What Good is a Conspiracy if You’re Not Around to Enjoy It?

In my previous post, I wrote something that I’d like to enlarge on a bit.  I mentioned how the alleged Bob Dylan conspiracy required a bunch of people to be involved in a conspiracy that would not come to fruition until long after they were dead.  I realized this might be a good rule of thumb for determining how likely a conspiracy is to be true: “are the alleged conspirators going to be around to reap the success of their conspiracy?”

In a lot of these Illuminati/Freemasons/CIA/Assorted Other Shadowy Group conspiracy theories, there is at least a strong insinuation, if it is  not outright stated, that it is all part of some centuries-old plot.  And that has always struck me as really unlikely because it requires these conspirators to not only know which actions will have which consequences centuries later, but also care enough about how it develops after they’re dead.

Most real conspiracies (here are some) are conspiracies that generate immediate results for the conspirators. They’re not doing it to achieve some long-run goal decades later.  And while I’m not saying that all conspirators care only about themselves–ideologues of any type will often justify whatever they are doing by saying “it’s for future generations”–I am saying that it’s one measure of assessing a theory’s plausibility.  There needs to be something in it for the conspirators, not just for future generations of conspirators.

Conspiracy theories like the Dylan one, which are supposedly about making money, strike me as especially unlikely, since people generally have a preference to have money sooner rather than later, and especially have a preference to have money before they are dead rather than after.  This is one of the finer points of decision theory.

The Centuries-old Conspiracy to… write folk-music?

Via Thingy, a hilarious and bizarre conspiracy theory about how famous singer and songwriter Bob Dylan was a puppet of U.S. intelligence. Thingy doesn’t know if it was written as satire or not.  My hunch is that it wasn’t, because clearly the author, one Miles Mathis, spent a lot of time either researching or making up a bunch of random things to string together.  I don’t think even Jonathan Swift had enough patience to write a satire that long.

What’s funny about this is that there is a tiny, tiny, infinitesimally small kernel of truth behind all this nonsense:

We know Intelligence was running all sorts of secret operations in the 1960’s. Many of them have since been partially de-classified, like Operation Mockingbird, Operation Bluebird, Operation Chaos, MKULTRA, and many many more. But there appears to have been an even larger, more fundamental Operation beneath all of them. This was Operation Rolling Stone. It was the promotion of change in all forms. To what end? The promotion of trade.

He’s right that it’s not a coincidence that the 1960s social upheaval and the work of liberals, like Dylan, did lead to the promotion of trade. It’s ironic because many of the liberals were not in favor of capitalism, yet they ended up promoting it.  Both the Democrats and Republicans have become way more amenable to the idea of free trade post-’60s.

But it wasn’t a conspiracy by U.S. intelligence, or the Illuminati, or the Elders of Zion, or the Freemasons, or the Esoteric Order of Dagon. It just happened.  I think it’s because the social values of ’60s liberals are quite compatible with laissez-faire trade–values like not discriminating against people based on skin color, or gender, or religion etc. It doesn’t require an elaborate conspiracy where Bob secretly sets the stage for Jim who twenty years down the road will secretly say something to Dan that will motivate him conspire with Harry to fundamentally alter the culture of the United States.

So, I guess, he did identify a correlation between to phenomena.  I think it’s even true that there is a causal relationship there.  Where he goes completely off track is in attributing it to some conscious conspiracy by a bunch of people, most whom would be dead long before any of their efforts came to anything.

That said, he does go a little overboard in asserting how much trade has accelerated in the last half-century, saying:

Gentlemen in the early 19th century looked down on trade, as we see from reading Dickens or Austen, or watching Downton Abbey. The English aristocracy mocked American wealth, since it came from trade.

Where does he think the English aristocracy’s wealth came from? Ever heard of the East India Company?

Is it a joke, or is it for real?  The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

Mysterious Man starts writing another book, Part II

As promised, I’ve been working on my next book.  I hit a bit of a rough patch where I wasn’t sure how much exposition to give.  It’s a new thing for me because previously I’ve only known two different scenarios in my writing:

  1. Writing a section that is just really fun to write.
  2. Writing a section that I need to have, but am not enjoying and am just slogging through.

Needless to say, the things in category 1 are much better done than those in category 2.  The latter inevitably end up needing to be revised.

But I reached a point in my new book that was really neither.  I felt like I could go either way on this section; I could linger a bit and give some more atmospheric exposition, or I could just say what I needed to say and move along to the next part.  I’m torn about how to go–part of me wants to move on, and I have read advice for writers that says not to put in unnecessary stuff.

On the other hand, I think (and have been told by multiple readers) that my earlier stories fell into the trap of moving too quickly and not lingering enough on certain things to set the scene.  So I am inclined to spend more time on stage-setting than I ordinarily would, to try to correct for this tendency.

One thing this forces me to do is really picture the scene in my mind.  This is harder than you would think.  In the past when I have written stuff, I have had a general sketch in mind, but nothing too detailed.  This caused me to try and get away with saying some pretty vague stuff.  This way, I’ll now have a more firm idea in mind, and can communicate it better to the readers.

The scene I’m currently writing is also important because (not to give too much away) it is setting up a location that the protagonist will return to later, where the majority of the action in the story will take place.  So it’s a good opportunity for some foreshadowing, and I don’t want to miss out on that.

The lyrics to “Waltzing Matilda” make no sense.

I think there are a lot of people who don’t really listen to song lyrics.  This occurred to me the other day as I was listening to the song “Waltzing Matilda”–the unofficial Australian national anthem, by Banjo Paterson.  It’s a catchy tune, but it makes no sense.  And no, I don’t mean because of the Australian lingo.  Here are the lyrics, via Wikipedia:

Once a jolly swagman [vagrant] camped by a billabong [a pool of water]
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy [tea] boiled:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?” [“Waltzing Matilda” means wandering carrying your belongings in a bag.]

Down came a jumbuck [sheep] to drink at that billabong.
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Ok, so what kind of sheep is this that you can fit inside a bag? Or did he slaughter the sheep before he did that?

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers, one, two, and three.
“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

This is a remarkably efficient police force–homicide investigations are not treated with the same rigor as this sheep theft. Also, why do the policemen use the same expression?  Are they planning to carry the guy off in a bag?

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.
“You’ll never take me alive!” said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

So… this guy committed suicide rather than give back the sheep he had stolen? Was the punishment for sheep theft worse than death?

Now there are indications that the song is based on a true story, and is in fact related to an incident in the 1891 Shearers’ Strike. That means it has some political subtext.  If that’s the case, it might have been better to mention it was a striking worker, as opposed to a passing tramp.

Anyway, that’s my opinion.  Don’t let it stop you from enjoying the song; it’s a nice little tune.  Maybe some other time I’ll post about why the confusing syntax in the official United States National Anthem is so annoying, and why we should replace the “Star-Spangled Banner” with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Does a renewed interest in witchcraft spell trouble?

Interesting article in The Guardian about a renewed interest in witchcraft, or “Wicca”, and the associated mystical stuff among young women.  The general point of the article is that witchcraft is feminist because witchery is about female-headed authority structures. Naturally, traditionalists are upset by this trend, though whether they don’t like the witchcraft because it’s feminist, or that they don’t like the feminism because it’s witchcraft is hard to say.

I bet somewhere conservatives are saying “See? We told you the “Harry Potter” books would lead the youth into more serious pagan witch-cults!” Although it’s not like Harry Potter invented presenting magic as a good thing.  Why not blame Samantha Stephens? Or Glinda the Good Witch? Actually, to be honest, I’m not exactly sure when people were not interested in witchcraft in some form or other.

I wonder when traditionalists and conservative religious people will realize that the only reason people get into tarot cards and potion-brewing is because they know it will annoy the conservatives.  Once they quit acting upset by it, it won’t seem cool anymore.

I’m not kidding about this–most of the people I know who are into this stuff are doing it because they are rebelling against their religious families.  Personally, as a non-religious (though not really anti-religious) person, I find it pretty tiresome. It’s just trading one set of rituals and relics for another, as far as I’m concerned.  Wicca is religion for hipsters: they’re only doing it because it’s not mainstream.

People are always getting renewed interest in the mystical and the occult.  Back in the 1920s, there was a wave of fascination with the occult. I think it waned a bit in the 1930s what with the Depression and all, but there was still Aleister Crowley being Aleister Crowley. Find me some point in history when there wasn’t interest in the occult among some group or other.

Running Backs and Wide Receivers are the least valuable positions, so stop overpaying for them.

Every year around this time, I end up writing a bit about mistakes the Buffalo Bills are making, or have made, or are about to make. It’s an inexhaustible source of material, it seems.  This Alonso-for-McCoy trade is not quite as stupid as trading a first round pick for a wide receiver, but it’s close.

A good linebacker is worth more than a great running back.  Good running backs are cheap, and the value increase from a good running back to a great one is small when compared to the price.  Look at New England.  Their running backs are all later draft picks or guys they got cheap in free agency.  Anybody who is halfway competent at running the ball will be more than sufficient, provided he has a good line and a good quarterback.

Add to this the fact that McCoy is on the downswing of his career, and showed signs of decline last season, and it makes the trade look completely insane.

I do like the Cassel trade, though.  He is not the quarterback of the future, but I think he’s better than Manuel.  You can win with a game manager quarterback and a strong defense–Baltimore proved that in 2000.  Rex Ryan almost did with the Jets in ’09-’10.  If they had just traded for Cassel and kept Alonso, I would have felt much better about it.

Oh, and speaking of the Jets: I see they just traded for Brandon Marshall. They think they are so clever because they are giving Geno Smith “weapons”. I have no doubt Smith will squander Marshall’s talents just as he did those of his previously acquired weapons, Eric Decker and Percy Harvin.  Meanwhile, New England has been criticized for years for not giving Brady enough “weapons” at receiver–but I’d have to say it’s working out OK for them.

On Writing Fiction; or, “Mysterious Man starts writing another book”

So, I am currently in the early stages of writing a new book.  It’s going to be much longer than the last one–probably will end up being a novella, but maybe a novel if I’m lucky.  It’s already about as long as the longest story in my first book, and I’m still introducing the main characters and conflicts.

I’ve tried to incorporate the helpful suggestions and critiques I’ve received from my first attempt–many of which came from Blogger friend P.M. Prescott, to whom I’m very grateful. The book so far is much more like the last story in the collection,  ‘The Quarry”, in that there is more dialogue, and the dialogue is used to convey information about the characters and setting, rather than just using the description.

One of the hardest things about writing fiction is that I’ll get stuck with a certain”voice” in my head, and it gets translated to the page it permeates the whole story.  In the last collection, the “voice” was very much like H.P. Lovecraft’s, and Lovecraft rarely did dialogue.  And regardless, when you have a single authorial voice, it can make it hard to write dialogue that seems like it’s really multiple people–you have to be careful to differentiate how they speak, so it’s clear who’s who.

That is not to say there is not any description.  The other thing that I’m working on is putting a little more thought into the descriptions, to try to do a better job of painting a picture for the reader.  In previous work, I’ve consciously shied away from doing too much in the way of description, because I think that too much can bog the story down, and that sometimes the most effective way of scaring somebody is to leave some things unsaid or just hinted, so their mind fills in the blanks with the scariest things they can imagine.  But it’s a delicate balance, and I may have gone too far in the direction of vagueness before; making the scenes seem too clinical and detached.

The other thing I’m doing differently this time is what I’m doing right now: occasional blog updates on my progress.  I’ll maybe even post an excerpt or two, depending how it goes.


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