A Very Disturbing Turn of Events

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court of the United States made what may prove to be one of the most repressive decisions in its entire history. In short, it said that the government has no right to stop corporations buying US elections.

In a five to four decision, the Supreme Court decided that corporations (and unions) can freely spend their own treasury funds on advertisements for or against individual political candidates. Summarising, Justice Kennedy re-stated the concept of corporations having the same rights as individuals, saying “The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.”

The ruling itself is even more blunt. Referring to the 20-year ruling in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which prohibited corporations or labor unions from paying for campaign ads, it says “Austin is overruled, and thus provides no basis for allowing the Government to limit corporate independent expenditures.” The decision also removes spending limits for independent expenditure groups, as well as spending limits already established in 24 states. It also removes chunks of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that barred issue ads paid for by corporations or unions in the closing days of a campaign.

It’s not quite a complete carte blanche. Corporations still cannot give give money directly to candidates. But given that the candidates chiefly want donations in order to pay for campaigning, this restriction is now broadly pointless.

The upshot is that candidates who agree to whole-heartedly serve huge corporate interests will be on the recieving end of a sea of funding that will allow them to sweep away any opposition. The political structure was already riddled with corruption of course, but it had to be mediated carefully in light of public opinion. That is no longer the case. Corruption has been boosted up from a sneaking presence behind the scenes to being the director of the entire show. Any politician agreeing to suckle at the corporate teat will recieve funds to guarantee near-certain election, and the idea of serving public interests will vanish entirely.

Horrified reactions have come from all parts of the American political establishment, including both John McCain and Barack Obama. But despite the concern of politicians, the ruling is effective immediately. Anyone wanting to fight this decision will find themselves up against a gigantic wall of money. The chances of any meaningful changes being made in time to stop corporate-backed shills from sweeping to power are very low indeed.

Mussolini famously described fascism as the union of business and state. Whether or not he was right is open to debate — it’s probably more accurate to describe it as corporatism, at least until pro-corruption grass-root movements appear amongst the populace — but either way, it is very definitely not democracy. And whatever you call it, that is what the Supreme Court has now created in the USA.

If you live in America, then whatever side of the political spectrum you lie on, you have been betrayed, and your democratic influence has been reduced to that of a sad whisper on the wind. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of the handful of Americans who runs a major corporation, in which case, Hail, Caesar. There are some petitions you can sign (you can find the links on my blog copy of this article at, but frankly, your last shreds of power rest in the right to bear arms.

And that is both tragic and terrifying.
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Decisions, decisions...

My online audience-participation story 'The Great Game' is being rebooted, with fresh characters and an all-new story.

For those of you who aren't sure what I'm on about, 'The Great Game' could be described as interactive fiction, or collaborative story-telling, or as being a bit like those old 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books, except with your very own pet writer scuttling off to write up the results of whatever option you pick after each section. It's all robin_d_laws 's fault.

Unfortunately, the choices people picked in the last story managed to lead the character and his friends to a really horrible doom. Yay!

In keeping with the whole 'you tell me what happens next' theme, you get to choose what genre/setting the new story will be.

So if you think you might be interested, this would be a really good opportunity to go check the whole thing out, and get involved in the story right from the beginning.

What's your favourite style of fiction?

The Great Game, Round 39

Massinisa flexes the new hand cautiously. It appears to work, and he seems free of pain now. Alice looks on the verge of going hysterical, but she’s keeping it together by a fingernail grip.

Massinisa looks me in the eyes. “So. I have asked for you, and I have received for you.” He sounds angry.

I nod, and say “You have. I am in your debt.”

“Yes,” he says curtly.

My first impulse is to offer to shake on it, but I manage to stop myself. I actually don’t really want to touch the hand, and Massinisa sure as hell doesn’t need to be reminded. Instead, I clasp his shoulder, and summon up a hopefully sincere expression. “I pay my debts.”

He stares at me for a moment, then he sighs and deflates, his face softening. “I’m sure you do, friend. Come, let us leave this… tomb.”

Alice chokes back a giggle, and makes a beeline for the door. Massinisa and I follow. When we get outside, I notice that the carpet has changed slightly, with blotches of red now added to the orange and brown hexagons. I don’t bother saying anything. What would be the point?

There’s a rest area not too far from where we are. I know it’s there, and we could all do with a minute. “I know where we can catch our breaths,” I say. “Come on.” The other two look at me with odd expressions, but they follow along obediently enough. It only takes a couple of minutes — round a corner, through a fire door and down a hallway, and then there’s a big glass double door on the left.

The rec area looks like the sort of pleasant lounge you might find in a laid-back cafe. It’s stylish, in a muted sort of way, and decorated in soft earth tones. There several tables, some clustered round with well-padded chairs, others with deep-looking sofas. There’s a counter at the back, with a selection of buffet food and a range of beverages, including a professional-looking espresso machine. You’re obviously allowed the illusion of self-service here, but I’m pretty certain that you’d find the buffet included whatever it was you most felt like to eat.

Massinisa goes over to poke around the facilities, and Alice sinks down onto one of the sofas, head in hands. I sit down next to her, and put an arm round her shoulders. “How are you doing?”

She coughs, and looks up at me. “Couldn’t be more perfect!” Her voice is too high, too bright.

I look her in the eye. “Alice?”

She shudders, and when she speaks again, her voice is low and sad. “Eadida was a lovely, kind girl. She was my friend. It was just… hard. I thought I had this place down, but every step you take, you seem to make it freakier. It’s wearing me down. I’m not cold like you.”

Cold? That’s an uncomfortable assessment. “I…” What the hell do you say?

“You were going to mash her hand off with a log.” It comes out as almost a whisper.

<input ... >

Well, yes. I was. I shrug uncomfortably, and say...

See the options and vote here.


The Great Game.

For the last couple of months, I've been writing installments of an urban fantasy story, The Great Game, and sticking it up on the web. At the end of each installment, I offer a list of options for what the main character should do next, and the readers vote for one of them. That forms the basis of the next installment.

It's a hell of a challenge, but it's great fun to work on, and it seems to be turning out okay :)

Here's the story so far:

I wake up in a crappy hotel room. I'm still keeping it together, just about, but I'm glad to see that I'm still made of flesh and blood. I'm not sure why that's such a relief. My stuff is missing, but when I head down to reception, the hall-way is lined with gas-lights, and the whole place is like the Marie Celeste. I search around reception, and see there's plenty of occupied rooms. In theory. While I'm there, I notice a weird face on the CCTV, for an instant. I decide to go investigate the hotel. I knock on some of the occupied rooms, but there's no answer. I bust in to one of them, and there's plenty of stuff, but no guy to go with it. His room key, car keys and wallet are all in the room too, which isn't good.

Back in the hallway, an odd guy pops up out of nowhere. He's wearing a very odd outfit, and his eyes dance menacingly with suppressed glee. He seems to be warning me off, but he isn't making a lot of sense, and he refuses to explain further. When he turns around and stalks off, I snap, and throw my shoe at the back of his head. He doesn't seem particularly impressed. Then a bright pink laser wells up out of his left eye, dazzling me, and I guess I pass out. When I come round, I'm on the floor, and a woman is asking if I'm OK. She's wearing a smart suit, and she's standing in the doorway of the room I bust into. When she sees my eyes, she freaks out, and then starts apologising. What the hell? I dash into her room to see for myself.

My eyes are pink, and maybe even glowing a bit.

I'm still trying to make sense of it when the woman sits down next to me on the bed. She tells me that she's not sure what's going on, but the place looks different to everyone, and it's full of all types of people. She makes it sound like some sort of crazy time-warp prison. Then a guy checks in on her, calls her Alice. It looks like he's making sure I'm not a danger. He's called Massinisa, and he looks like some sort of grand African prince. He leaves without causing any fuss though, and I suppose I understand, so I don't say anything. But I can't believe we're not in Kansas any more, Toto. I go and open the curtains. When I recover, I'm on the floor, and my throat hurts where I've been screaming.

Alice explains that no-one seems to know where this hotel is, only that it sometimes seems to be somewhere random in time and space, maybe in possibility too. Who knows. Some people try to escape; some of them wind up dead. She says she needs help, but I want to know what I'm getting into. She pissed off some sort of local gang, her and a friend broke up a ritual by mistake. Now the friend -- a girl called Eadida -- is dead, her lungs filled with sand and no sign of a struggle. Massinisa took her corpse away for Alice, but it's still no surprise that she is freaked out.

I agree to teaming up with her, and suggest hunting for info. That leads us to Reception, which looks like it belongs in a Victorian palace. The hall is huge, and filled with people dressed in a range of outfits that run from normal to utterly crazy. The guy at the desk, Mr. Andi, gives me a room key, and then we go sit down to grab a coffee and talk about all this madness.

The coffee is good. Really, really good.

I reckon that there will be someone in the hall who deals in information, and suggest we talk to a guy we noticed earlier, who's dressed like a Victorian gentleman, albeit it scary bad-ass one. We track him down and I try bluffing some info out of him, but an off-hand comment pisses him off, and he gets seriously threatening. It's sticky for a moment, but I manage to calm him down, and he offers to help me, in return for a payment of 'body', rather than mind or soul, whatever that implies. God help me, I agree, and it turns out I owe him a task of some sort in the future. He tells me that I need to speak to an information broker called David Sinclair, and that his agents in the room can lead me to him.

We find one of Sinclair's people, a girl -- and I use the term loosely -- who escorts us to a huge, worrying metal door at the end of a corridor. Alice and I head on through, and find ourselves in a field, along with some standing stones. My thoughts of escape are knocked back by the off-putting trees that circle the place. We head to the centre of the field, where there's a stone cairn, seething with ants -- for a little while, at least. Sinclair appears, and agrees to give us some answers in return for us just laying our hands on the cairn. He promises we won't be affected. My new eyes seem to be able to help me see energies or something, because I can see that he is compelled to truthfulness. We agree, and he gives us seven questions.

With them, we discover that Alice is being hunted by a group called the Macandal. They're pissed off because she fouled up a summoning of their by mistake, and they lost some people. The thing they called is missing, too. They want her to help get it back; it wants her to sew chaos with. Either way, she'll die nastily. We decide the critter is the biggest worry, and find out how to get rid of it, using its name and the place it was summoned from.

That's when we discover that our payment for the answers is that we have been duplicated. When we laid our hands on the cairn, Sinclair took copies. He brings those copies into existence, fully sentient, and makes us watch as he twists and mutates our screaming twins into ants, and adds them to his collection. Alice, who seems to have a problem with insects, totally freaks out. I don't feel much better, but I carry her back to the couches in reception, and we both doze off.

When we wake up, God knows how long later, there's a meal waiting for us. A very good one. As we're finishing, the guy who sent me here to the Hotel turns up for a chat. He explains a bit about the hotel's infinite nature and what we're doing here -- I was in danger of damaging reality apparently, and Alice hit a trap -- and gives us some idea of how hard it'll be to get home. Then he offers to make us forget about our doubles, trapped in Sinclair's hellish ant nest. Alice wants to remember, to mount a rescue, but it's more important to focus on her enemies, so I insist we forget.

When Valis leaves, we don't even know that we've forgotten anything. We head back to our rooms, where I plan to check on my stuff and make sure it's all made it.

Unfortunately, it hasn't. Some of my bits and pieces from back home are here, which has worrying implications. There's a couple of books I've never seen before too, and, inside the wardrobe, an outfit which would have gone down well in a swinging disco in 1971. I have a long, hot, shower, and by the time I'm done making myself look human again, my old clothes have vanished, and I'm stuck with the mad stuff. At least I know why there were so many odd outfits in Reception, but damn, Alice got off easy.

A guy comes to the door, some sort of bell-hop, with a present from Mr. Andi. Except I have to pick what I want -- offense, defence or information. I choose the latter, and get given a ring. When I put it on, I can remember things I have no business knowing, like the number of people in the hotel. It doesn't come with a menu though, so I don't actually know what it is I now know. Still, better than nothing I guess.

Alice and I round up her African pal Massinisa, and have him take us to where he left Eadida's corpse. The room now looks a bit like an old cave, and her body is lying on a Celtic-style funeral pyre. I'm all for smashing her hand off with a small log, but Alice is a bit too upset, so when Massinisa suggests asking the dead girl for the hand, I take him up on it.

Read on here...

Speaking Out.

This post is taken from my main blog site,

I haven't really talked about anything political here at Ghostwoods. I don't believe in telling people what they should be thinking. Politics, like religion, is a divisive subject. We all have our beliefs, and much as we'd like to think otherwise, that's all they are -- beliefs. Catholicism, materialist atheism, spiritualism, democratism, republicanism, Buddhism: they're all impossible to prove 'correct', whatever correct means, and they're all a choice of personal style.

But I can't keep my mouth shut any longer. If you're one of the 20% of Americans who opposes universal health-care -- and you're on the US hard-line right-wing -- then in the interests of your own blood pressure, you may want to stop reading this post now.

First of all, a definition from historian Robert Paxton:

"Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

Paxton is one of the world's leading authorities on the rise of fascism in otherwise sensible countries, and his definition of fascism now almost universally accepted by political scientists.  There are two key elements here I want to bring your attention to. First of all is the corporatization of the state -- where the two elite power bases of corporate power and political power work together for mutual benefit, at the expense of the public. Sometimes, the elite are joined by the religious power base, too. The other is the recruitment of grass-roots militants working on behalf of this hybrid elite to stifle rational debate and fair democratic process.


The emblem of the (extinct) British Fascist Union
The emblem of the (extinct) British Union of Fascists

I suspect you can see where I'm heading.

There's been a hell of a lot of hysteria, puff and self-aggrandizing toss over the last twenty years about how we're all "Fascist, man". That's all it has been. Until, in America, this summer.

Paxton identified five clear stages that societies go through on the path of fascism.

Fascism becomes possible when a free democracy loses its way. There's an implied social contract in society -- we work to produce tax and consume goods so the rich can stay wealthy, in return for financial security and support when we need it. Health-care, support in old age, protection from foreign aggressors and domestic criminals, and fair treatment in return for all the hard work we put in. When a government loses focus on this contract, and puts the interests of the corporate world ahead of the social contract, the democracy becomes increasingly weak and shaky, and people get scared and angry. I'm going to tip my hat here to Fox News, banking, agribusiness and insurance for particularly blatant corporatization of government, but they really and truly are just the tip of the iceberg.


Public anger and resentment is the breeding ground.
Public anger and resentment is the breeding ground.

Paxton's first stage is when passionate rural interests begin to group together to promote a nationalist fix of the 'broken' society. This has the goal of restoring national greatness by restoring traditional (often religious) values, driving out 'parasitic' or 'corruptive' foreigners, and ignoring those damn fool intellectuals who caused all this mess.

In the second stage, these grass-roots interests spawn active militant bands in order to persecute disliked minorities. Historically, this has usually started by harassing minority agricultural workers on behalf of land-owners. When a weak liberal state arises, badly-battered right-wing political forces decide to deadlock the nation's political process by refusing to engage with the government.

teaparty congress

This is the moment where the third stage tips over. Because the right feels threatened by the rise of the left, it seeks reinforcement. Instead of fighting a long-term game to regain legitimate political capital, they turn to the grass-roots militant bands for support in further pressuring the government, with the aim of using them to regain power. The third stage is clearly marked by the open alliance between nationalist grass-roots militants and disenfranchised right-wing political interests.

I linked earlier to the New York Times piece on the Tea-Bag movement and the open acknowledgement of the power of the Birther conspiracy agenda by congressmen. The militants and the American political right have joined forces, and the militants are being taught how to harass, infiltrate, and disrupt democratic process. They've had a very genuine taste of power over the summer months, bonded together in adversity, learnt how to circumvent normal democratic flow, and enjoyed all the lovely, heady goodness of being part of a mob consumed with its own self-righteousness. All without any repercussions from police or state.


That is not an experience you forget about; it is an experience that you seek to repeat, and it is the last stop on the path.

"You must never imagine that just because something is funny, Messire Marquis, it is not also dangerous" -- Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

The trouble with imagining that the USA is on the edge of a fascist precipice is that it seems so damn implausible. The Tea-baggers weren't scary, they were hilarious, with their incoherent signs and their almost 19th-century scare-mongering. It could never happen here... But the stark truth, of course, is that every major civilization on Earth that has ever fallen -- and that's all of them, in case you weren't counting -- has done so with people thinking just that. To quote political futurist Sara Robinson:

This is the sign we were waiting for -- the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America's conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country's legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America's streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won't do their political or economic bidding. This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins.

From here, the path is bleak, and very, very difficult to avoid. As the third stage develops, the militants get more and more aggressive. Harassment becomes local thuggery -- abuse, vandalism, beatings and even killings. The targets are minorities, people who challenge the group's orthodoxies, and minor political opponents of the sponsoring elite.

"If we can only identify fascism in its mature form -- the goose-stepping brownshirts, the full-fledged use of violence and intimidation tactics, the mass rallies -- then it will be far too late to stop it." -- Dave Neiwert,The Eliminationists

Stage three matures as the elite/militant alliance racks up political victories. Each one increases their collective sense of power and rightness -- as well as their experience -- and makes the next one easier. From there, the rise is swift. Then all it takes is one catalytic event, a domestic disaster or threat of war. Usually, in the past, this has been stage-managed by the alliance, and used as an excuse to temporarily halt democratic and/or due legal process whilst the emergency is dealt with.


Pentagon police, 2007
Pentagon police, 2007

In stage four, the alliance gains control of the country. The two sides of the alliance then slowly turn on each other. If the militants win, authoritarian police states generally follow. Street thuggery is all they really know. If the elites manage to win, then you may end up with a military junta or a theocracy, or some other version of dictatorship.

Stage five typically depends on a military victory. If the stage four state can enter and win a war (foreign or domestic), it can consolidate its power, and enter a period of violent expansion, savage domestic social engineering, or other activities which arise from being drunk on power. In the absence of a big binding victory like this, the stage four state will generally lose focus and disintegrate into the sort of totally corrupted banana-boat regime we all know and loathe.

iran police

In 2007, Naomi Wolf noted the Transportation Security Administration's proposed "Secure Flight" plan. Under it, all passengers on American flights -- both international and domestic -- would have to get government clearance to travel. She described this in terms of the slide of Germany into fascism, saying:

"If this proposed regulation goes through, we will move from 1931 to about 1934 -- when the borders started to close -- with the stroke of a pen."

As of October 15th -- just over two weeks time -- airlines will have to provide the TSA with your full name exactly as it appears on a piece of government-sanctioned ID, your date of birth, and your gender for all flights. Flight approval rests on criteria which are not available to you for scrutiny. I advise you to go have a look at the piece that Wolf wrote if you are in even the slightest doubt whether travel scrutiny powers are already being regularly misused.

I don't know what the answer is. Sara Robinson suggests that if the state re-strengthens by making good on old promises and delivering a fair deal again, and if the media chip in and do their bit to avoid spreading corrosive propaganda, and the police take the side of the people to aggresively punish the militant bands, well, then the slide can be averted.

It would be nice to think that this were possible, but I'm far from convinced. I don't even know if there is an answer. And like I said at the start, I'm not telling you what to believe. But it seems to me that Paxton's first three stages can be clearly ticked off the list, and I'm getting very worried, both for America (and the people there I love), and for the rest of the world.


As a kid, I always wondered why the people who knew they'd be in the firing line -- the jews and intellectuals and homosexuals and so on -- didn't get the hell out of Germany in the early 30s. I understand now, of course. But our understanding of the process is better now, too. If fascism does arise in America, it will be white and piously Christian and every bit as dumb and emotive as ever. So if you're in America, and you're not a dumb white Christian, you really, really might want to start looking for options.

Because when the walls slam shut, and the rallies start, and the boots are marching in the street, and there is no room left for doubt... why, then it will be too late.

I'll leave the last word to Sara Robinson again:

We are now parked on the exact spot where our best experts tell us full-blown fascism is born. Every day that the conservatives in Congress, the right-wing talking heads, and their noisy minions are allowed to hold up our ability to govern the country is another day we're slowly creeping across the final line beyond which, history tells us, no country has ever been able to return.

Further reading:
Sara Robinson, "Are we there yet?"
Klint Finley, "Is it to late to spot fascism in the US?"

Please feel free to pass all or parts of this article around as you wish.
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So what is this Great Game thing I've been on about, anyway?

'The Great Game' is a work of interactive fiction, a particpatory story where you're in charge of what happens next. I write a bit. You tell me what happens next, then I go off and write that, and give you your next choice.

I'll let the narrator sum up the story:

"I woke up in a deserted hotel, a bit like the Marie Celeste. I was trying to find someone -- anyone -- when a guy wearing a very odd outfit popped out of nowhere. He babbled a bit at me, and then dazzled me with some sort of laser. Okay, okay, so maybe I deserved it. Anyway, I blacked out. When I came round, the place was busy, my eyes had turned from brown to pink, and outside the window... well. I'm not thinking about that. We're God-knows-where.

I've formed a tentative alliance with a woman in a business suit, Alice, who claims the hotel changes layout, and is home to people from all over time and space. I suspect she's right. She thinks she's being hunted by killers, so we're trying to get some information on them.

I'm about to attempt to bluff some out of a guy dressed like a Victorian gentleman. He has a blood-red top hat, a monocle that appears to be carved from pure shadow, and a huge wolf on a silver chain. What could possibly go wrong?"

The story continues here.

Wrestling with the web

After a surprisingly nasty little fight with a nested wordpress install and a range of different specialist plugins, I've managed to set up a web-comic style page within my blog to host the Great Game. Partly I wanted to do this so that there was one URL people could go to for the latest installment, and partly because I felt the Game was cluttering up the rest of my blog a bit.

So I'm now running one copy of Wordpress within a folder of another copy of Wordpress. Whee! Says a lot for its versatility, though.

The new drop-site for the Great Game is now

If you've got about 30 seconds to go check it out, I'd appreciate your thoughts on how it all looks, because I had to use totally different style themes!

The father of psychic questing!

I've been lucky enough to score an in-depth interview with Andrew Collins, the godfather of psychic questing and one of the UK's leading mysteries researchers. He talks about the hidden caverns he's discovered under the plateau of Giza in Egypt, possibly linking the pyramids to the Sphinx -- along with the odd role of Cygnus in the development of world religion, psychic questing, his famous Green Stone quest, the Biblical Nephilim, crop circles, the Morphians that influence reality, and all sorts of other great stuff. If you're interested, it's up on Ghostwoods:

Round 4 of the Great Game is also open at Ghostwoods -- please drop by, cast your vote, and help me decide how the story develops next :)