America’s Greek Legacy

I have always enjoyed studying the history of the ancient Greeks, but that interest was exponentially increased when I played Assassin’s Creed ODYSSEY by Ubisoft this year. First, it’s the best AC game so far. It’s far from perfect; the combat can be very frustrating at times; but it’s depth of story and gameplay and incredible detail brought ancient Greece back to life. I was in awe of this game.

When I visited Thermopylae in this game, it looked so real that I felt chills, as if I were really visiting the site. (As a result, I’ve started saving money for a trip to Greece).

I also bought the new iteration of Sid Meier’s Civilization, Civilization VI, because it features two Greek leaders: Pericles, ruler of Athens during the Peloponnesian War, and Gorgo, queen of Sparta, who ruled alongside Leonidas, and was an intelligent, insightful, wise, powerful woman. Playing their civilizations is just pure fun, but not very educational.

Inspired by a game to study the Greeks more studiously, I’ve read many books: The Iliad by Homer, the Odyssey by Homer, The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, and plan to read several more such as The Histories by Herodotus and The Aenid by Virgil. I also just discovered Helena P. Shrader whose works I will explore. (I really wish Pressfield would write more about the Greek world). I generally don’t like lectures on audio, but discovered Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, and he’s witty and fun and educational, and his episodes are sometimes 4-6 hours long! And it goes by so fast, too.

So, to say that Ubisoft’s Odyssey enriched my life would be accurate. Like I said, I’ve always enjoyed Greek history, but never took the plunge in a serious way. Now, I’m bathing in it. And one amazing thing I learned: There was no HERCULES. His name was Heracles, and he was an evil bastard, not a hero. (Kevin Sorbo’s portrayal was entertaining, that’s all). And there has still never been a film or show that accurately portrayed the Trojan War (aka the battle for Helen of Troy). Helen was given that title by Priam, king of Troy, to validate her defection. But the war was really about Agamemnon’s ambition, while Troy was a powerful trading port on the coast of modern-day Turkey, across the Aegean Sea from Greece. Helen begged to be returned to end the conflict, but Priam knew that it was only her vanity talking. After the war, Helen returned to Sparta and took her place beside her husband king, Menelaus, and by all accounts, she lived happily. She is mentioned in The Odyssey, ruling alongside Menelaus many years after the war. Chalk it up to Hollywood drama (Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra was a gorgeous film, but it kind of ruined historical films in Hollywood).

All of this stuff is all the more fascinating to me because the United States of America was founded as a modern-day Greek Republic. In 1787, when the U.S. constitution was ratified, the United States became the first Republic to arise in 2000 years. Rome, also, was founded as a republic, entirely due to Greek influence. Much of southern Italy was colonized by Greeks and their culture was widespread.

It is a simple fact through observation that “The Republic” is the most powerful form of government humans have devised. It was true in Hellas in 2500BC, in Rome in 500BC, and in America today. Interestingly, and I’m coming to the point of this piece, is that in all three examples of the Republic form of representative government, in all three that have existed, these nations became so powerful that they transitioned into empires, as the United States is becoming today in exactly the same manner.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-American at all; I’m just observing and commenting on what I see after studying the past.

It seems to me–and I’m not especially smart or observant over others, I recognize there are a lot of people far smarter and aware than I am–but it seems to me, nonetheless, that the Republic form of government tends to dominate all of her neighbors simply due to great economic success. That alone determines political power on the world stage: wealth. When one nation accumulates great wealth, it naturally can afford a powerful military, and as a result of the personal freedoms in a Republic, people are compelled to invent and innovate to become personally rich themselves, and this raises the tide for everyone.

Yes, I believe the United States will evolve into an empire, just like Greece (Hellas) and Rome did. Exactly in the same manner, only with modern language and rationale. When trade must be protected, then a wealthy nation will protect trade by partnering with neighboring nations, and opposing hostile competitors (who embrace contrary philosophies of governance such as the insidious Marxism). This is a de facto empire, is it not? We the people don’t need to formally replace our constitution and state, from this day hence, we are the American Empire!

No, of course not (and I didn’t make this point very eloquently, I’ll admit). The United States is already in the first stages of empire, not because some powerful Americans want to rule the world, but because of our wealth. Wealth generated by the Republic form of government.

Now that the basic point has been made, I’ll be more specific: The United States is a democratic republic, which is a combination of parliamentary-style representation (the Senate) and Greek-style representation (the House of Representatives), combined into the Congress (which means, meeting together in one place). The executive branch is also very different from parliamentary nations. In a parliamentary system, members of parliament do everything on behalf of their people, including voting for the “president.” The people do not get to directly vote for a president. Instead, parliamentarians nominate from among their own body a Prime Minister. Another form exists: parliamentary republic. This is very similar to a democratic republic, where parliament appoints its own Prime Minister, but the people also vote separately for a President. However, there is only one body of representatives. I personally like this system.

I personally do not feel that the U.S. Congress is effective. The Senate and the House seem to conflict over bills, making them ineffective. And, if the president doesn’t sign a bill, it’s returned for revision. This two-body system is too complicated and rife with corruption to be effective. I’m not sure if a democratic parliament is any better, but it seems less complicated and less prone to corruption.

The biggest flaw in the U.S. constitution, as I see it, is the House, which is based on population. Why is that needed? As the population grows, so does the House. This problem was alleviated in 1913 with a revision that limited it to 435 members, which was a good move. But even that is an enormous number of representatives. Are they effective? I have not seen the House do anything useful in my adult years of life that the Senate and President could not have done better, more easily, and with less corruption. I want my representatives to act decisively when steering the ship, not vote on issues based on gifts they receive from lobbyists. The baby boomer generation has been most blatantly corrupt, not even bothering to hide their self-serving legislation, but that’s a topic for another day.

No, I don’t see any need for 435 idiots gathered together to pretend to govern. It seemed like a good idea to the founders, but people are stupid. Let’s just be blunt about it, okay? People are stupid. And those who are not stupid are too busy working, raising a family, etc, to pay attention to what’s going on. And the House was never intended to be populated by career politicians. It was supposed to be a system wherein a professional with a good household will put his life on hold for 2 years to serve the nation, then return home again to resume his business affairs. End of story. This beautiful idea has been dirtied by corrupt, evil people, intent on self enrichment. They should be publicly flogged. That would quickly put a stop to it.

So, there you have my perspectives on the ancient republics and the United States today. This nation was founded on much more than just the Greek Republic from Plato and Demokratus. The cultures are very similar as well. You’ll recall the Peloponnesian War, 430BC, between Sparta and Athens and their respective allies. This was a Greek Civil War. Over what issues? Believe it or not, you’ll recognize the roots of the conflict: conservative versus liberal values.

Sparta was a conservative city-state who ruled many lesser city-states in a de facto manner (not a declared empire) called the Peloponnese League. Spartans married one spouse for life (usually). Spartans were pro-military in the extreme. Spartans were very religious, very faith-centered, very devout to all of the gods, but especially the goddess Athena (daughter of Zeus almighty). A modern-day Christian (though not so much today, but perhaps from the 1950s era) would feel right at home in ancient Sparta, other things being equal.

These people believed in honor, respect, duty, and feared God. To Spartans, Athens was a Godless city filled with sinners. Similar American cities: Oklahoma City, Colorado Springs, Fort Worth, Boise, Nashville, Arlington.

Athens was a liberal city-state that traded with its neighbors and wasn’t very good at diplomacy or managing large cities. Athens raised taxes and spent money for services that Spartans did freely for God and country. Athens incurred debt to pay for their army and navy and hired mercenaries. Athens had a powerful navy and trade but was less strict, lacking discipline. Athenians openly expressed gay lifestyles and had the freedom to do so without persecution. Athenians were open to academics (a Greek word), philosophy, and even questioning faith. Most Athenians were devout but many were not, and the faithless were allowed to express their views openly. Athens also worshiped the goddess Athena (the city’s namesake).

To Athenians, Sparta was a rigid, harsh, oppressive city, ruled by self-righteous hypocrites (another Greek word). Similar American cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Baltimore, New York, Detroit.

The Greek civil war ended in 400BC, with Spartan victory and the Peloponnesian League ruled all of southern Greece, until a great earthquake leveled Sparta. However, the stability of this empire allowed Alexander to emerge (50 years later) from the northern territory (where Thermopylae is located) and use the established traditions and stability to raise an army to get revenge on the Persians. After he decimated the Persian empire, he continued on through Palestine and to Egypt.

This conquest spread Greek culture even further, but at that time there was no way to maintain such a far-flung empire, so Alexander’s solution was to plant Greek cities in every territory he conquered, filled with Greek citizens, transplanted from the homeland, to keep Greek influence alive in that region, with a garrison. The purpose was not to enforce taxes but CULTURE. This was more of a trade empire than the vassal system imposed by Romans later on.

Speaking of whom, Alexander’s empire lasted until about 150BC–so, 200 years, when Rome conquered Greece. But, Rome didn’t eradicate Greek culture. Rome actually continued to embrace it, internalized many of the customs and beliefs. For instance, Romans adopted Elysium and Hades and the Olympic gods, more or less, with their own.

Due to this cultural influence, the New Testament of the Bible was largely written in Greek, and most of the concepts borrowed from Greek culture. The Jews plagiarized the Greeks, and Christians today still believe the Bible originated everything it contains. All I can say to that is, read Herodotus, Homer, Thucydides–the source material. You will be surprised to find “Biblical” phrases and concepts.

Addendum

I recently purchased a DNA testing kit from MyHeritage with interesting results. I am: 55% Celtic, 30% Scandinavian, and 11% Greek. I was pleasantly surprised. 🙂

Writing Lethargy Due To Overwork

The past two years have been filled with heavy work hours, reducing my writing output to a trickle of my previous productivity. There was a time when I was able to produce a moderate-sized chapter every 3-4 days, consistently, for months. Including R&D time spent writing code, some of which I was not quite prepared for in advance.

It seems like the programming books I worked hardest on sold the fewest copies, while those that I wrote very quickly were bestsellers. For instance, Visual Basic Game Programming for Teens, first published in Jan, 2005, was based on Visual Basic 6.0 and the DirectX type library.

I wrote that book in one month flat, including all of the design work for the sample game, artwork, etc. (The artwork was done by an artist, but I had to convert character animations into sprite sheets). ONE MONTH! Four weeks. My editor at Cengage was a bit freaked out by that because I had promised her the book by October 31, and hadn’t turned anything in by the end of September! I told her I would meet the deadline…somehow. Reason for the delay: Sams’ Black Art of Xbox Mods, which I’d spent all summer working on (including soldering iron to install mod chips into several iterations of the Xbox). It was hard work. By the time I’d finished, I was ready for a straightforward software project, so VB Game Programming for Teens was a sort of “Build Your Own RPG in VB.”

The book I worked hardest on, most time consuming, was Multi-Threaded Game Engine Design. It received a range of review scores because of unrealistic expectations on the part of readers, which may be due to an unfortunate book title. It was a good idea but how can you explore game engine design with threading without building a game engine first? No one wants to read about an existing game engine, they want to build it. Well, readers of this book didn’t so much. I don’t know what they wanted, actually, but I delivered an engine that would let you explore threading in various sections of the game loop, such as the entity manager, 2D renderer, shader renderer, audio system, input system, collision detection system, and so on. But it wasn’t deep enough for the most outspoken readers. I almost had a nervous breakdown from that book. I was dismissed from teaching at UAT on bad terms in the middle of this book, and was finishing up the final chapters on a laptop while travelling. It’s a good book. I’ll never apologize for it. That engine was solid. I used it for a ton of stuff over the years.

The easiest book was probably Video Game Programming for Kids, which sold very, very well, and the VB for Teens book sold on par. For a programming book, it’s rare to sell more than 20,000 copies. Most of them sell in the < 5,000 range. Those two sold 20,000 each. The shortest writing times, the least amount of work and stress, for the biggest return. I don’t know what to make of that. But it causes me to ponder my approach to writing fiction.

I released The Mandate of Earth in early 2015 and it quickly made it into the bestseller ranks alongside authors like Greg Bear and Orson Scott Card. Not bad for an indie with no marketing budget. But, after six months, sales dropped off completely. I’ve learned that this is fairly normal for fiction, especially in a niche market like “hard science fiction,” when sci-fi is already extremely niche. At any rate, that novel was a very long project of mine and I released it more for my own enjoyment than to make money. (It did bring in a good sum, too, while the hype lasted). I’d started that novel in 2003 during my lunch breaks at a job in Phoenix writing code for a healthcare company. 12 years later, after countless hours of revising and formatting (and learning the Kindle and paperback formatting), it was finally out in the world. I probably earned a dollar an hour on that novel, but it wasn’t about the money. That was a bonus. It sold about 1,000 copies (which is either good or bad, depending on your expectations for the indie market). I was thrilled with the sales. I would have enjoyed it if I could have retired–that’s the wish of every indie–but wasn’t expecting even 1,000. So, that was an enjoyable life achievement.

Lately, though, over the past two years, I’ve not been writing code or fiction, I’ve been driving thousands of miles per week in the family business. During that time, I’ve been taking notes. Any idea that occurs to me. The result is a document with 100 pages of story ideas. As soon as I find the time and energy, I’ll get back to writing.

And just to prove to myself that I haven’t lost my mojo, I challenged myself to write a mini-micro-short in a single evening, and pulled it off! I think it’s a pretty cool story about a time traveler who goes back to witness the death of Jesus Christ. I was tempted to post it but I’ll hold off until I figure out what I’m doing with this site, first.

Thanks for stopping by and reading (if you got this far). I would enjoy your comments if you care to share any.

Web Redux (New Site)

What do you think of the new site? Too austere? I’m going through a phase where I just like to see writing, black scratch on white, and not a lot of other crap in the way. I’m a writer so I prefer text over media these days. This post is an attempt to explain recent events…

I don’t consider myself lazy, but when my web host raised the price of hosting in order to “encourage” me to upgrade my ancient Linux host to a modern server, I debated whether to back up the old site and plug it into the new one. I debated with myself for months, actually. On the one hand, that’s a lot of posts over the past 15 or so years, so surely I want to save them all? On the other hand, they aren’t very relevant anymore. I mean, who wants to read about book announcements from 10 years ago? I’m not writing programming books any more, although I know there are still fans and teachers who use my books for their classes.

So, I sat on my hands, and in the end, I let all of the old content fade away like dust in the wind on the old server, and now, as you can tell from this dreadfully empty new site, it’s time to start over!

If you’re here looking for source code files, and I don’t have the portfolio rebuilt in time, fire off an email and let me know what you need (see the Contact page). I’m always happy to help a reader with source code files (long after the publisher has flaked out).

First step around here is to figure out which theme I want to use. Yes, I’m literally at that stage now! I have no idea, really. I want it to be simple and writer-friendly, as I plan to post short stories here more often than meandering thoughts.

It’s an interesting time, 2018. There was a time when I was passionate about a great many things. Not so much any more. I don’t care about politics or the economy (as long as the world doesn’t look like Fallout 4, we’re doing okay). I still play a TON of video games (look for my Xbox Live ID and Steam ID on the Contact page). It’s not that I feel apathetic toward life now, it’s that life is simpler. I’ve left the high-stress jobs behind and now I am doing something that has allowed me to pursue my love of reading. I’m on the road 10 hours per day, 50-60 hours per week, and during most of that time I listen to audiobooks (look me up on Goodreads, I welcome friend requests, and check out my reading list). The reason this is significant for me is, I’ve never been a fast reader, but audiobooks (via Audible) allow me to simulate being a fast reader, and I do pay attention, and rewind often. I can listen just fine on long stretches, but when in heavy traffic, my concentration is on the road.

I mentioned simplifying my life. Part of that process involved deleting all of my social media accounts. Well, by “all”, I mean, Facebook and Twitter, though I’m still very active on Goodreads, which is the only social media site I’m interested in now. I get a lot of book recommendations and enjoy chatting (usually arguing) with friends about new novels. Due to this employment “perk”, I’ve read 160 books in the past two years, with a goal of 70 this year (and I’m right on track). I read a lot of short story collections, and while I review shorts (in order to keep track), I don’t count them toward my reading challenge. I enjoy it. Goodreads is my go-to site nowadays. I would much rather “Like” a book or a friend’s review than do the same with a stupid cat video on FB.

I’ll post more about my writing career but after finishing two novels recently, I haven’t written anything else. What I’ve been doing instead is taking notes of every great story idea that comes to me. Would you believe in the last year it’s come to 100 pages of notes? Dozens and dozens of stories waiting to be written. And since I read (e.g. “listen”) so much now, including collections, I’m up to date on what’s been done, for the most part, and the ideas that come to me are always unique, as far as I know. Unique and absolutely mind blowing, otherwise I don’t jot them down. (Oh yeah, while driving, I send myself an email with transcribed notes any time an idea comes to me! Thank you, “OK Google”).