Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Pagans!

Now aside from the slightly inflamatory title this is not a hate piece, but rather a short opinion piece regarding my views on the subject. You see in a recent browsing of the internet I came upon a few pagan sites, as well as discussions in which Christians quite ruthlessly bashed pagans for being 'devil worshipers' and 'idolitors' which I found extremely disapointing. So here I intend to set the record straight on 1) my own view of paganism 2) why the 'Christians' here were acting unacceptable and 3) what Christians should do in these kind of situations.

Now to begin Neopaganism (or contemporary paganism) is in essence a recreation of old pre-Christian religious traditions by modern groups. This is really an umbrella term as it can describe anything from Wiccanism, Adonism, or Radical Faeries. These are diverse movements that can encompass almost any form of pre-Christian belief, generally trying to capture the old timey feel of the pagan religion from before the time of Christianity in pre-modern Europe. So pinning down the movement for any one defining feature is difficult at best, and like trying to give a cat a bath at worst. Though they do share some elements such as polytheism, animism, and pantheism. So one could end up in a group which believed that Zues was the king of the gods and his brother Thor wished to stoke our warrior spirits to gain energy for the gods or something like that. Mind you most groups do have a definate theology and a series of complex and traditional rituals. This means that unlike some would like to think these groups are very well organized and have a fully functioning system and a solid set of beliefs. The set ideas will inevitably vary wildly from group to group though so one should not be surprised if they go to one Wiccan group that has one set of ideas about morality then to another which has entirely different ones.

With that I begin to offer my own view on the subject. Being originally a country boy from a very small conservative community I admittedly have had little to do with any large pagan groups nor have I seen much in the way of practicing paganism. Though growing up I did meet many teenagers who were *ahem* 'practicing pagans' which meant anything from belief in animal spirits to asking Thor for guidance, as well as one kid who believed he was a vampire. Now this was interesting (though in some cases hilarious since it was evident these kids had no idea what they were talking about), but really had nothing to offer on the subject. Now I have met some true practicing pagans and they really are quite nice people and very agreeable to be around. Can't really say anything bad about them, nor did they seem to bear me any ill will for being a Christian, nor did I really bear them any ill will for being pagans. On my own I am generally disinterested in the subject and mostly regard it as interesting and beyond looking into it out of curiosity have never felt that there is much interesting in the movement outside of sociological study and historical trends.

The 'ressurected' forms of long dead polytheistic religions dreamed up by the spiritualists of the early 20th century does have a fascinating significance as a social movement though. The spiritualists themselves were men disenchanted with the normal religious values of the time and  thought that a greater 'spirit world' was out there. The movement was extremely large in the aftermath of WW1 and gained great following well into the 30's and 40's of the last century. Though it largely ceased to fascinate the public thanks to many members of the movement being exposed as petty con artists (those of the crystal ball variety, remember that) many actually went on to write about interactions with Hectate, Odin, and what have you. This did gain some popularity and as evident by this article has survived as a fringe movement to today. It is one of the very interesting, if overlooked, effects of the Great War in that Western Culture was so shocked by its barbarity and furiosity that so many different religious and political movements evolved from those crazy times. I think that it was one of the more interesting (and far less bloody) items to pop up.

Now I think anyone who has read anything by Micheal Z Williamson or S.M. Stirling will no doubt have had some fictional Wiccans  shoved in front of them, I think that as literary characters they are perfectly wonderful and offer some variety. Though some of their 'values' (considering that each of the above authors likes to focus on the sexually loose idea of Wiccans for some reason) are jarring to me personally, they are quite fun.

But I digress and continue to the reason for this post. I stumbled across an online discussion where members of certain evangelical Christian sects were quite happily insulting the beliefs of some Neopagans for a contrived reason (having to do with military religious rites) and saying such lovely things as 'suffer not a witch to live' or 'devil worshipers burn in hell' and other such intellectually vacant remarks. While the 'suffer not a witch to live' is a direct Biblical quote it misses the point that 'witch' in that context is basically one of thise crystal ball hoaxers who tricks people out of money or attempts to curse someone with magic. Hence why a 'curse' earned a death sentence in the Old Testament. Applying this to modern pagan groups is, well, erroneous at best, and completely ignorant at worst.

Now the Christians here were saying that military service members who were worshiping pagans should not be allowed to use the military chapel as they weren't really religious apparently. Now I personally am indifferent to what a pagan group does or where they worship (unless it's in my basement) and feel that the argument is absurd here. A military chapel is available to all service members regardless of belief. Though the majority may be Christian this does not mean they get a monopoly on the use of a government installation, which is what a military chapel is. The name calling and insulting were completely uncalled for and patently ridiculous. There was no reason for those actions. As Christians they were 100% in the wrong. Christ never suggested we go out and harrass those of other beliefs. He suggested that we love our neighbors regardless of creed or belief and instead focus on spreading the Word. In this case words were exchanged and they were absolutely the wrong ones. I don't care if these people are Wiccans, atheists or practicing Satanists, they deserve the use of that chapel as it was not a private facility and was set up so members of all faiths could have time to worship. This is not exclusively the right of Christians in the military.

Mind you, this issue was going on in the US so as  Canadian I am a 100% outside observer. I have respect for military veterans and servicemen and seeing members of the military insulted and looked down on for simply not having the right religious ideas is something which makes my blood boil. They are serving their nation and being insulted and belittled just because they are not among the majority is ridiculous! We as Christians are supposed to be tolerant of one another and accept each other despite our faults and disagreements! Not go on some petty vendetta because you feel that they are 'devil worshipers'. The actions of these so called 'Christians' here left me disgusted and appaled.

Here is what a Christian should do in this sort of situation. Firstly realise that a) this is a government run facility and that the country is not a theocracy where one religion has a monopoly so you can't say that the 'devil worshipers' are not allowed to use the chapel, b) BE TOLERANT, Christ did no go around belittling those who did not believe or held different ideas to him. In fact those He did belittle were the religious authorities of the time and those who had seen miracles yet still did not believe c) we as Christians have to love our neighbors regardless of who they may be. Yes I said have to, in fact it is what the Lord commands us to do. Sermon on the Mount anyone? If we don't act tolerant, loving and caring towards those who believe differently how are we to emulate Christ or show people the way? Christ didn't make converts by attacking people, He made them by caring for them. d) when interacting with pagans or those of other faiths be polite, repectfully disagree with their views, discuss your own, and of course wish them well! It is what you should hope for after all.

I encourage Christians out there to remember this! If you wish to spread the Word remember why you are spreading it! John 3:16 people, that's why.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Music to Write to

I've been going through my ipod and YouTube account recently and while I've been studying/writing I've had different music playing in the background as I work and I'm finding that in both cases its really helpful when you have music playing in the background in each case, unless you get too caught up in the music of course!

I personally like both heavy metal and classical music. Though it is on the extreme opposite end of the music spectrum heavy metal can actually be both relaxing and something that keeps you energetic and motivated. Or at least it does in my case. When I'm relaxing listening to metal I usually just have the rythm wash over me and just enjoy it. But when I'm letting it get me going I just listen to the lyrics and usually awesome guitar solos!

One group that I really enjoy is Sabaton. They are a heavy metal band from Sweden who write songs exclusively about battle or war/fantasy related themes! A really cool song that I must admit I listen to when I'm musing about villains is the piece 'Shadows':
The piece is about the Nazgul of course. It has wonderful lyrics and throaty metal mixed with a truly phenominal guitar/pipe organ theme. Uniquely dark and interesting! Perfectly nice to relax to!
Another piece is called 'The Final Solution' which if you hadn't guessed is about the Holocaust. It lives up to the name really well, played as a haunting piece with sad lyrics and a sharp chorus talking about the death of liberty and of course the millions that burned in the death camps:

The sad part is that the piece is actually a masterpiece of metal and when I'm listening to it I can find myself headbanging along before guility stopping. The piece is just that good! In fact the band themselves noticed this and for that reason do not play it anymore in concert.

Then there is another Sabaton song 'Panzerkampf' which is about the truly epic battle of Kursk. The song really speaks for itself:

Then there are songs like those done by the Welsh group, Skindred. They have a wide variety of awesome pieces that are absolute joys to listen to. One piece is called 'Stand For Something', which is a truly phenominal piece with a kick-ass music video that I highly encourage readers to watch!

Another song done by Skindred is 'Rude Boy for Life' which considering the main singer is originally from Jamaica and had been a member of the rude boy culture that had taken hold among Jamaican youth does wonders for listening to it. Rude boy culture was, and is, what we might associate with gang culture or rap in the US and Canada, but bears a subtle difference in that it evolved around jazz and hip hop in Jamaica. Listening to the song can help you get a feel for what someone growing up in that environment might feel:

Then of course I do also listen to softer music. Instrumental country actually is something I like to listen to, since it lacks the usually depressing lyrics which usually acompany the wonderful playing. A lovely little piece like this one is nice, though it has a mix of other fine pieces in there I quite enjoy it:

Then there are some other lovely pieces like this one:

And this is just an inspiring piece which matches what its attached to perfectly!

So these are just a few pieces (and one total nerd reference) which I like to listen to when I'm either doing work or relaxing. I hope they provide a decent contrast to each other and that I can convince some people just how amazing they are! It's certainly what I like to listen to and though it won't be perfect for everyone's taste I'm certain that you'll be glad you listented to at least one of these songs!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Hunger Games: A Review

*Warning for those who haven't read the books or seen the film, spoilers ahoy*

Having just seen the Hunger Games I am very pleased to say I enjoyed it. Though having read the books I may be biased and will most likely have a slight slant towards them. Moving on.

The film takes place in a future country that encompasses North America known as Panem. The film opens with a brief description of the Hunger Games. After a rebellion against the Capitol many years ago the rebelling districts were defeated and forced to sign the Treaty of Treason which stipulated 'each district shall give two tributes each, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete to the death in the annual hunger games'. Now this was a move meant to keep the districts in line and for the past few years has worked very well. Though one thing I must critique about the films is that it did leave out the detail about how the hunger games are meant to keep the districts fed. The winning district receives a surplus food supply which brings them above starvation levels for a year. Cunning and brutal indeed, and a point that should have been included.

But with the film we begin with a touching scene of Katniss and her sister Primrose in their little shack in District 12. It is a highly rural and run down region reminding me of a sort of impoverished Civil War era town. Ironically this brought back echoes of Firefly on the Outer Worlds where things are rather impoverished, ramshackle, and wild west like. At least that was the vibe I got. In fact the soundtrack was very reminiscient of Firefly as well with all the guitar, violin and western themed tracks. Most likely unintentional but a nice touch.

The scene is then set with Katniss going beyond an inoperative electric fence where she hunts game with her bow and we are introduced to her friend Gale. They banter on about things and such until it is time for the Reaping in which children are chosen in the hunger games. Against all odds Prim's name is picked, so in a historic moment Katniss volunteers for the games. Thus setting the chain of events in motion. The film that follows is very good and though it deviates from the book it actually adds rather than subtracts from the experience. For instance we actually get to see their mentor Haymitch in action trying to win them sponsors and helping them out. I liked this very much as it helped to ensure the film didn't drag in places. Seeing the game planners was also a fun twist as we get to watch their reactions and plans, like twisted producers of a show staging events for a futuristic gladitorial fight. Though there was a good scene where the human side of these immoral people does come out. Getting to see characters watching the games was also a plus and seeing other peoples reactions to the events going on was fabulous. One instance after Rue's death where the riot kicks off in District 11 was particularly thrilling! I was glad that was done. So now on to categories.

The Good:

The film was well represented and the acting was good. Jennifer Lawrence plays a mean Katniss and sets up the quiet, rebellious and socially awkward 17 year old as an interesting character with a fierce desire to protect her sister and to win. She plays the part of an unwilling combatant well and her grief over both Rue's death and being forced to kill was done well on her part and she came across as a sympathetic character as well as promising to portray a troubled one in the future. Woody Harrelson plays the mean and cynical drunk Haymitch and off the bat delivers a stellar preformance for a drunkard and mentor. The actors of Gale and Peeta are also well done and quite thankfully Peeta and Gale stay in the background as periphery characters.

There is the implied love triangle which was well done and properly regulated to the background. This made me so happy I could have cried! One of my biggest fears going into this movie was that they would try to play up the love triangle just to reach out to the teen audience. That was mercifully averted however and we instead got some good tension and wonderful character interactions. I hope that they continue this trend and keep the film about Katniss and her struggles, as well as Panem's struggles as a whole instead of teenage love angst.

The Capitol itself was also well portrayed both in its brutality and for its weird and wacky culture. The shock that Katniss and Peeta have towards seeing the grandoise and frankly ridiculous nature of the people living there is well represented. The zany, weird and overdone fashions of the citizens were well done with the riot of colors fashions, sounds and ideas. Even a set of painted poodles!

The Games themselves were spectacular with the violence being toned down due to the PG rating and the fight scenes presented well. The tension and mistrust that we could see with the others was wonderful and the viciousness of the Careers was well done indeed and it made me happy to see them done right. Cato was especically fabulous with his blood lust and anger issues being portrayed as both a hindrance and the defining traits of his character.

The Bad:

There are some downsides. Despite the nature of the game I found a long segment did drag on. The opening was...well quick and violent and it managed to present some rather graphic scenes too. But from that point it seemed to drag with nothing really going on and Katniss just running around. I found they probably could have done something to this scene, I was even bored by the time the fire started driving her back towards the center of the arena. Worse, I wasn't even excited by the fire! I didn't really get back into the movie until a scene after that. I think the writers and producers should have added to that bit, with either some spoken dialogue or some internal narration. Indeed one of the problems with films of books is that it deprives us of a characters thought process and intentions unless they clearly portray them with their words or expression and actions. This comes across alright in the film, though since I have read the books I admit it was probably easier for me to follow but otherwise I might have been lost as to what the hell Katniss was doing for that particular stretch of time.

Another thing is the rating. PG seems like a rating far to low for this film. It limits what the director and writers can do as it makes a series like the Hunger Games, which is intensely violent and brutal especially as it goes on, tone itself down and takes away from it somewhat. I'm certainly not advocating the gory deaths of children onscreen, but the fact is some of the violence could have been better portrayed and was even more deserving of a PG-13 rating at least. It seemed like it was lowered to pander to the younger audience of the film, but PG-13 would have been fine and would have allowed more leway with the violence and blood than was already portrayed, which would have worked wonders to show just how brutal the games really are. Otherwise the constant flipping camera angles for death is just really irritating.

Speaking of camera angles, shaky cam. I have no idea why directors keep doing this. It makes the actions sequences all blurry so we can't see what the characters are doing and we have no idea of the exact actions people are taking. This was bad enough in the actions scenes where I was sometimes wondering who was Katniss and who was the bad guy, but it was particularly jarring and obnoxious when in the opening of the film as they were showcasing District 12 that they had this shaky cam effect for looking at static objects or people, even a man eating chicken at one point! It was sloppy and unnecessary and really detracted from the film for me. I can somewhat understand them in the fight scenes with the PG rating (makes it harder for kids to see whats going on, blocks some of the violence) but it really just shows how the low rating was dragging the film down.

Then there were some characters that weren't adressed properly. Haymitch for instance had great scenes and great lines, but I didn't get a feeling of purpose to his character that I got in the book. He also didn't really seem to connect with Katniss at, all as he does in the books. Instead he seems more distant, and not extremely insistent on how she goes about doing what she does for the audience to love her. Similarly the antagonist (President Snow) isn't portrayed as antagonistic enough. He isn't overtly evil nor is he really evil in a subtle way until the end. He does react badly and say some dark things but otherwise didn't carry the film as he was intended. Donald Sutherland did a marvelous job but sadly he wasn't given much to work with.

The movie also ended to abrubtly. It didn't deal with the lingering issues Katniss and Peeta felt, save for one brief piece of dialogue. Katniss needed to have some sort of breakdown and begin her Post Traumatic Stress experiences, which she doesn't seem to portray at all. So they had better deal with that well in the next movie. Snow's appearance at the end is rather insignificant as he just strokes his beard in a sort of 'Hmmm' way before walking out. A piece of dialgoue as simple as 'We will have to keep an eye on her' to an aide or showing him making plans of some sort would have been well done. But otherwise it just seems rather anticilmatic.

Then I have one minor nitpick. Though the CGI was well done and it did offer us some gorgeous visuals, they did skimp on the hovercraft. They were either displayed indirectly or not at all. That was a bit disapointing as you didn't really get a feel from their presence or any sort of vibe about them at all. They were supposed to be floating symbols of the Capitols power, and the scene where it is implied one is hovering overhead in the riot is particularly odd as we see its effects but not it. I just found it rather weak.

The Verdict:

The film is overall a well done adaptation of a stellar novel and will hopefully expand into a good series. Though well acted and well played it has some lacking qualities in camera shots and visuals in general, There are some loose ends on characterization that really need to be tied up and many points that could be fixed in regards to character interaction. It also suffers from its low rating thanks to attempts at pandering. Otherwise it is a stellar film which I have to say is one I would certainly watch again and encourage others to do so as well.

6.5 out of 10.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Anders Breivik Declared Sane

The article here: Anders Sane

So in the news today a second pyschiatric evalutation has declared the notoriously murderous Anders Breivik sane. I applaud this decision. Having read much of his manifesto 2083: A European Declaration of Independence as I felt able to stomach, I have found that he is much to reasonable in his writings to be considered insane. Indeed in reading his works I didn't feel like I was reading something by the Unibomber or Charles Manson. It was not a rambling text of hate a virtrol, nor a grim and self-important piece like Mein Kampf but it was unfortunately the reasoning of a political extremist. It struck me as a more detailed and in depth manifesto that one might find from the 30's or 20's back in the day. It showed a man who was well aware of what he was doing, felt it was important, and more importantly was completely aware of his actions and their consequences at the time.

The way he carried out his attack was well planned, well thought out, and chillingly efficient. It did not bear the mark of a man who had suddenly snapped in a fit of violent rage, or delcared life hopeless and gone on a shooting rampage like the Columbine massacre, or other such events. It was a coldly caluclated political statement meant to be made to the world. Much like Timothy McVeigh and his Oklahoma bombing, Anders Breivik falls into the same category of political terrorist.

One man alone managed to kill and wound over 200 people personally. This is an insane number of people and not only has Breivik not expressed remorse but seems perfectly fine with the murder of young children. These do not make a man criminally insane as some have claimed, instead it is a personality that fits in with peoples and events we know well. Breivik is a man who in 1941 would most likely have joined the SS to go fight in the Soviet Union, or he may have willingly served as a camp guard and participated in the extermination of the Jews. He fits the profile of the sort of thug who is radical and violent in his ideals. The only way he knows how to express his frustrations at the percieved 'wrongness' in society is with violence.

Some people today of course would say 'but this is insane' and we have to ask them; is it? When countries at large go to war, or when men join the military, or even engage in violent fist fights for petty reasons is that insane? Is a country at war one which has lost all sensibilities and reached out to attack another, one which has fallen into temporary madness? Is a man joining the military to serve his country someone who see's violence as the only option? Or are two younths engaged in a physical altercation those who have lost all sense and fallen into a sudden state of insanity? Personally I can testify no to that. I have friends in the military and they are trained to commit acts of bodily harm upon your person, but they will not carry out those acts willy nilly, that would be against both their training and their sense of decency. Having personally been engaged in fist fights I can say there is nothing insane about them, I was fully aware of my mental facilities when I participated in them.

An act of mass violence does not automatically make a man insane. Indeed a man who is insane is most likely more dangerous to himself than others. But someone who is as clear and level headed as you or I is a much more present danger to society. He knows his limits, he knows his goals and motivations, and worse, he can calculate and plan for the maximum ammount of destruction and carnage time and time again if he gets away. In essence that man is a terrorist who seeks to accomplish a goal or make a point. Which is just what Anders Breivik set out to do.

Some members of society have the knee jerk reaction to call him mentally insane for doing so. That is just not true. All of us, every single one of us, has the capacity to plan and even do the exact same thing. Evil is not a mental illness that can be weeded out of mankind, it is a fact of life that we must constantly live with and be vigilant against. To simply declare someone 'mentally ill' for commiting an evil act is a dangerous thing to say. It presumes, for one, that people who commit these acts can somehow be 'cured' of their violent urges. Or that indeed these reactions are 'not natural' in people. The problem is that people do have these reactions and urges, and simply labeling them 'mentally ill' or 'insane' is not going to solve the problem.

Thus I am glad that in Norway they are facing the fact that Breivik is indeed a violent and highly unpleasant individual with a dark side that many of us would rather not face. I can only hope that he meets a tough sentence and is judged according to his deeds and punished appropriately.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

A Speculative Look Ahead

This is a post I summed up in a few minutes in response to a discussion on the alternate history dot com discussion board under 'Future History' and the topic was 'What will the world look like in the year 2100?' and being the opinionated person I am, I chimed in. This is a brief over view of how certain nations and regions will fare in the future in my opinion:

-Canada remains a parliamentary government with close ties to the UK. Despite a general population decline in the early 2030's to 2060's immigration from China and India has taken some of the slump while the remaining Anglo population is mainly conservative joined by a vocal Muslim population. Economically the country is still successful and the provinces have once again managed to wrench much control from the central government in Ottawa but the New Democratic Party is once again trying to wrest control back into the hands of the Federal Government.

-The US is not the nation it once was. Wracked by fresh economic troubles and violent policital activism. The transhumanist movement has run up against both a vocal gay rights community and the Christian-Revanchists who harken back to the 'glory days' of the US. The never ending rights battles and violent activism cast an ominous shadow on national politics. Puerto Rico has become the 51st state and the entrance of a 52nd seems imminent. Racial tensions, supposedly a relic of the 2050's continue and have reared their ugly head again with the controversial transhumanism movement. Political murders are disturbingly common and Maryland resembles a military base more than a political center. Checkpoints and military patrols across certain states that are known to be hotbeds of political activism. After the relative peace of the 2070's the economic troubles of the 2090's have cast the nations future in deep uncertainty. The standard of living varies between first and second world conditions depending on the state.

-Mexico has become a stable country, for the most part. Democracy is thriving and fair and honest elections have become the norm and education has improved. Economically it has grown but continues to have problems with the United States as border issues are a constant diplomatic tension and relations are somewhat strained.

-Europe is the new second world. The Mediterannian areas remain economically central to the development as the regions around the Baltic and North sea become stagnant. Disease as in North America is once again becoming annoyingly common after the early 2000s disease resistant to many modern drugs and are relatively useless against new strands of disease. The great population shifts from Asia to Europe brought more than immigrants. New plagues served to wipeout an estimated 10% of the European population from 2030 to 2050. So Europe has become increasingly less relevant bar places like England and Switzerland who each host the Commonwealth and UN capitol respectively.

-South America is defined by economic competition between Brazil Argentina and Chile respectively. First world living standards are across the board and these three countries are the prime destination of immigration from around the world from Europe to Asia. The most cosmopolitan cities in the world are located here. Peace is almost completely known across the continent and the nations (Argentina in particular) regularly supply peace keepers around the world especially in Central Africa and Central America. The economies are proud and thriving but continuous uncertainty in the US and Europe investment is centered mainly in South East Asia and West Africa.

-Africa has become a continent of both rapid progress and stunning decline. Central Africa has been devastated by warfare after limited economic development and tribal nationalism with many micro states emerging inside national borders (sort of like Somalia OTL) while the UN and African Union attempts to mediate between the many different factions war remains almost a central part of life in reaction to famine and plague. East Africa is much the same. West Africa however has become the modern miracle, with a booming free market (mind one heavily regulated) and flourishing democracies. First world standards of living are prevalent.

-China has collapsed into separate constitute countries after years of overt warfare and internal revolution. In the wake of economic issues earlier in the century the nation was forced to take harsh measures in order to not risk democratic reform. The PCP has collapsed and democratic infighting has generally taken over the countryside. Reform is slow and it is estimated that it will again take decades to rebuild after war and economic stagnation. Russia has primarily replaced China as the boogy man of the West again as it defeated China in the border wars. Economically it has expanded to Eastern Europe and South America.

-The Middle East has liberalized and the Saudi Monarchy has been unravelled as economic prosperity from the oil fields has dried up. Ethnic rivalries and religiously motivated politicians dominate the political field however. People wish to harken back to their cultural roots and despite the religiously charged atmosphere of the 2050's 50 years on have become milder in the face of ethnically motivated groups and pan nationalist ideals.

-India has become one of the world’s great powers. Being one of the nations that defeated China it is viewed with respect and fear by the world and its neighbors. It has a major material economy and an exporter of labour. It is the world’s most populous country. Though democracy has become freer the past century has also seen a real crushing reduction of corruption for the first time in history. Though many social problems remain and natural disasters cause significant problems yearly the country can afford to rebuild.

-The biggest social issues in the world are transhumanism and many false-Nietzshean ideaologies have emerged around it proclaiming the 'new species' who are mainly the wealthy upper class which can afford the treatments. But the movement is opposed by both governments and the religious movements around the world. Religion has not died out as some expected rather it has become introvertive and the majority of missionaries travel to Europe and Asia from South America and West Africa preaching. In the US the religious right thought it has become less political is still a significant cultural part of the nation.

-Famine is now something known in almost all parts of the world as even North America has experienced periods of shortages and natural disaster decreasing food products. Weather has become more wild and destructive with hurricanes and monsoons regularly devastating coastline

Now this is a very vague and general outline that I have predicted. It is neither dystopian or utopian (contrary to some of the weird insanely utopian 2100 predicted by many technology lovers on that board) and is something that fits in with general trends as they are going, with a few trends being noticably reversed.

For instance I do not predict the oil wealth of Saudi Arabia will last into the next century, nor will it be able to maintain its strict control over the population. The leaders of the nation are becoming old and frail and there is a disturbing possibility of infighting and civil unrest in even the near future. I see that balance of power is most likely going to be shifting away from the elder elite as the younger population begins to liberalize and seek out alternatives to the monarchy, their power to buy their way out will certainly dry up with the oil wealth as well, and with no strategic reasons for the US to support them, they may be left blowing in the wind. Of course it could also be a gradual economic decline mixed with liberal tendancies taking over, but I don't see an overly optimistic future for the Sauds at this point.

I also can't see the Chinese system lasting beyond 2050. With their main chumps trading partners in the US experiencing economic decline and most likely a few nationalist tendancies the Chinese will be forced to take harsh measures to keep their economy competetive, especially if they can't continue to pull the country along. If people become disillusioned with the neo-facist system they have in place then the last card they have to play is the nationalist card. That my friends will be a bad day.

Similarily the United States will be hard pressed to hang on to super power status in the 22nd century. The world is becoming mutli-polar and America has proven that she cannot over extend herself nor continue to prop up her allies as she once did. I believe that the American system is due for an overhaul and in the coming century we may just see that overhaul come to pass. The rigid and inflexible system which now caters to the elite more than anyone is starting to crack at the seams in ways similar to China's. The government is floundering under an increasingly hopeless situation of debt which could send shockwaves around the world. The bloated military budget is seeing backlash and the war of words is heating up to a shocking degree whether in the public sphere on on the blogosphere. I see the next century as a rocky road for the US and one that will give the nation an interesting test of character.

India and Brazil are poised to become the other two great powers in the world. India will most certainly be wary with her Chinese and Pakistani neighbors both being sullenly courteous at best and coldly hostile at worst. The region is rife with flashpoints for conflict and with China flexing her muscles in the Pacific it won't be long until they are looking at the Indian Ocean as well. Brazil is working its way up from the disastrous miltiary regime that overtook it in the late 80s so we have great potential for the golden age to continue in South America while the West falters behind. This centruy may be the Chinese century as some predict, but I believe that the 22nd Century belongs to the Latins.

Two big issues which I see changing are the decline of religion in Europe and the weather getting wilder. I think that small scale disasters will become the norm and hurricanes will be much more likely to ravage coastlines and create Katrina-esque situations in many nations as governents are either caught off guard or unprepared to deal with the consequences of large scale disasters. Similarily with things changing in Europe I see religion making a comeback as the continent begins to lose either its sense of cultural identity, or as a simple backlash against the percieved notions of secularisms failures in the future. America is a deeply religious country and even with current trends I don't see that changing.

Another issue which I tenatively put in to this guess work is transhumanism. I do not believe that transhumanism will become a movement that is widely available (or safe) until into the 22nd century. Even then it will be a rich mans pleasure and will create all sorts of societal, religious, political, and economic questions which will have to answered. I can see it now, some neo-Marxist preaching how the class struggle has changed to a racial one as the rich bourgeoisie have become s seperate species! Even though I find that notion laughable it is one that if it becomes a reality must be stopped. The potential for abuse, racist ideologie and outright genocide is to great. I have seen some people who totally believe it is a better thing, and even those who feel that they will be the better species when they become the H+ (advanced humans, hence transhumans). This smacks of the fictional Draka, and the chillingly real Nazi ideologies of Hitler's Germany. Abusing Nietzshes ubermensch theories is something that has been done before and can easily be done again. I shudder at the thought.

I did not include technology in my predictions as it is not my expertise and my grasp of many new technological insights is woefully insufficient to even begin describing how they would work. In fact if a record of this blog survives future historians may look back and laugh at my predictions for being too gloomy (or worse, too optimistic!!!) while they rummage through my laptop and murmer at how quaint (or the future equivalent thereof, shiny perhaps?) the technology I am using was. There are those better suited to that kind of topic. The only thing I can predict for certain is that we will still find more creative ways to kill each other!

Now again I must say that this prediction of the future depends on some trends remaining the same (all trends will eventually change though in some fashion) and some changing. There are millions of tiny variations which could make my view of the future extremely wrong. For instance technology could advance at a rate I cannot even imagine (something that as of now does seem very real) or it could stagnate due to socioeconomic impedements. Whatever the future holds we are in for an interesting century!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Constructing a Villain

Recently I have been giving some thought about making proper villains. A villain is a must for a story wheather it is an evil warlord, a school yard bully, or even nature itself as done in some stories. The central goal remains the same however. It is an adversary for the hero to overcome and help drive the plot/ So for the writer designing a good villain is a must. This is just as important, if some cases even more so as a villain must have clear and consistent motivations. I find that nothing kills a story more than a poorly characrterized and motivated villain. Especially a villain that is evil 'just because' or is carrying the villain ball so to speak. A character that does something evil just for the sake of doing it is rather uninteresting, especially in a story which is trying to take itself seriously.

For instance. I once experimented with a character in an RPG who was an evil warlord. I made him as stereotypically evil as possible. In the fluid story telling of this RP he grew from a bit villain into the main antagonist of the series. He would do evil things at first just becsuse they were evil, since the setting (a veeery future Star Wars Galaxy) didn't take itself seriously about half of the time it tended to work out, but in the series most recent reincarnation it has taken a darker and more gritty tone so I had
to change some fundamental characteristics.

Starting off as a sort of gag character who had a vague revenge plot against the central hero for killing his father. He then served as the foil and main antagonist to a secondary character and his back story got fleshed out as a rim warlord whose home had been destroyed in the ancient war. He worked his way up in the world and became a capable commander eventually working his way up to the main story. He then became a greater threat in the plot and began surpassing other villains in evil strangely. As he evolved he became more serious, still retaining some of his gag quirks and had a growing insanity issue that became central to the story line. He finally evolved into a near godlike character who after a long and complicated series of events had captured near half the Galaxy and was engaged in a fight with another villain over the fate of reality itself while the heroes raced around attempting to stop it.

All in all it was a very satisfying evolution for the character and the storyline in general. He went from being a gag character to the stories main antagonist. It was my first go at story telling from a villains point of view and trying to characterize one as well and it was a rather fun learning experience. Though it wasn't a professional project and something just for fun I found it good to work on and I became really attached to the character and as he became more important I wanted to keep him involved and try to make him more villainous. I found that my attachment to him was important and that I was glad to keep trying to make him more serious, interesting, fleshed out, and more depth in his personality. I learned that with a villain you must make him for a reason. You need to have a reason for him to be opposing your hero, a backstory that makes him who he is and what his motivations are. Sure you can have Warlord Grog rampaging around the countryside raping and pillaging with the young knight go and defeat him in single combat and it works. Is it relatively simple? Yes. But is it extremely engaging? Not really. And for instance you can't have a corporate boss go around murdering people because he wants to, it raises a host of probability problems and practical issues.

To use two fictional examples of the 'evil warlord' stereotype. Sauron from the Lord of the Rings, and Norman Arminger from the Emberverse series.

Sauron: Sauron is the ancient lieutenant of the great evil fallen angel Morgoth. He was compelled by a love of order to try and bind the world by force and wished to control the world out of a misguided noble sense of what he thought was order but was instead consumed by his lust for power and control and fell into evil. His lust for power is eventually what destroyed him.

Norman Arminger: Former history teacher who was a SCA nut who takes advantage of the event known as the Change to cosntruct a pseudo-Norman kingdom in former Oregon. He is a sadist who loves power and displays of power for its own sake, is short tempered, but intelligent. He enlists an army of gang members and SCA fellows like himself. They carve out a kingdom which Norminger rules with an iron fist. He makes many mistakes due to arrogance ends up being toppled by the very society he created.

Despite these brief descriptions, I find Sauron to be a better character. He has little time on screen but his menace and threat are clearly felt, as is his motivation which is deep and complicated. Arminger, who has more screen time comes off as less interesting, his arrogance and general 'evil because I can' attitude isn't compelling and his actions reek of stock villain ideas. Mind you there are other factors that make him less interesting, but his own character makes him dull because of this.

So it can be seen that creating a villain is up to the author to give a story a sense of scale, danger, and a good character. I will continue this more in part two coming soon.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Game of Thrones: Season Two

The second season of Game of Thrones has arrived! Based on the best selling book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin it encompasses the tale of the many families and characters in the land of Westeros. We are being thrust into one of the most dynamic moments in the series, the War of the Five Kings and great multi-sided civil war that is engulfing the land following the untimely death of King Robert Baratheon and the chilling revelations that come from it. Both a cracking good read and television show to watch!

Finally the best part of summer entertainment has come! I am thrilled to have seen episode one of what promises to be one of the best shows on TV soon. Though the former is my personal opinion I hope many others share it. Just watching the first episode has left me craving yet more and I'm hoping that I will be able to watch them all over the summer! I loved the first series and have watched it three times in a row, while having read all the books thus far as well I do know most of the plot but in each season thus far they have thrown a number of pleasant surprises by either showing some well done original scenes and showing scenes which were only mentioned by dialogue in the book.

The first season after many previous viewings I noticed seemed to lack a sense of scale, something that is easily forgiven considering the actors and directors are getting used to putting in on, but in some scenes (such as the Hand's Tourney) this was rather unforgivable as I had seen lower budget films and shows do better. I was especially displeased by the lack of a battle onscreen during the first season. There were some wonderful duels and one neat little skirmish but otherwise they seemed trivial and IMO could have been better choreographed. The acting was top notch though and all the actors carried their roles stunningly well.

Now for the little bit we have seen of the second season the directors and writers have certainly done a good job of making things feel more epic in scale. There are large panning shots of the Army of the North's camp and we see a full shot of Kings Landing and the dark and ominous fortress of Dragonstone is well shown off, I was especially impressed with the directors doing the Westeros shaped table in Stannis's hall (something I was genuinely taken with in the books). Relating to fights, in the opening sequence there is a short duel between the Hound and an unknown knight in the first few seconds that was wonderfully done! So it seems scale and battles will be no problem in this season. This is especially important as the most epic battle of the novels is supposed to happen this season. I am interested in seeing how the writers and directors pull this one off.

As for acting, none of the actors have disapointed. One character I was very worried wouldn't be played correctly was Melisandre, the Red Priestess from the East who is a mysterious and very knight templar like character. But in her opening appearance my fears were disuaded as the actress did a phenominal job of portraying her knowing, mysterious, and aloof nature quite well. And in Bran's brief appearance we see things in Winterfell portrayed just as I would like them to be. He was another character I was worried wouldn't come out properly. And once again the magnificent bastard Tyrion is played up very well.

If there is anything I can criticize about the opening episode it is two things. One is the comet, a major plot device from the books, is simply shoved in our faces which I found slightly disconcerting as it made me feel as though I had missed an episode already. The other was that we didn't get enough time with each character and it felt rather rushed throughout and as though it was trying to do too much in too little time. I felt the episode could have been longer to allow for more characterization to be played out properly, but as long as this doesn't become an issue as the series progresses I don't see much point in complaining.

I eagerly await more episodes and I am tingling with excitement for the upcoming season.