March 24th, 2006

bear by san

(no subject)

More on the Abdul Rahman case, or why things always seem to be more complicated than they appear in a 20-second sound bite:

At least according to an interview on NPR this morning with a BBC reporter who is working the story, the case against Abdul Rahman (The Afghani man who is charged with converting to Christianity and could face the death penalty) is a bit more complicated than it seems on the surface.

Specifically, what's going on here is that Mr. Rahman converted to Christianity some 16 years ago (reports vary: I have heard that he was in either Germany or Pakistan at the time.) Charges are being brought against him not by the Afghan government, but rather by his own family, as a weapon in a child custody battle. As the Afghan constitution specifies a reliance on Sharia law, it's not so simple as "just changing the law to allow him freedom of religion."

This is not just an issue of human rights abuse, in other words. It's a constitutional issue that encompasses issues of religious freedom. (And yes, it's why even "Jedi" should be protected as a religious denomination, if you ask me, even if I happen to think it's silly. It's also why a government reliance on religious law seems to me problematic, but I'm not here to editorialize. Um, right this second, anyway. (look! paralipsis! synchronicity strikes again!))

So the insanity defense is actually being offered by the judge and the prosecutor in this case. (The judge actually seems to think Rahman may not be quite right in the head. The prosecutor may be looking for an excuse not to, er, prosecute.) Because under Sharia law, as under our own English-common-law based system, insanity is a defense.

Of course, this still does not help Mr. Rahman in his custody battle, we may presume.
bear by san

Part of being the good guy means doing the right thing even when it's hard?

It's 1183 and we're barbarians! How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history's forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can't we love one another just a little - that's how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.

--Eleanor of Acquitaine, per James Goldman (The Lion in Winter)

Or, the problem of moral relativism, and how it applies to writing fiction.

My work, very few will be surprised to hear me say, concerns itself largely with ethics. My idea of a really satisfying conflict is getting my characters into a situation where there are no good answers to their problems, and then throwing rocks at them.

And I try not to pick sides. Or, I should say, I try not to put all the good people on the same side, and all the bad people on the other one. (I have some pretty clear ideas of what makes a good person or a bad one, and things like ethics rank a lot higher for me than things like race, religion, politics, or creed.) This lead to an interesting discussion with arcaedia and mcurry recently, actually, in which I was trying to explain to arcaedia why, by my lights, Fred Valens was a Bad Person, even if he is on the same side as the quote unquote good guys in the Jenny books. I pointed out that he is utterly ruthless; that for him, the end totally justifies the means. He will do literally anything to anybody if he thinks its for a good reason.(1)

He's also a devoted family man and a very good soldier. But that doesn't make him good. It just makes him human.

She saw him differently, and pointed out that he wouldn't ask anything of anyone else that he doesn't ask of himself. And I had to grant her that. He's not a hypocrite.

We also differ on the moral compass of the main characters in The Stratford Man. I see Kit as the better of the two, and she prefers Will.

And there's the thing. Kit's cutting, flashy, sarcastic, extravagant, trampy, and full of hot humors. His morality is pretty much in direct contravention to that of his day. He's been an undercover agent for the Queen; he's betrayed conspirators to their deaths. But that unconventional morality of his... he sticks to it, even when it's hard. Will, on the other hand, is pleasant, unassuming, thoughtful, considerate, and laid back. He also cheats on his wife, holds other people to standards of behavior he can't maintain himself, and lies to himself about it.

On the other hand, when the chips are down, both of them are ready to step in front of a bullet if that's what it takes to protect the things they care about.

So which one is the better man? Well. Therein lies the question.

This is why I believe in due process and fair justice, by the way, even when it's hard. Even when we'd rather see somebody shot out of hand than take it through the courts. Even when they probably deserve to be shot out of hand. Even when vengeance seems easy and satisfying.

Because I like to think of myself as one of the good guys. And being one of the good guys, fictionally speaking, doesn't mean always being on the right side, or auctorial intervention to make sure you're fighting for the side that's "morally right" as determined by the Author. (Gack! Dark Lord! Gack!) (Generally speaking, at least in terms of world events and divorce, neither side is ever morally right. Things get complicated very fast, and arbitration is always a matter of approximations. This is hard and unsettling and requires sea legs to cope with; it's much less complicated to pick a side--both as a writer and as a reader. But far more interesting, I think, to try to understand both sides. Or at least to establish sympathy for them. Much less simplistic, anyway. This is one reason why I like both Faustus and Edward II so much: they're all about sympathy for the devil.)

But. Being one of the good guys does mean fighting the good fight. Which is a different thing than being right.

But sometimes the good fight isn't practical. Sometimes characters need to take it upon themselves to do something morally wrong for the greater good. (The infamous "would you shoot Hitler?" thought-problem being a case in point.) But I think, for me, the break-point in being able to establish sympathy for a character is this: that doing something wrong out of necessity never means pretending you were right to do so.

Necessity is not virtue.

Which is why I think arcaedia might be right about Fred, and I might be wrong, after all. because he might be Faustus, but he never once says that it's not fair that he's going to Hell.

(1) and may I note that I consider it a minor auctorial victory that reviewers can't decide if he's a protagonist or an antagonist in those books?

Prince Richard: He's here. He'll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn't going to see me beg.

Prince Geoffrey: You chivalric fool! As if the way one fell down mattered.

Prince Richard: When the fall is all there is, it matters.

In a report in Science, a glaciologist in Greenland reports that warmer air temperatures are causing glaciers to melt faster and slide toward the ocean faster. The shifting weight of the glaciers is causing an apparent increase in local earthquakes, and a faster rise in sea level.

I've thought for a while that an upswing in frequency and/or severity of earthquakes might be a long-term result of global climate change (The Canadian basaltic shield is still rising after being relieved of the weight of the last glaciation, unless the geologists have changed their minds since I was in college) (I love geology. It is my favorite science.). I wonder if anybody's keeping stats worldwide. 

The good news is, Homo sapiens' success to date is based on adaptation, not prevention.

What cannot be cured must be endured. - Edmund Spenser (c.1552-1599)

bear by san

and the longest bridge I ever crossed, over Pontchartrain

Okay, me. It's time you got started on this bloody book. Ignoring it isn't going to make it write itself, you know.

And you should write those short stories you have on deadline too. You know the ones that are supposed to help pay the bills?

Me: (pep talk to me:) Bear, it's just a caper novel. It's Little Fuzzy meets The Italian Job. That's all it is. You know what happens. You have the world built. You know the characters okay.

You're psyching yourself out here, kid. Just tell the fscking story. The meta will take care of itself.

benpeek has his own ten things he's learned from being a writer:

8. Your friends will eventually become tired of buying your work. It's best to tell them, from the start, that they're not required to buy it, read it, or even pay attention to it. This way you will receive their unconditional support, though they will not, in most cases, buy it, read, or talk to you about it. You will be quite happy with this.

Amen, baby. Amen. So quit apologizing if you haven't read my books already. You're here to entertain me, fools!


That came out wrong.
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bear by san

(no subject)

Icon giveaway: if anybody wants these, they're free to good homes.

Two versions of the Timothy Dalton one because that is the best movie still in the history of movie stills, oh yes. Evillest Smile Evar.

Of course, my knowledge of the Internet kind of bit me on the ass while I was working on these, because it occurred to me that Somewhere Out There there is Richard/Philip, and then my brain went to a Very Bad Place involving Hannibal Lecter and James Bond. (1)(2)

And now I've shared with you.

Mental floss is in the cabinet over the sink. Be sure to leave enough for others.

(1) It could have been worse. Four words. The Mask of Zorro.
(2) And don't pretend like you didn't go there too.
bear by san

ten things I've learned from hanging around with Elizabethan poets

  1. People will like what they like, and it doesn't matter how many prologues you write; you're never going to alter their opinion.
  2. Love all. Trust a few. Do wrong to none.
  3. Dirty puns? Always funny.
  4. You can never have too much genderfuck. However, no more than two Puritans to a play.
  5. Write to the strengths of your cast.
  6. Seneca wasn't so wrong.
  7. On the other hand, there is a point at which tragedy becomes funny.
  8. They're not going to remember you for your poetry.
  9. You must be proud, bold, pleasant, resolute, And now and then stab, as occasion serves.
  10. It never hurts to have a bit with a dog.

Book 29: Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City

A rather masterful orchestration of the history of the Chicago World's Fair and Dr. H. H. Holmes, this book is not just beautifully balanced and disquieting, it's also pellucidly written.


Meanwhile, banks and companies were failing across America, strikes threatened everywhere, and cholera had begun a slow white trek across Europe, raising fears that the first plague ships would soon arrive in New York Harbor.

The best history doesn't just explain the past, or relate it. It casts it through a prism, so the separate colors fall against the reader's perception and hang there, luminous.

On the other hand, it does take him a while to move the plot.

It occurs to me that autopope, stillsostrange, and I may be the first SFF writers to serious tackle the issue of bias against and equal rights for Deep Ones and other horrors from beyond the stars in our work.