Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The Big Kill/Big Hit Misconception

I know an investor who’s always looking for that one stock that will make him at least a millionaire. It’s never happened, at least not so far as I’ve been able to tell, and he’s lost plenty seeking out those kinds of stocks. People shake their heads when they hear stories like that, but what they so often fail to realize is that our entire society is infected with that same disease, just in varying forms.

All too many people praise and admire those who “hit it big,” whether it’s a chart-topping song, the most home runs in a baseball season, or what team wins the national collegiate football championship or the Super Bowl.

But one of the problems with the big hit is that very few of them last. In writing, there are literally a handful of what the trade calls “evergreens.” According to Ranker, there are a hundred books that have sold more than ten million copies, and that’s over several centuries, although the majority of those have been sold in the last 150 years. Put in other terms, on average less than one book a year sells that way. And last year in the United States alone, over a million separate book titles were published, although two-thirds of those were either self-published or print-on-demand titles. So, if you want to be successful as an author, the odds favor those who can produce good or excellent books consistently over those who strive for the one “big” book, especially authors who labor for years over a single book. For every J.K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien, there are tens of thousands of authors who make at best a few thousand dollars a year, and usually a lot less.

Who’s a better voice professor – the one who teaches one opera star/Metropolitan Opera winner in his/her career and few others, or the one who turns scores of talented but overlooked students into solid professional teachers and performers but never has a big name performer?

Who’s the better CEO – the one with the headlines who’s gone in five years or the one whom no one has ever heard of who leads a firm successfully for a decade or more?

I know a lobbyist/consultant who’s accomplished quite a great deal for his clients over the past thirty plus years and who managed to get enacted a clause in legislation that radically changed environmental and other regulatory processes in favor of his clients. His name isn’t a household word, unlike scores of other lobbyists and consultants who’ve made the headlines and flamed out or gone to jail, but he’s lived well for a long time on moderate and consistent success.

Now, I’d be the first to admit that there a number of professionals in many fields that have had “big hits,” but they did so on the basis of consistency, not one-shot efforts. Babe Ruth held the major league record for most home runs for years, but he also, even today, has the third most home runs ever, as well as a career batting average of .342 over 22 years. The two who have more home runs than Ruth both played at a high level for 22-23 years as well. The man who took the record from him, Roger Maris, never had another season close to that season and left baseball after 11 years with a .260 batting average.

Yet all too often people think about the “big year” or the big record, rather than the consistency that’s often [but not always] behind it.

The Delegation Myth

There’s a general myth about delegation to the effect that successful people can delegate and those less successful can’t. Like all myths, it has a small grain of truth behind it, but I’ve discovered over the years that the myth serves as a justification for those with resources and power and all too often belittles those with insufficient resources and power.

Once upon a time, I was a legislative director for a Congressman. I worked ten to twelve hour days and took work home on weekends. Why? Because I had a wife and four children and needed that job… and because, at that time, no one else was hiring someone with my skills. I couldn’t delegate the work because everyone else in the office was working nearly as hard… and because Congressional staff budgets are fixed, there was no money to hire anyone else. So we were among the first on the Hill to develop “computerized” correspondence answering systems using electronic typewriters with limited memories [remember, this was 45 years ago]. Getting seemingly personalized responses, however, just encouraged more constituents to write the Congressman. Likewise, other innovations just had a similar result. So, in the end, we all ended up working the same long hours, except we were accomplishing more [and, believe me, all politicians want more].

I could list a range of occupations and professionals in other fields whom I know and who were or are relatively successful, but never made it truly big-time, and frankly, the reason was that they chose not to delegate. Were they wrong? It all depends on viewpoint. Two of them were homebuilding contractors, and they chose not to delegate that much because they weren’t satisfied with what delegation did to the quality of their building. I also knew an attorney who kept his firm small for the same reasons.

In some fields, delegation is a chancy proposition, especially with non-profit or volunteer organizations with limited resources. That’s because because doing anything right and on time takes effort, expertise, and dedication, and if the person doing the delegating doesn’t have a certain degree of control over those to whom work is delegated, the odds are something won’t get done… or done right.

And when the person in charge is the one held responsible, the question is often a choice between spending long hours doing it themselves so that they’re sure it’s done right, or spending less time knowing that the results won’t be as good. Sometimes, it doesn’t make a difference, but when the would-be delegator is publicly and financially responsible for the project, and there aren’t resources to delegate properly, sometimes they just can’t risk delegating… and they’re called “workaholics” or control freaks. Most of the time they’re neither. They’re just exercising self-preservation… and sooner or later, a good many of them will leave that position, and their superiors will wonder why… or come up with the rationalization that the person who left “just couldn’t delegate.”

Who Got You There?

The other day, I was reading an author’s afterword to a book, the kind where the author thanks editors and readers, and family, acquaintances, all of whom made the book possible in the author’s eyes, and something struck me. Rather what hit me was who was NOT thanked, and who seldom is. What about the teacher or the person who turned the author on to reading or writing… or the professor who really helped with developing the author’s ability with words, the early encouragers and mentors?

In my own instance, I know exactly who those people are, and I’ve thanked them repeatedly over the years. My mother was the one who got me interested in science fiction. The late Walter Rosenberry was my high school English teacher who both encouraged my writing and critiqued it unmercifully. Clay Hunt did the same at the college level… and both did so years before I published fiction professionally. That doesn’t mean that later editors didn’t help, because they did, but my basic style and ability to handle words and ideas was largely established long before any editors ever saw a word of my work.

On a more global level, I see the tendency of professionals in a wide range of fields to offer profuse thanks to their “last” instructor or mentor, while ignoring all the others who actually did most of the work. In professional classical singing, singers usually list some distinguished professor or noted singer as being of great help, but seldom mention earlier professors or teachers who gave them a strong basic technique and actually did most of the work in shaping their voice and getting them to a point where the “last” instructor could polish them into professionals.

To be fair, sometimes that “last” instructor does do a great deal of work, but from what I’ve observed, most “last” instructors build on what that budding professional has already learned… and they usually get all the credit.

The same tendency also exists among professional athletes, too many of whom seem to think that they did it all themselves or that a collegiate coach made them the professional they became.

In a similar vein, I’ve also noticed that professors, mentors, and teachers are often publicly recognized in direct relation to how much they praise and encourage students, rather than on how much those professors, mentors, and teachers actually improve their students.

So here’s to the teachers and mentors who have always done the bulk of the work, usually with less pay, less recognition, and fewer resources.

This Labeled World

When I first read what is now termed speculative fiction, it was known as science fiction. Then sometime in the late 1960s, with the popularity of The Lord of the Rings, fantasy emerged as a separate sub-genre and grew over the next few decades to outsell science fiction, and the field became F&SF. Now, it’s speculative fiction with so many subgenres I doubt I could name them all – hard science fiction, social/soft SF, alternate world/counterfactual SF, media tie-in SF, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, horror fantasy[as opposed to “straight” horror, which has become its own genre], and the list goes on.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I’m one of the few remaining writers who can and does publish a range of work, from “hard” SF and military SF all the way through alternate world SF to fantasy, all of which are published under my own name. From what I can tell, the majority of up-and-coming writers are either encouraged or required to use a different name when they write in a different genre. My use of the same name for whatever I write doesn’t seem to confuse my readers. Some like the fantasy, some the SF, and some like both. Some even like one fantasy series rather than another.

But the marketing types apparently are getting the upper hand. Heaven forbid that Samantha Smith, who writes urban fantasy, should publish hard SF. So she needs a totally different name. “S.C. Smith” won’t even do. Nor can Steve Smith, who wrote thrillers, publish social SF under his first name.

This sort of labeling isn’t restricted to speculative fiction, either. Labels and acronyms proliferate everywhere, and they change all the time. “Work-study experience”: is now “experiential learning.” “External diseconomies” became “negative externalities,” which is actually less accurate. But who cares about accuracy? If you need to reinvigorate an older practice, just jazz it up with a new name.

Nor do names necessary mean anything. What exactly is the “optimal learning interface?” Is there any meaningful difference between “individualized instruction” and “differentiated instruction?” In business, what exactly is “thought leadership?” How can you have leadership without thought? Or “laser focused?” That strikes me as so tightly focused that, the words of a much older maxim, you can’t see the forest for the trees. Which, to me, is the real problem with buzzwords and labeling everything.

Not that the marketing types care in the slightest. Just make them think it’s the new and improved version of whatever.

Why Is It …

That telemarketer after telemarketer can get my cellphone number, but I can’t get the cellphone numbers of acquaintances and friends who’ve dropped their landlines without physically meeting them or emailing them [which presents me with a problem in trying to reconnect with people who’ve moved out of state and who just assume that everyone knows where they’ve gone]?

That the apparently non-functioning air-conditioning system/furnace/ plumbing works as soon as the repairman arrives to fix it?

That so many people confuse “newness” with excellence?

That grown children, despite living in different states and in four different time zones, either don’t call on holidays, or those that do call all call in the same twenty minute stretch, usually just before we’re about to sit down for dinner?

That every piece of equipment or furniture that needs to be assembled always seems to have directions that omit or misdescribe one key step, thus requiring a certain amount of trial and error and/or backtracking and reassembly?

That the time-frame for planned obsolescence of software and computer equipment and peripherals gets shorter every year?

That stores always run out of the shaving cream that I use and overstock every other kind? [And ditto for several other products!]

That when shirt manufacturers have sales, they’re already out of my size in the shirts I prefer, even though very few men wear the colors of shirts that I wear for appearances?

That orange, avocado green, dull dark red, harvest orange, and deep brown periodically re-emerge as the “new” home décor colors? [Despite the fact that they’re then instantly old and dated.]

That professionals who demand solid work and excellence are so often marginalized as being old fogeys or old school dinosaurs?

That whenever my wife finds products that she really likes, half of them are discontinued within a year or two?

That so many first-published novelists are described as “genuinely new,” “an important new voice,” “astonishing first novel,” and the like?

That so many people think that a text message is an adequate substitute for either a voice conversation or sitting down and talking to someone in person?

Here we go again…

As I write this, sixteen Democrat representatives have signed and sent a letter stating that they want new leadership leading them in the U.S. House of Representatives. In short, they’re opposed to Nancy Pelosi becoming Speaker of the House. Given the projected membership of the House of Representatives sixteen is almost enough to deny her the speakership.

Of the sixteen, fourteen are white males, and two are white women. Why doesn’t this surprise me? Even though something like 60% of the Democrat members of the next Congress will be women, minorities, or LGBT, we have fourteen white males, most of whom aren’t newly elected and who should know better, saying that they don’t want a woman leading them, even though, at present, no other Democrat representative has presented himself or herself as a candidate to oppose Pelosi. Isn’t one party being led by good ole white boys more than enough?

Pelosi spearheaded the fundraising drive to raise much of the enormous sums necessary to allow Democrat candidates to compete with well-funded GOP candidates and was instrumental in pushing for more well-qualified women to run for Congress. She’s also been an effective Speaker of the House, so effective that the Republicans would love to see her shoved aside. She’s an effective strategist, and, like it or not, the Democrats don’t have anyone else who comes close.

I have no doubt that the Republican politicos would jump for joy [except most don’t know anything about joy] if the Democrats sidelined Pelosi, because there’s no one else with the proven will of steel necessary to stand up to Mitch McConnell and Trump.

For the sake of the country, I hope the Democrats think this through, but the Democratic Party has been known not only to shoot itself in foot before, but to blow off both legs [figuratively, of course] and then complain because things didn’t go according to plan.

And sidelining Pelosi would be just another case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Excellence in “Borrowed” or “Original” Novels?

No author writes anything, even the most “original” fantasy or far-future ultra-high novel, without borrowing from somewhere. To begin with, language, the very medium in which novels are written, contains cultural artifacts and meanings. Given human history, a wide range of religious and political structures have been tried, and history tends to suggest which work and which do not. Tools of all sorts are cultural artifacts, and so on.

So, in my mind, all authors borrow, either from their own culture or from other cultures and times, and the only real question is whether an author borrows tiny pieces and rearranges them into something that seems completely “original” or whether he or she loots some culture or another, or even two or three, and files off the serial numbers, so to speak.

There have been well-written works of fantasy and science fiction created from relatively small amounts of tiny borrowings and a greater amount of originality, and there have been well-written works based on whole-scale borrowing or “cultural appropriation” [which appears to be the current negative terminology when an author borrows from a culture which is seen as not being his or hers].

Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light borrows heavily from Hindu religion and mythology, and his Creatures of Light and Darkness borrows from Egyptian mythology. Tolkien drew from the Volsunga Saga and the Elder Edda. More recently, R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War draws heavily from Chinese history, and she admits that one scene is essentially a fantasy copy of the Rape of Nanking.

In a contrast, Iain Banks’s far-future Culture series [beginning with Consider Phlebas and ending with The Hydrogen Sonata] portrays an incredibly different galactic society combining AIs of different levels, aliens, and humans with enhanced capabilities and different governments and social structures. My own Haze offers a very different governmental and social system as well, as does my novel Adiamante.

On the other hand, more than a few novels, which will go unnamed, are essentially shameless copies of history or of other authors’ works. In this, by the way, I’m not talking about alternate history novels, because the point there is to show some sort of contrast, to indicate what might have happened and why.

All of this raises two questions, possibly unanswerable, except by each reader for himself or herself, and these are:

(1) At what point does an author’s “borrowing” turn a novel into a copy of sorts?
(2) Are novels that don’t borrow wholesale or in large chunks inherently better?

In some ways, the questions are almost academic, but they’re questions I’ve pondered for some time.

The “White” Party, Hate-Mongering, and the Future

A recent column in The Economist analyzed Trump’s appeal among Republicans and came to an unsurprising conclusion, unsurprising at least to me – that while various Republicans have scattered interests in the few positive proposals that Trump has made, what unites almost all hard-core Republicans is Trump’s unmitigated hate of Democrats.

I suspect his hatred of the media is also another factor, although the Economist column didn’t go into that, but the fact that hatred is what largely motivates the most hard-core Republicans is something that we’ve all observed, and something that most people shy away from – or address by saying that the Democrats are just the same.

No… the Democrats have a considerable range of faults, and what they’ve proposed and endorsed may at times be extravagantly expensive, excessively regulation oriented, and often painfully far too politically correct, but it’s not based around hatred and oppression. They may want to tax Americans more than Republicans want, and more than may be economically healthy, but they’re not running around with political rally after political rally based on hatred and chanting “lock them up” about notable opposition political figures. Democrats aren’t claiming that white nationalist groups have “good people” in them, but Trump is, and hard-core Republicans just brush off such statements.

In the past Democrats have gerrymandered political districts in a fashion similar to the Republicans, but certainly since the 1970s [and before that, a great many of the now conservative Republicans were southern Democrats who later became Republicans after Lyndon Johnson pushed and signed Civil Rights legislation], current Democrats haven’t disenfranchised voters by such tactics as closing polling places in Republican voting strongholds, nor have they enacted legislation in state after state designed to deny the vote to the poor and minorities and then “justified” it by fraudulently claiming “voter fraud,” despite the fact that no evidence of significant fraud has ever been discovered in recent decades.

Republicans also tend to ignore the fact that they’re incredibly insistent on “law and order” when dealing with the poor and minorities, and totally ignore such laws when they apply to CEOs who engaged in fraudulent lending practices that brought on the last recession, and even change the laws to make certain forms of price-fixing legal [i.e., the provision that forbids Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices from pharmaceutical companies]. Likewise, penalties for “white-collar” fraud and theft, when even levied, are far less stringent than those for thefts committed by the poor and minorities, even though the dollar value of the white collar crimes is far greater.

As a whole, Republicans also don’t like to elect women or minorities. Ever since women could vote and be elected to Congress, the vast majority of women elected have been Democrats, and it’s gotten to the point that, for the last 20 years more than 70% of all women in the U.S. House of Representatives have been Democrats. In the present House 83% of the women are Democrats, and in the new House in 2019, at least 86% will be Democrats, while out of the estimated 200 Republicans, it appears that only 13 will be women, while 83 out of 232[so far] Democrats will be women. As for minorities, only seven percent of Republican Representatives are minorities of any sort, while more than forty percent of Democrats are minorities, similar to the fact that forty percent of the U.S. population is composed of minorities.

Interestingly enough, 88% of all Trump voters were white, which certainly tracks with how few elected Republicans are anything other than white and male, disproportionately over sixty.

But all of this poses a problem for Republicans, and the nation. Within roughly twenty years our multi-ethnic nation will become even more so, and there will also be more women in positions of economic and political power. Yet Trump and more than a few Republicans are continuing and increasing their attacks on their opponents, especially minorities and women.

At the same time, it appears that those who call out this GOP hate-mongering and racial bias are usually ignored or demonized by the Republicans, and in the latter case, doing so in a wide public forum can be dangerous to one’s health, particularly one’s political health, especially if one is a moderate Republican.

Post-Election Observations

I live in the state with by far the lowest expenditure per pupil for public education, a state filled with overcrowded classrooms and underpaid [by any standard] teachers, a state where only 20% of new teachers remain in the classroom after five years. On my ballot were two initiatives to improve education funding, one of which would have added a ten cent a gallon gasoline tax to provide funds statewide, and a second which would have allowed the county in which I live to float some school bonds – which wouldn’t have added anything to local property taxes, but would have extended a current, very modest, levy for five years, after which the school levy would have dropped. Now, I’ve lived all over the U.S., and my current property taxes are lower in both total and percentage terms than anywhere I’ve lived. Needless to say, both initiatives appear to have been soundly defeated because I live in rock-red Republican country, where people talk sanctimoniously about children and education while refusing to support either financially. Yes, business is booming here in the semi-sovereign theocracy of Deseret, but one in seven children are going hungry, and more and more of the students entering college cannot write a coherent paragraph, although they “test” well.

And the election returns, for the most part, seem to be following a similar trend.

Those voters who talk the most about “traditional” values, such as life, children, education, and the American way are voting against people and programs that support those values and for politicians who vote for tax cuts that barely help poor and middle class families while enriching the richest Americans the most, for politicians who want to relax clean air standards and clean water standards, even after the children of a major municipal center suffered brutal lead poisoning, and when the ambient air quality in metropolitan areas such as Salt Lake and Denver, to name just a few, is worse than ever.

The election returns illustrate an incredible cognitive dissonance, where a huge percentage of Americans are voting for candidates whose actions are not only totally at odds with the physical and economic well-being of such voters, but even at odds with the beliefs that they profess, which suggests either incredible ignorance and/or hypocrisy, or that the need to belong to “their tribe” actually outweighs pretty much everything, including basic human decency.

And these election results also showed that this tribal polarization is still increasing, since most of the incumbents, in both parties, who were defeated were considered moderates.

Such indications scarcely bode well for the future.

“Truth” and “False News”

As some readers know, I’ve never cared much for the word “truth,” largely because, these days, it has come to hold a moral and political certitude that goes far beyond facts and their accuracy. In fact, for most people, whether something is “true” depends more on their beliefs than upon any accuracy.

Most Trump voters believe that the tax cuts have benefitted them, and to some degree they did, but nearly 70% of the tax cuts went to the top 20% of American earners, and that doesn’t count the $437 billion in stock buy-backs, which raised stock prices, benefitting the well-off. Last year average CEO compensation rose 18%, while average worker compensation grew just two tenths of one percent. Even with tax cuts, most Trump supporters are falling behind economically, but the vast majority don’t see it. And with the annual federal deficit headed toward one trillion dollars, the best those Trump supporters can hope for from Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid is that they won’t be cut drastically.

So far, Trump is averaging five false statements every day, and some are blatantly and obviously false, such as denying the thousands of hurricane deaths in Puerto Rico or claiming that the refugee “convoy” headed to the U.S. is filled with Middle Eastern terrorists or that he can nullify the 14th amendment to the Constitution with an executive order [which even Paul Ryan declares is legally and Constitutionally impossible]. Does any of this register with firm Trump supporters? Of course not.

Nor do they doubt his claims that Hillary or Nancy Pelosi ought be locked up, despite the fact that while there’s evidence of a different political agenda and some incompetence, those aren’t crimes under current U.S. law, unlike failure to pay taxes, which just might be a problem for Trump.

On the other side, there’s far less distortion, but it’s still there. Cries about the “disaster” that Trump is creating with his increase of tariffs on Chinese goods haven’t yet come to pass… and probably won’t, except for possibly farmers and parts of the auto industry, simply because the Chinese import far less from us than we do from them, and they’re already running out of U.S. imports to tariff more, especially if they don’t want to throttle their own computer industry. In a similar vein, Trump apparently pushed through a more favorable NAFTA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, but I don’t see much about that.

But with everyone holding to their own truths… the facts have long since been discarded by those who want to believe otherwise… and we’re all likely to lose as a result.

A Proliferation of Awards

Several weeks ago, when I was at the Gulf Coast Fan Fest, one of the other authors at the Bard’s Tower booth learned that his debut novel [Empire of Silence, Christopher Ruocchio] had been shortlisted for the best debut fantasy novel of the year by Booknest Fantasy Awards.

Now, I’ve been a published F&SF author for 45 years, and I’d never heard of the Booknest awards. As a matter of fact, in recent years, there have been a number of awards I’d never heard of until I saw a news story or online mention of the award. And I began to wonder if I had just gotten out of touch. So I did a little research.

When I was first published, the only F&SF awards I ever heard about were the Hugo Awards, and that wasn’t surprising, because my research showed that in 1973, the only awards were the Hugos, the World Fantasy Awards, and the Nebulas. The Hugos were the oldest and were first presented in 1953 at the eleventh World Science Fiction Convention at Philadelphia, and the awards are determined by the votes of the members of the World Science Fiction Convention. The first World Fantasy awards were presented at the first World Fantasy Convention in 1975, and are determined by a jury of five professional writers or editors. The Nebula awards are determined by the votes of the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America [SFWA], and were awarded for the first time in 1966, a year after SFWA was founded.

After that, more awards were created, slowly at first, and then, in the last twenty years, scores of them have sprung up, so that there are now more than a hundred different regional, national, and international F&SF awards. There now seem to be awards for every sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy, and each one endeavors to be unique in some fashion.

Now, I know many of these awards came about because various groups felt that the F&SF literature that represented them, either ethnically, geographically, or by genre or subgenre, was not being recognized. Early on, David Hartwell and others essentially created the World Fantasy Convention and awards because he felt that fantasy was largely ignored by the Hugos. Likewise, it appears that SFWA created the Nebulas to reflect a more professional outlook, rather than the “popularity” basis of the Hugos, since all SFWA members are published authors. Initially, those three categories of awards seemed largely sufficient… until the 1980s, when the proliferation began, a process that appears to have continued to increase ever since.

Is this proliferation of awards really recognizing the unrecognized, or could it be an outgrowth of the idea that every child involved in a competitive sports activity should have a trophy, and now that those children are grown, those who are writers should each have an award?

Some have contended that winning an award results in more publicity and more sales for the authors, but the studies that have been done, at least according to Tom Doherty, indicate that the only award that seems to have an effect on sales is the Hugo. In all fairness, those studies don’t include the DragonCon awards, which are only two years old, and are presented at a convention that draws 80,000, about eight times the size of the World Science Fiction Convention, which is the largest of the “conventional” F&SF conventions.

More to the point, however, for all the concern about various aspects of F&SF being ignored and/or marginalized… does every aspect of the field really need its own trophies?

And how much do all these awards enhance the field?

Back to the Constitution?

I recently ran across an “open letter” to conservatives which said, “Right now, liberals are waging an all-out assault on our nation’s founding principles at the polls, in the courts, in our culture, and in academia…” The letter went on to urge conservatives to fight to return government to the principles of the Constitution.

My first thought was to dismiss what was clearly a rhetorical attack on “liberals” designed to get conservatives to contribute money, but then I got to thinking about the phrase, “our nation’s founding principles.”

What were some of those founding principles?

Besides the ones everyone cites, such as freedom of the press, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, separation of church and state, trial by jury, there are a few others that “originalists” and conservatives tend to overlook.

Some of those “founding principles” so often overlooked by so-called traditionalists include: (1) limitation of the right to vote to white males, and usually to white land-holding males; (2) slavery; (3) additional voting power to slave-holding states, and particularly slave-holders, because for purposes of representation, each “other person” (i.e., slave) counted for 3/5 of a person; and (4) the selection of senators by state legislatures.

Do these “conservatives” really want to go back to slavery and limited white male sufferage? And if they don’t, what do they mean by “founding principles”? Perhaps to a balanced budget? Except the Constitution doesn’t enshrine anything like a balanced budget, and conservatives for years have been pressing for just such a Constitutional amendment.

But if these conservative originalists believe in going back to the original principles, why are they proposing any changes? Or are they just talking about changes they believe are in accord with those principles?

Even the Founding Fathers believed that times would change; that’s why the Constitution itself provides a process for amendment and change.

All of which suggests that the “conservatives” aren’t really interested in original Constitutionalism, but in a highly selective version of our nation’s founding principles. I don’t have a problem with them choosing principles based on their belief about which are most important; but I do have a problem with them representing what they want as being in accord with the Founding Fathers and excoriating those who see differing principles as the most important as being traitors to the Constitution.

I also have a problem with Americans who swallow such misrepresentation, because it shows that they really don’t know what’s really in the Constitution and don’t care enough to learn… or to call out politicians who engage in such misrepresentation.

Man-to-Man Mansplaining

When I wrote the blog “Gender-Based Pay Discrimination,” I thought I was laying out something relatively obvious, but one of my readers took exception, using various statistics to explain both in detail and in a gently condescending manner how I was oh so mistaken, but honestly so, based on my experience, which he implied, if indirectly, was not in synch with the real world, that is, the world as he has experienced it.

One of my basic points was that statistics don’t accurately measure the extent of that discrimination, in response to which he politely provided yet more statistics, pointing out where I erred and ignoring the statistics he could not refute. For those unfamiliar with the term, this is just another example of “mansplaining,” or at least man-to-man mansplaining, since the connotation of the word usually refers to men explaining to women in a patronizing manner, using logic and favorable statistics to minimize one’s opponent.

And in my replies to him, as is often the case in replying to such an approach, I tended to lose sight of the basic issues.

So…let’s put the basic facts on the table. Societal control and domination is determined by four basic factors: (1) physical force; (2) economic power; (3) political power, and (4) religious power.

For as far back as history goes, and likely as farther back as humanity goes, men have dominated women in all four areas. This remains true, even today, although the degree of domination varies more by nation and region than it ever has before in history.

There’s little contest in physical force. Men are physically stronger than a woman of the same size because of the difference in muscle mass, and the use of that strength is the basis of long-standing gender discrimination.

But even today, when physical strength isn’t as necessary for most tasks and professions, in more “liberal” countries, such as the U.S., and the Scandinavian nations, men still dominate the other three areas. Now… one can explain and provide all the statistics one wants, but the fact of male domination remains.

In almost no country does a woman have full and personal control of her reproductive rights. The limitations on her rights are imposed by male-dominated political structures. And just for the record, I don’t see much legislation forbidding male vasectomies or laws requiring men to support, all by themselves, children they forced on unwilling women.

Likewise, there’s no record of any society in history, legends of the Amazons notwithstanding, where men were the chattels of women, or where men were compelled as a class to serve as sex slaves of women. Or where even men’s clothes belonged to women. Men were never denied the right to vote or be in government because of their gender, although often they were denied rights because of color, belief or social standing, but not gender.

As for those helpful statistics… they don’t deal with “male privilege,” loosely defined as the assumption that a man is automatically more qualified for a position than a woman, and that the burden is upon her to prove her ability to a greater degree than upon a man.

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to “prove” that “male privilege” exists because, first, most men deny it, and, second, all sorts of other excuses and rationales are offered as to why more men prevail in whatever it is.

One of the best examples I can provide is that of symphony orchestra job openings. For decades, the largely male orchestras and conductors insisted that men were always better, and proved this by almost always hiring men. Then, blind auditions were instituted, where the men who were doing the selecting neither knew the names of applicants nor could see them as they played. At first, this didn’t work as planned, not until all applicants took off their shoes before they walked onto the stage. But after that, miraculously, the number of women in symphonies began to increase.

Figures that seem to support the idea that discrimination doesn’t exist or is less than is claimed by women ignore non-quantifiable factors, such as the fact that in upper level positions women are generally paid less while more is expected, or that they have to weather a greater array of minimization assaults, or that they’re often excluded from venues and activities where males bond. And those are just the beginning, as all too many women could testify.

And, yes, there are reasons and statistics that explain why some women choose not to make the extra effort to break the glass ceiling. But those reasons don’t mean that glass ceilings don’t exist, only that some women don’t see the goal as worth the effort. And when women have to undergo more and produce more for the same or a lesser reward, that’s discrimination, whether the statistics show it or not.

And piling on the statistics doesn’t “prove” that gender discrimination doesn’t exist or isn’t as great as those who experience it say it is, it only proves an unwillingness to see what every woman experiences to some agree or another, even if some of those women aren’t allowed to say so or don’t wish to acknowledge it.

Socio-Political Apocalyptic Dramas

Whether it’s “The Walking Dead” or “Designated Survivor” or “The Man in the High Castle,” or any number of other TV, or streaming media shows, from what I can tell, there’s been almost an explosion of socio-political apocalyptic dramas over the last few years.

I don’t watch any of them, although I’m exposed to snippets of many of them – except “The Walking Dead” – because my wife the professor finds them entertaining. It’s one of the few areas where our tastes are not similar, and it’s likely because, after having spent almost twenty years in national politics in one capacity or another, I don’t find such shows entertaining. For me, they’re only a depressing reminder of one of the worst aspects of human nature – the unbridled lust for power of far too many members of the species.

And frankly, I can’t understand her fascination with them, given that she has to deal with similar aspects of [in]humanity in academic politics, because no full-time faculty member can totally escape politics. She’s pointed out that, depressing as those dramas may be, there’s actually more that’s optimistic in the shows than she sees in either national or academic politics. In that vein, some of my readers may recall my citation of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s observation that international politics was no different from faculty politics at Harvard.

Even if such shreds of optimism exist in such shows, the apparent popularity of this “genre” concerns me, as does, as I noted in an earlier blog, the popularity of “Game of Thrones,” because they all seem to emphasize the lack of ethics and the triumph of the worse in human character. Now… some people claim that such shows offer warnings about the dangers of such people in power, but I don’t see it that way. It’s almost as if such dramas are making the point that the only way to gain and hold power is to use every tool possible, regardless of either ethics or consequences, and I find that incredibly depressing.

Paying for It?

The other day, I read an interesting article in the local paper about how upset the Utah state legislature was with the Board of Regents for not keeping down tuition increases at state colleges and universities. While I wanted to strangle the writer of the article and just about every member of the legislature, or at least the Republicans, my reaction will be limited to this blog.

Why am I that upset? Because none of those involved are looking at the facts.

First, tuition for in-state students at four-year Utah state institutions isn’t that high, ranging from $4,500 to $8,000 a year, depending on the school, and the average annual tuition of $6,790 is ranked as the third lowest in the U.S., according to the College Board. Second, again depending on the Utah college or university, annual tuition increases over the past twenty years have averaged three to five percent per year. Third, because of a burgeoning college age population, all Utah colleges and universities have had to expand over that period, which requires expanding facilities. At my wife the professor’s university, enrollment has increased from 3,500 students to more than 10,000 in the past twenty years, and all state colleges and universities have significantly increased their enrollments. Two entirely new Utah universities have also been created in the same period. Fourth, at the same time, the percentage of costs of student education paid by tuition in Utah has gone from 21% to 46%. As I’ve noted previously, this isn’t confined to Utah but is a national trend.

In plain facts, all of this means that while students in Utah only paid a fifth of the actual costs of their education a generation ago, they now pay half of it, while taxpayers are paying less and less of it.

Utah has been “cost-effective” in managing higher education. That’s why faculty salaries are among the lowest in the nation, and why the percentage of full-time faculty has declined remarkably while the number of part-time adjunct instructors [without benefits] has skyrocketed.

But you can’t increase the number of students every year without adding faculty and facilities, and those cost money. And if the legislature is paying a decreasing percentage every year, then those additional costs have to come from somewhere, and the only other place it can come from is from students. So… because Utahans don’t want significantly more tax dollars going to universities, they end up paying higher tuition. You have to pay, one way or the other, and that’s something that taxpayers and the legislature – and, in this case, even the media – don’t want to face. As usual.

Minimization/Discrimination

All American women have been minimized and discriminated against, as have women in every culture, and far more greatly in many countries other than the United States. The only question in each woman’s case is how much and in what fashion. Unhappily, from what I’ve observed, women tend to fall into two categories: those who know and understand that minimization and those who either don’t know it or who deny it.

In a previous blog, I discussed the economic/pay side of discrimination, but minimization and discrimination go a great deal further than pay and also affect pay levels, if indirectly.

Picture this. A female nominee for a cabinet post is alleged to have been a heavy drinker in college, a fact corroborated by acquaintances, then is discovered to have lied about both the drinking and the fact that she obtained hacked emails that she used to rate judicial candidates for a previous administration. Do you honestly think that such a female nominee could be approved today? Yet Kavanaugh did both and was also accused of sexual assault – and all those accounts were termed a smear campaign by the administration.

Or picture this. A female nominee for an appointment requiring Senate confirmation loudly accuses the senators of persecuting her, then insists that events that have been publicly confirmed did not happen. She next turns a question back on the senator, asking in a sarcastic manner if that senator had ever done something similar, and finally bursts into tears and insists that she’s innocent of all of the accusations. Would she get confirmed? I strongly doubt it… but Kavanaugh did the same thing… and was confirmed.

Most minimization of women isn’t as public as in the case of Dr. Ford, but it’s still present and continuing.

More than a few colleges are admitting men with lower grades and test scores than comparable women applicants – citing the need for gender balance. They certainly weren’t concerned about balance when male applicants vastly outnumbered women.

To this day, regardless of explanations or denials, Islam, Orthodox Judaism, and the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches, as well as the Mormon Church, continue to dictate and enforce the idea that male superiority is ordained by God. There can be no women Popes, nor can there be any female Mormon prophets [and I noticed that, at the last semi-annual LDS Conference, there was exactly one woman speaker over the entire two-day proceeding].

Vera Rubin was rejected from Princeton University’s doctoral astronomy program because, in the 1950s, Princeton refused to admit women. She got her doctorate in astrophysics from Georgetown and went on to discover proof of dark matter, yet despite the magnitude of that and other work, and a campaign by many of her colleagues, she never received the Nobel Prize in Physics. Only two women have ever received that prize, and not a one in more than a half century.

As a graduate student in 1967, Jocelyn Bell Burnell first built the special telescope, laboring in damp and chilly English weather to install more than 100 miles of cable and copper wire across a windswept field near Cambridge. She operated the instruments and analyzed the data, poring over miles of chart paper etched with the inked recordings of galactic radio waves, finally discovering the first pulsar, but the 1974 Nobel Prize went to her Ph.D. supervisor, rather than to the two of them. Since then, she’s been recognized by a number of awards, and finally, just this year, some forty-four years later, she was awarded the special Breakthrough prize in fundamental physics [and she’s directing the money to go to the Institute of Physics to fund Ph.D. studentships for people underrepresented in physics].

Then there was the professor who was the only woman on a university leave, rank, and tenure committee whose male members wanted to deny a full professorship to an outstanding woman associate professor because she’d expressed a few opinions suggesting that there was subtle discrimination against women. That single woman on the committee suggested that the issue in question wasn’t the professor’s political views, but her record and teaching… and that it would be a shame if it came out why that associate professor had been denied a promotion. The committee reconsidered, but the matter never should have come up, nor should such a committee have ever been composed of eight men and only one woman.

My own wife was told by a senior faculty member that she didn’t really need her job because she had a successful husband.

The real-life examples of this sort of minimization could literally fill hundreds of thousands of pages, if not more, and yet the men in power still don’t get it… and neither do, unhappily, a great number of women. And when women bring up such issues, with longstanding facts and examples, the president declares that they’re just a mob, conveniently forgetting and ignoring the fact that every week he incites mobs with lies and misrepresentations.

And far too many people can’t or won’t make the distinctions.

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.