Archive for the ‘General’ Category

“They’re Coming After Us.”

Apparently, someone in Kentucky doesn’t like the National Rifle Association. That someone spray-painted a blank billboard with the words, “Kill the NRA.” So far the painter hasn’t been discovered.

What I find most interesting about this is the reaction of the NRA, which immediately sent out “warning message” on Facebook to all of its members, saying, “This is a wakeup call. They’re coming after us.”

Despite the brutal school shooting in Florida, which took seventeen lives, as well as those in Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, and elsewhere, the vast majority of “opponents” of the NRA don’t want to take away all guns. They want to take away oversized magazines, auto-loaders, and other devices such as bump stocks that turn semi-automatic rifles into functioning automatic rifles. They want to close the loopholes on unrecorded gun sales, and they want effective background checks and ways to keep weapons out of the hands of mentally unstable individuals. The vast majority of Americans don’t want to repeal the second amendment, but they do want sensible regulations on guns.

We regulate other equipment and substances that pose a danger if misused, from pesticides and drugs to trucks and cars, including regulations on who can use such substances or devices, and Supreme Court rulings that have held that Congress and the states may in fact prohibit certain weapons.

It’s more than obvious that the NRA clearly doesn’t want any regulations at all over firearms held by civilians and has consistently misstated both the law and the Constitution in its efforts to block such regulations. In that sense, one could also say that by its endorsement of a fully weaponized citizenry, the NRA has always come after anyone who opposes its policies.

So… maybe it is time to truly come after the NRA, since, despite all its rhetoric, it’s an organization whose efforts only result in more and more preventable deaths

Managing People

The turnover of the President’s White House political staff in his first year in office is the highest ever. I’d submit that it represents a simple fact. The President doesn’t know how to choose or manage people. His management style seems to be to try out people he likes or thinks might have skills and then throw them out when either he doesn’t like what they do or say, or when it turns out that they have skeletons in their closet that no one investigated before they were appointed.

FBI Director Wray just revealed that the White House had the information on Rob Porter much earlier than the White House had claimed, suggesting either incompetence or willful disregard of Porter’s abuse of both former spouses.

Trump also has filled the fewest number of political appointee slots in the executive branch of any President in the first year in at least the last half-century, and that lack of mid-level political leadership has made it even more difficult for him to pursue any sort of coherent and unified program. Add to that the number of people clearly inexperienced in any sort of political bureaucracy or those whose competence is minimal or suspect, and it’s not surprising that the only significant accomplishment of his professed agenda is the tax cut legislation, which is something the majority of Americans agree on, even if many of them oppose the structure of those tax cuts.

An additional problem facing the White House and the Trump administration is the number of appointments or proposed appointments of individuals with either blatant conflicts of interest or extreme conservative views. While one would expect appointees with conservative views from a Republican administration, the problem with extremists, either ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative, is that too many of them let their views blind themselves to what is both structurally and legally possible. Even in blocking Trump’s initial travel bans, the courts were clear to say that the President had authority in that area, but that authority was limited by the law and the Constitution and that such a ban could not be based on religion and other factors prohibited by law. Extremists tend to believe that their view of the Constitution and law is the only view. The courts have almost always taken a more “centrist” view, sometimes unfortunately, as in the case of segregation until court cases in the 1950s and the passage of civil rights laws in the 1960s.

The chaos and unpredictability surrounding Trump has also meant that many well-qualified and experienced conservatives have declined being considered for positions in the administration, which has resulted in a lower quality of appointees. Justice Gorsuch is likely one of the comparatively few highly qualified appointees [although I personally believe he’s too much of a legal originalist] put forward by the Trump Administration.

Given the President’s temperament, I don’t see much change forthcoming, but if it’s not, the mid-term election results will be very interesting.


I have to say that I’m getting more than a little concerned about the idea that there are “different facts” or “alternative facts.” There are accurate facts and inaccurate facts [which I don’t regard as fact, but error], and there can be considerable dispute over what facts signify or how to interpret them and how accurate those interpretations may be.

The only thing “factual” about opinions not supported by verifiable facts is that such opinions exist. When pictures show the comparative size of crowds, such as inauguration crowds, an opinion that the small crowd is larger is factually untrue, unless, of course, such photographs were altered. When there is a multiplicity of photos from different sources, then the chance of alteration is essentially non-existent.

When photographic studies of glaciers show that, over time, virtually all of them have shrunk in size, and many have disappeared, that is factual evidence that those areas are in fact warmer, and when those studies encompass virtually all the glaciers, that’s a fact, or series of facts, that’s not factually contestable. What those facts signify for the future is up for debate, but that those sections of the planet are now warmer is not.

When NOAA says that the last ten years are the warmest on record, compared to existing data, that data represents a series of measurements. Those measurements come from the same sources. Therefore, temperatures at those sources are warmer. One can contest whether temperatures from those sources are an accurate representation of planetary warming, and whether temperatures from earlier sources are as accurate, but not the fact that the NOAA numbers represent higher temperatures at those places.

The fact that there’s been a first-year turnover of more than thirty percent of political appointees serving on the President’s White House staff is not disputable, nor is the fact that it’s by far the highest first year turnover of any President. What this means can be debated, but it cannot accurately be dismissed as false news.

The growth of fake or false news not only represents the growing polarization of American society, but also bodes ill for the future, because, if Americans cannot even agree on the facts surrounding issues, the “public validity” and “truth” of such “facts” will be determined by popular opinion or power, not upon the facts themselves. When policies are made upon the basis of facts that are not accurate, they’re far more likely to be flawed.

For example, while one study by scientists at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Tulane University School of Medicine showed that eighty-percent of health news stories posted on Facebook concerning the Zika virus were largely accurate, the study also showed that the most popular story [ “10 reasons why Zika virus fear is a fraudulent medical hoax”] was totally inaccurate, but was viewed 530,000 times and shared almost 20,000 times, while the most popular totally medically accurate story, posted by the World Health Organization, was viewed 43,000 times and shared by less than a thousand users.

But too many people don’t want to hear that the number and percentage of crimes committed in the U.S. is higher for native born Americans than for either legal or illegal immigrants, and that the lowest crime rates occur among legal immigrants. They don’t want to hear that increasing coal usage will increase the rate of global warming, or that the tax laws just passed will make economic conditions in the future much worse.

We’re already in the dangerous position where popularity is more and more becoming the determinant of the perceived accuracy of facts, rather than measurements, observations, or science.

Or, put another way, with Trump’s “alternative facts,” Orwell’s Newspeak is already here.

Trump: Solution or Problem?

President Trump’s supporters clearly feel that if he isn’t the solution to a myriad of problems facing the United States, then he is at least the only one in American politics capable of addressing the issues of a broken immigration system, a weakened military, a hollowed-out middle class, a law enforcement system that’s too easy on “free-loaders,” corporations that send jobs overseas and keep wages low… as well as host of other concerns.

Trump’s opponents seem to see him more as a sexist, racist, narcissist, with the behavior of a spoiled child and the morals of serial sexual predator, who seems bent on destroying democratic values, the free press, and the environment, while handing the government over to business and his rich cronies and minimizing the rights of the marginalized in society.

And a significant majority of both supporters and opponents are absolutely adamant in their feelings and beliefs about Trump.

As in all political polarizations, both sides have at least shreds of proof behind their beliefs, although some of those shreds are pretty small, and a few, especially about Trump’s personal characteristics or the hollowed-out middle class, are anything but small.

But what seems to be overlooked in this polarization over Trump is that Trump is not so much primarily either solution or problem, but a symptom of what’s gone wrong in American politics and society, a personification of political and social intransigence.

It used to be that Americans disagreed over the meaning of facts; now people invent facts, or deny them, when proven facts don’t suit their beliefs or politics.

This hasn’t happened overnight. It’d been a long time coming. When I first became involved in politics, the two parties could agree enough to actually pass appropriation bills before the next fiscal year began. Then it took longer and longer, and they changed the congressional process to give themselves more tine. That bought them twenty years. Now… we’re at the point that we’re roughly halfway through the fiscal without any actual appropriations, running on continuing resolution after continuing resolution because neither party can apparently work out a compromise.

Now… everyone’s blaming Congress, and public approval of Congress is at all all-time low, and no one’s looking at the reason. That reason? Every member of Congress, with a few exceptions, is voting exactly the way the majority of voters in his or her political party in his or her state or district wants them to… because any time they don’t follow the party line they’re likely to get voted out, or at the least, face a contentious and expensive primary.

So don’t blame Congress. We, the people, are the intransigent ones… and unless we figure that out and decide to be more flexible, and go back to accepting proven facts and working out our disagreements on what to do about them, we just might end up with the equivalent of a second civil war (or a third, for those who believe the Revolution was really a civil war).

Change… or Rate of Change

This past weekend, I was talking to a National Park Service biologist about various environmental and ecological matters, and he was telling me that Zion National Park, until the last snowstorm, was the driest in either in recent recorded history or in more distant history as revealed by tree ring data. Even after six inches of snow, it’s still incredibly dry. In addition, the yearly average temperatures at Zion were something like seven degrees above average for the entire past year, a differential that was unprecedented. While I can’t recall all the species, he also listed a number of them that had literally vanished from Zion seemingly because of higher ambient temperatures over the last decade, again numbers that were unprecedented.

For the last two weeks, high temperatures here in Cedar City have been in the low sixties [Fahrenheit]. Most winters, in February, we’re lucky to get into the high thirties for a day or two. So far this winter, the high temperatures are running 25-35 degrees above normal for a longer period than ever recorded in the 160 years for which there are records.

In northern Utah, they’ve had to cancel ice-fishing, because the ice is too thin to support even single individuals in most places. Utah lakes, once too cold to allow wide-spread algae blooms, are now subject to toxic algae.

Yet parts of the east and especially the southeast, are seeing, intermittently, colder bouts than usual. Yet both patterns are the very predictable results of global warming, because the arctic is considerably warmer every year than previously, which weakens the winds that, in the past, kept colder air farther north.

In Europe, something like thirty percent of ski areas that used to exist thirty years no longer do because they’re too warm for natural snow or even to retain sufficient artificial snow.

Yet, as one skeptical geologist I know has said, “These temperatures aren’t anything new. The planet’s been warmer than this a number of times before.”

And he’s right about that. What he doesn’t want to look at is that only a handful of times has the climate changed as swiftly as it is now – and all of those times resulted in massive extinctions. The January 11th issue of New Scientist offered an article dealing with the extraordinary heat in Australia along with projections about how current trends will make large sections of the earth virtually too hot for unprotected humans to survive there in little more than a generation.

Yet the debate over what is causing global warming goes on. And it’s a meaningless debate, because, regardless of cause, the earth is warming all too fast. The real question isn’t just causal, but what we can and should do to deal with it. Already, we’re losing chunks of seacoasts all over the world to rising sea levels, and with over 40% percent of the world’s population within sixty miles of the ocean [and in the Asian-Pacific region 73% of the people live less than 30 miles from the ocean], just dealing with protecting all that real estate – or moving buildings and people – represents a huge resource commitment.

One way or another… our children and grandchildren will pay for it.

Impersonal Emotional Exhibitionism

As any of my readers who’ve searched for me on Facebook and Twitter may know… I’m not there. It’s not that I’m opposed to new technology or new forms of communications per se. I was an early adopter of computers and email. I have a late model I-phone, and I’ve even been known to text when necessary.

But just because a form of communication is new and instantly popular doesn’t necessarily make it something that’s useful for me, or for that matter, make it necessarily a positive force in society. In that respect, from what I’ve observed, social media is displaying a very disturbing side. I see reports of people texting, tweeting, “friending,” Facebook posting, Instragramming, etc., often with very intimate information, without apparently the slightest concern about how such information might be used. Theoretically, much of such postings is restricted to recipients and “friends,” but once it’s on someone else’s cellphone and/or computer, that widens the possibility for misuse.

Beyond the possibility of such misuse, however, there’s another more subtle and, to me, equally disturbing aspect of social media – and that’s the fact that it’s really better termed “anti-social media.” Most students at the local university don’t socialize with their peers in person. They pass each other, earbuds cutting off auditory distractions, eyes mostly fixed on the hand-held screen. Couples often sit at tables, each in their own electronic cocoon. Whether they’re texting each other or someone else, it’s still not exactly social.

Interestingly enough, a professional woman I know has observed that a growing percentage of young people don’t know how to introduce themselves and, especially, that they don’t know how to shake hands. In addition, studies are showing that young people who are heavy social media users are poorer in many interpersonal situations and are not as mature entering college as their predecessors of a decade earlier were.

We’ve also seen an enormous growth of electronic exhibitionism, from “sexting” [especially among teenagers] to incredibly revealing disclosures about self, family, and friends, on topics that are very personal. Facebook posts or texts have replaced personal and telephone conversations with friends and family for a rapidly growing percentage of Americans. To me, and to many of my generation, this electronic “sharing” is impersonal, as well as potentially dangerous.

Of course, the older generation is always wary of new technology, not out of conservatism, but out of knowledge that such new technology will always be excessively misused before a balance emerges. There’s also, I must admit, the fear that, this time, there won’t be a balance because the potential for excess will not only overwhelm the users, but also the bystanders.

We’ll see, but, regardless, electronic emotional excesses aren’t the same as personal, one-to-one communication and intimacy, nor do they prepare those who overindulge for living in the real, non-electronic world, where one doesn’t get cursory “likes” from everyone and where the bottom line is performance and results.

Non-Universal Uniformity?

In the January 13th issue of New Scientist was a report about a series of measurements designed to determine the mass of protons. Despite the extreme precision of the equipment [designed to be accurate to one part in ten billion] the discrepancy between the various sets of measurements by different laboratories was even greater – something like four standard deviations, which, according to the article, has a probability of less than 3/10 of one percent. Part of the problem in measuring protons is that their mass varies depending on the configuration of the nucleus of the atom being measured, so that, although both a deuteron and a helium-3 atom contain two protons, one neutron, and one electron, the total mass differs as a result of the internal configuration of the nucleus.

What I find interesting about this seemingly rather pedantic discussion about the accuracy of determining the mass of a proton is the assumption, which underlies the entire basis of science, that a proton should have the same mass in the same configuration at all times. So far, repeated measurements are suggesting that this may not be so.

Einstein’s theory of relativity works on a cosmic scale, but not on a sub-atomic scale, while quantum mechanics work on a sub-atomic scale but not on a cosmic scale, and for almost a century scientists have been working on a “theory of everything” that would unify the two.

Now… add to that the problem of dark matter. Way back in 1970, the astronomer Vera Rubin discovered that the stars in the Andromeda Galaxy revolve around the galactic center at the same speed, unlike the planets in our solar system, where the inner planets move much faster than the outer planets. This research was the basis for the confirmation of dark matter, but the problem remains that while a huge variety of measurements indicates that dark matter exists, to date no scientist has been able to identify or measure any individual constituent of dark matter, although the sterile neutrino is considered one of the possible components.

A similar problem exists with dark energy. According to the standard model of cosmology, the universe cannot be expanding at its present rate without the contribution of dark energy, and the best current measurements indicate that dark energy contributes 68.3% of the total energy in the universe. The mass–energy of dark matter and ordinary matter contribute 26.8% and 4.9%, respectively, and other components such as neutrinos and photons contribute a very small amount. But, again, no one has been yet able to detect or measure such energy.

One of the reasons that scientists have theorized the existence of both dark matter and dark energy is the assumption of uniformity, i.e., that the speed of light, the force of gravitation [or in Einstein’s terms, the mass-warping of spacetime], and the various “atomic” weights and forces are constant throughout the universe. So far as light and gravity are concerned, they certainly have seemed to be uniform in our small section of our galaxy.

Except now… there’s a real question of the uniformity of the mass of the proton, and I have to ask whether that might suggest that on a vast cosmic scale there’s not the standard uniformity that scientists have assumed.

What’s Lost

Language and literature reflect culture. That’s a truism, one that’s accurate, yet there’s an aspect of that truism that’s seldom explored. Everyone focuses on the additions to literature and to the new words and expressions, but almost never is there much examination of what’s gone out of fashion, or effectively been eliminated, in one way or another.

In one novel, I brought up the point that the change in meaning of the word “discriminate” had an untoward aspect to it. Once upon a time, the word “discriminate” was a positive term, meaning to choose wisely among alternatives. Now it means to treat others unfairly because of their race or skin color. What’s overlooked in this shift of meaning is that the English/American language has lost its only single word term meaning “to choose wisely” among alternatives.

That’s not an insignificant change for both the language and culture, because it implies that to rank or choose among alternatives is somehow no longer meaningful, perhaps even bad.

In past posts, I’ve lamented the loss of rhythm and rhyme in modern poetry, and the other day I came across an old recording, on the radio, of a hit song in the 1950s, “The Twelfth of Never.” One of the lines in the song reads, “I’ll love you till the poets run out of rhyme/ Until the Twelfth of Never, and that’s a long, long time…”

The poets have indeed run out of rhyme, but why? What does it mean, and what does that loss signify about our culture?

From what I can determine, modern poetry seems to present images and emotions. Some of those images are indeed striking, and the emotion ranges from stark and raw to delicate and nuanced. And almost none of it remains with the reader once he or she has turned from the page.

Rhyme and metered rhythm are largely what allow the human brain to retain structured human language unaltered. The ancients knew this well, and without the printing press and cheap reproduction of songs or poems, for either song or stories to last and be passed on, meter and rhythm were necessary.

What the change in poetry reflects is the triumph of transitory, contorted, and exaggerated images over the balance of words, meanings, rhyme, and rhythm that once were necessary to ensure that poetry endured. Today, printed paper copies, or electronic copies, ensure that no one needs to memorize poetry for it to last… at least theoretically.

But since the vast, vast majority of modern poetry is not, and cannot be, memorable, those images and emotions might as well be written on sand because there’s very little left in the mind of the reader to draw those readers back to such modern verse.

For the most part, modern verse has become a one-time consumable image, and because those word-images cannot compete in vividness to the electronic screen or to the thundered resonance of current popular song, most of which has an electric sameness to it, poetry has become less and less a vital part of literature and culture. A hundred fifty years ago, the great American poets were almost the equivalent of great pop stars. Most known poets today are popular as much as for their dramatic talents as for their words.

Either way, the words are now quickly forgotten, and the loss of what poetry once was reflects, in another way, our cultural obsession with momentary images.

Honest Politicians?

There’s an old question about how one determines an honest politician, and the answer is that, when bribed, he stays bought.

Even by this shady definition, the current President isn’t an honest politician. Successful politics requires commitments and deal-making, even compromise. As the events surrounding the government shut-down over the weekend revealed, the President is perfectly willing to commit to something, and then change his mind, especially when some part of his “base” objects.

This behavior not only makes deal-making difficult, to say the least, but it reveals, again, that the President’s word can’t ever be trusted. It also reveals that Trump often doesn’t consider what’s acceptable to his base and what’s not. It’s one thing to refuse to agree to something because it’s not in one’s perceived political interest; it’s another to agree to something in order to obtain another desired end and then, after others have made concessions, to change your mind and go back on your word.

This makes the opposition not only angry, but also less likely to make future concessions. It also makes one’s supporters in Congress wary of attempting to find a middle ground, lest they have the President undercut them.

[Updated]As I write this, the House has agreed to, and the President has signed the Senate-authored short-term funding extension with the promise from the Republicans to the Democrats that some limited immigration reform will be taken up in the next three weeks, particularly a fix for DACA, so that the young people brought to the United States as children don’t face deportation threats to countries most have never even known. The Democrats offered a compromise in terms of some funding for Trump’s wall, which Trump first accepted, and then decided against.

If either the President or the Republicans renege on that promise to deal with DACA, the next year is going to be especially bitter in Washington, D.C., and I suspect that bitterness will harm the Republicans far more than the Democrats, but then, it’s an emotional issue, and emotional issues are almost never decided by ‘reason.’

It’s too bad that Congress can’t act on the emotional appeal of nearly a million young people and children who’ve grown up here, most of whom think of themselves as Americans, and who’ve never known any other country, but that emotional appeal, so far, at least, has lost out to the generally right-wing visceral dislike of anyone who wasn’t born here and isn’t descended from “white-bread” stock, despite the fact that every single American citizen, even including Native Americans, is either an immigrant or descended from immigrants, most of whom couldn’t have gotten into the country “legally” under current immigration laws.

But then, it’s pretty clear that the issue for Congress and the President isn’t about fixing the problem, or any problem, but about avoiding blame from those who neither want to recognize the problems nor to accept solutions that deal with the concerns of both sides.

Majority Rule?

There’s been a lot of talk about majority rule, and what it means, including the fact that, although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes, she lost the election in the Electoral College. Or the fact that in a number of states, including Wisconsin, the political party that controls the most seats in the state legislature actually received less votes than the “minority” party.

The other day I came across another set of statistics that provided additional insight on the issue, even though I couldn’t say that I was necessarily surprised. A national poll by the Gallup organization revealed that 61% of Republicans believed that President Trump was leading the Republican Party and the country in the right direction, but that 71% of all voters, including Republicans, believed the opposite, that Trump was taking the country in the wrong direction.

Now, on first glance the figures don’t seem to add up, but they actually do. Currently 25% of all voters identify themselves as Republicans, and 61% believe in Trump’s policy direction. That means that the Republicans supporting Trump only amount to 15% of the voting population. Add to that the fact that only 7% of Democrats believe Trump’s policies are good for the country, and since 27% of all voters identify as Democrats, these Democrats represent about 25% of the electorate. Then add in the 48% of voters who call themselves independents, and 68% of them oppose Trump’s policies.

So… the political party that represents, theoretically, 25% of the population is enacting policies opposed by 71% of the people. While the government is stable and at least marginally functioning, can the United States actually be considered a functioning democracy in the sense that government reflects the wishes of the majority?

Reader Perceptions

One of the dangers of being a writer is that there’s a tendency for some people, thankfully usually a minority, to make all sorts of assumptions about you, based not even on what you write, but on what those readers thought you wrote or how they believe a given character reflects your personal beliefs.

Over the years, I’ve been accused of being everything from a right-wing ultra-conservative to a far leftist. Part of that is because I engage in thought experiments in my writing, raising questions based on what would happen if a government or an individual had a particular political slant, and more than a few times, in different books, the protagonist and those around him take very different philosophical positions. In Adiamante, Ecktor deJanes and the demis believe that they should NEVER take an offensive action first, no matter what the cost, and they act in accord with that belief, even when the cost is horrendous. I addressed another side of that issue with The Parafaith War and The Ethos Effect, where Trystin Desoll initially implements a compromise of sorts… and then comes to the decision that preemptive action, rather than reaction, is the only solution that makes sense. Over the years, in both F&SF, I’ve presented multiple workable and very different governing systems, including matriarchal societies. [I will admit that there is one consistent theme/belief in my work – that political extremism of any sort is a disaster.]

I’ve also had readers accuse me of repeating, verbatim, episodes that, first, I never wrote before and then accuse me of “cutting and pasting.” I don’t mind owning up to the mistakes I made, but it’s a bit difficult to deal with readers who insist on something that simply isn’t so, because they firmly believe that what they remember is what I wrote – even when I didn’t.

Then, there’s also the problem of people making assumptions about your family members, based on what you write. The Soprano Sorceress tells the story of an opera singer and junior professor who finds herself in a medieval-level world where magic is controlled by music. I obviously drew on the expertise of my wife, who is an opera singer and voice and opera professor, but neither of us ever expected what happened to her one day several years ago, when a new voice student introduced herself to my wife and immediately announced, “I’ve read The Soprano Sorceress, and I know all about you.”

Yes, there is some of me in everything I write, as there is with every writer, but when you’re as old as I am and you’ve been with as many people in as many settings, it’s better for everyone that readers not to make too many assumptions.

Due Process

A few days ago, Nevada District Court Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed all charges against rancher Cliven Bundy “with prejudice,” meaning that Bundy and the two other defendants cannot be tried again on those charges, because she stated that prosecutorial misconduct made a fair trial impossible.

Bundy was accused of leading an armed rebellion against federal agents to block a roundup of his cattle from public lands. Bundy has now grazed his cattle on federal lands for almost twenty years without paying federal grazing fees, which was the reason BLM agents attempted to round up his cattle in lieu of payment, but were stopped when scores of armed men appeared, outnumbering the BLM agents.

Navarro cited “flagrant prosecutorial misconduct,” calling the prosecutor’s actions “outrageous” in withholding evidence, which resulted in violating “due process rights” of the defendants. All of that is certainly understandable, and we should all be afforded a fair trial.

But what I don’t get is how a man can fail to pay for something for twenty years, then use armed force to run off federal agents, and get away with it. Why was the BLM so lax in dealing with Bundy? Why didn’t they file a lien on his property or the equivalent?

Obviously, since I only have a background in environmental regulatory law, and not criminal justice, I’m clearly missing something. Why isn’t the judge filing or asking for charges of prosecutorial misconduct to be filed? And what about the twenty years of unpaid grazing fees?

Bundy isn’t a western federal lands’ rights hero. He’s a thief, pure and simple, who got armed thugs to bail him out, and then used federal legal incompetence to escape.

There are two sets of criminals here: Bundy and the criminal incompetence of the BLM and the prosecutors, and it appears that both sets are getting off free… and taxpayers will foot the bills.

Dogs, Cats, Other Animals, and People

Years ago, an author whose name I can’t recall wrote a story about a man who saw the essence of people as the animals they most resembled, only to discover than his fiancée resembled a very predatory feline… and he, figuratively, had feathers. Along the same line, one of my daughters has observed that while dogs are generally loyal, cats are opportunists. Having both cats and dogs, I’d agree with her observation… and to some degree to the idea put forth in the story whose title and author I cannot remember.

Others, obviously, must share those thoughts, or why would a general’s nickname be “mad dog” and why are some women termed “catty” and some men “mongrels” or “birdbrains” or “cold fish”? In fact, I found several internet sites that list scores of animal names purported to be those applied to acquaintances of the lister, which ranged from the relatively understandable, i.e., mule, jackrabbit, honey bee, bull, and squirrel, to some that, shall we say, were a little more exotic – snake, whistlepig, shadface… and a few unsuitable for print, at least in my view.

Of course, given that we share a certain amount of DNA with all mammals and lesser amount with virtually all living creatures, it’s not totally improbable that there are some vague resemblances… or that we think there are. Or that we’d like to impute unfavorable ones to certain individuals. I know one individual who is referred to as “Sir Hiss” – not favorably – by certain of his relations because his slinky superficial charm conceals a great amount of disguised venom.

This is a long-standing human tradition. In Troilus and Cressida Shakespeare compared one male character, simultaneously, to the lion, the bear, and the elephant, and in Othello, came up with the description of a supposedly faithless woman’s tears as crocodile tears. In The Comedy of Errors, Dromio is termed a snail and a slug.

Many, many years ago, when I was a teenager [yes, that long ago], there was a rock ‘n roll song that was the number one country single by the Everly Brothers, entitled “Bird Dog,” with the lines, among others, “Hey, bird dog, get away from my quail/ Hey, bird dog, you’re on the wrong trail…”

And, of course, in one of the earliest commentaries on male proclivities, in Homer’s Odyssey, the enchantress Circe turns most of Odysseus’s crew into swine after a banquet, but the wily Odysseus charms her and gets his crew back, but it takes him a year before he can break away from her enchantments and resume his voyage homeward [I wonder if he ever mentioned that to his wife, faithful Penelope].

Oh… as for the science fiction story, the young man found another fiancée, one who was a love bird like him, and they ended up very happy.


Possibly because a high percentage of science fiction and fantasy authors don’t always fit comfortably into “conventional” roles in society, an equally high percentage of F&SF is about outsiders or some sort or people who fit poorly into the society in which they find themselves. Yet how many “outsiders” are there? What percentage of people don’t really fit?

That all depends on the degree of “outsiderness.” Certainly, at least some members of the Society for Creative Anachronism [SCA] feel different enough from U.S. society that they participate in SCA events and pay dues – but the paid membership of the SCA is about 30,000, or less than 1/1000 of one percent, and these are individuals who, for the most part, are anything but total outsiders, most of whom fit without obvious notice into society. A darker kind of outsider is represented by the Ku Klux Klan, whose membership is estimated at between five and ten thousand. But, as members of groups, are these individuals really “outsiders”?

Certainly, historically speaking, while true individual “outsiders” may be striking figures, they seldom threaten societies as a whole and almost never change them. While Jesus and Mohammed were outsiders, what changed societies as a result of their preaching and doctrines was their converts. Once someone has thousands or millions of converts, that individual is no longer an outsider, but a competing cultural force.

Another kind of outsider is the “inside-outsider,” the individual who is apparently part of a culture, but who perceives it, or some part of it, in a very different fashion than almost anyone else. In the 1930s England, one could have cast Winston Churchill in that role. He’d been disgraced by the Gallipoli disaster in WWI, and he had very few supporters within the British government, especially given his unwelcome warnings about Adolf Hitler at a time when no one wanted to listen. In a way, one could also categorize Bill Gates initially as an “inside-outsider.”

Then there are outsiders who create their own groups to challenge the status quo. Certainly, Dorrin in The Magic Engineer is an outsider at the beginning. Even his friends don’t understand or appreciate his obsession with machines and devices. Creslin in The Towers of the Sunset is clearly a total outsider, almost from birth, but he can’t accomplish much of any lasting significance until he can enlist others and build support.

The reason I bring this up is because in life (and as it should be even in F&SF) a true outsider who stays an outside can do little except create mayhem against a limited number of people. To do any more than that requires resources, comrades/accomplices, and supporters… and anyone who’s developed all that isn’t truly an outsider. Harry Potter isn’t the outsider; Voldemort is.

The “New Year”

I have to confess that I’m a bit of a cynic about the “New Year,” as I am when someone hypes something as “the newest and greatest.” Just because the annual calendar starts over doesn’t really change anything. We’re all just a day older than we were twenty-four hours earlier, even if it is officially 2018, instead of 2017. The extra weight I gained from excessive holiday consumption didn’t magically vanish, nor will it, new year or not.

I’m also not happy about another phenomenon that I’ve observed about “new years.” They seem to come faster than they used to. When I was very young, the month of December seemed to last years. Now, it’s come and gone before I know it, and the deadline on my next book appears to be rushing toward me, without my having written all that’s necessary to meet it. Realistically, that’s not quite so, but it’s the way it feels. When you’re young, it seems as though you have time, rushed as you may be. I still feel rushed, but it’s clear I’ll never have enough time to write everything I want to write.

Being a curmudgeon about the “new year,” I also find I have fewer grand expectations about change, especially unbounded change for good. Once upon a time, I thought we might have regular space travel, at least to the moon, in my lifetime, and supersonic commercial air travel. The first is looking more and more unlikely, even if I live another thirty years, and the second may be possible, but only for the very rich, simply because of the “dismal science” of economics, and the requirement that greater expenditure of resources is necessary to move a given amount of mass at higher and higher speeds, but all the rosy expectations of my youth in these areas ran afoul of the results of Einstein’s now-effectively-proven [or so far not disproven] theories.

For similar reasons, some things won’t happen in 2018. There won’t be a huge increase in clean vehicles or in non-polluting power plants. Nor will there be any significant increase in coal-mining jobs or U.S. steel plants. That’s not because of politics or sinister acts by one side or the other, but because great changes in existing systems and industries require advance planning and extensive economic support… neither of which is forthcoming.

Some good things will happen in 2018, but they likely won’t be anything I, or almost anyone else, will be able to predict, because anything good requires change, and change upsets those whose position is dependent on the status quo. So visible change for good, such as a better and more workable health care system or further significant reining in of the patriarchal power structure, will have to come from unforeseen developments below the radar of the establishment. The good aspect of this is that American society is varied enough that some changes for good will occur. The bad aspect is that there won’t be as many as there could be.

But then my cynicism may just be the result of years of collision of my fundamental optimism with reality.

More Thoughts on Poetry

From both the comments on the blog and essays and comments elsewhere, it strikes me that, first, at least a few well-read individuals share my concerns about “modern” poetry and “second, that a great many current poetry editors and poets have made a value judgment that’s not necessarily supported by either history or logic. That judgment, stated in various ways, is that rhyme and metrical language are artificial and antagonistic to natural speech and therefore any obvious meter or rhyme is, in effect, “bad” or “less” because it is unnatural.

Yet all speech that that differs from that of the speaker can be called unnatural.

Moreover, the fantastic and bizarre images, or the convoluted word pictures and contrasts that inhabit a high percentage of the free verse that sprawls or creeps across the pages of literary and poetry magazines is anything but natural or unforced.

So structuring rhyme and meter is unnatural… or forced… but twisting words and metaphors is not?

And… what ever happened to one of the bases of poetry, the rhythmic and metrical dimension?

What I’m seeing and hearing is that it has been abandoned because it’s often badly done. Perhaps that’s because too many would-be poets don’t have the skill and/or vocabulary to write poetry with a rhythmic and metrical dimension… or because too many readers can’t or won’t take the time to really “read” a poem. Or even because metrically structured language somehow puts people off.

But whatever the reason for this change, I object to the idea that a word picture or metaphorical construct or any other structure of words without a rhythmic and metrical dimension can be termed poetry. As I wrote before, true poetry is expressed in patterned, rhythmic language, even when it is not strictly rhymed.

Anything else is just word-play with images, elaborate or sparse as it may be, even if it appears in The New Yorker, Poetry, or The Atlantic Monthly.


According to the doubtless outdated Sixth Edition of A Handbook to Literature, “poetry” is defined as “a term applied to the many forms in which human beings have given rhythmic expression to their most intense perceptions of the world…. The first characteristic of poetry, from the viewpoint of form, is rhythm…marked by a regularity far surpassing that of prose.” The discussion of poetry goes on to note that poetry is marked by “variety in uniformity, a shifting of rhythms that, nevertheless, return to the basic pattern.”

In short, poetry is patterned, rhythmic language, even when it is not strictly rhymed.

Last year, I read and clipped every poem from The New Yorker, except from one issue that vanished while we were on vacation. Exactly one from the ninety seven poems had a discernable rhyme scheme. A handful had internal rhyme schemes. Most had minimal alliteration, and most were essentially free verse, with largely iambic rhythms and irregular line breaks, presumably for either punctuation or emphasis.

The entire point of every one of them was to convey some sort of image and/or philosophical point. To my personal way of thinking, not a single one was memorable, and none of them stuck in my thoughts or mind.

I’ve also read the poetry in The Atlantic Monthly and in various literary magazines and current anthologies… and the vast majority of what is widely published today appears to fall into the “intense image” or “incident in life creating meaning” model, with very little, if any rhythmic support or rhyme.

Like so much in current life, poetry has become “of the moment,” to be read, momentarily enjoyed or considered, and then discarded.

And one of the reasons why it will be discarded is that those “vivid images” need rhythmic aids and/or rhyme for people to remember them. That’s one reason why rhymed song lyrics are far easier to remember… and why almost all the “modern” poets will vanish as if they’d never been.


We finally got the first snow of the year here in Cedar City. Only once since the town was founded more than 160 years ago has the first snowfall been later [January 8, 1977, in case anyone really wants to know]. This first snowfall wasn’t a dusting, but a respectable 8-10 inches at our house, which usually gets a few inches more than the town because we’re on a hill overlooking the main part of town.

But what amazed me most about this snowfall was the news coverage. On the front page of the local paper [one that has won numerous journalistic awards, I might add] on Wednesday,the morning before the snowfall, was a story predicting that the snow would arrive on Wednesday night, drop six to eight inches, and trail off by mid-day on Thursday. That’s very close to what happened.

HOWEVER, the local detailed forecast in the back section predicted snow flurries and no accumulation, and to top it off, the Thursday paper predicted no snow, except flurries late on Thursday. And we got another two inches of snow Thursday morning, and by mid-afternoon on Thursday, the sky was clear and cold, with no afternoon flurries.

I bring this up because it illustrates to my mind the growing tendency of younger people to compartmentalize their thoughts. No one at the newspaper, which has a comparatively young staff, even thought to compare their lead story to their forecast.

This is not exactly a new problem. I’ve noted for the past year, if not longer, that the forecast for Cedar City that appears in the Salt Lake Tribune, a newspaper published 250 miles away, is consistently far more accurate than the forecast in the Spectrum, which is published 50 miles away and which has a local bureau here.

So… what gives? It could be that the Spectrum subscribes to a cheaper canned forecast service. It could be that the staff doesn’t even read the forecast and considers it just another necessary canned feature that the newspaper has to have.

But to me, it shows that the editors aren’t really reading their entire newspaper… and that those numerous journalistic awards are suspect. Either that… or I really don’t want to read the papers that don’t get awards.

Anyway… it looks like, barring an unforecast heat spell, that we will get a white Christmas, after a long dry, cool, and brown autumn.


Several weeks ago, my wife ordered a replacement chair. She received an order confirmation, but days went by… without any chair or any more information. She called the company, and was referred to another number, where she was told they had no information, and that the order number was incorrect. She persisted, and after more than a half-hour the company finally located the chair and provided shipping and arrival information, but the only words remotely related to responsibility were, “The order number was incorrectly entered.”

There was nothing said about someone making a mistake.

And last year, The Atlantic actually ran an article on the phrase “mistakes were made.” Some of those using that phrase included Richard Nixon’s press secretary Ron Ziegler, on the lies he had told the Washington Post [1973]; Vice President George H.W. Bush on the Iran-Contra scandal and the administration’s lying about it [1986]; Ronald Reagan, on the same topic in his State of the Union address [1987]; Bill Clinton on administration officials discussing banking policy in front of fund-raisers [1997]; Henry Kissinger, on human-rights complaints about U.S. intelligence activities in South America [2002]; New Jersey governor Chris Christie on the GW Bridge scandal in his State of the State address[2014], and, incidentally, Albert Speer at the Nuremberg trials [1946].

What bothers me about such phrases is that, all too often, they’re an attempt to avoid personal responsibility or to blame someone else, either for doing something wrong, or for not fulfilling the speaker or commenter’s personal desires, all under the guise of seemingly impersonal objectivity.

And, as the examples above demonstrate, the desire to avoid admitting blame publicly certainly isn’t a recent phenomenon.

Thoughts on Action in Fiction

Action in science fiction and fantasy is often overvalued, whereas, in mainstream fiction, from what I’ve seen, it tends to be undervalued. Part of this difference, I suspect, lies in expectations. Historically, science fiction and fantasy were expected to be exciting, and most readers tend to view action as exciting, while “mainstream fiction” is supposed to be “thoughtful.”

What this view tends to overlook is the fact that action, in real life, is always either the result of an earlier decision or a reaction to some other event or action. In short, somewhere along the line, someone’s “thought” was behind all that action.

Wars don’t start when one kingdom sends knights or troops across the border of another kingdom. They begin well before that for any number of reasons, when a prince is killed by a terrorist, or when a group of dissident aristocrats protest taxes imposed by a distant ruler, or when the head of state of one country decides to take back territory taken in a previous war, which had begun because that territory had been taken away even earlier. Or perhaps the war began when the ruler of a land decided to repudiate the authority of a high priest. Or when the ruler of one land seizes the ships of another land and demands tribute. From the decisions made in studies, throne rooms, military headquarters, or mercantile banks come actions that spur conflicts of interest, and those conflicts lead to wars or military actions and adventures of various sorts.

All too often in action-oriented books, there’s little or no mention of what led to the fighting, except for a brief mention or rationale, with most of the emphasis on what those involved must do in the situations in which they find themselves, and in a way, that makes matters so much simpler. Whatever the protagonist does is for his or her survival. The tacit assumption in most books, except those where the protagonist is an anti-hero, is that the main character’s goals are worthwhile, even in those instances where he or she may not be, although, sometimes, the story is about how the noble protagonist must stoop to despicable means in order to survive or to accomplish great and worthwhile goals [and, yes, I’ve written a few books with that plotline, but I’d like to think that there was a great deal more about why he or she happened to be in that position].

All that leads to the question: Does it matter what led to the fighting or the action?

Obviously, I think it does, as well as the question of how that thought or decision led to what follows. Almost always, military and “action” figures in real life reflect some aspect of their society… and the way that society, or that part of it, thinks. That means that a character that is true to life is going to give some thought to why he or she acts in the way they do, and they may feel conflicts with their mission or their orders… or with the laws under which they live. Or they may agree totally and yet find their orders in conflict with what they believe they stand for.

In most F&SF, this conflict and others are usually resolved in terms of action, although, personally, I try never to have all conflicts fully resolved, even when the ending theoretically ties up most of the loose ends. In mainstream fiction, it’s often never resolved, even when action does occur, but then F&SF has “traditionally” been more optimistic, an optimism that’s often come under attack by the “darker” side of the field as being unrealistic, but doesn’t that make “dark” F&SF more like mainstream fiction with magic or high tech?