Archive for November, 2023

Whatever Happened to Ukraine?

A year and a little less than ten months ago, Russia launched a brutal attempt to crush Ukraine. Since then, the Ukrainians have slowly reclaimed some but not all of the territory seized by the Russians.

In late November, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has confirmed that to date, more than 10,000 civilians have been killed, and more than 18,500 injured, since Russia began the invasion. At least 300 children have died, and that doesn’t include thousands forcibly removed by Russian troops to Russia or Russian-controlled territory.

British military intelligence reports that Russian troop casualties are in the range of 120,000 Russian dead and 180,000 injured, while Ukrainian troops killed or wounded are in the range of 80,000. That doesn’t count the nearly three million displaced people or the scores of towns leveled by the fighting.

Yet, if one follows the U.S. news media, since October 7th, when Hamas attacked Israel, it’s as if the Russia-Ukraine conflict has almost vanished.

To date, in the conflict between Hamas and Israel, Israel has reported 1,400 deaths, the vast majority of which occurred on or from events on October 7th.

The Palestinian Authority’s Government Media Office has reported total deaths of 14,800, including 6,000 children and 4,000 women. This unverified number has been printed everywhere, but is currently likely exaggerated, given the past unreliability of figures coming from Gaza.

So… why has the Russia/Ukraine war almost vanished from the U.S. media.

Partly because it’s a grinding and ongoing war with no end in sight, and the U.S. media consumers are tired of hearing about it, but mostly because the Israel-Gaza conflict is so much more exciting, with hidden tunnels, the surprise that the IDF was caught so unaware, and all the possible deaths – and kidnapping – of children, not to mention the “bombing” of a hospital that wasn’t an Israeli bombing, and the humanitarian crisis that is more easily captured for media.

Of course, there’s a definite similarity, in that Hamas and Putin have both expressed the desire to crush the people they attacked.

But still…won’t what happens in Ukraine have a much greater long-term effect on Europe and the United States than what happens in Gaza?

Or is it that the news media are so narrow-minded or profit-driven that they can only cover one crisis at a time?

The Line Between

The other day I read the prequel to a very popular fantasy that I’d enjoyed a year or so ago, but somewhere around halfway through the book I knew exactly how it would end. Well, except for the death of the largely-out-of-view-until-the-last-chapters villain, whose way of death was definitely a surprise, but not quite enough to overshadow the feeling that the “emotional plot” was identical to the first book.

That brought up the question of where one draws the line between a novel set in the same world that, by necessity, shares a certain resemblance to others in a series, and a novel that is far too predictable.

Now, it’s pretty clear that, in books that have the same protagonist, the author isn’t likely to kill that protagonist in book one. I don’t consider that an overly predictable flaw.

Readers being readers, I doubt that few draw that line in the same place. That’s why some readers find some of my books too predictable, because my competent protagonists always find a way, if indirect, or excessively bloody, to obtain their goal, or a different goal that they never considered at the beginning of the book. Perhaps I’m too grounded in reality, but I’ve never seen someone who “lucks” into money or power, or who is strongly flawed, really make much of it in real life – not over their entire life (we’ll see how that works with Trump).

And sometimes, when readers get upset with predictability, it’s for the wrong reason. In a lower-tech world, when a leader first uses a significant innovation in weapons or tactics, each land he or she conquers will use the same old predictable tactics against the attacker – and usually fail – because no one’s seen them before and because, first, communications are slow, and, second, it’s often difficult to describe new tactics and weapons until you’re faced with them, and then it’s a little late. This problem becomes less and less of a difficulty with higher technology and faster and more in-depth communications systems.

In the end, every author has to find a balance between predictability and surprise, because too much surprise can be unbelievable to readers and too little makes the book too predictable. But readers have differing thresholds for determining what’s too unbelievable, even in fantasy, and what’s too predictable… and that’s why what’s too predictable for one reader can be just right for another, and why reader recommendations need to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.


There are two basic problems with fanatics. First is the extremism of their beliefs, an extremism that they are fully convinced is anything but extreme. Second is their belief that everyone should be forced to follow all of their beliefs to the chapter, verse, and letter.

I don’t have a problem with other people’s beliefs – with three provisos: (1) no one gets hurt, physically or psychologically; (2) any adult is free to leave at any time; (3) no one is forced to conform to their beliefs, beyond the “normal” requirements of non-criminality, normal requirements being those agreed to by virtually all societies.

The attack on Israel by Hamas, or for that matter, the Nazis’ attack on western European civilization illustrates a great problem, and that is to stop the attack of a fanatical culture, you have to destroy it. Hamas continues to declare that they will never stop until Israel is destroyed. Israel attempted to contain Hamas within Gaza, and we’ve just seen how that turned out. Hitler refused to stop until Germany was flattened, and his death camps were killing those he claimed were “undesirables” almost to the moment when allied troops arrived.

There’s effectively no compromise with fanatics, and more reasonable people often have great difficulty understanding that the only thing that restrains fanatics is force. Within a society, the force of law may work, at least until the fanatics declare that they won’t respect the law in some fashion or another or until they take over the government and impose their beliefs on everyone else.

But this leads to the problem of those opposing the fanatics having to use massive force against the fanatics, with exactly what’s happening in Gaza… or what happened in Europe during WWII.

And, frankly, I don’t see this changing.

Here in the U.S., the far right is insisting on imposing a strict evangelical Christian set of beliefs on a nation where the majority of Americans don’t share their views, and they’re using laws and lies to do so, because they fervently believe that their way is the only “true way.” That’s why the House of Representatives is essentially paralyzed – because fanatics won’t compromise – unless forced to do so.

Prices vs. Inflation Statistics

Over the past year or so, more and more Americans have been complaining about inflation, yet, on the surface, the usual statistics don’t seem to support those claims. But that’s only on the surface.

In September 2023, prices had increased by 3.7 percent compared to September 2022, according to the 12-month percentage change in the consumer price index, down from a monthly high of 9.1% in June 2022.

The problem with the statistics is that they only show the rate of price increases, not the comparison of real prices. For example, in October of this year food prices were up “only” 3.7%, but what that doesn’t reflect is the real pocketbook impact. The average cost of a pound of bacon was $5.34 in March 2020; today it’s around $7.25. That’s a 36% increase in two and a half years.

Gasoline prices have bounced around over the past three years, but even with recent price decreases, gasoline prices per gallon are 42% higher than three years ago.

For people who were already having trouble making ends meet, dealing with price increases often results in more credit card purchases. In March of 2022, the interest rate on the average credit card was 14.6%; today it’s 21.2%. With a credit card balance of $8,000 (the national average), the additional monthly interest expense is almost $50, or $600 annually.

At the same time, Americans keep racking up bigger credit-card balances. In the third quarter, the country’s credit-card debt burden hit a new record high of $1.08 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That was up $154 billion from the same period in 2022, the biggest year-to-year jump since the Fed started collecting the data in 1999. So, it’s scarcely surprising that, according to a national survey by WalletHub, 56% of all Americans say they have more credit card debt than they did 12 months ago.

All that has created, as the polls reveal, both a growing concern by most people about price increases and, apparently, a lack of understanding, particularly by Democrat politicians, who are looking more at the wrong statistics.

Assorted Stupidity

Just who’s behind all the talk and poll figures about Joe Biden being too old or the cause of higher prices? While some Republicans have mentioned it, they’re too smart to mention it, because Trump’s certainly no spring chicken, only three years younger than Biden. Nor are the rock-solid Democrats saying much. According to various polls, the people behind the ageism and ignorance that’s torpedoing Biden are largely unaffiliated voters or sometime Democrats who don’t understand economics or history.

They complain about inflation and blame it on Biden, but he didn’t start it. And, as I discussed earlier, the largest single component behind inflation is the massive increase in corporate profits and high executive pay. But those who oppose Biden and vote for the Republicans are voting for the interests and actors who caused the inflation they hate, as well as for the politicians who don’t want to give women the rights to their own bodies.

Because he’s actually going against his own party, Biden hasn’t said much, but in fact he’s done more to reduce illegal immigration than Trump ever did, and he’s done more to start revitalizing basic industry than any president in years.

But people are angry about high prices, even though inflation has moderated, and they’re going to blame the President, despite the fact that he’s not the one who triggered it. Some Republicans, like Nikki Haley, actually admit that Republicans share the blame, but most of them blame it on Biden, because it’s easier.

And, as for energy, the only real energy Trump shows is to blame everyone else at high volume. He still doesn’t have a practical plan for anything.

But almost half the country swallows his high-volume non-stop blame game, just like they feast on mass-produced “music” that features high -volume percussion and endless repetition of unintelligible lyrics. A certain similarity, perhaps?

A Slight Comparison

This past week, Sam Bankman-Fried was convicted of various financial crimes that could carry a potential sentence of over a hundred years, because he essentially created false money through his crypto-currency schemes, causing millions if not billions of dollars in losses. No one got killed, and the vast majority of those losers were speculators trying to make a quick buck. But Bankman-Fried is a crook, should face time in jail, and almost no one thinks otherwise.

Many of our elected federal representatives are demanding that a senator who took lots of money from Egyptian sources and likely influenced defense contract funding be removed from office. They’re also not too pleased with a different congressman who apparently broke every campaign financing law in the book as well as illegally diverted funds for personal use.

But, in comparison, there’s this fellow who’s already been convicted of financial fraud and tax evasion, been found guilty of sexual assault (twice) in a civil lawsuit, who’s stiffed contractors who worked for him, used bankruptcy as a tool to bolster his person wealth, who tried to overthrow a fair and free election, and who now faces four criminal indictments with over a hundred separate charges – and he’s the leading candidate for president, and forty percent of the country thinks he’s wonderful.

Exactly what does that say about both the American people and politicians who back Donald Trump?

More Idealogic Stupidity

The new House Speaker, Mike Johnson, has unveiled his proposal for providing aid to Israel, and it definitely meets the far-right’s approval. The bill would provide $14.3 billion for Israel and obtain the funding by cutting $14.3 billion from funds already provided to modernize the IRS and to provide staff to go after wealthy tax evaders. It also doesn’t deal with aid to Ukraine.

The House passed this proposed legislation late on Thursday, despite opposition from the Senate and the President’s statement that he’d veto that bill if it ever reached him, because it will cost more than a clean bill and because aid to Ukraine is important.

In point of fact, aid to Ukraine is likely more critical to U.S. interests than is aid to Israel, given that Ukraine is the tipping point for stopping Russian efforts to recreate a larger Russian “empire” and one that will most certainly take over smaller nations on its periphery if not stopped in Ukraine. Failure to address Ukrainian aid in a timely and uncomplicated way will likely cost both the U.S. and Ukraine a great deal more in the future, but “Magic Mike” has already indicated he’ll tie other right-wing priorities to Ukraine aid.

Practically speaking, the proposal as Johnson has presented and as passed by the House may well be politically appealing to the far right, but it represents partisanship carried to an extreme that’s not only totally against U.S. interests, but counter to the professed goals of the far-right.

How can that be?

The far-right claims it’s against higher taxes and wants to balance the federal budget, but it’s hard to balance the budget when the people who have the most money are avoiding paying what they owe and the IRS doesn’t have the resources and the staff to pursue them.

But then, the far-right not only doesn’t understand international problems, it also can’t count, or won’t, despite Johnson’s rhetoric about fiscal soundness. Allowing tax cheating to continue and having taxpayers wait for hours or days to get answers from the IRS because of outdated equipment, inadequate funding, and overworked and insufficient staff is hardly a recipe for fiscal responsibility.