist on its primacy as a superpower, or it can accept the universality of its values. If it chooses the former, it will heighten the resentment of foreigners and increase the likelihood of visiting disaster upon distant populations — and vice versa. If it chooses the latter, it will discover something it appears to have forgotten: that the world is full of potential allies.

I’m one of them. I do not currently live in the United States, but I still believe in its potential for good. And like so many who wonder how our new and more integrated world can be built on a foundation that is humane and just, I look to the land where I, a writer, first learned to write, and allow myself to dream.

Remember that walked away part. People hate perhaps because the US doesn’t meet their expectations. However, that is nowhere near the hate of those that have been betrayed by US promises. And I assure you, the CIA and the State Department has betrayed many promises made on the part of the United States citizenry. You just don’t know about them because they used your power without asking and without asking for forgiveness.

Man Hug: How To Video

July 30, 2007

Amusing in a British accented sort of way.

Here’s a mechanical project, so to speak.

It is the Star Fleet Way

July 29, 2007

One of the more amusing parodies of war from the creators of Star Fleet: Voyager. [Whoops, Freudian slip concerning Fleets as in war fleet. Should be Star Trek: Voyager]

700 years into the future, The Doctor must defend himself, and the memory of the crew of Voyager, when an alien species claims that the “Warship Voyager” was responsible for war crimes committed against them.

There are two layers to this parody. One is where it makes fun of the real military, since it makes rather bad caricatures out of the Voyager crew. Killbotting, myrmidons, you know.

The other layer to this parody, the perhaps unintended one, is that it actually makes fun of Star Trek as well. At least for those like me, that always deemed Star Trek’s policies and standards a bit too unmilitary and sappy to survive in such a dangerous universe.

I’m watching a special fan made clip that I downloaded that shows some of the notable scenes from this episode, composed into a music video. I’m trying to find the

To make things simple, and so I don’t have to torture you with a link to my original post on this episode, I’ll just recall for you what this episode was designed to do.

Essentially, this is an episode about propaganda. About the good Star Fleet officers slandered for the purposes of someone else. Who or what doesn’t really matter. You have Janeway doing summary executions by shooting prisoners in the back of the head, complete with martyrs that just knee there and take it spouting off about “Peace is Eternal”. The propaganda vid created by this episode was designed to make Janeway and her crew look bad, and therefore the Doctor has to dispel these illusions by introducing the truth about Janeway.

The second layer of the propaganda that is demonstrated is pretty simple. The way they showed the military side of Janeway and the people she was killing, was pretty stereotypical for the 60s and 70s. You know, the military being the ones that always bully civilians and crush civil rights. That kind of thing. The military always wants the “Perfect Weapon” that has no conscience or emotion when it kills. You remember back then what people thought the military was.

[UPDATE: I found the video btw.]

I love this episode. Here’s the promo. Come on, just soak in the ironies and complexities here, people.

Layers under layers, in my view. You have the author’s intended perspective, the intended lie give to the Doctor, the intended lie given to the audience, the truth of Janeway, the truth about the truth of Jane, etc.

If anyone was in the least way curious about why people tend to believe the worst about Gitmo and the US military, this is the reason. Not Star Trek specifically, but the biases you see on this episode has been incubating inside people for decades now. GitMo was just an obvious outlet. People believed the worst about the military long before 9/11. Just as the Islamic Jihad hated America long before 9/11.

Story of an Identity Theft

July 29, 2007

You might pick up something useful here.

Bitter Grey Ashes

July 28, 2007

There are a couple of books that do an exceptional job of portraying the multiverse setting of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons also known as the Forgotten Realms if we are talking about one specific world in the multiverse.

In AD and D tradition, the fundamental setting is that of the multiverse, composed of several different planes of existence, worlds like Earth or Toril, as well as elemental planes of existence such as Fire or Earth.

The point is, you can weave almost any kind of story from such a multiverse, because essentially it is like quantum mechanics. A universe full of infinite posibilities and variations.

Many books are written in the Forgotten Realms setting; most popularized by RA Salvatore in his Drizzt Saga, Icewind Dale trilogy, and Dark Elf trilogy. Salvatore also wrote a 5 book story featuring Cadderly, the mighty cleric and priest of the god Deneir. Drizzt’s party even met Cadderly once.

I’m not here to write about RA Salvatore though, for good as he is, he does not quite hit upon the interaction and characterization hybrid that I prefer. Meaning, the magic system of RA Salvatore’s novels are not written in reference to the spell levels in ADD games such as Baldur’s Gate. The spell names and effects are the same, but he does not reference them on any kind of objective power level. That takes away from the immersion into the Forgotten Realms because there is no consistent way to judge whether a magic is this or that. Powerful or weak. Whatever it is, it is based upon what the author described it as. A high level wizard can cast a longer lasting and more harder to dispel web spell, but how much longer and how much harder is left unanswered. This is different from the Sennadar novels by Fel, which is also based in the multiverse using the same physics as the Forgotten Realms; where gods derive their power from the belief of their worshippers and the Weave from the God of Magic is what powers spells.

In order to perhaps better explain my meaning, allow me to juxtapose magic with military technology. There is a specificness to military tech, such as capabilities, disadvantages, maintenance requirements, etc. For anyone for know which weapon to deploy in a certain situation, that person must know the basic capabilities of the equipment available. If he wants air support, what air support should he call upon? How likely is that support to be available? What alternatives does he have if there is no air support? How does he acquire coordinates for On Target artillery fire? How does he coordinate armored tank divisions with infantry?

These questions cannot be answered concerning magic in Salvatore’s novels or most any other FOrgotten Realms novel simply because there is not enough detail. It is sort of like saying a 500 pound J-Dam makes a bigger or smaller explosion based upon what plane it is dropped from. Rather vague in a sense.

Senndar doesn’t fall into this problem. Sennadar’s battle magic tactics make sense because it obeys common sense rules. It has an orderly system that has consistency; not based upon arbitrary visions from the author. The magic system of Sennadar then becomes sort of like the difference between a GPS guided J-Dam and a M82 sniper rifle. Each weapon has its advantages, disadvantages, and different requirements for skilled use.

To get to the point of this post, Bioware created a game called Baldur’s Gate II, which is a saga based upon a half-god child of murder trying to meet his/her destiny based in the Forgotten Realms world of Toril. This game still has a fan following because the mod communities are still cranking out mods for playing with Baldur’s Gate 2, and because the Infinity Engine is very easy to modify in such a way that it does not interfere with the main story line, this gives almost infinite replay and value to this game. It is an old game; one where every line is NOT voiced, rather just some of the text is voiced. I liked it because it had a lot of different character classes, items, quests, etc you could do. The magic system was also very complex, which allowed you to duel other mages and fight against many monsters that requires tactics to win out. Not just hack and slash, but tactics. As in hit and run, subterfuge, trap making, choosing the ground upon which you will fight, etc.

Dorotea made a short story mod concerning Jon Irenicus, the chief archvillain of BG2, wherein Jon Irenicus was “saved” and redeemed at the end of Throne of Bhaal, which was the last game in the Bhaalspawn trilogy.

If you click on the link, you will be able to go to her website and read her now fully novel sized story called Bitter Grey Ashes. It is not complete, although she has recently said that she is going to work on the future chapters. Regardless, there is plenty of material in there for your perusal. Its quality cements the best of interactive game playing with novel story telling.

As you might have noticed recently, I’ve been writing chiefly about books and what not, rather than politics and war. It is a nice break from the extremely repetitious nature of Leftist dogma, propaganda warfare, and the Iraq conflict.

It’s nice to be able to read stories in which the protagonists kill the evil people and not have to worry about the ACLU or CAIR. That has always been nice. People always talk about Westerners and the good guys vs bad guys theme as if this was something simple and parochial. It isn’t really. There are a lot of characterization developments in both Dorotea’s and Fel’s stories. The good become bad, the bad become good, the powerful defeated by the weak underdog, etc.

Fel’s stuff even has grand politics at the ending portions of his series; grand alliances between different nations and races, binded together to fight against a common enemy. Dorotea focuses on the themes of hellish damnation, redemption, narcissism, and amnesia in contrast. The amnesia and the narcissism bit being what the main character has. Indeed, yes, our chief protagonist and would be hero is a narcissist and perhaps even a malignant narcissist at that. The only other example of such a novel is Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow‘s End.

Excerpt’s available of course.

There is a certain purity to these kind of stories, you know. In our world, our themes are guilt vs pride and power vs doubt. We, as the mighty United States, do not lack power to solve our problems, rather what we lack is strength of will and spirit. We doubt, and therefore that is our problem. I feel an empathic connection with these kinds of stories because as individuals we do lack power, even if our nation does not. As individuals we doubt, we feel pain, and we given up at times when the going is too tough. It is inspirational thus, to be able to read stories like Deathstalker and Sennadar where the protagonists use their power for good, regardless of the costs to themselves or their souls. Often in these stories, the hero lacks power but not will. Often in our real world the US lacks will, but not power. It is the smaller and weaker nations on Earth that lack power.
You know the age old story of the underdog adventure-fantasy depiction. Farm boy heads out to the real world, meets thieves (or monsters) and other trash, learns how to survive, and therefore becomes more powerful. The simple challenges wherein to overcome them you just need to become more powerful, stronger, or more crafty. It is different in our day and age, but not so different as we may think.

One last thing. Such stories as I’ve presented here gives you the viewpoints of both villains and heroes. You don’t have to worry about lies, illusions, or traps set for you, the reader. Not like it is in the real world, where propaganda has 5 different layers, all trapped with deadly details and hidden barbs to prevent the removal. In Sennadar, the hero fights monsters and dragons and after the hero wins, the monsters and dragons start talking and demonstrating their own motivations and reasoning. In our world, humans talk and kill women and children, thus demonstrating their monstrous abilities and natures.

Jon Irenicus was the villain of Baldur’s Gate 2, and he made it into being the chief protagonist in Bitter Grey Ashes. America fought against Ameri-Indians and Japanese warriors, but eventually ended up fighting with them against our common enemies. The Navajo, Cheyene, Apache, etc in WWII, and the Japanese with us against China/North Korea/Russia in both Cold War and now. Look at even the Al Anbar tribes that once fought against the US “occupation” forces for the jihad. These kinds of stories are stories about real human beings, not monsters. Monsters just kill; they cannot be reasoned with because they are not essentially people. Instead of people, they are more like tools, weapons, or simply natural forces.

What makes an entity a monster though, is not what it does or says or is. No, what makes a monster a monster is its inability to change for the better. Traitors and enemies of humanity will always be enemies to humanity, because they have turned their back on the Light and without the Light they cannot change for the better.

I like tales of redemption in stories, true redemption that is, because you don’t often find it in the real world. You don’t get more than one chance to redeem yourself in the real world, if only because one mistake is enough to end a civilization or a career. Look at Vietnam. Look at the Revolution that ousted the Shah. Hell, look at what ended the Golden Age in Cuba when the intellectuals and other elitists supported the glorious leader Castro. One mistake is all that is needed. One moment in history that should not have occured but did.

Anyways, this is getting long enough and you should spend your time reading the stories by Fel and Dorotea. Far more entertaining, I assure you.

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time: Missing a Wheel

July 27, 2007

 [Hrm, perhaps I should have titled it :Missing a Spoke]
I’ve always felt that there was something missing or extremely annoying about Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint it given that I didn’t have many books or series to compare him to and I never could figure out just exactly why I was discontented with his stories. The battle scenes at the end of the books 3-5 were nice and exciting, but even they lacked greater meaning and tranquility afterwards.

So I picked up this bit from google. It sheds some more light on this issue because you know me, I can never turn my back on a mystery if only for curiosity‘s sake.

The Wise Old Man, the staple archetype of every fantasy novel, is conspicuously missing in Wheel of Time. In LOTR we have good old Gandalf, in Harry Potter we have Dumbledore but there is no like character in Wheel of Time. In fact, there are no old men at all. Neither are there any old women. Most characters, at least the major ones, are very young and they are very much on their own. There is no one to guide them. No one who knows more than them. No one they can trust and turn for counsel and no one who has any idea what is going on.

The archetype of the Wise Old Man represents, to a certain degree, the tendency of people to hold on to tradition and stereotype when faced with uncertainty. With such an archetype missing in Wheel of Time, it becomes a more contemporary fantasy where the world is changing so fast and things are so uncertain that one cannot rely on any Wise Old Men any longer. It is each man and each Aes Sedai to himself and herself and thus (fortunately) we have faces that are devoid of hair longer than a few micrometers.

Certainly it is true to some extent that those that grew up in Vietnam might have seen things as chaotic yet not needing any guidance from the Old Guard.

The universe, in my eyes, runs on the Celestial Hierarchy. For everyone that is powerful, there is someone weaker and someone more powerful. It balances out in an infinite chain. Sometimes the ends of those chains connect, in which the weakest become the strongest, and thus we have a miracle; of sorts.

There is a stability in that system; in the system of advancement based upon merit or luck. You get certain archetypes out of that in the human experience. The Top Dog, wise and experienced in the ways of treachery and battle; having survived many experiences that would have brought down a weaker entity. The Merciless Killer, which is constructed out the human view of society and someone who operates outside of societal or human morality with no regret or compassion.

There’s more to it, so just click on the link.

[UPDATE:Here’s the direct link to the main post. In a comment I left there, I mentioned the mad ancient mentor bit.]


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