Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Presumed Innocent?

Now that Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed and sworn in as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Republican PR machine has been generating wave after wave of propaganda about the Democratic “smear campaign” of Kavanaugh. There has been much said about the fact that he should have been presumed innocent until all reasonable doubt was removed.

All of this is designed to rev up the right-wing base to counter the feminist wave that opposed the GOP tactics of ramming through the Kavanaugh nomination.

There are more than a few problems about the GOP proclamations about Kavanaugh’s “innocence.” First, there was more than a little evidence about his lies under oath, from the stolen Miranda strategy memos to his denial of his heavy drinking. Neither the Senate Judiciary Committee nor the FBI fully investigated any of it. So, of course, the Republicans are claiming innocence. Avoidance of investigation is hardly proof of innocence.

Then there’s also the point that Kavanaugh wasn’t on trial for a crime. He was being considered for a promotion, and the issues brought up were certainly worth considering before promoting him to the Supreme Court… but the Republicans didn’t want them considered, and the FBI wouldn’t even listen to dozens of people who wanted to testify.

Second, and more important, there’s another aspect to the issue of reasonable doubt, or the shadow of a doubt. Don’t we, the American people, deserve the best justice possible, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Not a justice whose past the GOP managed to keep from being fully investigated. Not one who conveniently remembers what he wants and has no recollection of anything unpleasant, whether it was a sexual assault or black-out drinking. Not one whose mindset is based on expediency and self-interest, rather than on a solid judicial footing.

The Federalist Society had a long list of highly qualified very conservative candidates who all met any possible far right criteria, and contrary to GOP propaganda, it’s not unprecedented for the Senate to reject less qualified nominees. It’s happened more than a few times in the last fifty years. So why were the GOP and President so intent on ramming Kavanaugh through?

Might it just have been his expressed philosophy that a sitting president can’t be charged with crimes? Might it just be that his opinion on that trumped everything else, including the right of the people to have a justice who is above suspicion, rather than one whose backers thwarted any in-depth investigation?

Just keep that in mind as the GOP PR crew touts Kavanaugh’s “innocence.”

Gender-Based Pay Discrimination

The evidence of gender-based economic discrimination is clear and obvious to anyone who wants to look. Study after study has shown that women get paid less than men, and those studies also show that it’s true for occupations where they do the same jobs. There are far fewer women CEOs, and on average they make considerably less than do male CEOs. In addition, in any occupation, once women comprise more than fifty percent of the workforce, the annual percentage increase in compensation for that entire workforce decreases.

While women represent over half (51.5%) of assistant professors at U.S. colleges and universities and are near parity (44.9%) among associate professors, they accounted for less than a third (32.4%) of full professors in 2015. In addition, according to 2017 Department of Education statistics, the salary gap between male and female full professors at U.S. colleges and universities has actually increased over the past decade, so that the average male full professor now makes $18,000 a year more than the average female full professor.

A 2017 study of medical school faculties showed that while nearly fifty percent of all assistant professors were women, only 22% were full professors. The Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics reported in 2017, that even after accounting for factors such as postdoctoral experience and age, women physicists were paid significantly less than male physicists.

Several series of studies have shown that when identical resumes – except for the gender of the name – for various jobs were submitted to U.S. companies, the resumes with the male names received far more callbacks. Another example of this is illustrated by a 2018 study from Ohio State University, which submitted 2,106 dummy job applications to over a thousand entry level positions around the country. The highest achieving men averaged callbacks 16% of the time, but the women with equal or higher grades were called back just 9% of the time, while the men with the lowest grades had a callback rate of about 11.7%. A follow-up survey also discovered that employers were worried that women with high academic averages were “less likeable” than men or than women with lower average grades.

There are scores of such studies, and while the amount of pay discrimination varies according to the studies, they all show such discrimination. Interestingly enough, most of these studies seem to show that pay discrimination in professional jobs is lowest at the entry level and increases incrementally at each higher level of responsibility. Likewise, it appears that the glass ceiling is alive and largely intact, whether in academia, medicine, business, or politics.

While one might argue, and studies support this point, that fewer women wish to sacrifice personal and family life for the stress, politics, infighting, and pressures of CEO-level or top political, professional, or academic positions, the fact is that a significant percentage of women do sacrifice personal and family life – and, in almost all cases, they’re paid a lot less than the good old boys. By any standard, that’s also discrimination.

And Republicans wonder why millions of professional women aren’t happy when the GOP pushes through judicial nominees who appear biased against women and minorities? Or, more likely, the GOP doesn’t even care.

Is Lying Really That Bad?

The Kavanaugh Affair is incredibly symptomatic of the United States today, and I don’t mean in the matter of polarization along political lines, true as that may be.

Kavanaugh, as I noted earlier, is on record as denying under oath that he received hacked emails when he was working for President George W. Bush. When actual proof surfaced during his confirmation hearings, his defense was that everyone was doing it. This was anything but honest. Yet what everyone focused on in the end was his assault on Dr. Ford when they were both teenagers. The lying was always secondary in the public arena, yet very few seemed to connect the lies about using stolen emails with Kavanaugh’s denial of assaulting Dr. Ford. There were a number of other statements in Kavanaugh’s testimony that, if not lies, were problematical, such as the business of his father reading from his calendars [given at the time Kavanaugh recalls, his father had only been keeping a calendar for a year].

There’s a great American myth about George Washington saying that he couldn’t tell a lie and that he was the one who chopped down the cherry tree. And then there’s “honest Abe,” another great president. Americans have always prided themselves on being honest and direct, not sneaky like other nations.

Maybe we were at some point, but not certainly as much as we like to recall, and certainly not now. The fact is that the American public didn’t care all that much about the fact that Kavanaugh had repeatedly lied and misstated events, and then took umbrage at the fact that someone had charged him with, at the very least, highly improper behavior. Most people didn’t care that his self-justifying behavior reflected an attitude and a temperament at odds with a judicial mindset. It’s almost as though most of his opponents were incensed by his attitude toward women, and most of his supporters could have cared less about his character in any way, only about his political views.

Instead, the conflict was all about whether an “honest” man had been unjustly accused or whether a man who assaulted women deserved a seat on the nation’s highest court. Yet almost no one was assessing Kavanaugh’s honesty in terms of matters already on the record.

We give honesty great lip service, but when it comes to business and government, it’s just that, and little more. We’ll elect a president whose business dealings are shady at best, the only one ever not to make his tax returns public, and rather than seeking factual confirmation of his statements and assertions, we’ve allowed truth to be “personal,” rather than something to be determined by assessment against objective and verifiable facts. In fact, we’re to the point where some assert, in effect, that nothing is objectively verifiable… and thus, all the evidence, and it’s there for anyone who really wants to look, of Kavanaugh’s less than honest and sterling character means absolutely nothing, because for those who want a certain political objective lying is just another means to their end.

This is scarcely new, but the open and brazen nature of ignoring the obvious brings political expediency to a new low… and one I fear we’ll all regret in the years to come.

Maybe the U.S. Deserves This

It just could be that Brett Kavanaugh is the Supreme Court Justice the American people deserve. He’s lied twice under oath, then declared that yes, he did receive hacked emails, but that it was no big deal because everyone was doing it. Isn’t that just like all the finance industry CEOs who gave us the 2008 crash – they all had to invest in sub-prime mortgages because they were high return, and they had to get high returns because everyone else was doing it? And then, in the end, they all got away with it, because we, through our political system, not only let them get away with it, but paid with our taxes for the bail-out.

Kananaugh’s employed anger and near-hysterics in declaring he didn’t assault a fifteen year old girl, and refutes the fact that he drank too much as a teenager, when one of his acquaintances has declared that he was a belligerent and aggressive drunk… and he’s made no secret of the fact that he certainly likes his beer.

He seems to feel that, regardless of what he did as a teenager, his later accomplishments qualify him to one of the highest appointments in the land – yet he refused an abortion to a pregnant immigrant teenager and told her she had to live with her teenage mistakes. But no one seems to be holding Kavanaugh or the man who impregnated the teenager accountable.

He’s big on prayer, too, apparently, but the idea of praying for Dr. Ford was nothing but a condescending gesture designed to minimize her. In addition, I’ve noted that an extraordinarily high percentage of people who publicly tout prayer tend to be hypocritical and self-serving, while those who truly believe tend to pray quietly and with less public fanfare, and they do their good works without ostentation. But far too many Americans swallow the words of good entertainers, rather than look at acts, facts, and character over time.

I can certainly understand why the good old boys back Kavanaugh. He’s just more of the same, and that’s the way they’ve always liked it. But it befuddles me why so many women support the politicians who back Kavanaugh.

But until people decide that ethics are more important than politics, that lying, hypocrisy, and minimizing women aren’t desirable characteristics for a Supreme Court Justice, and stop voting their political tribe over facts and ethics, appointments such as Kavanaugh’s are what we’ll get… and what Americans as a whole unfortunately will deserve.


Lately, I’ve run across more and more writers, singers, and other artists who have set up sites on Patreon to solicit financial support for their writing. There are even some non-profit publications and foundations asking for contributions through Patreon.

At least some of those writers and singers have set up such sites because changes in the publishing and music industries have reduced their sales, and thus their ability to support themselves off their royalties. As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, I’ve personally known some authors who used to be able to support themselves by full-time writing who can no longer do so. And many other authors, me included, now offer websites with blogs and/or information, in hopes of generating greater interest in and support for their work.

What many people who haven’t studied the history of writers, singers, and composers may not realize is that over most of history, very few of such artists could actually make a living from their art itself. The great composers, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and others, relied on the support of patrons, such as the Emperor Joseph, the Esterhazy family, the Catholic Church, or others. The only writers who could support themselves were playwrights, such as Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, who not only wrote the plays but performed them, and used the performance revenues to support themselves and keep writing – and many of them still needed some patronage, often royal.

Writers were in even worse shape. Not until the nineteenth century could any significant number of writers, other than traveling bards, support themselves by their writing.

So, the democratization of patronage, through internet entities such as Patreon, is really just a new iteration of a long-standing practice.

While it’s obvious why writers and other artists would turn to Patreon, either to start a career or to help finance one, Patreon, despite its more “democratic” approach to patronage than the traditional model, contains the same basic flaw as the patronage of Mozart’s time. What’s paramount is success in the ability to raise funds. Yes, a certain amount of talent is required, because over time people won’t support artists who aren’t very good, but it’s the mixture of fund-raising and artistry that determines success under any patronage system, not the excellence of the artistry.

Now, I’d be the first to admit that popularity is also a factor in traditional publishing. Years ago, the Christian Science Monitor used to publish a listing of the best-selling fiction books, and in that listing was a column with either a red arrow that pointed down or a green arrow that pointed up. That arrow represented the consensus of major published reviews. And guess what? Generally, but not always, the best-selling books featured red arrows. I’ve always had problems with reviews that attempt to direct popular tastes, and with reviews that are more agenda-driven than an effort to offer a fair assessment of a book, but the plain fact is that popular books are those that more people relate to… and many technically excellent books aren’t exactly popular.

That said, sales numbers at least reflect what the readers believe about the writer’s work. Patronage funding reflects internet sales effectiveness as much as the work produced.

And, under traditional patronage, the works of excellent composers who were often difficult as individuals, such as Mozart and Beethoven, were far less rewarded than the works of composers no one remembers and whose works are seldom performed. One of the dangers of any patronage system is that it tends to reward talents other than excellence in artistic achievement. And from what I’ve seen so far, Patreon is coming to resemble traditional patronage systems, if not totally, because it has enabled some outstanding writers to break in. And that aspect is good.

But it’s still a patronage system with many of the faults of such.

Another Aspect

There’s another aspect of the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh that the Senate Judiciary Committee isn’t even considering, and that’s the “prep school” culture that produced Kavanaugh, a culture that included in Kavanaugh’s time, and certainly in earlier years, overconsumption of alcohol and an concerted effort on the part of the preppies to get young women drunk in order to take advantage of them. The “antics” portrayed in the movie Animal House weren’t unknown on all too many Ivy League campuses [except for turning Cadillacs into monster cars, which didn’t happen, at least so far as I know].

Young women were regarded largely as prey by a good many preppies, no matter what Kavanaugh and other preppy-produced, but now “upstanding citizens”, may claim, and far too many fruit “punches” were heavily spiked in hopes of taking advantage of unwary young women. And many did end up highly intoxicated and at the mercy of unscrupulous young men, who were disproportionately products of prep schools.

Part of that prep school behavior may well have been also influenced by the belief on the part of graduates of exclusive prep schools that they were “superior” in education and background and that young women were supposed to defer to them.

That sort of behavior was one of the reasons why my alma matter actually abolished fraternities while I was an undergraduate, although that was only one of several rationales cited by the committee that made the recommendation to the College.

But for the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Republican Senate leadership to pretend that Kavanaugh’s behavior either didn’t exist or that it was an isolated instance is a denial of wide-spread male misbehavior at that time, behavior that still persists too widely on the undergraduate and even graduate student level. The Republican denials and avoidance of the issues that the accusations against Kavanaugh have again raised just illustrate how sexist the Republican Party leadership continues to be.

And, of course, it’s now been revealed that Kavanaugh, as a judge, admonished a pregnant teenager that she could not have an abortion and that she had to live with the consequences of her actions. So…why doesn’t Kavanaugh have to live with the consequences of his unwise actions as a teenager?

Or does his superior education and background mean that there are different rules for him and the rest of the male prep school products?

Lying Statistics and Hypocrisy

President Trump claims that his administration has turned things around, that the stock market is booming, unemployment is nearing at an all-time low, and that real estate values have recovered and are soaring in many metropolitan areas.

According to “standard” statistics, most of those claims are true. But, as always, there’s a bit more to the story.

One of the reasons Trump got elected is that the “forgotten” white middle class voted for him overwhelmingly. They did so for a very good reason. Since 2009, while the stock market and the earnings of the richest one percent of Americans have soared, the real incomes of middle class white Americans, adjusted for inflation, have actually declined 16% [at least according to the business section of The New York Times, while the earnings of middle class blacks dropped nearly 40%.

And, frankly, that understates the real loss of income, because modifications to the various measures of inflation, including the various iterations of the Consumer Price Index, understate the rate of inflation. That means that various forms of income linked to the CPI, such as Social Security, Medicaid, some private sector wages, etc., don’t keep up with inflation. Likewise, the measures of unemployment understate those who aren’t working because they don’t include the millions who quit looking.

Now that interest rates are beginning to increase, the costs of anything that’s financed are also climbing, such as housing and student loans. As for those soaring real estate values… in the areas where they’re soaring, they’re putting affordable housing for the middle class more and more out of reach, and in the areas where they’re still stagnant, people can’t sell houses, except at a loss, even if they want to move to where the jobs are.

What I find hypocritical about the situation is that Trump claims that he’s turned things around when the greatest beneficiaries of the “turnaround” aren’t the people who made the difference in the election, but the richest one percent. What’s even more ironic is that the Wall Street financiers who created the Great Recession of 2008 are among those beneficiaries, and interestingly enough, not a single one of them ever was indicted on securities fraud, while over eight million Americans lost their homes.

Now, Americans are free to vote for whomever they please, but it does strike me as odd that that they continue to support a president who’s fobbed them off with, on average for that income group, a few hundred dollars in tax cuts while he’s delivered million dollar tax reductions to billionaires and who have created virtually no new jobs for all of those semi-skilled white workers who voted for Trump. And what about all the farmers, who are losing money because of the retaliatory tariffs China placed on U.S. agricultural products?

But then again, as I’ve noted more than a few times, why would those people allow facts like that to get in the way of what they believe?

Shorter Isn’t Always Better

The other day I was going over some editorial corrections/suggestions sent by my editor, who was concerned that I was using too many long sentences with too many subordinate clauses. As I’ve always said, when an editor has concerns, a writer needs to listen, although sometimes what concerns the editor is only a symptom, not necessarily the cause. But I liked some of those sentences.

Still, I broke them up into smaller sizes… and then I realized something. Longer sentences, properly written, convey more information in fewer words than a series of short and direct sentences.

I recall that one of the ancient Roman writers apologized in a letter for its length because he hadn’t the time to make it shorter. Most people who cite this or similar observations miss the point. Making it shorter doesn’t mean breaking things up into little pieces, but rather making the sentences precise and as concise as possible in order to convey the information or feelings without unnecessary wordage.

Some people have difficulty reading long sentences, for various reasons. That, I understand. But… the danger in writing short sentences is that the paragraphs become jerky, and in a novel that can be even more distracting than long sentences. So, reluctantly, I aim for the middle, despite the fact that I believe longer sentences are not only more efficient, but also more elegant.

Are there times for shorter sentences? Absolutely, particularly if you’re writing a first grade primer, or a manual for employees or others with short attention spans and/or less than exemplary vocabularies. They’re also best for political slogans to stir up prejudices. And they’re often necessary for superiors who refuse to spend more than thirty seconds considering anything. Necessary, but not better, especially since condensation of complex issues often results in short-term actions that lead to longer-term disaster.

And, of course, short sentences are vital for misleading tweets… and demagogues who rely on simplistics to gloss over what they don’t understand or don’t want others to understand.

All of which is why I’m often skeptical of anyone, including editors, who insists that shorter is always better.

Bribing a Senator?

Apparently, some group vehemently opposed to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has raised over a million dollars in campaign contributions to go to a future opponent of Maine Senator Susan Collins if she fails to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. That wasn’t exactly the smartest idea, either legally or politically. [corrected version of earlier post]

First, it’s a form of bribery, and that’s illegal, and since Collins is a straight-arrow from Maine, she said it was just that and reported it to federal authorities, who are now investigating the matter, and it’s very likely that those who came up with the idea will face heavy fines, if not much worse.

Second, doing something like that is more likely to make a senator do the opposite, just to prove he or she can’t be bought.

Third, a million dollars is a handful of chicken feed in terms of political contributions.

That’s not to say that forms of bribery don’t exist. They do, but they’re all so indirect that it’s virtually impossible to prove. The simplest and most legal way to influence a senator is to create an “independent” political action committee that supports your political point of view. You can then contribute far more money than to any senator or representative and so long as your ads and activities champion or oppose ideas or laws, you’re generally in the clear. You can, as I understand it, even ask why a senator supports or opposes a given idea, piece of legislation, or law.

Variations on this theme have been pursued most vigorously by – surprise – conservative Republicans over the past two decades. They’ve poured hundreds of millions of dollars into organizations that champion their ideas and oppose those who don’t hold the same ideas, and the Citizens United decision essentially affirmed the legality of the idea.

From what I can surmise, one of the reasons why Democrats haven’t been as successful is that they’ve never been able to agree on a unified agenda that has wide popular and financial support, but until they do, over time, the Republicans are likely to be dictating the agenda, based on their ideas. And even out and out bribery, even if it were legal, wouldn’t help.

A Lying Supreme Court Justice?

In the early 2000s, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was working to get then-President George W. Bush’s judicial nominations through Senate confirmation hearings. At that time Republican Senate aide Manuel Miranda hacked into files of the Democratic staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and obtained confidential memos, letters, and talking points. Those materials were routed to Kavanaugh. While receiving such materials was not an offense, lying about them under oath is an impeachable offense.

As part of his 2004 and 2006 confirmation hearings for his position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh was asked under oath whether he’d received such materials. On both occasions, in replies to Senator Orrin Hatch in 2004 and to Senator Ted Kennedy in 2006, Kavanaugh denied receiving the documents or ever having seen them.

Yet this past week, a series of emails revealed that Kavanaugh had in fact received such stolen documents. When Senator Leahy questioned Kavanaugh during the hearings this past week, Kavanaugh’s reply was that it was typical for him to be told what Democrats planned to ask at hearings involving controversial nominees, and that this was in fact the “coin of the realm.”

As a former Republican staffer, I can certainly attest to the fact that hacking into the files of Democrats was not an accepted practice, and if I’d even mentioned anything like that, my boss would have had me on the street in minutes. The staffer who wrote some of those stolen memos and talking points has also publicly said essentially the same thing.

Yet it appears as though the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are not only moving to confirm Kavanaugh, but have no interest at all in disciplining a man who’s lied at least twice under oath. In addition, the fact that he’s lied under oath suggests that anything he’s said during his hearings should be taken with a barrel of salt.

Unhappily, we’ve elected people who’ve consistently lied, but isn’t elevating someone like that to the Supreme Court a bit much… even for the Trump Administration? Or the Republicans in the Senate? But maybe they really like Kavanaugh’s previously stated position that a sitting President can’t be indicted for crimes. I can’t say it surprises me, but couldn’t they at least have found an honest conservative nominee?

Masculine, Macho, or Misogynist?

Late last month, Trump supporters were again chanting “Lock her up!” at a political rally, even though Hillary isn’t on the ballot anywhere. Republican campaign ads target House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In Utah, the lone black woman Republican Congresswoman, as an incumbent, is fighting a tooth and nail battle against her Democratic challenger in a district that usually gives Republicans 65-70% of the vote. Might it just be because she’s black and a woman? Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have nearly identical political stands, but Bernie polls twenty points higher than Elizabeth.

Just what is it about Americans that prejudices them against women, whether in politics, the professions, or business?

Oh… the vast majority of people claim they’re not anti-women, but when it counts, as in salaries, votes, and getting jobs, the numbers say that a significant majority of Americans prefer men in the executive suite, in the professions, and in politics. Even when men and women hold the same job with the same experience levels, the majority of women get paid less.

On average, women still only make about 70% of what men make, and in some states it’s worse. Where I live, in Utah, although the percentage of married women who work is higher than the national average, women have lower average wages than women in any other state, and what’s more, last year their wages dropped an average of $1,000 from the previous year.

Studies have also shown that when companies receive identical resumes, except for the name, the resume with the woman’s name always gets less consideration.

And when women become the majority of individuals in a field, all of a sudden, the pay raises for everyone in that field slow down.

Now, one of the so-called rebuttals to these numbers is the claim that we’re better at not putting women down, that our medical schools don’t actually lower the test scores of women the way all the Japanese med schools were discovered to do, but then several years ago, in a fact since conveniently forgotten, several Ivy league schools were discovered to have been admitting men with lesser qualifications than women who were rejected, in order to have “gender-balanced” classes. I don’t recall anyone doing that for young women years ago when fewer women went to college.

I’ve noticed that there’s also a growing movement to help young men in school because they seem to be having more trouble with their studies. Maybe, if they don’t want to study, they should be the homemakers.

Just face it… too many men don’t like competition from women, and even some women don’t like competition from other women.

But most people still cling to the delusion that they’re not prejudiced against women, no matter what the facts and the votes show.

The Poppy War

R. F. Kuang’s recently released novel – The Poppy War – has received a great deal of publicity and praise. It’s a remarkable book. It’s also an incredibly brutal book set in an analogue to the Song Dynasty that incorporates the issues of the long-standing conflicts of the Sino-Japanese wars, including a fictionalized, but not glossed, rendition of the Rape of Nanking; the legacy of the Opium Wars; the incredibly marginalized status of women; the roles of power and religion in society; the failure, unwillingness, or inability of the elites to govern fairly; and the inability of the people to hold those elites accountable.

While most reviews have centered on the use of a Chinese-centered cultural and political background, and a very-well researched and presented one at that, and the protagonist, who is an orphaned girl from the lowest possible status in the most despised backwater who is driven to succeed at any cost in her efforts to right all manner of past wrongs while justifying her very existence and her right to be heard and respected, what struck me most about the book was how Kuang used the accuracy of Chinese history to present a fantasy story and a tableau that represents current global challenges in a stark and bleak way, that in a strange fashion, is far more dismaying than George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. I say “strange” because, while Kuang doesn’t pull any punches in depicting the total inhumanity of both sides, the ineptitude of those in power, and, also, the unwillingness or inability of the “masses” to rein in their ruling classes, neither does she glorify or exaggerate. It all just is.

Whether she meant it or not, in the ending of the first book, she’s also posited a damning view of deities and religion, and of their believers and followers, but that’s an open question, because the remaining two volumes of the trilogy have yet to be published.

The Poppy War is not a book for the faint of heart, or for young readers, and it’s definitely not a “fun” read. And if American chauvinists read it, they’ll likely either see it as just an improbable Chinese fantasy or something that “can’t happen here.” Unfortunately, as American and world politics have changed, or perhaps reverted to the worst in history, it strongly appears that they’re wrong on both counts.

But, most likely, those who understand history will wince slightly, then nod, and those who don’t will think that these kinds of events only happen in other lands. It’s still a remarkable book.

Lead-Time and Instant Expectations

Quite a number of writers have a successful first book, possibly even a second… and then fade into obscurity. There are several reasons for this. The first is obvious. The fact is that later books often just don’t sell as well, either because they aren’t written as well or because they just don’t hold the readers. From what I’ve observed, publishers will publish books that even editors aren’t that fond of, or decent books where the author is a real pain in the ass – if they sell. They’ll also continue to publish books that get great reviews and that editors like, even if the sales are disappointing, but just not disastrous. But if an author is obnoxious and the books don’t sell that well, usually that author’s career with an established publisher is rather short.

But there’s another reason why some authors fade after a few books. Some authors never truly understand the lead-time problem. These authors, from what I’ve observed, share similar circumstances. They wrote a book, often working on it for some considerable time. Then it sells, and they get the advance, usually in halves [on signature and on publication] or thirds [on signature, on acceptance of the final manuscript, and on publication]. What many fail to recognize is that this may be the only money they get, because, if the sales aren’t good, the royalties won’t exceed the advance, and the advance is just that, a non-returnable advance against royalties.

This means that a writer had better start working on the next book immediately after finishing the first one – or resign himself or herself to staying at the day job forever. Publishers really want the next book in hand or close to being in hand by the time the first book is published, usually about eighteen months after it’s accepted by the publisher. Yes, a few authors do flout that convention and expectation and get away with it – but only because their first book continues to sell, and that only happens, so far as I can see, in less than once in a hundred times.

Part of this inability to recognize this situation, I submit, is that computers and the internet have fostered the idea that everything can be accomplished faster. And that’s true in part for writers. Having a computer file available as the basis for re-writes and revisions makes that part faster, but it doesn’t speed up writing the first draft that much from writing on an electric typewriter. Since I wrote my first books on electric typewriters, and likely remain among the comparative handful of writers still writing who did, I can assure you that that the computer makes revisions and re-writes much faster and easier – but that the computer only speeds slightly that first draft.

So… if you’re fortunate enough to sell that first book, do not pause; do not relax and celebrate for more than a few days before you get back to writing. You don’t want the editors or your few fans [and most beginning writers only have a few fans] to forget about you.

John S. McCain, III

I never knew John McCain personally, although we certainly could have met. We were both Naval aviators, but I got my wings only months before he was shot down over Hanoi, and I later worked as a Congressional staffer, including duties involving the House Armed Services Committee, while he was the Navy liaison to the Senate. But in the Navy he was a jet pilot, and I was a helo driver, and we were stationed in different places, just as our coinciding times in Washington, D.C., involved different spheres and duties.

For all that, John McCain embodied many of the characteristics I’ve done my best to depict in my heroic protagonists. He made mistakes, often large ones, but he learned from them and persevered. Regardless of mistakes, in his Naval career and his personal and political life, he put his beliefs in the kind of country the United States can be and should be at the forefront and continued to persevere in working toward improving it. Sometimes, I had doubts about the approaches he took, but no one should ever have doubted his desire to better the country or his dogged determination against obstacles that would have destroyed a less motivated and determined man.

Among Republicans, I see no political figure even close to filling his shoes, and I have doubts that there ever will be one in the next decade. Ill as he was, even last month, he stood up to Trump while most Republicans either fawned, equivocated, or changed the subject.

Did I always agree with him? No. Was he perfect? Far from it. But I’ll take one John McCain over all the burnished politicians with seemingly few flaws, no real core, and only the ability to get re-elected by essentially standing for nothing, mouthing whatever will get them votes, and ignoring the challenges that face our nation.

New Tech and One-Size-Fits-All

In past blogs, I’ve talked about the problems created by the willy-nilly unaccepting push to adopt new technology and new software simply because it’s “new,” and new must be better. But there’s a situation where “early adoption” is not only counter-productive, but the negative effects can be far-reaching.

Needless to say, as is often the case, I heard about this instance from my wife the music professor. Her institution has decided that, following the example of several private and very well-endowed universities, that the music department should require all incoming music students to purchase customized IPads that can display what used to be called sheet music. The rationale behind this is that students won’t have to carry around reams of music; all of it will be displayed on their IPads.

At a state institution such as the one where my wife teaches, the department budget won’t cover the estimated $800-$1,000 for each of the special IPads, and most of the students are drawn from rural and small town or working class backgrounds with large families, for which such an outlay immediately on entering college will be quite a burden, especially if the student drops the major. This cost, of course, was ignored in the enthusiasm of “new technology” and the thought that the department could be a “pioneer.”

And, yes, this approach could be a boon of sorts to students in orchestras and bands and other large ensembles, all of whom have a comparatively limited number of works performed in a year, and the instrumental ensemble directors were all for it, effectively insisting that one approach fits everyone. Unfortunately, vocal students face a different situation… because every vocal student has a largely different repertoire from every other one, and must learn more new music every semester, especially if they’re classical performers. Music departments, and especially universities with schools of music, may be dealing with at least 30-50 students, and often hundreds of voice students. That requires music for thousands of individual pieces. While the idea of consolidating all that music in electronic format sounds wonderful, the reality of the situation is far different. My wife the professor, who has a wide range of contacts, got in touch with several music publishers, and all of them made, in various ways, the observation that, at present, only about twenty percent of the vocal music they controlled and had as sheet music was available in electronic form, and that it would be between five to ten years before they’d be able to catch up, given the volume of such music. And that’s probably an optimistic projection.

Now… that doesn’t mean that the students couldn’t scan the sheet music and upload it, but… then there’s the problem of copyright, and for the music to be “legal,” the student needs to keep available the hard copy. This is also a problem for those students entered in various competitions, because they have to have produce “original music” for every piece that they sing, and in some competitions, two copies, one for the singer [even though the singer has to sing from memory, because the singer is supposed to have bought the music, rather than copied it and stiffed the composer] and the other for the accompanist.

Since the most accomplished students, those aiming at a career as either a performer or a teacher, need to prove their ability through competitions, and since those organizations sponsoring the competitions have not yet made provisions for certifying “original electronic” copies, the IPad requirement becomes superfluous and expensive at the present time, at least for vocal students.

In addition, because voice students are largely broke, the IPad requirement is going to encourage even more copying of music, and more copying is going to reduce even more the payment living composers receive, while encouraging singers to sing older works no longer in copyright… and thus further reducing income to living composers.

Then, too, there’s the question of what happens when the accompanist’s IPad crashes during a performance or recital. Sheet music doesn’t crash.

I’m not against change, and neither is my wife, but history shows [even though most people don’t learn from it] that early adoption of new technology can be far more expensive, to everyone, than waiting a bit until things sort themselves out.

But then, you can’t claim to be the great pioneer, while putting the costs off on everyone else.

Flight Talk

Over the years, I’ve embarked on more than a few airline flights, the vast majority of them for business of one sort or another, and it’s interesting to consider what’s changed… and how.

The most obvious change, as a result of nine-eleven, is that flying now takes considerably longer than it once did. That’s the result of several factors. First, because fuel economy is a priority, the majority of jet airliners now cruise at speeds slightly slower than they did a generation ago. Second, security procedures add significantly to travel times for the individual traveler. Third, because planes are always full, have less spacious seating, and because most airlines charge extra for checked baggage, it takes longer to board and disembark [unless you’re in first/business class] because there’s never enough space for all the carry-on bags. Fourth, because of the volume of air traffic and the hub-and-spoke airline model, there’s a lower percentage of direct flights, except on high-volume routes, and more connecting flights.

At the same time, in real dollar terms, flying is, overall terms, somewhat less expensive than a generation ago, and the noise level is slightly lower.

I’ve also noted a general improvement in the availability and quality of food establishments at the larger airports, possibly because more people are stuck there longer.

But one of the biggest changes that I’ve noticed involves travelers themselves. Once upon a time, people used to talk to other people on flights. Today, it seems to me that the majority of travelers don their earphones or ear-buds and retreat into one form or another of electronic unreality.

Over the years, I’ve encountered a variety of people in the adjoining seat, or while waiting to board, some in fascinating professions or with intriguing backgrounds, such as the electrician whose specialty was working on powered high-voltage lines and equipment, various dead-heading pilots, the B-budget movie actress, the Iranian-born doctor who came to the U.S. as a child, the Charolais cattle breeder and rancher, and the former judge who ended up in a second career involving the film industry and politics.

And I wouldn’t have heard their stories or learned some interesting facts if I’d been wrapped up in electronics.

Positive or Negative?

As most of readers of my website know, I try very hard not to make negative comments about books that I’ve read. If I don’t like a book, or don’t find it good, or even if I don’t find it as good as the rave reviews given by others… I just don’t mention it. I also have to say that just because I haven’t mentioned a book doesn’t mean it’s not good. It also might mean that I haven’t read it, because my reading time is limited.

That said, I’m getting very tired of reviewers, particularly online reviewers, who feel that they have a “duty” to warn people off of the books that don’t meet their criteria. I don’t have a problem with those reviewers, few as they are, who will say that a particular book is well-written, but not their cup of tea, so to speak, but there’s enough negativism in the world today, and it’s hard enough to find really good books, that it seems like a waste of time to point out books one doesn’t like, especially since a great number of such negative reviews, I’ve noticed, often seem to reflect a particular reviewer’s dislike of a specific author, usually an author that other readers and reviewers like and read.

Now… one could say, and someone will at least likely think it, that I’m being hypocritical because I can be very negative about politicians, but there’s a huge difference between authors and politicians. We all have to live under the laws promulgated by elected officials, or we might have to live under rules they propose. No one has to live under the policies or laws I hypothecate in a novel, and no one has to buy any book I, or any other author, may write.

Also, given the ever-increasing number of books being published, it’s far more helpful — at least it seems that way to me – to see recommendations about what to read as opposed to what not to read. Then again, maybe that’s just my mindset, but when I read a negative review about a book, my initial reaction is to wonder what’s wrong with the reviewer, not the book, possibly because I want to like and enjoy every book I pick up.

Again, maybe I’m greatly mistaken, but it seems to me that most people are more interested in knowing what’s good and enjoyable than what’s not.

Reaping What You Sow

A significant segment of U.S. media is upset, and rightfully so, that President Trump has called members of the media “the enemy of the people.” I’m anything but happy about this turn of events, but I have a question or two for all of these righteous media pundits who are now so outraged that, all of a sudden, they’re the main target for once:

What the hell did you expect after some three plus decades of fomenting conflict through news stories designed to outrage some group or another in order to keep your ratings up?

What did you expect when you turned news stories into profit centers based on entertainment value instead of comparatively moderate and less profitable news outlets?

Now that you’ve successfully polarized the American public and effectively made possible the election of, first, a movie star as president, and now a reality T.V. star, did you ever consider the fact that some of all that anger and rage you’ve stirred up just might come back to bite you?

Do any of you intend to take any responsibility for the results of your years of media bread and circuses, or are you just going to stand there and wring your hands, while continuing to maximize the bottom line?

Or do you intend to blame it all on others, on the popular appetite for sensation, or the need to make a buck to keep your executive bonuses, or on popular boredom with factual and balanced news?

Or will you try to take refuge behind the First Amendment, while ignoring the fact that the skillful presentation of accurate facts in an inaccurate context amounts to distortion and lying?

My grandmother was a teacher, and one of her pupils of whom she was inordinately proud was Walter Cronkite, as were many Americans. Are you pleased with where news has gone since Uncle Walter, Tom Brokaw, and Howard K. Smith?

Or did all of you think you could avoid reaping what you’ve sowed?

“Enemy of the People”

Now that Trump has called at least some members of the media “the enemy of the people,” it’s apparently time for another refresher course in history, especially since far too many Americans have a tendency to ignore history. That tendency, unhappily, is not new either. The great Henry Ford has been quoted as saying, “History is bunk.”

History may not repeat itself exactly. It may not, at times, even rhyme, as Mark Twain put it, but history does offer lessons, and one of those lessons is that any attempt to muzzle the press, or the media, is the mark of an incipient tyrant. Such efforts are not new even in the history of the United States. When John Adams was president, the Alien and Sedition Acts were employed to punish writers and presses that criticized the Adams Administration. One Congressman wrote and published an article decrying the “ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice” of the administration, and was punished by a hefty fine and four months in jail. And he was far from the only one prosecuted for criticizing the government.

In the end, of course, Adams’s use of the acts was one of the factors that led to his defeat in the next election by Thomas Jefferson and the repeal of most of the acts.

Regardless of how aggressive or even scurrilous the media attacks on the President may be, history shows that political leaders who try to curb the media critical of them all too often do so as the first step toward aggrandizing themselves or even as the first step toward using government to destroy the ability of their opponents to speak so that such political leaders can obtain greater and continuing power.

Trump has every right to complain about how the press treats him, whether such treatment is accurate and fair or whether it is not. But under the First Amendment, even the President does not have the right to censor his critics, nor should he be equating criticism against him to being an enemy of the people.

Besides which, there is the very real question of “the enemy of which people?”

Trump is essentially claiming that anyone who doesn’t agree with him is an enemy of the people. Not only is that a highly polarizing view, but those of us who don’t agree with many, if not most, of his policies, are not enemies. We’re citizens as well, and citizenship brings with it the right to criticize.

Let Trump defend his policies on their merits, but not by personal attacks on those who oppose him. That’s just using the power of the presidency to bully others, and it also directs attention away from the policies themselves.

But, that too, is a well-known historical tactic of dictators and demagogues, a tactic forgotten or ignored, because too many people think history doesn’t teach anything… or don’t believe it, which may be why 43% of all Republicans believe that the President should have the authority to shut down “misbehaving” media outlets.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when nearly half of a major political party believes in censorship by the President, to me, that’s frightening.

Science in S.F.

For some time, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that some readers who proclaim their love of science fiction don’t really love science or SF that actually relies on science. What they love are the gadgets, the faster-than-light travel, the blasters or lasers, the AIs that think like people and not like artificial intelligences. And many of these people seem to get upset if science gets more than a passing mention.

Now… I know. I’m the one who has, for years, railed about writers who don’t write about people, or whose characters are cardboard propped up by in-depth and very realistic science that goes on for too many pages. And I’ve called that segment of the genre technoporn.

But there should be a middle ground [yes… I’m once more advocating for middle ground and moderation in a society that is ever more polarized] where science is a real and tangible part of the fiction, but enables or restricts the acts of the characters in the fashion that it does in “real life.”

When I wrote Solar Express, I knew that there would be a segment of readers who didn’t like the fact that the two main characters communicate through what is essentially a future form of email. And some readers did object, not as many as I feared, but I wasn’t restricting my characters artificially, or because I was being old-fashioned, but because even speed of light communications don’t work in real time much beyond the orbit of the moon because of the time delay. The Earth is roughly eight light-minutes from the sun, and that means a 16 minute delay between sending a message and getting a reply. I also limited the technology to what we know is theoretically possible… and potentially affordable.

But I’m seeing a growing number of readers who aren’t interested in the slightest in science, and who object if even a hint of real science lasts more than a sentence.
Some readers will likely say that’s fine if the book is set in a future where the plot doesn’t rely on science, but unless we’re talking post-apocalyptic societies with lower technologies, the science should at least be semi-realistic. And, if the writer is dealing with a plot relying heavily on science and technology, some of that needs to leak out in passing, enough so that the “science” isn’t just another form of “hand-wavium.”

Science has great possibilities for speculative fiction, but real science also has considerable limitations… and high-tech science is incredibly expensive. The Navy attempted to come up with a truly futuristic warship in the U.S.S. Zumwalt, but the advanced guns required ammunition that cost almost a million dollars for each projectile. Just 2,000 rounds would have cost almost $2 billion.

So… death stars are really nifty, but no realistic empire could ever afford to build them, and most of the weapons wouldn’t work, and certainly not the way they’re depicted. All of which just may be why there are fewer and fewer authors who even attempt realistic SF, and why so much of what passes as hard SF is really science fantasy, but which very few readers or writers want to admit.