Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The Age of Illusion

The International Union of Geological Sciences, the organization in charge of defining Earth’s time scale, defines our current geological age as the Holocene (“entirely recent”) epoch, which began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age. In 2000, however, the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen defined our current age as the “Anthropocene”—from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”—because humanity has irrevocably changed both the environment and the planet.

Personally, I think the Paraisthiscene Age, i.e., the Age of New Illusion, would be just as appropriate, if not more so, given the range of illusions that humankind now embraces and possibly always has.

We could begin with the first great illusion, that of religion. According to a number of sources, there are more than 4,200 separate recognized religions, and more than twenty-two that have at least half a million followers. Each faith, of course, believes that it is the only “true” religion, regardless of any disclaimers to the contrary. There is certainly the possibility that, given all these faiths, that one might actually be “true.” Even if there is one “true” faith, that means that all the other believers are following an illusion, and a significant proportion of them are doing such things as shooting and otherwise harming non-believers in the name of that illusion.

A whole host of illusions are centered on war, but the greatest illusion of them all is that someone “wins” a war. If all the costs are counted, the “winner” is the side, country or alliance that loses the least, both in terms of power, economics, and casualties.

There are also a great number of economic illusions, such as the idea that gold will always be the most secure and stable measure of value. Most people really don’t understand fully that value depends on societal beliefs and practices, not on intrinsic worth of an item or commodity. Without someone willing to buy that gold brick, it’s just a soft metal. Without laws, practices, and belief, a dollar is just a piece of paper. Its “intrinsic” worth is based on a societally accepted convention that enables our economic system to function.

The freedom of choice is another illusion, one I’ve discussed before. While we all have choices, unless we’re billionaires, a myriad of factors constrain our choices. The supermarket, internet, bazaar, and thousands of other sources may offer a dazzling array of possible choices, but most of those choices are illusory for most people because they lack the resources to exercise a wide freedom of choice.

As the fragmentation and proliferation of information sources has continued, more and more of what is represented in the media is illusion of one sort or another, whether the result of inaccurate, false, or partial information, or totally fabricated “fake news.” And most people, rather than reading or watching across a broad spectrum of views and facts, gladly settle for the illusion that confirms their beliefs.

On a larger scale, in a way, everything that we see and experience is an illusion. We believe that the chair in which we sit or the table which holds dinner are solid objects, and markedly different from the air we breathe or the clouds from which rain falls, but in fact everything in the material universe is essentially composed of the same sub-sub-atomic particles. What determines what we see as solidity is merely a matter of spacing of quarks and leptons.

But then, what I see is real, and what you see is illusion.

Publication Realities

Within a week of the publication of the hardcover edition of Recluce Tales, I had several complaints that the hardcover was not the same size as the other Recluce books… and that it didn’t match. Guess what? A great many of my SF hardcovers are printed in the smaller hardcover size, but not all of them, and the different sizes don’t match on my shelves either.

Tor isn’t being arbitrary. Nor is Tor deliberately trying to destroy the symmetry of anyone’s bookcases. It’s combination of two factors. First, because it’s a collection and not a novel, Tor felt, based on past reader reaction, that a distinction needed to be made between the “regular” Recluce novels and the collection. Second, there were also economic considerations.

What some readers may not have noticed is that story collections don’t sell nearly as well as novels, even story collections set in the worlds of very popular series. In addition, single author story collections are selling less well now than they were five or ten years ago. A number of well-known authors had story collections released in full-sized hardcovers eight to nine years ago. My own earlier collection – Viewpoints Critical – was released in 2008 in a full-sized hardcover, but it wasn’t linked to any existing series.

Since then, the economics of publishing have changed drastically, and this is reflected in single-author story collections.

Off-hand, I could only find two authors, besides me, who’ve published a story collection with a major publisher in the past five or so years. Those were Brandon Sanderson, with his Cosmere collection, Arcanum Unbounded, that came out in November from Tor, and Steven Erikson, whose collection was published by Bantam in 2014. Both were also published in the smaller hardcover size. Kim Stanley Robinson, Alastair Reynolds, and Jack McDevitt all had their collections published by the specialty publisher Subterranean Press, at a much higher price, and two of the three were still in the smaller dimension hardcovers.

A great number of collections, some from well-known authors, have also come out from small presses, and some have only been in paperback and e-book format. F. Paul Wilson published Quick Fixes, his collection of Repairman Jack stories in paperback and ebook himself.

Perhaps the most striking point is that when Tor decides to publish something by Brandon Sanderson in the smaller size hardcover, where sales are not likely the only consideration, Tor clearly felt that they had to also distinguish his stories from his novels, as they did with Recluce Tales.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I frankly feel fortunate that Tor was able to publish Recluce Tales in hardcover, especially given the state of the market, and particularly since it took me over ten years to write those stories.

The Death of Wonder

Over Christmas, we visited family in the New York City area, and one of the sights we took in was the Botanic Garden’s model train exhibit – which features G-scale model trains winding their way through the enclosed garden pavilions past miniature models of historic buildings in the New York area, both existing and past homes, all made out of scraps of trees and plants. There was a model of vanished Penn Station, as well as one of Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, a whole host of mansions [past and present], various New York bridges, and more other structures than I can remember. And all of them created in great detail from plants or plant material – and nothing else. Even the transparent windows were from plants.

It was truly awe inspiring… at least to us. But there was the couple behind us, who declared, less than quietly, “This is boring. Can’t we skip ahead?”

Now, I’m among the first to recognize that a sense of inspiration or wonder is personal, and where I see something wonderful someone else may not… or may be bored out of their mind. Nonetheless, I’m concerned about what I don’t see that much of these days, especially here in the United States, and what I’m seeing less and less of is wonder in the real world. I can see that spark of wonder in people looking at screens, screens both large and small, but not in people looking at what can be done with plants, or in double rainbows arching in front of red mountains, or in crimson, sky-blue pink sunsets, or in majestic red sandstone pillars in a national park, or in mountain sand dunes made of pink coral sand sculpted by the wind.

I’ve also noticed in my visits to our national parks that while attendance is increasing, a greater and greater percentage of those visiting seem to be from other nations, at least from all the languages I hear that aren’t English.

To me, no screen can capture the beauty of fresh-fallen snow across the pines just as the sun clears the mountains to the east. And maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but to me, a screen is just as screen, and all of the computer-generated imagery on it is just that – an artificial image. A good CGI team can create anything, but it’s not real. And it’s not complete.

What’s in the real world is more complete. A live acoustical concert is more complete and encompassing than a recorded concert, or one electronically amplified, because even the best recording equipment doesn’t capture the overtones and harmonics. Even the best CGI doesn’t capture all the shifting light patterns.

What electronics does do is cram high speed images into shorter and shorter time periods at greater and greater volume – call it the fast food of perception. And like fast food, it’s a poor substitute for the real thing.

And I have to wonder if it’s leading not only to a detachment from reality, as postulated by SF author James Gunn in The Joy Makers way back in 1961,but also to the death of wonder about reality, especially among young people.

The Problem with Algorithms

I’m reminded on a daily basis of the prevalence of algorithms, since every time that I check on how well one of my books is doing on Amazon or B&N before long I get an email or an internet add suggesting that I buy that book. Then, too, because I live where I can’t just run out and buy a decent shirt, or coat, or even office supplies [since our sole office supply store lost its least ten months ago],and because I have to do that shopping online, I get more “targeted” ads suggesting I buy more of what I just bought.

All of this makes little sense, because I don’t need to buy more copies of the books I wrote. Nor am I likely to buy more shirts after I just purchased some… or more office supplies right after I’ve stocked up.

Now… occasionally I do buy other books, but the recommendations I get from Amazon based on my purchases are laughable. All of this suggests that, while algorithms are being used to extrapolate from my purchases what I might be interested in buying, they’re not doing a very good job… and they’re just irritating.

If that were the only problem with algorithms, I wouldn’t be writing about them.

Algorithms govern the way in which our computers present almost everything to us, from particular ways of seeing the world, reproducing stereotypes, and even strengthening our existing views of the world by tailoring news based on our past reading or searches. In essence, algorithms narrow our view of the world without warning and without providing any sense of what we may be missing.

As ScienceDaily points out, “An algorithm that claims to spot beauty and tell you which selfies to delete implies we should trust technology more than ourselves to make aesthetic choices. Such algorithms also carry assumptions that beauty can be defined as universal and timeless, and can be easily reduced to a particular combination of data.”

Add to that the idea that everything is reducible to data, which in turn affects the way people perceive their environment and everyday relations. This also explains the growing popularity of wearable devices that track aspects of our physical activity and health, then analyze and relay them back to us, directly affecting our behavior.

And last, but certainly not least, there is the fact that there are a host of algorithms that companies and governments use to track the movements and purchases of every cell phone user. A New York Times story in 2012 showed that, using such data, researchers were able to use this data to predict where people would be 24 hours later to within 20 meters.

In 1999, David Brin, both a scientist and an SF writer, predicted the demise of privacy in his book, The Transparent Society. Guess what? We’re there.

Science and Republicans

For some time, at least certain “liberal” commentators have insisted that Republicans are scientifically “challenged” and that Republicans consistently ignore well-established science. According to some recent surveys, those commentators are only half-right. In general, those individuals who identify as Republicans are more scientifically knowledgeable than are those who identify as Democrats, yet they tend to ignore the science behind climate change, evolution, and other areas.

So why do Republican office-holders espouse so many positions at odds with established science? The most obvious answer would seem to be that such politicians are appealing to their political base, but if their base is actually more scientifically knowledgeable than Democrats, this wouldn’t seem to make much sense.

Another possibility is that Republicans are conservative in their understanding of science as well as conservative politically. In some ways, this makes more sense. Science proceeds from what is “known” to what is theorized… and then such new theories are tested against the evidence and either discarded, modified, accepted… or put on hold for lack of sufficient proof either way.

“New” theories often take a great deal of time to be proved and accepted. The idea of “continental drift” was first proposed Alfred Wegener in 1915 in the first edition of The Origin of Continents and Oceans, a theory which was viciously attacked, despite the evidence that Wegener presented, but, partly because certain parts of Wegener’s theory were wrong, it was not truly accepted until after World War II, when even more evidence was discovered about plate tectonics. Despite a huge amount of evidence, it took decades for the scientific community as a whole to accept Darwin and Wallace’s theory of evolution. Black holes were first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916, but the first black hole wasn’t discovered until 1971.

Another possibility is that Republicans simply only accept those aspects of science that they can “use,” like tools, while rejecting any aspect of science that isn’t in accord with what they wish to believe.

That may be the most likely explanation, given that, for example, liberal Democrats tend to reject aspects of science that conflict with their beliefs. For example, although human beings have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years, the term “genetic modification” is far more of an anathema to Democrats than to Republicans. Likewise, those opposing vaccination tend to be more Democrats than Republicans.

If that’s so, it’s certainly understandable, but deplorable, that what science is “acceptable” to people depends not on the facts, but upon personal beliefs.

The Religion/Pay Gap?

The financial news and opinion company 24/7 Wall St. recently released a study of the one hundred largest metropolitan areas comparing the median wages of men and women, and listing the ten best and ten worst for women’s earnings. The figures come from U.S. Census data. On a national basis, working women make on average, about 80% of what men do, but the variance can be considerable from state to state or city to city.

Not surprisingly to me, four of the five areas where women make the least compared to men were in “Mormon country” – three in Utah, and one in Idaho. The “worst” was the Provo area, where women on average make only 64% of what men earn. The single non-Mormon metro area in the bottom five was Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The fact that the five areas with the greatest discrepancy are all located in areas dominated by highly patriarchal religions seems to be more than coincidence.

Now, the first thought that some will doubtless suggest is that fewer women associated with patriarchal religions work, but the survey was of working women, not all women. In addition, figures show that the percentage of married women who work in Utah is right around the national average. The other factor is that in the Provo area, there is a greater discrepancy between the higher education levels of men and women. It’s also the “most” LDS area in Utah, with the lowest percentage of women with college degrees, which tends to suggest that perhaps the LDS faith tends to value education in women less than in men, a fact I noted in an earlier blog.

Now, I’ve heard and seen all the LDs pronouncements on education, but it’s fairly clear that education comes second to faith. Why else would the Mormon Church push the age for young members lower so that a university education essentially competes with going on a mission? And going on a mission isn’t exactly cheap. Also, why does the LDS faith/culture, especially in Utah, press for those returned missionaries to get married within a year of returning from their mission – when most of them have three or four years left to finish college, if they attend college at all. In addition, there’s tremendous pressure on young married couples to have children immediately.

The result of this faith/cultural pressure is that, in practice, education for women not only takes second place to the education for men, but is effectively prioritized behind faith and the need to have children –lots of them –and the statistics bear this out. And those statistics explain yet another reason why women in Utah are underpaid.

I understand that, for many people, faith and male priorities come first. Just don’t tell me that education is a priority, especially when Utah also has the lowest rate of spending for primary and secondary education in the United States and the highest birth rate.

A Government of..?

As President-elect Trump announces his choices for various posts in government, those choices look very much like a government of, by, and for the rich. When asked about this, Trump replied to the effect that he wanted winners, and the rich had already proved they were winners.

There are more than a few problems with that philosophy. First, not all the rich are “winners.” While some are indeed winners, some of the rich are inheritors; some are just fortunate to have been born in the right place or time, with the right credentials [Malcolm Gladwell has some interesting insights on that in Outliers]; and some are talented con men who manipulate the system and screw others in their pursuit of winning at all costs.

Second, most of those in the United States are not wealthy winners. Even most Americans in the top one percent by income aren’t millionaires, let alone billionaires. Just what do those wealthy “winners” know about the problems facing the 99.9% of Americans? The present system has shown, pretty convincingly, that the current “political class” is out of touch with the majority of Americans, and that’s one reason why, as a number of my readers have pointed out, so many millions voted for Donald Trump. Just how is appointing millionaires and billionaires who are even less aware of the real problems facing most American families going to improve things?

Interestingly enough, Trump’s election alone is likely to have made life for some of them even harder. Why? Because his election seems to have strengthened the dollar. That strengthening has already made the price of U.S. goods that are exported rise. Higher export prices cost more U.S. jobs.

Third, Trump’s entire concept of “winners” creates the idea that those who aren’t at the top of the pyramid of wealth and fame are “losers.” Is a teacher or a university professor who turns out thoughtful and successful students a loser? Is a doctor who chooses academic medicine and research that saves lives but doesn’t come up with a block-buster drug or medical device a loser? Is the person who struggles from absolute poverty into a “mere” middle-class job and lifestyle a loser?

Fourth, measuring success by the size of profit-margins monetizes all aspects of society, and applying cost-benefit, profit-margin views unthinkingly to government results in policies that are, at best, useful in the short-run and often devastating in the long run. Just in the last year or so, we’ve seen significant environmental damage to regional water supplies, caused by past short-sighted mining rules and, in the case of Flint, unwise cost-cutting decisions. We’re still paying for clean-up to industrial and mining sites all across the country because various industries were allowed to operate without sound environmental rules, and yet the rallying cry of the Trumpistas is that environmental rules are too strict. Too strict for what? That viewpoint seems to suggest that profitable jobs can’t be created without polluting.

While government programs that merely throw money at problems are wasteful, and should be eliminated or reworked, regulations that assure worker health and safely, food purity, product safety, and environmentally safe means of production shouldn’t be trashed because they “reduce” profits. As I’ve said all along, we need a middle way, and I don’t see the super-wealthy showing much concern for anything but profits and unfettered growth.

But then, the super-rich more and more live in enclaves where their water is clean, located in places where the air is better… and they know what’s best for everyone else.

Emotional Attachment

Over the years, I’ve run across more than a few contradictory comments by readers, where one reader finds a particular “fault” and another reader says that what the first reader said wasn’t true at all. My “favorite” set of such conflicting statements deal with the reader’s emotional attachment. I’ve written a number of books where one reader says he or she can’t get emotionally involved, and another reader finds the same book emotionally strong, even riveting.

And they’re both right.

That’s because empathy or emotional attachment comes from a reader being able to identify with the character and/or the situation in which the character is immersed. If a reader can identify with both the character and the situation, then the reader’s emotional attachment is likely to be stronger, and if the reader can identify with neither… there won’t be much, if any, emotional attachment.

I’ve had male readers write and tell me that they just can’t identify with female characters, any female characters by any author. I’ll take their word on that, although I do wonder somewhat about their personal life…but that’s their affair, not mine.

Some readers can identify with a wide range of characters, and some with not so wide a range.

Then, there’s always the question of how well an author presents a character. Some authors, and Hemingway is an example, offer little in the way of direct emotional portraits of a character and even keep the language so spare that actions are about the only revealing feature. Other authors, more in the romance field, I suspect, practically offer emotional blueprints of their characters. From what I’ve read, most authors fall somewhere in between.

I had one reader say that a particular character was unfeeling, especially when he lost a lover in a military action. The character never said much. He just took out a throwing knife and kept throwing it at a target until his hands were bloody and the target was reduced to splinters. Readers reacted in different ways to that scene.

I’ve also had readers complain that there wasn’t much emotional characterization when the characters never directly said how they felt, even though their acts and speech patterns and delivery revealed a great deal. But if a reader doesn’t pick that up, then he or she is likely to have less emotional involvement.

Personally, I don’t believe there’s any good way to get emotional involvement from all readers, because, if an author uses every possible way of appealing, that’s likely to result in an excessive emotional overflow… not to mention the possibility of excess wordage.

In the end, what I do is to show the emotional acts, cues, and words that fit the character in a way that fits into the flow of the story and leave it to the reader… and, frankly, accept the fact that nothing I write will appeal to everyone.

Shaking Things Up?

Trump and a great percentage of those individuals who voted for him claimed that he was going to shake things up and get rid of the career politicians who had created the political deadlock. Trump also appealed strongly to white workers whose livelihoods had been “destroyed” or threatened by globalization, saying he was going to change things

So far, if the biographies and backgrounds of those he’s selected for cabinet posts and high positions in the White House are any indication, while he may be shaking up a few of the more liberal Democrats, his appointees are largely billionaires, high powered executives, career military, or career Republican functionaries.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but I fail to see how Rex Tillerson, the head of ExxonMobil, is either going to shake things up or do much the average American. Perhaps benefit the fossil fuels industry executives, but not its workers

And what about the selection of Reince Priebus, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, as his White House chief of staff? How does that square with doing away with politics as usual?

Trump’s pick for Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, was deputy transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush and served as George W. Bush’s Secretary of Labor. She’s also married to Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. How much closer to politics as usual can you get?

Trump’s pick for U.S. Attorney General is Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a twenty year U.S. Senator from Alabama, who, in 1986 was rejected for a federal judgeship by a U.S. Senate committee because of his racist views. In addition to his opposition to legal immigration, he’s an outspoken climate science denier, claiming that carbon dioxide is “not a pollutant,” it’s just “plant food.”

What about Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency? He’s performed essentially as a tool for energy companies and is in favor of totally eliminating the EPA. What he wants might be a great change, but I’d prefer to have breathable air and drinkable water.

Trump’s proposed choice to head Health and Human Services is Representative Tom Price, of Georgia, a twenty-year career Republican, with six terms in Congress and eight years in the Georgia state senate. Strongly supported by the American Medical Association, he’s also a fierce opponent of abortion and federal funding of any form of contraception.

Trump has selected Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive who served as his campaign finance chairman, as his pick for Treasury Secretary.

And for the Labor Department, Trump tapped Andrew F. Puzder, the chief executive of CKE Restaurants – and a donor to his campaign — who has criticized the Obama administration’s labor policies. Maybe I’m overly skeptical, but isn’t appointing a man whose work has been based on cheap fast-food labor setting up a conflict of interest?

The Trump choice for Commerce Secretary is Wilbur Ross, an investor whose fortune is estimated by Forbes to be $2.9 billion and who has advocated steep tariffs on China.

The choice for Secretary of Education is Betsy DeVos, who has spent over thirty years as in various capacities in the Republican Party, and was chairman of the Michigan Republican Party for four years. She’s also married to an heir to the five billion dollar DeVos fortune, and an education activist who is a passionate believer in school vouchers and choice.

Trump has also indicated that he is strongly considering Rick Perry, former Republican Governor of Texas, to head the Energy Department. Also, according to sources close to Trump, three Republican members of Congress are also under consideration to head the Interior Department:first-term Republican Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana, Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho, and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.

The only truly “new” faces I’ve seen bruited about so far are Stephen Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News, as chief White House strategist and senior counselor, Wilbur Ross, and Ben Carson, the pick to head up the Department of Urban Development.

Add to that three retired generals, and President-elect Trump’s picks thus far don’t exactly appear likely to change the climate of politics as usual. It looks like three generals, five billionaires or top corporate executives, eleven career politicians, plus Bannon and Carson. Or something like nineteen to two in terms of old style politicians, executives [and generals are certainly executives] and billionaires versus Bannon and Carson. Now, as more names are released, possibly even as this appears, the numbers will change… but I don’t think the overall composition will.

And tell me, again, how this crew is going to improve things.

Philosophers’ “Truth”

Gottfried Liebniz has three claims to fame. First, he was an outstanding mathematician who developed the mathematics of differential calculus independently at about the same time as Newton did. Second, he was a noted philosopher. And third, he was ridiculed by Voltaire in his play Candide [later made into an opera by Leonard Bernstein]. Not by name, of course, but the character Dr. Pangloss is always proclaiming that those in the play “live in the best of all possible worlds,” even as he and Candide suffer disaster after disaster.

In his philosophy, Leibniz asserted [and I’ve simplified the steps] that because God is perfect, and made the world, we must live in the best of all possible worlds. Obviously, many people, including Voltaire, have disputed this, particularly those who have suffered disasters clearly not of their own making.

Even during his own time, many disputed Leibnitz, but from what I’ve been able to discover, most of those disputes were about the logic and structure of Liebnitz’s proposition, rather than the key assumptions underlying the assumptions. Those assumptions, and they are assumptions, because no empirical proof exists to support or, for that matter, to refute any of them are: (1) There is a God; (2) God is perfect; (3) God created the world; (4) a perfect God would not or could not create an imperfect world, or at least not a world representing less than his best efforts. Therefore, we live in the best of all possible worlds.

While many might have liked to dispute those assumptions, in the seventeenth century, publicly disputing any of them was potentially courting a death sentence, or at the least, economic, political, and social ruin.

Voltaire did the best he could to highlight what he thought was the absurdity of the proposition, simply by contrasting the extremes of what happened to people in real life every day, but that observation and others like it had Voltaire in trouble with the religious and secular authorities on and off throughout his life.

But the problem of inaccurate assumptions isn’t just limited to philosophers of past centuries; inaccurate and unfounded assumptions appear to be the bedrock of current politics.

Minority Government?

It now appears, pending the results of the Green Party’s initiative to force recounts in three states, that Hillary Clinton, while losing the election through the Electoral College, actually won the popular vote by more than two million votes. That is the largest popular vote margin in favor of a losing candidate in U.S. history. Even Al Gore only had a 540,000 vote margin.

So, despite a significant Electoral College victory, President-elect Trump is essentially the minority candidate who is behaving as though he won a great majority. If Trump pushes the wide range of issues that he trumpeted during the campaign, he’s very likely to alienate the majority of the nation, especially given that neither candidate was regarded favorably by a majority of the electorate. Yet, if he doesn’t push at least some of the campaign issues, he will alienate sectors of his hard-core base, which is already a minority.

There are already signs of discontent among the most conservative of Trump supporters as a result of Trump’s potential and proposed Cabinet appointments.

Add to that the fact that some Republican senators oppose certain of Trump’s pledges and that the Republicans only have a two vote majority in the Senate, and it’s not hard to see that enacting some of what he promised will be anything but easy, and may not even be possible.

On the other hand, both parties believe that an overhaul of the corporate tax structure is necessary and that tax reform should be undertaken. Fixing the corporate tax mess is likely to be the easier part of that, especially since Trump’s proposed changes to individual income tax rates will cause the federal deficit to soar. Trump and the Democrats both want to improve the nation’s infrastructure, but conservative Republicans… not so much.

With Jeff Sessions as attorney general, assuming he is confirmed, which is more likely than not, the U.S. position on immigration will definitely harden, the only question being how much and in what specific areas. And while Trump has stated that conditions for minorities need to improve, his only specific point so far has been that all the legislation pushed by Democrats hasn’t done the job.

So…just what will a Trump Presidency bring? Lots of people have firm ideas, including me. I suspect we’ll all be wrong to some degree

Economics of Speed

Just over forty-nine years ago, in October of 1967, William J. Knight flew the North American rocket-powered X-15 at a speed of Mach 6.72 [4,520 miles per hour (7,274 km/h)], to set the still-unbroken speed record for a manned aircraft.

The speed record for an unmanned aircraft was set by NASA’s X-43A at Mach 9.6 on November 16, 2004, at an altitude of 33,223 meters over the Pacific Ocean.

The top speed for a manned aircraft taking off on its own power belongs to the SR-71 Blackbird which established in July of 1976 a still-standing speed record of (2,193.2 mph; 3,529.6 km/h), approximately Mach 3.3. There are reports of faster speeds, but not under accepted standards for records.

None of these aircraft are known to be operational today, ostensibly because the first two were experimental research aircraft that served their purposes, and because it’s been stated that the SR-71’s reconnaissance objectives can now be achieved by satellite or UAV reconnaissance at a much lower cost. Of the 32 SR-71s built, twelve were lost to mechanical or other non-combat causes. Over 800 SAMs were fired at SR-71s, and none ever hit, but the operating cost of the SR-71 exceeded $85,000 per hour, and ran $300 million a year, essentially $10 million per operating aircraft per year.

When I left the Navy, the F-14 was the top fighter [at least Navy pilots thought so], but it was retired early, despite being not only faster and able to do more than the F-18, because it required more than twice as much maintenance and because of [disputed] claims that some of the missions it could handle were no longer necessary.

The fastest commercial aircraft was, of course, the Concorde with a top speed of Mach 2.04, and, like the SR-71, it was retired from service for economic reasons, because it never made a profit, and refitting costs would have made it even less profitable.

Economics also have impacted commercial airliners. Today, on major routes, it takes longer to fly point to point than it did fifty years ago. The 1960s Boeing 707 actually cruised at faster speeds (roughly 3% faster) than does the latest B-737-800. The reason is that that newer airliner use high-bypass jet engines that are currently much more fuel-efficient at slightly slower speeds, and since fuel costs range from 26-35% of operating costs, fuel efficiency is far more highly prized than speed.

The bottom line: For both the military and for commercial air travel, economics outweigh speed.

The “Free Market” Economy

One of the on-going Republican policy positions, as well as a stand taken by President-elect Trump, is that too much government regulation hampers the economy and costs jobs, and that the “freer” an economy can be, the better.

The problem with this stand is that it ignores reality. Markets don’t work very well, and sometimes not at all if there isn’t a certain amount of order. In turn, maintaining order requires an overriding structure and authority backed by some sort of force, or at least the possibility of force. Most conservatives will accept that as a necessity.

So the question really becomes one of what, if anything, should government [or the authority structure] do beyond providing basic order. Despite those who feel government should do nothing, in historical practice, most western governments have, if spottily, required some basic standardization and regulation of trade. The size, weight, and composition of basic foodstuffs have been set forth; counterfeiting forbidden; and often the times and places prescribed where goods could be sold, as well as where certain noxious practices, such as rendering and smelting, could be carried out.

Most societies have been aware of the dangers of adulterated foodstuffs. Rye contaminated by ergot fungus and turned into flour can result in ergotism, which caused tens of thousands of deaths in Europe from the 1300s through the mid-1800s, but more than a few unscrupulous farmers still sold contaminated grain to millers, even after the cause of the disease, popularly known as St. Anthony’s Fire, was known. Meat-packing in the U.S., even in the early part of the twentieth century, was often terribly unsanitary, as revealed in Sinclair Lewis’s The Jungle, a book which spurred public outcry, which led to reforms including the Meat Inspection Act.

Bit by bit, the U.S. government passed laws and implemented regulations to improve food safety. Later, after it become clear that industrial practices had resulted in rivers that caught fire and were too toxic for fish to survive, and that air in some areas was barely breathable because of airborne pollutants, Congress passed environmental laws to regulate the emission of various classes of pollutants.

Now… the question that tends to get overlooked by those who claim that all these regulations are excessive and that business and industry could do just fine if they didn’t have to comply with all the regulations is, if businesses could protect public health, why they never did. The answer is simply that the economic structure didn’t allow them to do so.

Producing anything in the fashion most beneficial to consumers’ health and in the most environmentally sound way costs more than ignoring the health and environmental issues. Therefore, the way to maximize profits is to do the bare minimum in terms of health and environmental issues, the bare minimum being not immediately poisoning your consumers and workers or the surrounding environment. Any business that does more than that jeopardizes its own future because, when there are no regulations, or lesser regulations, the business that increases its costs to improve health and environment becomes less profitable.

And that is exactly what’s happened in terms of the thousands of U.S. businesses that have offshored production of goods to third world nations or those with lower environmental and health regulations.

There’s a definite trade-off between environmental and health safety and cost of production. And higher costs of production mean higher prices. U.S. consumers want cheaper goods, but they also have wanted cleaner air and waters. The only way we can have both, in the present world, is to import cheaper foreign goods from other countries who are polluting their air and water, endangering the health of their workers and environment, and paying those workers far less.

What China is already discovering is that there is, in fact, even under an authoritarian government, a level of pollution that is too much, but even if other nations improve their health and safety standards, and most will have to, over time, they’ll still be able to produce goods more cheaply.

Which brings up the question of exactly how a Trump administration intends to “return” jobs to the U.S. without increasing the price of goods produced by those workers. Or does he intend to attempt [because it’s not clear that he can succeed] to reduce environmental protection in order to lower costs of production? If not, then he and Congress will have to impose tariff barriers and those barriers will increase the costs of goods to U.S. consumers.

Of course, I haven’t yet seen anyone in the incoming administration publicly dealing with these questions… and I have some doubt that we will.

Dated?

Apparently, one of the big concerns by advertising professionals is whether an ad campaign is “current” and not “dated.” I’ve also heard this being voiced about cover art on books, and how political campaigns are being conducted, particularly after the recent election, despite the fact that the furor over the Electoral College is anything but new or recent.

Even though I don’t drink beer, I really liked and appreciated the Anheuser-Busch commercials which featured their Clydesdale horses. So did all of our beer-drinking friends, but it appears that all of us are “dated,” because using gentle humor, good feelings, and horses was just not appealing to the current generation, a generation that I find less than appealing if they’re actually motivated to buy beer based on dumb commercials featuring clueless young males.

I’ve also heard that Facebook is becoming dated, and that email is almost passe among the younger generations and that communications are largely carried out through tweets and somethings called Snapchat and Instagram, and that websites such as mine, which actually discusses matters in far too many words, are positively antediluvian. It would appear that written communications of more than 128 characters are also “dated.”

Knowledge of history is also clearly “dated,” given that the vast majority of college students on the local university campus have no idea about the civil rights violence of the 1960s and 1970s, the Great Depression, the causes and results of either World War I, World War II, or Vietnam. Music majors seem to arrive at college knowing little about any music except rote-rhythm pop, and seem unable to learn or memorize melodic lines of more than four bars without what seems to them to be excruciating effort, while Hamilton has become the only history lesson many students even want to pay attention to.

Printed newspapers are becoming dated as well, and magazines are in the process of following that trend. And now, a number of school systems aren’t teaching cursive writing, presumably since it’s also dated, despite recent scientific studies showing that writing actually enhances memory and learning.

But then, as the recent election just demonstrated, facts and knowledge are also dated.

Grunt Work

Last week one of my readers posted election turnout statistics, which revealed an interesting pattern – that Republican voters turned out with about the same numbers in every presidential election over the last twelve years, but that Democratic votes varied dramatically, apparently based on the “appeal” of the candidate, and particularly the appeal to African-Americans.

But it wasn’t just candidate appeal that affected turnout. With lawsuits recently upheld by the Supreme Court that restricted the ability of the Justice Department to monitor state election procedures, a number of states “consolidated” polling locations and reduced voting hours, and such restrictions have been shown to reduce minority voter turnout far more than they did Republican turnout, which is exactly what they were designed to do.

Such state acts have been currently held to be legal, but I’d hold that they’re scarcely moral, not that morality counts in elections. Only votes do.

And that gets down to the bottom line. Republicans have been working hard for years on a state-level strategy designed to create a political system more to their liking. They’ve gerrymandered Congressional districts so that Democrat voters are concentrated in fewer districts, which is the principal reason why the House of Representatives is overwhelmingly Republican. What also tends to get overlooked is that getting elected to the House gains an aspiring politician visibility and the ability to fundraise, and if there are more Republican representatives in a state’s delegation, then the Republicans have better odds in eventually electing more senators from that state.

What they’ve done is perfectly legal, but it takes time, effort, and money, all of which Republicans have, and have used effectively over the past decade and even longer, while much of the Democratic constituency is far shorter on all three.

The other factor is cultural change. Like it or not, we now live in a “celebrity” culture, and the key factor in celebrity is the ability to relate to people through the mass media. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump could do this with their supporters, Hillary Clinton much less so.

In terms of the 2016 election, although it was far from obvious at the beginning, what this meant was that the Democrats were at what I’d call a structural disadvantage from the start, in that all the election-year “ground game” and organizational skills in the world would be hard-pressed to meet the Republican challenge without a “popular” candidate, and especially hard-pressed once they nominated Clinton.

What I’m saying is not an “excuse” for Democrats. What I’m saying is that Democrats have gotten out-organized, out-funded, and out-maneuvered. Democrats, and this includes others with the same concerns, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, have tended to focus on protests and lawsuits, but in the end votes count. No matter how necessary, or how worthy legal and political change may be, in our system that requires changing the laws. Changing the laws requires changing the lawmakers, and changing the lawmakers requires getting more votes at state and local levels… and working at that year after year after year, not just in an election year.
If you get enough votes, even the Electoral College comes your way.

And, as the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding.

The Woman Question?

In the last blog, I cited figures showing the incredibly disproportionate white male vote against Hillary Clinton. Clinton won women last Tuesday by 12 points and lost men by 12 points: a total 24-point gap, the widest gender gap ever in a Presidential election.

There are many contributing factors to why Clinton didn’t win the Electoral College vote, but the one of the major factors is simply that a great number of white males didn’t want a woman President. Now, you can give me lots of other reasons why Clinton didn’t win, but none of them, even together, explain the size of the anti-Clinton white male vote.

People voted that way because they didn’t trust Clinton? That’s obviously true. But why is it true, given that Trump has been proven to be more deceptive, and a greater liar than Clinton? Not to mention that he’s screwed contractors and others out of what he’s owed them? And why do men seem to be so much more willing to ignore Trump’s lies than Clinton’s? Especially given that in every income and education level, men are more against Clinton than women?

Roughly seventy percent of adult males are in the labor force and roughly sixty percent of adult women are in the labor force. Women tend to be paid less, and by all logic, would seem to suffer more from hard economic times. If the reasons for voting are economic, as so many claim, why do men’s votes differ so much from women’s?

Is education a factor in the difference between men’s and women’s votes? Regardless of the level of education, more men than women voted for Trump and against Clinton.

Roughly seventy percent of U.S. households consist of two adults, and the vast majority of those are male-female. That means that similar social, economic, and other pressures impact both, yet there was the widest gender gap ever between men and women’s voting patterns.

In general, women’s votes tended much more to follow past economic and social indicators and past voting patterns than did men’s. The major difference in this election was that one candidate was a woman, and while women’s voting patterns didn’t change all that much, men’s did.

Please don’t give me all the excuses. All the reasons thrown up don’t explain the magnitude of the gap. The only thing that does is that a great many men (and even some women) don’t want a woman President…and all too many of them will never acknowledge that, and some are very, very good at rationalizing why they couldn’t vote for Clinton on other grounds.

It’s still rationalization.

The “Whitelash” Charge

CNN commentator Van Jones, who is black, made the following statement on-air soon after the projections showed that Donald Trump would win the Presidency:

“This was a whitelash – this was a whitelash against a changing country. It was whitelash against a black president, in part.”

Hyperbole? Exaggeration? Not if a number of exit polls taken at hundreds of polling places across the nation happen to be correct. White voters, who compose 69% of voters, voted 58% for Trump and 37% for Clinton. This margin was even more pronounced among men. White men opted 63% for Trump and 31% for Clinton, while white women voted 53% for Trump and 43% for Clinton.

By comparison, non-white voters, who make up 31% of the electorate, voted 74% for Clinton and 21% for Trump.

Trump not only won white voters without a college degree by a margin of 67% to 28%, according to Research for the National Election Pool and Pew Research, but also those white voters with a college degree, if by a much smaller margin of 49% to 45%.
Even among more well-off whites, according to CNN studies, of the 64% of American voters who earn more than $50,000 a year, 49% chose Trump, and 47% Clinton.

Unhappily, these aren’t just factoids and statistics. They represent a white misperception of economic reality… or possibly just a failure by affected white workers to understand that they’re not the only ones hurting, and hurting badly.

I’m not denying that 5-6 million largely white manufacturing workers lost jobs to globalization and automation. Nor am I denying that middle-class income levels, largely of white families, have stagnated over the past thirty years.

The problem is that it’s far worse for minorities, and they feel that their opportunities are also hampered by persistent discrimination and by an economic and justice system that makes their path harder than for whites.

Even though now 23% of African Americans over age 25 have at least one college degree, 36% of whites, and 53% of Asian Americans do. Unfortunately, only15% of Latinos do.

But even with equal degrees, the results aren’t equal. On average, college-educated and degreed blacks make 20% less than similarly educated whites.

According to Census figures, the average [median] income of all households in the U.S. is about $54,000, but the average income of African American households is lower than any other ethnic group at just over $35,000. In terms of savings and housing and some form of assets that can buffer hard times, the average [median] household wealth for whites is $114,000, for Hispanics $13,000, and for African-Americans $11,000. Not only that, but over the past 25 years, the wealth gap between blacks and whites has nearly tripled, according to research by Brandeis University.

Currently, a quarter of black and Hispanic families live in poverty, compared to ten percent of white families, and the numbers are even starker when looking at child poverty. Under 11% of white children were in poverty in 2013, but 38% of black children and 30% of Hispanic children are poor.

While great improvements have been made in the educational achievement of minorities and in increasing minority income levels, the gaps are still huge.

What this means, in political and social terms, is that the Trump administration cannot just focus on dealing with “white” economic pain, not without risking even greater political and societal unrest, an unrest that will get even more intense if it is not addressed as the white electorate becomes a smaller and smaller proportion of the population – and we’re talking about a population shift without taking into account ANY future immigration or lack thereof.

Catering to “whitelash” exclusively is a prescription for longer term disaster.

And all that doesn’t even take into account the equally great problem of gender discrimination, which is far too big a subject to include in this post, except to note that it’s also a problem that isn’t going to go away, no matter what white males think.

Relative – and Personal

There are times when I’m not exactly excited to be proved correct. A little over a week ago, I suggested that it was very much possible that Donald Trump would win the Presidency. He did just that, for very much the reasons I suggested. He energized and lifted the non-college educated white male vote and increased the turnout of those men significantly. He got votes from rural areas and small towns – except many college towns – in a far higher percentage than any pollster on either side expected.

He was incredibly effective in speaking to his constituency, and, frankly, the vulgarity and crudeness was part of that effectiveness, because it made him seem real to his voters and not a politician removed from their concerns and their pain. He was one of “the boys,” which also carried the unstated implication that no woman could really understand the problems facing unemployed or underemployed men.

What Trump also understood was something that no Democratic candidate since Bill Clinton has apparently understood, or, at least, been able to convey, is that politics is relative… and personal. People judge where they are in life relative to other people and relative to where they used to be, and their judgment period is fairly short. They don’t care if they’re much better off than their parents or their grandparents if they personally are worse off than last year or the year before. And if they’re minorities, especially African Americans, they’re not all that happy being better off than they were last year if they’re still worse off than non-minorities, especially if they’ve been worse off as a group for centuries… and when they don’t see long-standing injustices and discrimination being effectively addressed.

Add to that the gridlock in Washington, which Trump could and did attack as an outsider, while Clinton was in fact greatly handicapped by her knowledge and experience, simply because if she said in detail why Trump was wrong she was defending a system that all too many Americans dislike and distrust. And if she used detailed policies, which she did, that caricatured her as a bureaucrat for many and reinforced the image of someone who was just another untrustworthy politician.

Nor could Clinton connect that effectively with many women, even despite Trump’s clearly expressed misogyny.

Clinton’s policies may indeed have been better for minorities and possibly even for most Trump supporters, but she couldn’t connect with those voters personally. She couldn’t make them feel that she understood their pain and problems.

Trump could… and did, because, in the end, politics is relative… and personal. And that is why he is President-elect.

Deceptive “Fairness”

The local newspaper had two articles dealing with the two major party Presidential candidates this morning. The one featuring Donald Trump was headlined,“Trump not only billionaire who turned to politics.” The one featuring Hillary Clinton was entitled “Promises by Clinton Might be hard to keep.” Both articles were of two columns, and both featured pictures of the candidates speaking, and both were set at the same height on the page opposite the editorial page, which did not feature an endorsement.

The “problems” story only dealt with Clinton’s possible difficulties in keeping her promises on taxes and the deficit and debt, and did not mention at all the fiscal impossibilities of Trump’s tax plans. The “Billionaire” story mentioned that, while Trump was the first U.S. billionaire to seek the presidency, other wealthy Americans, such as Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush, had sought and won the Presidency. It then went on to mention billionaires in other countries who had been elected to high office.

The superficial fairness reveals the editorial set of the paper without ever actually declaring a stance. First, whoever wins is going to have problems keeping their promises, and it’s more likely that Trump will actually have more trouble doing so even if he has a Republican House and Senate, simply because he’s promised more that is impossible, given technical, legal, Constitutional, and economic limitations. Yet by highlighting only Clinton’s difficulties the editors have created the impression that Trump is more “reasonable” and practical.

This is only one newspaper, and I’m more than certain that other news media have done the same thing, in a way to benefit one candidate or the other, but what bothers me about this is that, in years past, there was at least a vestige of impartial coverage. When the supposed “news” media engage in deception, whether overt or covert, this erodes their credibility – something that, ironically, Trump has charged repeatedly, especially when the media has been brutally factual about his foibles, and something which may have benefited him more than Clinton.

And, whether I like Trump or not, the issue he’s raised is real, despite the fact that the very reason he’s become a viable candidate is exactly because the media has turned from an emphasis on factual reporting to an emphasis on sensation and dollars. The more sensationalism becomes the basis of supposed “reporting,” the less that reporting is trusted, yet paradoxically, the more effective it becomes in reinforcing people’s personal biases, because most people, knowing the media is not impartial, more and more pick out only that news that suits their mindset to accept as “true.”

In essence, then, the emphasis on the bottom line not only bolsters profits, but boosts societal polarization at a time when we need more societal cooperation, not less. And I have yet to see anyone in the media who seems to recognize this. If there is, and there may well be, they certainly haven’t gotten media coverage. Go figure that.

Facts and Feelings

The current Presidential campaign has become ever more bitter as we approach the election, with partisans on both sides venting their feelings. Unfortunately for all of us, the election has become more and more about feelings than facts.

Facts are often those inconvenient examples, or bodies of data, or numbers that don’t quite fit neatly into any ideology or belief. People feel strongly that “free trade” is either good or bad. The facts say, rather convincingly, as a recent series in The Economist summed up, that free trade provides lower prices for everyone, on average a bit less than 40% lower in the U.S., and that the benefit is greater the lower one’s income happens to be. But free trade isn’t all that good for those formerly employed in certain sectors. Free trade means that millions of Americans in manufacturing industries, especially textiles,apparel, and steel, lost their jobs.

Technology is also a very mixed bag. Yes, computers and associated have revolutionized the American workplace and improved communications and entertainment, data processing, accounting, etc., but those same technologies have automated American manufacturing and reduced the number of good-paying jobs for semi-skilled workers, with the result that the combination of globalized free trade and automation has eliminated some six million U.S. manufacturing jobs since 2005. Technology has also significantly contributed to the restructuring of the entire U.S. economy, putting a premium on higher-skill jobs and adding to the forces that have created greater income inequality.

Likewise, improvements in energy production, including fracking, and automation of coal mining, have lowered the real prices of natural gas and oil, and that has reduced the numbers of coal mining jobs and driven a number of major coal companies into bankruptcy and some entirely out of business. Less coal production results in the production of cleaner electric power, but fracking creates new environmental problems.

Despite all the efforts by the Federal Reserve and central bankers around the world, there’s no way to make money cheaper for borrowers than it is, and that cheap money hasn’t done much to spur job creation. With massive deficits in government spending, not only in the United States, but around the world, reducing taxes will only make deficits greater, because any tax cut large enough to create a meaningful stimulus will ensure financial collapse within a few years.

These are facts. No amount of feelings or political rhetoric is going to change them. People aren’t going to willingly pay 20-40% more for goods at a time when middle class income is essentially stagnant, if not lower, and when the real incomes of those below the middle class level have, on average, declined. Government can’t cut taxes significantly, because it won’t be able to borrow enough to pay its bills, and if it prints that much more money, that risks destroying the entire financial system.

Do I see any real discussion on these points? Hell no. I see people frothing at the mouth over Trump’s crudeness and sexual predation, but not attacking or discussing his non-existent knowledge of government or economics, or his simplistic and unworkable, but highly popular [with his suppporters] plans. I see others fuming over what Clinton may have hidden in her emails and the sexual history of her husband, or inaccurate scare-mongering about how she’ll eliminate the second amendment [which she can’t], but not about the implications of her infrastructure programs or the details of her proposed changes to taxes.

Nor do I see any discussion of the voters’ tendency to always want more programs and lower taxes, which is one reason why we’re in the mess we’re in. After all, taxes and spending are truly controlled, not by who is President, but by the Congress, and with the exception of a year or so at the end of the first Bush Administration and some of the Clinton administration, for the last forty years, neither party has had the guts to say no to popular pressure.

It’s so much easier to mount personal attacks on the other side than to deal with the critical issues, especially if you have one candidate who doesn’t even know anything about what really caused the problems that fuel his anger and that of his supporters and the other who essentially ignores the losses so strongly felt by her opponent’s supporters. But then, they both know, Trump more than Clinton, that this election isn’t about facts. For most people, it’s all about feelings, especially anger, and that’s what makes the entire election process and what will follow so potentially dangerous.