Archive for September, 2023

“Freedom Caucus”

Right now, it appears as though the main objective of the right-wing Republicans in the U.S. House isn’t to improve government, or to adopt a sensible federal budget, or even to keep the government going, but to attack and try to impeach President Joe Biden because he beat Donald Trump in the last election.

To me, it also seems as though the Republicans in the House have forgotten that they live in a representative democracy where they need to consider the views of all the people, not just those in their districts who elected them. Right now, the far-right wing in the House has little or no interest in working policy matters out, despite some of their rhetoric. Even the rhetoric is totally unrealistic – just how are they going to pass eleven appropriations bills in a few days, when in nine months the Republican leadership has only been able to get one relatively non-controversial appropriations bill passed by the House?

The Republican right is far more interested in imposing their views on everyone else, just like Trump (not to mention Tommy Tuberville) wants to do, regardless of the Constitution and long-standing political processes and practices.

It apparently doesn’t matter to those of the far right that the overwhelming majority of Americans want some form of legal abortion close to what Roe v. Wade provided. It doesn’t matter that the majority of Americans doesn’t want government shutdowns, or massive cuts in Medicare or Medicaid, or the freezing of military promotions. And, of course, the far-right wants also wants to stop all investigations and prosecutions of those involved in the January 6th insurrection and attempts to overthrow the results of the 2020 election. They also want to close the U.S. southern border, but have no workable plan (and will never be able to implement one without turning the U.S. into a total autocracy, as I’ve discussed earlier).

And, ironically, despite all their efforts to run over everyone else’s rights, they persist in calling themselves the “Freedom Caucus.”

Anger Stupidifies Americans

A recent ABC news poll finds Trump almost ten points ahead of President Biden in a head-to-head match-up.

How is it that a man convicted of sexual abuse and sequential tax evasion, who’s also facing four more criminal indictments and 91 felony counts, is outpolling the President who’s accomplished more legislatively in two years than any other President in at least a decade, if not longer, and, messy as it was, finally extracted the United States from a seemingly endless war in Afghanistan?

How is it that Biden gets blamed for the inflation that was started by overspending in the Trump administration? How is it that the most pro-labor President in decades is losing labor votes to a billionaire whose every action in the private sector prior to becoming president effectively minimized or screwed labor and their employers?

How is it that people worry so much more about Biden’s age than Trump’s, especially since there’s not that much difference in age between the two, and since Trump is a convicted criminal and a serial liar who takes enormous liberties with the facts, a behavior far more indicative of senility than Biden’s occasional speech gaffes (which he’s had most of his life, possibly the result of a childhood problem with stuttering)?

In addition, the poll shows that more people blame Biden than Trump for Congress’s failure to act to stop a government shutdown, when the shutdown is being caused by the right wing of the Republican party, and when the Republicans control the House, and so far have only been able to pass one minor appropriations bill.

The only answer that makes sense is anger at rising prices and government’s failure to deal with issues – most of which failure lies with Congress, not with Biden.

But right now, it appears the majority of Americans are so blinded with anger that they honestly can’t see or think straight… and that’s a real problem.

Pot and Kettle?

Some pundits and many Americans seem think that both political parties are equally corrupt. Now, I know as well as anyone that facts seldom change anyone’s mind, but I can always hope that some day it might happen.

As for the equal corruption… let’s see how the Republicans stack up.

Exhibit #1 – Donald Trump. In addition to four pending criminal indictments, with 91 separate criminal charges, he also lost a civil lawsuit for defamation in which he was found guilty of sexual assault, and now faces another charge of defamation in which he’s again been found guilty, but hasn’t yet been sentenced. Trump and the Trump companies were found guilty of gross tax evasion. He also paid hush money to a porn star not to reveal his sexual relations with her.

In addition, the following Trump aides were charged, convicted, and sentenced to prison: campaign chair Paul Manafort; former campaign vice chairman, Rick Gates; former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen; former adviser and former campaign aide, Roger Stone; former campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos; Trump Organization’s former CFO, Allen Weisselberg. Also, former White House national security advisor Michael Flynn was charged and convicted, as were Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and Elliot Broidy, vice chair of Trump’s inaugural committee.

Finally, those charges don’t include criminal charges against more than eighteen other individuals that are still in the process of being litigated.

Exhibit #2 – Ken Paxton. Over 21 years, the Republican Texas Attorney general has been charged with duping investors, using inside information illegally for profit, using his office to interfere in legal proceedings on behalf of a friend, using government funds to hire outside counsel to investigate his political enemies. The Republican dominated Texas State House impeached Paxton, with 70% of the Republicans supporting impeachment, but the Texas State Senate acquitted him on all charges. In the meantime, Paxton was indicted in federal court for criminal fraud in lying to financial institutions and faces a federal trial.

Exhibit #3 – Republican Congressman George Santos. Indicted on 13 felony counts, including wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and making materially false statements to the House of Representatives.

Exhibit #4 – Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry. Convicted in March of three felonies involving lying to federal investigators and concealing illegal campaign donations.

On the other side, all the Republicans seem able to do is to claim that Hunter Biden failed to pay his taxes on time, that he used drugs, and bought a gun while under the influence. But Hunter Biden isn’t even an officeholder, and so far, with all their rhetoric and hearings, Republicans have yet to come up with any evidence involving his father, just as they never could come up with criminal evidence against Hillary Clinton. Also, isn’t a little strange that the Republicans are hounding Hunter Biden about $2 million in fees he received from Ukrainian businesses, but they seem to have forgotten the $2 billion that Ivanka’s husband Jared Kusher got from the Saudis?

I’m not saying that Democratic national political figures are blameless or that some haven’t been convicted of felonies, because some have been, but never recently on this scale. In recent years, however, there’s no comparison in corruption on the national level… and by the way, Watergate was also a Republican example of corruption, with real evidence and jail sentences.

What You Don’t See

As some readers may know, we have dogs and cats – well, we’ve downsized in more than one way. We’re down to two dogs and one cat, and the dogs are both dachshunds.

One of our dachshunds was supposed to be a miniature English cream longhair, but with dachshund puppies you often can’t tell. When we got him, he looked like the others in his litter. Then after a month or so, he developed whiskers like a wire-haired dachshund, but his ears were smooth like a short-haired dachshund, even as his coat began to grow out like a long-hair. That coat turned into a mixture of gold and reddish brown, but it was neither long nor short.

We began looking at dachshund pictures. After looking at hundreds, if not thousands, we found one that looked like him. One. Later we found a few others. More research determined that he looked like what one book described as a short-coat wheaten – considered by many of the texts and tomes we perused as the rarest color for a dachshund – although, as we discovered, dachshunds come in quite an array of colors.

The other thing that bothered us was that he didn’t bark. Oh, he was verbal, but it was and still is a whine-whimper that ranged from questioning to pleading to insistently demanding. He was affectionate and enthusiastic, but didn’t bark.

All of this provided the background for Rudy, the dachshund protagonist of “The Unexpected Dachshund” in the animal rescuers anthology Instinct. And like Rudy, finally, at age two, our boy began to bark.

But there’s more to the story. Dachshunds were originally bred to hunt badgers or other largish rodents. Our short-coat wheaten has never had any interest in such, but any bird he can see, anywhere nearby, any size, large or small, and he’s off like a shot. He’s caught one, which I managed to rescue before any apparent damage was inflicted, but his enthusiasm is unabated.

The other day I took him out in the back yard, and he began to bark, insistently. There was no one around. No birds in the evergreens, no cats, and no other dogs, either, except our other dachshund, an older black long-hair, and she was contently rolling in the grass, clean grass, mind you, because she’s very prim and tidy, but, had there been any other dog or person around, she definitely would have sounded the alarm.

But our boy kept barking, and finally I looked up. Our supposedly rodent-hunting miniature wheaten dachshund hadn’t been distracted at all from his self-discovered calling – despite the top of his head being only a foot off the ground, his concentration was focused thirty feet in the air on the top of our neighbor’s roof at four huge ravens having some sort of raven conclave, with low muttering caws so unlike their usual piercingly ugly call.

The unexpected dachshund birddog.

Rewarding Falsehoods

Both the Democrats and the Republicans continue to spend more money than the government takes in.

The Republicans say that they want to cut spending, but only on programs that benefit the poor and working classes, while cutting taxes paid by well-off Americans, and allowing programs that benefit business and the rich to continue uncut, while the Democrats continue to press for expanding social programs they can’t fund, except through deficits.

When somewhere around 23% of this year’s federal spending requires running a deficit, neither political party is behaving rationally, but then, we all know that the term “responsible politician” is an oxymoron.

But why are politicians unwilling to face up to the problem?

The answer is simple. Any politician who goes anywhere close to telling unpleasant factual truths quickly gets attacked and voted out of office. Of, if they’re “fortunate,” like Nikki Haley, when she pointed out that both political parties were responsible for inflation and excessive spending, they’re simply ignored.

But it’s worse than that. In today’s political climate, politicians who tell, time after time, popular political and economic falsehoods get rewarded by a public that also doesn’t want to hear unpleasant truths.

You can’t have lower taxes and all the programs people have come to rely upon without running a deficit or increasing taxes. You can’t have an all-volunteer military without paying them more. You won’t get better teachers with higher standards unless you pay them more. You can’t have less expensive consumer goods without offshoring or automating production of those goods, and either way reduces industrial jobs in the U.S. You can’t keep producing more college graduates, when the economy requires only half the number of graduates, without increasing the debt-loads of the graduates who can’t get higher paid jobs. You can’t keep increasing income inequality in the United States without creating more and more anger and resentment.

But no one wants to hear any of this, least of all the majority of politicians, all of whom insist that they’re not like that.

Oh, Really?

Maybe I’m missing something, but I was under the impression that one of the “benefits” of satellite networks like Direct TV and Dish was to obtain programming free of all those annoying ads, but now ads are appearing in the middle of movies – even movies made decades ago. And while the profits of Hollywood studios are down, those of Netflix, Amazon, and a few others are way up.

Ad breaks used to be a few minutes, but on satellite and cable networks, now they’re often five minutes long. And sports TV/internet is now using split-screen technology so that you get a silent picture of the “action” on one side and a loud commercial on the other side. And yes, advertising revenues are way, way up.

And, oh, yes, my monthly internet access bill went up 40%, unannounced, last month.

So, with all the revenues from this vast array of news and entertainment going up and up, exactly why are the real content providers, i.e., the writers and actors (the majority of them, not the super high-paid stars) getting stiffed and striking? And why do the media giants complain that they can’t afford real people? To pay for the exorbitant pay of high executives, perhaps?

As a provider of entertainment content myself, I can see that the list price of one of my fantasy hardcovers has gone from $21 in 1991 to $32 in 2023, an increase of slightly more than 50%. That’s over 32 years, which amounts to an increase of 34 cents a year, or an annual price increase of under 2% (not exactly exorbitant). In the meantime, my property taxes have doubled, and to replace my 2009 SUV would cost twice much as I paid for it.

But I’m one of the more fortunate authors. I know a number who no longer can make a living from their writing or who couldn’t save enough and afford good enough health insurance and who’ve been financially and sometimes physically destroyed. I’ve seen editors sacked by publisher after publisher, with downsizing after downsizing.

And, unhappily, this isn’t just happening in the entertainment industry. The IT industry is famous for hiring young talent comparatively cheaply and then laying off more experienced (and higher paid) technical staff in their forties and fifties, and sometimes younger.

Academia used to rely on the expertise of tenured professors. Now those positions comprise less than a third of university teachers, and are declining every year, while the majority of undergraduates are taught by part-time adjuncts, who get no health or retirement benefits and have no idea whether they’ll have a job in the next semester.

At some point, all these comparatively underpaid workers will no longer be able to service the debt that they’ve built up while struggling for better pay and job security… and then what?

Fantasy Classifications

These days, there is a plethora of ways to classify or categorize almost anything, and fantasy fiction is certainly no different.

The Masterclass system lists eighteen different fantasy subgenres, yet almost no fantasy novel I’ve written fits neatly, or even not-neatly, into any one of those classifications, and that’s true of quite a few other writers I know.

“Discovery” lists fifty fantasy sub-genres, and only a handful or so have the same categorization as the Masterclass system, while Wikipedia offers a listing of thirty fantasy subgenres, with a disclaimer that the listing doesn’t encompass everything.

In Rhetorics of Fantasy, the scholar Farah Mendlesohn (a lovely scholarly lady, by the way) takes a different approach, by providing four ways of classifying fantasy: portal/quest fantasy; immersive fantasy; intrusive fantasy; and liminal fantasy, the last of which is fantasy where the reader really isn’t sure whether it’s fantasy or not (if I understood the explanation correctly).

Then there are those who simply break fantasy into two types: high and low.

In effect, almost everyone has their own definition/classifying system for fantasy, and I’m no different, although I haven’t seen any other classification like mine (not that someone hasn’t done it besides me, just that I haven’t seen it).

My “system” breaks fantasy into two types, one type where the characters live fantasy lives in a fantasy world/universe, and another where the characters live “real” lives in a fantasy setting. By “real” I mean that the characters have to have jobs and a way of supporting themselves, and that the economics, politics, society, and magic all work logically and consistently in that fantasy setting.

Of course, in the end, I suspect few readers really care about classifying what they read, or even what “classification” or type of fantasy the novel happens to be, but about how entertaining they find the novel, and possibly about what insights it provides.

An Immoral Society?

According to the dictionary, moral behavior is “concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior” and “holding or manifesting high principles for proper conduct.”

And certainly the Founding Fathers were definitely concerned about moral behavior, even if their focus was initially on white male property holders and proper (and submissive) wives, but over time that focus expanded to include women, and after the Civil War, and especially after the Civil Rights Act, minorities as well.

But what is “right behavior” or “proper conduct?” Certainly, for the first hundred and fifty years of the United States, there was an emphasis on morality, excessive at times, but without doubt there was a difference between moral and immoral behavior, and there were unspoken standards for such behavior. Even when people didn’t meet those standards, the standards remained, generally applicable to society as whole.

Those standards weren’t just confined to criminality, but to all aspects of life. In additional to being law-abiding, being “moral” required public politeness to everyone, certain standards of attire appropriate to the locale and situation, charity toward those less fortunate, at least a nod to a higher power, respect for those in authority, and polite language in public. Underlying this was the tacit or unconscious realization that such “morality” was important to hold society together.

For various reasons, this more traditional understanding of civic morality has largely vanished, exemplified by the election of Donald Trump, who, by any definition, is totally immoral and who even proposed suspending the Constitution if it suited his purposes.

Equally disturbing is the change in attitudes of younger Americans. A long-standing survey of incoming college students shows a disturbing pattern. In 1967, about 85% said that their principal goal was to develop a meaningful philosophy of life. By 2000, only 42% said that, while the majority said being financially well off was their goal, and by 2015, 82% of students said wealth was their principal aim in life.

Interestingly enough, over recent years, Americans have also become less charitable. In 2000, over two-thirds of households have to charity, but by 2018, that percentage was just below fifty percent.

While the Constitution clearly established both freedom of religion and freedom from religion, right-wing “Christians” have become increasingly vocal and effective in passing laws based on their beliefs in an effort to force their beliefs on others, failing to recognize that a society that imposes one set of religious values on the entire population by law is not a moral society, but an immoral tyranny.

While “traditional” morality had quite a few flaws, it also held the precept, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” something that current society, especially the extremists, also seems to have discarded and replaced with “me first, no matter what.”