Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On the First Amendment: Videotaping the Police

So here's an issue that has been popping up more and more recently over the past couple of years. There have been a sudden increase in cases where the police, finding themselves being recorded by random passerby or by someone they approached, have decided to arrest somebody. For videotaping them. In public.

Now, I can understand why a police force would not want to have cameras around all the time. If you're setting up a drug bust or about to raid a hostage situation, you don't want some geek with an iPhone recording the SWAT teams' movements and streaming it to Youtube. That's about as common sense as not using our freedom of speech to yell fire in a movie theater. The rights of the first amendment are typically limited when we are actively endangering the safety and rights of others.

At the same time, I don't see any reason that a routine traffic stop or other every day law enforcement activity shouldn't be recorded. The police are in public. It's not like there's an expectation of privacy or something. In fact most police are probably already making a recording of the event, through cameras mounted on their cars or more recently smaller cameras that they carry. Some police will go on to sell that recording to shows that literally specialize in police stops, car chases or other things like that. I doubt that there is a satisfactory reason to be selling footage of such things to Cops, The First 48, and America's Wildest Police Videos when you aren't permitting your own citizens to make footage of the event on their own.

An argument that the right to a free press only extends to official news outlets is just as dumb. The press was never concieved to be limited to any particular set of people. Keep in mind that the men who wrote these amendments also campaigned for their freedom and then the Constitution as a whole by running off a bunch of pamphlets--the Revoluntionary War version of blog posts--and distributed them through the population. I doubt they waited to be recognized by the community at large as a news organization before they did so; otherwise the Federalist Papers would never have existed.

The only real reason to arrest these people--many of whom have been on their own property and not even really involved in the police action at all--is to avoid embarassment. Policemen are worried that some moron in their ranks is going to do something stupid, and the video will go viral. Such videos erode confidence in the police force and would lead to a less orderly society.

Of course, the best solution to something like that isn't to limit video of the police. It's to fire the idiots who screw things up for the good cops. Hiding the fact that police abuses exists only worsens the problem, which is why the Founders sought to guarantee the right to a free press to begin with. The ability to expose the corruptions of government officials, to talk about and share information without having to worry about what people in power would want, is critical to maintaining a free society. Compromising that right just to keep the police from looking bad is foolish and short sighted.

Or at least, that's my take on it. What do you guys think?

Monday, July 25, 2011

On Baking Pie

Every so often my wife, who is an avid follower of Dean Wesley Smith's blog, yanks me by the ear until I read his latest post. He is currently running a series on dealing with myths around the writing profession, so it definitely applies to my current efforts to establish myself in the field. His articles are actually pretty helpful, so I recommend reading a few if you've got the time.

His latest post was related to how to make a living as a writer. Obviously with a subject like that, he caught my attention fairly easily. He basically pointed out that a novel isn't simply a single source of income. It can be broken up or combined to create new sources of income in several different ways. Single short stories can be combined to make anthologies, books can be sold overseas to foreign language presses, rights can be optioned to movie companies. By looking for those oppportunities you can turn one property into a fairly stable source of income that far outweighs the time you spend on it.

Of course, the catch is that I have no idea how to spread out that much. I don't have contacts in foreign presses, nor do I have the ear of Hollywood producers who would option my books. I suppose the first step is to get a story out there, but if I want to be serious about writing as a career, finding those contacts, either for myself or through an agent, will be crucial. How has any of you guys gone about doing that? Have any ideas? If so just let me know. Have a good week guys, and I will see you around!

Friday, July 22, 2011

On Fake Politics

So Badger is turning out to be a very different book compared to Wolfhound. It has its own style and focus, which is strange because it has the same universe and many of the same characters. I'm used to switching between styles and stories, but it just seems strange to be keeping the rest of the stuff around.

One of the differences is in the amount of background I'm including. Wolfhound was a story that didn't delve too deeply into the history and political structures of Jacob Hull's universe. The characters were too isolated and too desperate to sit down and analyze the ideological conflicts that had shaped their situation. They were more focused on shooting pirates and dodging return fire.

Badger, though, has a bit more focus on the homefront. We get into the poltical background of the different factions, including the ones inside the Celostian Union. So far it's going well; I've managed to find analogues for the different groups in the material that inspired Jacob Hull's world. Still, I just hope I am not doing things poorly. The other problem that may be showing up is how little this comes into the first book.

Still, it should be fun. See you around!

Monday, July 18, 2011

On Crawling

So Sera has officially advanced to a new stage of life. She is now trying to crawl. Not simply wiggling in a manner that might hint at crawling, she is literally fighting to move forward and then bawling when she realizes she hasn't quite got the trick of it yet.

Does anyone have any ideas on how to teach a baby to get up and go? Because unless she figures it out soon I am fairly soon she will not give any of us a moments rest. Hope all goes well for everyone, and I will see you around!

Friday, July 15, 2011

On Badger

Well, the second draft of Iron Angels is finally complete, which means from here to the beginning of September my main project will be Badger, the sequel to Wolfhound.

It is definitely a relief to have finished Iron Angels. It is going to need a little more work, especially near the ending, but at the very least the draft is complete. Plus, I honestly need a little time away from that story right now.

Badger will be the first sequel that I've ever completed in my time as a writer. So far, it has been an interesting experience. I've been trying to identify things that a good sequel needs to be effective, and I've managed a short list. A character that represents a dark version of the main character has been one thing that I have noticed; another one is the need to show both the negative consequences of the previous books' triumph. A third thing would be the need to show the hero facing new, yet serious challenges to their journey as a hero, while another is to give them the temptation to leave their trials and just rest on their laurels.

I've come up with a way to include a lot of these things, but I'm always open to more suggestions. What aspects of a good sequel have you guys noticed in your careers as writers and readers? Let me know. I will see you later!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On Google+

So yesterday I recieved an invite to join Google+, after some undignified begging and whinging. Turns out dignity is overrated; who knew?

Anyway, so far I am liking what I see. The whole concept of organizing people into circles really appeals to me, especially since I have a lot of different groups of friends who probably would not want to overlap. It seems to fit a lot better with how I socialize than Facebook. I don't want every post to be more or less like a giant speakerphone to my entire list of acquaintances and friends, and Google+ will allow me to narrow things down a bit.

The other features seem really cool as well. Hangouts will be a fun thing to dink around with, and the ability to set actual privacy settings really, really appeals to me. Call me paranoid, but I don't want every comment I post to my friends or writing group to get picked over by a prospective employer or co-worker. The fact that I can participate in a social network without having to sacrifice any kind of personal boundaries is actually quite liberating.

In any case, it seems like Facebook and Google+ will soon settle into different niches. Google will be for more active, daily posts, while Facebook will be for those rare, wide broadcasts you want to reach the ends of the earth. We shall see though. See you around!

Monday, July 11, 2011

On Slight Changes of Schedule


Still working on Iron Angels. The ending seems to have telescoped out a little bit, but it is my hope that I can finish it off by the end of the week. At the same time I am still moving forward with Badger's first draft, but it is my hope that the overlap is not too severe.

On another note, we found a cover artist! My brother in law, Em's brother,has decided he would like to take up the project. We are incredibly lucky to have such a talented artist working on a cover for us, since Paul has already worked on quite a few projects. He even worked at Lucasfilms, which pleases my nerdy little soul. So that bodes well for Wolfhound's eventual publication. Now I just need to get the sequel done...

Friday, July 8, 2011

On the Second Amendment: Gunwalker

Alright, so full disclosure. I'm a pretty strong supporter of people's rights in the United States to own guns, even if I don't exercise that right for myself. It's always been my belief that the right to arm oneself is an expression of trust in one's citizens, trust that is critical when you depend on those people to choose your government representatives. The loss of those rights opens the way for tyranny, whether that of a foreign nation, a politician with influence over the official military, or some gang of punks down the way that the cops don't want to bother with. So I typically view any attempt to ban or manipulate the ownership of guns with a pretty jaded eye, even if I believe that the efforts are motivated by good intentions.

The recent news over Gunwalker, also known as operation 'Fast and Furious' at the ATF has not lessened my skepticism. For those who are experiencing grim feelings of foreboding, it's probably because the ATF is involved in an operation named after such a crappy, crappy movie, but that's besides the point.

The ATF is the federal organization in charge of enforcing the laws regarding alcohol and tobacco, along with guns and other weapons. If somebody wants a license to sell guns legally, they have to go to the ATF, presumably so they can make sure you aren't going to be selling them to criminals. If you want a license to buy a gun, once again the ATF will be in charge of making sure you aren't a felon or crazy person or something. If a state bans a particular type of gun, such as semiautomatic rifles, sniper rifles or other weapons, the ATF kicks down the doors and takes them. That's their job. Kinda.

You see, for the past little while the ATF has been forcing gun shop owners in Arizona and other areas to sell guns to gunrunners, who then sell them to the narcotrafficantes in Mexico. They likely threatened to take away the licenses for the shops--you know, the ones that supposedly mean you don't sell guns illegally--in order to provide sufficient leverage. The agents of the ATF watched through bugs, cameras and other means, while straw buyers walked into gun shops, purchased hundreds of semiautomatic weapons, sniper rifles and other guns, and walked out. They then traced the shipments to the border, but couldn't be bothered to continue their efforts after that. Mexico, who wasn't really consulted on the operation, has reported upwards of 150 deaths among their soldiers and law enforcement officers as a result of those guns, and at least two federal agents in the USA have been shot to death by them.

Let me repeat. While legal citizens of the United States have to literally take a suit all the way to the Supreme Court to own a handgun in Chicago, the ATF is funnelling guns to Mexican drug cartels by the hundreds. While someone is waiting days or weeks to recieve their concealed carry permit, the Zetas are getting their guns right away, all the better to kill mayors and police officers with in Mexico.

It's a common argument that strict gun control only keeps the guns out of the law abiding citizens, not the criminals, but does it have to be actual government policy? Seriously, how are we supposed to trust the government to regulate this stuff after this crap? When you have to honestly contemplate whether the senior officers of the gun control wing of the government need to be extradited to Mexico for gunrunning and felony murder, somethings horribly, horribly wrong, and I don't think the answer is 'more federal gun control.' Maybe that's just me, but I doubt it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On a New Month and a New Story

So here I am at the end of Iron Angels. I honestly think the story has gotten much better during this rewrite; at the beginning of it I could have sworn it was going to turn out like another New Realm, but now I actually have hoped for it as a story. It will be interesting to see if the writing group agrees of course, but we will have to see.

Now, however, it will be time to set that story aside to begin work on Badger in earnest. I already have the first chapter or so set up, and it already seems to be a fairly solid start to the book. Now I just need to back it up with some actual progress and hopefully a solid background provided by Wolfhound. We shall have to see if I can make the switch later on this week.

In the meantime, I just need to write my brains out over the next week and see what happens. Wish me luck!

Monday, July 4, 2011

On the 4th of July

I don't know why but my family has never had a really strong tradition for the 4th of July. Maybe it was because fireworks were never all that interesting to us, or because we usually had plenty of barbecue at our house anyway without the 4th, but we never really made a big deal out of it. Not that we don't appreciate our nation, we just tended to show it a bit differently.

So it is a bit interesting to contrast that background to the excitement all around Houston about it. Parades are everywhere, flags all over. I'm pretty sure that if we were not in a drought situation there would be fireworks going off all over the place. To be truthful, I suspect that quite a few may be gong off anyway. We shall have to see...

Friday, July 1, 2011

On Spammers

So apparently Amazon is being spammed with all sorts of illegal copies of books. Books that are copyrighted by other authors, for example, or books that had viruses attached or something. This does not seem like it will help my future plans. In fact, it seems like it will handicap new writers especially since those are going to be the writers who fall under the most suspicion, and whose work would suffer the most if it was stolen that way.

I have to wonder how Amazon will handle the situation. Will they Youtube it up and simply remove the spam as their users report it? Or will they start charging authors to publish their work, to discourage people from attempting shennanigans? Or will they simply start putting the books through a more thorough checking process?

How I would fix it is to watch the reviews posted by people who buy the book. If one is listed as a fake book, or one that has stolen content, they could withhold the check they were going to send until the matter is sorted out. That way they can count on the readers to alert them to misbehavior and protect authors whose work is honest, without having to institute some kind of labyrinthine verification process, publishing fee, or other intrusive process layered on top.

The solutions here are not going to be easy, though, so it will be interesting to see which Amazon will choose. My hope is that they do not discourage the people who are actively buying books, or writers who are publishing them. That way we can enjoy the harvest this new opportunity is giving everyone, instead of losing it do to a few annoying, pesky weeds.

What do you guys think? If you have a solution, let me know. Maybe we can brainstorm a way out of the mess together. After all, nobody wants these kind of people to win, right?