The Burning Blade

Fireaxe Newsletter - edition 7.4

May 28, 2004

"They will commit atrocities, and become what they abhor.
All the good that they believe will be rotted at the core."
- Fireaxe, "Atrocity"

Americans torture people. But perhaps more shocking is the naivety shared by so many who claim that such cruelty is un-American, unusual, and isolated. Where have these people been hiding? Certainly not in prison where torture, rape, and murder are commonplace and sometimes encouraged and perpetrated by prison guards. Certainly not in inner cities where gang violence rages and where initiation rituals institutionalize violence and brutality as the preferred method of proving one's worth. Certainly not in far too many American homes where child rape and abuse are all too common, revealing social problems that are systematically ignored. And they certainly haven't been kept informed of what has been occurring in the war on terror worldwide. A few bad apples? Hardly.

Pictures are worth far more than a thousand words for they are incriminating in a way that eyewitness testimony is not. Now in the age of portable video, shocking cruelty committed by Americans of all walks of life grace our television screens all too frequently. We watch policemen abusing suspects, young men raping unconscious women, and young women engaging in hazing as violent and shocking as their male counterparts. When added to the stories we hear about hazing, bullying, and abuse in our schools the total picture becomes very clear. Cruelty is ritual in America. It is the method by which the powerful display their authority and control. And it is passed down from generation to generation through rites of passage.

One of the best indicators of institutionalized cruelty is the simple fact that we have a strong desire to punish the perpetrators of shocking crimes. Our gut reactions are to demand extreme justice. We don't shy away from wanting excessive punishment to send a message to all those who would dare commit crimes we find atrocious. We demand death sentences and executions. We despise and demonize aggressive defense lawyers and laugh when their clients are sent to jail to endure unconstitutional treatment. And we boast of how our soldiers bombed the crap out of other countries in past and current wars and how we should nuke anyone who still doesn't get the message. After all, our enemies, and those who support them, deserve such punishment for being so insolent.

Displays of physical might, to the point of torture if necessary, is the way we establish the pecking order. It is our Simian ancestry, and only the methods have changed as we have evolved.

But actual violence isn't the best measure of cruelty in a society. Totalitarian governments are known for the legendary cruelty of their leaders and the imaginativeness of the tortures they inflict upon their enemies. We see Totalitarian regimes as being the most cruel regimes of all. But the intent of abuse and torture is not to inflict pain, it is to instill fear, fear that is used to control others. And so, a cruel society is one where everyone lives in fear, and Totalitarian societies are not the only ones where this is true.

Methods of torture have evolved, and the people that are proficient in the ways of extracting confessions will tell you that fear induced stress is the key to making someone do what you want them to do. They will also tell you that the anticipation of something awful happening is more stressful than the actual thing itself. We all know that this is true. We've all had the experience of severe anxiety for hours or days before something that we have been dreading and weíve all felt the odd sense of relief when the dreaded event finally begins. We're happy that it is finally going to be over with. And so, showing people pictures of punishments that could happen to them, or putting bags over their heads so they can't tell if someone is about to inflict bodily injury upon them, or telling them if they fall asleep that they will be electrocuted, is actually more cruel, and more effective, at breaking their will. Add to such methods sleep deprivation, dietary restriction, and the occasional kick to the head or fist to the face, and stressing someone to breaking is accomplished more effectively than thumb screws or the rack. The U.S. wants to have the most up to date military technology available and torture is indeed a science. All these methods have been put to use and fine tuned by the military, CIA, and FBI for decades. Torture is a part of war, but unfortunately the US seems more and more eager to use it. And even though it is effective, torture undermines our moral authority. But only when we get caught of course.

On the home front, fear is a constant plague. News outlets in the US make money mainly through fear mongering. News story selection focuses almost exclusively on things which are a direct threat to the reader or viewer. The market economy, globalization, and the fall of worker's unions from power have created an economic climate of uncertainty as people fear losing their jobs. Huge debt loads, dwindling retirement funds, and rising costs in all sectors bear down on the consumer, creating a cornucopia of anxiety. New viruses and diseases, the threat of tainted food, and the degradation of the health care system have made people fear for their health and lives. Terrorism, the possibility of the draft being reinstated, and the potential quagmire in Iraq also add to the mixing pot of American fear. And while Americans work very hard to avoid these dangers, increasing their stress levels in the process, there is always the sense that tomorrow will bring some new danger. Living becomes a stress filled nightmare. And then we are told that stress will kill us. We need relief.

Enter the entertainment industry to come to our rescue. The punishment of the disobedient is a staple for almost all entertainment in one form or another. The entertainment industry takes our fears and embodies them in villains to be vanquished. Action movies and video games show the evildoers put to death by heroes. Sit-coms feature the persecution of those embodying all manner of objectionable behaviors. Reality shows feature endless public humiliations of individuals who are greedy and will apparently do anything for money. Sports are a ritualistic affirmation of physical might, combined with skill, as the way to establish the pecking order. And even those soft hearted soap operas and romance novels focus not only on the pure of heart falling in love but also on the not so pure ending up unloved and alone. The formula is simple, clean, and used ad nauseum. It is successful because it frees us from our anxieties, but only for a brief moment. We have our flight of fancy and then we must face the real world once again.

We live in a climate of fear and our society as a whole thrives on it. Fear is a great motivator, and productivity is what it brings. We work harder for longer hours and less pay to try to keep our jobs. We spend every dollar we earn on products to make us healthier, safer, and to ensure that our children can go to the best schools. We tremble behind a wall of nuclear missiles, afraid of terrorists and dictators, and insist that all who dare oppose us violently be exterminated. We insist that the US needs to be the best. We demand that we keep our place on top of the global pecking order, and to that end we work hard to make all our fears go away. And when things become too stressful or confusing there is always the entertainment industry which will show us in graphic detail that good, us, does triumph over evil, them, and restores our faith in our ideology. And we pay them billions in return.

Which is why Fireaxe doesn't really fit into the world of entertainment. The music that I've crafted doesn't reaffirm anyone's faith in anything. Faith is a poor substitute for knowledge and so I've sought to describe and explain instead of supporting any particular ideology. Yes, there is no small measure of fear in Fireaxe music. "Food for the Gods" emphasizes fear of ideologies and what their followers have wreaked upon their enemies. But with no ideology to provide salvation from such madness, the fear in the music is like the fear of death itself. You don't have to accept it, but not accepting it makes no difference to the final outcome. I like to think of it as a wake up call.

A big ĎHelloí to anyone receiving the Burning Blade for the first time. This is the Fireaxe newsletter.

How to order Fireaxe CDs

Ordering Fireaxe CD's is an informal process as I am selling them personally out of my apartment. Simply mail me a letter which contains the following:

  • 1. The names of the CDs that you want to buy.
  • 2. The address where you want the CDs sent.
  • 3. Cash, a check, or a money order for the total cost.

Here is a price list. The first number is the cost for U.S. based customers, the second is for outside the U.S. The prices include shipping and handling.

Food for the Gods: $12 / $14
Victory or Death: $5 / $7
Lovecraftian Nightmares: $5 / $7
A Dream of Death: $5 / $7

Send everything to:

Brian Voth
1301 Medical Center Dr. #415
Chula Vista, CA, 91911 USA

If you review CDs on a website or in a magazine, any one of the single CDs (Not "Food for the Gods") is free of charge in exchange for the review. In this case all I need is a request by e-mail. Please send me the URL of your review site or copy of your magazine with the review in it when it is done. If you want to exchange CDs, tapes, or stuff of equivalent value, make these requests via e-mail and we'll arrange a trade.

The CDs come with a booklet filled with awesome art, a letter about the project, and some information about the CD which can also be found on the Fireaxe site.

Lastly, if you want to print and distribute Fireaxe CDs I can send you an additional CD which contains tiff files for all the booklets, tray cards, and labels for each project. The tiff disk is free so just say the word.

Awash in bullshit - standing on the shoulders of others

In the last two newsletters I put forward a list of the many common logical fallacies that are used to present bullshit as truth and gave you a set of tools that will allow you to better discover the truth. In this newsletter I intend to expand on the toolset and give it a more practical grounding that you can use in your daily life.

In the domain of a hard science, developing and testing theories to explain things is a fairly straight forward process. In those fields it is much simpler to isolate variables and to conduct experiments to confirm or refute your theories. Outside of the domain of hard science the systematic application of the scientific method is difficult if not impossible to accomplish. Isolating variables in a complex system, like say, the price of a certain stock, simply cannot be done. And in most cases you aren't able to run simulations over and over to get a good idea of how things work. The universe doesn't have a replay button, so you have to deal with it as it comes at you. To make matters more difficult, our world is in constant flux, and what worked one way yesterday will not always work the same way tomorrow. As a result you need to make decisions with much less than 100% certainty.

There is a theory called determinism, which supposes that all the complex interplays between matter and energy in the universe follow a basic set of rules and that if we know the rules and the initial state of the system, all future states of that system can be predicted. This is observable in hard science fields where the systems being studied are relatively simple. For complicated systems it is difficult to know them entirely, and performing all the calculations necessary to make exact predictions can often exceed the capacity of any computer. But theoretically, if we could build such a computer, and input the current state of the universe and all the rules it follows, determinism states that we could use it to predict everything that is going to happen until the end of time. Of course, this theory is something that is probably impossible to ever test.

Whether determinism is correct or not, we are still left with the problem that we cannot predict a great number of things which are important to us with certainty, but that doesn't mean we can't approach complex systems in an analytical way to help us make decisions. In this regard we need to make assumptions, we need to accept what others believe to be the truth, and we need to trust our gut feelings, for the powerful pattern recognition portions of our brain do not to us speak in words. But when we make assumptions, accept the beliefs of others, and trust our feelings, we need to remember that these things are not completely reliable, and we need to account for that unreliability when making our decisions. Once again, the approach that I am suggesting is not easy, nor popular, nor is something that can be summed up in a handy slogan. What most people desire is to be convinced absolutely of something, make their decisions based on that one line of thought, and stick with those decisions until they are proven right or wrong. There are many obvious examples of how that approach can lead you into certain doom and so I advise an alternate, but more difficult, method.

As much as we would like to think of ourselves as self made, we all stand on the shoulders of others. What that means is that most of our knowledge does not come from direct personal experience. We may know the basic facts about places or things and have a general idea about how things work, but most of us have never lived on a farm, worked in a post office, flown an airplane, or fought in a war, and so we don't have first hand knowledge of those things. Furthermore, even the people who have done those things have but a small piece of the total knowledge about any of those subjects. Considering the vast amount of knowledge in the world one wonders how anyone can understand more than a sliver of the whole, but if we can understand the basic facts about something, we can often make good predictions about it without the benefit of having lived through the experiences necessary to make us experts. Many things can be simplified, analyzed, and understood without needing to bother with a myriad of details. Using what others know can help us make better decisions.

Working with second hand knowledge is something that we must all do. Even those in the field of hard science use assumptions made and theories proven by other researchers. So as much as we might favor direct experience, we should learn to work with second hand knowledge and use it to make better decisions.

The basic approach to decision making this way is as follows:

1. Research - accumulating different perspectives
2. Constructing a likely scenario
3. Constructing plausible scenarios
4. Risk assessment

The first three steps are all part of the scientific method which I described in the last newsletter and play an important role in establishing a theory to test. The fourth step is new since, for practical applications, you will need to make your decisions before the experiment, a real event, occurs.

1. Research - accumulating different perspectives

Research is extremely important. You are more likely to succeed in doing something if you know what you're doing. That is not always the case, but in general, more knowledge leads to more success. This seems to be quite obvious on the surface but when I see 'experts' talk about things on television or radio, or read what they write in the paper or on the internet, it seems that most people have forgotten this fundamental principal. Giving a few interesting facts appears to make someone knowledgeable, but being able to fully explain one's perspective, using all and not just some of the facts, is the sign of a true expert. A good way to tell the difference between an expert and a mouthpiece is to ask yourself if you understand something better when they are done talking about it. And a good way to tell if you understand something is to try to explain that thing to someone who asks a lot of questions.

The library is the best place to do research. Kept in libraries is a vast amount of human knowledge. The trouble is that it isn't organized in a way that gives you quick access to exactly what you need to know. But if you learn how to use the system you can home in on the things that can help you to understand something. The internet is a helpful tool as well and search engines let you home in on what you want very rapidly. It also includes vast amounts of useful information that will never see print, like "The Burning Blade" for instance which can give you a broader perspective. There is also much talk of putting everything ever written on line so that it can be accessed by anyone from anywhere. This would be simply fantastic as I prefer pointing and clicking to roaming through stacks of books and trying to find parking spaces on college campuses.

The most important thing to remember when doing research is to make sure that you read more than one source of information. We would all like to find a single definitive source that is the gold standard for a subject, but it is rare to find such a tome. History isn't written in stone, even in Egypt, and historians are just as prejudiced and fallible as other people. So the best way to prevent yourself from adopting a skewed view of a certain subject is to read about it from multiple sources, and make sure that those multiple sources aren't in turn referencing the same source. Yes, multiple sources will differ. Yes, it is a pain in the ass when they do. But rather than deciding which text is right and which are wrong on the spot, it is best to note the differences as you go and decide which is more likely to be true when all the research is done.

As an example of research, let's use the stock price of a fictitious company: Swindler and Associates. You want to know whether to buy stock in S&A. So you go to the library and look up the history of their company, the history of their stock, and find past releases of their yearly reports to stockholders. You also expand your search to look into how the stock prices of other similar companies have done as well as research the history of the stock market in general. It's a lot of work, but when you are done you have a good understanding of what kind of company S&A is and how the stock market works.

2. Constructing a likely scenario

Once you gain a deeper understanding of something you are able to make predictions about it. The easiest thing to do is to construct the most likely scenario. The straight-forward approach is to simply extend the trend lines on any data you dig up and see where they are headed. For instance, if S&A's stock has always gone up between 5% and 10% every year, you can assume that it will go up around 7.5% next year.

A more complicated approach is to look at other companies in the same field that S&A is in and see if they can provide any deeper insight as to what will happen to S&A. You might find that the stock price of all S&A's competitors increase an average of about 6% each year, making the 7.5% gain assumption seem optimistic but likely. You might instead find that after making gains for three to five years, all similar companies experience a sharp drop in their stock price. If S&A is four years old, the 7.5% yearly gain trend line might very well be wishful thinking. They may be headed for a fall.

Even more complicated is to look at the entire stock market in general. Looking at the trend line for the history of the market you might find that the average value increases by about 6% per year. You might also find that over the last fifteen years the average value of the stock market is far above that trend line, possibly indicating that it will fall below the line in the near future. A crash may be on the horizon.

Thus there are a number of conflicting trends. To get a likely scenario you can simply average all the numbers together. For the example, a 6% stock price gain appears to be a good estimate since many indicators point to that number as being typical of stocks on the whole.

3. Constructing plausible scenarios

You can make a well informed decision at this point, but it is more advisable to make a decision based on risk assessment. For that you will need to construct a number of possible scenarios and determine how likely each one is. This is where doing a lot of research pays off since it will give you a larger understanding of the things, both good and bad, that can occur outside of the likely scenario. You should determine the best case scenario, the worst case scenario, and as many possibilities in between as are relevant to your decision.

The best case and worse case scenarios have to be within the realm of possibility to be useful. S&A's stock price could double or drop to half over the course of a year, but you note that either case would be highly unusual when you look at your research. Thus, for the best case scenario you go with the highest gain for the S&A stock, which is 10%, perhaps adding in a few more percentage points assuming that the stock market in general may have a good year. For the worst case scenario you try to predict what possible corrections could occur. You note that a bad year for a company like S&A would result in a 5% drop in the stock price, and that a bad year for the stock market in general would result in a 10% drop. You combine these two you get a worse case drop of 15%.

Then you walk through other scenarios, such as a good year in the market at the same time as a bad year for S&A and vice- versa. For each scenario you will want to make some kind of estimate of how likely the scenario will come to pass. That can be more art than science though, and usually is.

4. Risk assessment

Risk assessment is determining how each scenario will affect you directly and weighing the probable outcomes against what you can afford or need to have happen. This approach is more prudent than banking on a single scenario coming true, even the most likely one, and far better than banking on a long shot. If the worst case is too devastating, or the likely scenario is insufficient, then the risk is not worth taking. On the other hand, if the worst case can be absorbed easily and the best case opens up a new opportunity, then the risk is minimal. The difficult decisions fall somewhere in between.

For instance, let's assume that you are saving up to put a child through college and calculate that you need an 8% return on your money for five years to send her to the college of her choice. Looking at your analysis you determine that it would take at least three years of the best case scenario stock price returns plus two years of likely scenario returns to save enough money. That's unlikely. So it is very likely that you will end up short. In addition, you calculate that a few bad years, or one worst case scenario year, mixed in with a few average years would leave you without enough money to send your daughter to the local community college. So you struggle with the risks and discover that if you put enough money in a five-year CD at a lower but fixed rate of return, and put the rest into S&A, the worst case scenario still puts her into the community college and a best case scenario would send her to her first choice of schools. Using risk assessment you have eliminated the potential disaster while still leaving open the possibility of total success.

And of course, you advise your daughter not to drink Zima and Tequila on the same night when she goes off to college.

You can also use this approach to evaluate the decisions that others make. Take for instance the invasion of Iraq. There were a number of things that had to be considered:

1. Finding a large cache of Weapons of Mass Destruction
2. Finding connections to terrorists
3. International support
4. Domestic support
5. Support of the Iraqis: Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd
6. Amount of resistance and the required number of troops

The first two items play into the next three, meaning that support would be undermined if the first two were not achieved. Support internationally, domestically, and from Iraqis, is a major factor in the sixth item, since a lack of support means more and more troops are required to do the job. In such a cascade it is important to keep your plan close to a likely scenario and plan out an exit strategy in case the first few items go awry.

The Bush administration was told by its generals that a full 250,000 troops would be needed to pacify Iraq. In retrospect that is a remarkably accurate number. By going in with half of the necessary troops, the Bush administration was counting on a lot of international, domestic, and local support. It is clear that they were relying almost exclusively on a best case scenario. What follows is what they needed to have had happen:

1. The amount of initial resistance would be low enough given the number of troops sent.

(+) In reality it was a cakewalk. There were fears of a Stalingrad type stand in Baghdad, but they were never realized. By avoiding high casualties, the number of troops required would be less than the initial estimate, but not by much as estimated casualties taken on in the face of sustained Iraqi resistance were not very high.

2. The missing WMDs would be found.

(-) A pre-1991 Sarin gas shell is the current extent of recovered weapons. It appears that an Iraqi exile group has gamed the intelligence systems of the world to make it appear as though Iraq had active WMD programs and encouraged the US to invade on false pretexts. Though many sources suggested that Iraq had WMDs, most of those sources were referencing the same exile group who were providing misleading intelligence. Other sources contradicted the belief that WMDs existed including professional weapons inspectors on the ground in Iraq. A loss of US credibility has resulted in a loss of support on all fronts.

3. Connections to terrorists would be discovered.

(-) There are terrorists in Iraq, but no link has ever been established between Al Qaeda and Hussein. Only cherry-picked intelligence reports show any connection at all and the CIA itself did not support any purported link between the two. Cherry-picking is the same as the half-truths fallacy and making decisions based on half-truths can lead to major mistakes. Once more, US credibility and support were lost. With the failure of two critical elements in the sequence of events to come through, reverting to a fallback position or exit strategy would have been a wonderful idea.

4. The international community would be behind the invasion.

(-) Only the UK sent a significant number of troops to Iraq and even for them their numbers were low. A lack of international cooperation was known from the outset of the invasion and so no prediction was necessary when determining the decision to invade. Furthermore, as the scenario playing out worsens and need for more troops escalates, the lack of international support grows more painful.

5. The US population would be behind the invasion.

(+) Despite very vocal opposition from about half the US population, the Bush administration has gotten just about everything it has asked for from congress.

6. The Iraqi people would support the invasion.

(+/-) On one hand, there is not much resistance, especially in the Shiite regions. On the other hand, few Iraqis marched alongside the US troops into Baghdad and few want to be part of a new Iraqi army. A good question to ask is, "If the Iraqis want democracy so much, why aren't they fighting for it?" The answer to that question is that they did fight for it after the first Gulf War, but the US did not want the majority Shiites to take over the country, so the US allowed Saddam to squash the rebellion. The fact is that the US wants a subservient government in Iraq and all the Iraqis know it. They don't want to fight for US interests and so most are indifferent.

7. That enough support would be accumulated to make up for a severe lack of soldiers.

(-) So far, the US is losing support in every sector. It appears that the international community is torn between helping out their ally and letting it learn a harsh lesson.

A likely case scenario, few allies, moderate resistance, the presence of WMDs but not in dangerous amounts, shows that the invasion of Iraq would probably not be successful. The worst case scenario, no support, heavy resistance, a Vietnam type quagmire, would have been a disaster, and the US might end up close to that scenario in the coming years. The current criticism about the Bush Administration is that they failed to plan the invasion. There was a plan, but the problem was that it only accounted for a best case scenario and no contingency plans were drawn up if things did not go so well. Day by day it becomes painfully clear that risk assessment never happened. No one bothered to answer the question, "What ifÖ?". The results are there for all to see.

The Future

Iíve been focusing so hard on "Food for the Gods" that Iíve had little time to think about what Iíd like to record next. Over the past few months Iíve tossed around some ideas and have come up with a working title and theme. The next Fireaxe work will dig even deeper into the dark crevices of our society and our minds, pull forth the myths that we cling to and hold dear, and expose them all for what they are. While "A Dream of Death" explored the madness of dreams, and "Food for the Gods" described the chaos wrought upon the earth by ideologies, "Eternal Devotion to the Dark Goddess" will depict the psychological enslavement of the individual in modern times. It will be the darkest Fireaxe work ever. But donít put your order in just yet. After wrapping up "Food for the Gods" Iíll need a while to rest and upgrade my studio. Iím spent.

My goal is to deliver music to whoever wants to hear it in whatever way is necessary. Whatever the market demands, I will supply, but I do want to avoid the mass marketing channel. Exposure is fine, but in the modern business, the substance of the music must be altered to match the demands of the marketplace. This would totally defeat the purpose of why I write music in the first place. I write music because it is a way to express my emotions. What I both think and feel goes into the songs. That is the power, Fireaxe is the channel, and any diversion diminishes the emotive effect. Thus I try to avoid such diversions. That is how art should be.

Rights to duplicate Fireaxe materials

Currently Fireaxe is not for profit. I sell the CDs for $5 each which covers the production and mailing costs. For CDs sent out of the country, I'll have to charge $7 per disk to cover the additional mailing cost. If you write reviews or put samples on your website I'll give you a CD for free. Since I am not making any money with the current recordings, you are free to make duplicates of them to distribute as long as you obey the following guidelines:

  • 1. You can only sell the duplications for the price of the medium or less, plus any delivery cost. You are not allowed to make any profit with the music.
  • 2. You should tell me how many copies you gave out and who got them so I can keep track. Also, if they have an e-mail address I'd like that as well so I can add them to the mailing list.
  • 3. You are likewise free to adorn any webpages or duplications with the gifs and jpgs on my website as long as you include an obvious link back to my website. This includes putting Fireaxe song samples on your site as well.
  • 4. You are free to play any Fireaxe songs (in unaltered form) provided you are an unsigned band without a marketting tie-in. You are not allowed to record those songs onto anything that you will sell.
  • 5. You are food for the gods.
  • 6. You are required to crank the song "Hounds of Tindalos" as loud as you can as often as you can. It's your only defense against THEM. Be warned, they come through angles. Note that the CD is round. Are your speaker cabinets square?
  • 7. Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, Hastur the Unspeakable, and all other mythos creatures are purely the inventions of Lovecraft and other fiction authors. None of it is real, at least that's what I'm going to say in court if you try to sue me for destruction of your property, house, city, or soul as a result of listening to the "Lovecraftian Nightmares" CD too much.
  • 8. You are free to play "The Rack" in school or church or any other institution bent on crushing your will and turning you into a mindless zombie slave of the corporate dominated world. Try not to develop a bad attitude about it.
  • 9. You are not free to commit suicide while listening to any Fireaxe song. I'm sorry, I'll have to prosecute. On a serious note, if you are thinking about doing it, please e-mail or call me if you have no one else to talk to. When I was in my teens the album "The Wall" by Pink Floyd used to really get to me. Just hearing songs like "Comfortably Numb", and "Hey You" would get me pretty depressed and mildly suicidal. I'm just trying to say that I've been there. If my music is having that effect on you, please get in touch. You aren't alone.

The gist of it is that you can do just about anything with the music as long as you don't profit from it and that I get some sort of credit for having written it. I'm open to any methods of distributing my music, such as compilation tapes or CDs, radio play, or recording label distribution. However, you will need my direct permission to do so or some kind of legal agreement.
Brian Voth - Creator of Fireaxe

Back to the Burning Blade Index