Archive for December, 2023

Presentation World

The other day I was talking to one of my children about some of the problems high school students have in applying and getting into the better colleges. While I’d heard some of this from what my wife the college professor has told me, it’s clear that times have definitely changed from when we applied for college. Back then, anyone who had a straight A average, near perfect SAT scores, was a National Merit Scholar, and had a range of other activities or outstanding achievement in one particular field, often athletics of some sort, could usually get into one of the more demanding colleges. Today, that simply isn’t enough.

Without perfect or near perfect scores on advanced math or science courses, or other demanding subjects, and test scores to back those up, without intellectually demanding outside activities, and without an overall perfect presentation on essays and questionnaires, the “merely” highly intelligent student will have a hard time impressing elite schools.

But, as I thought it over, I realized the college-seeking- and-acceptance process was just another facet of the “brave new world” in which those in the high-tech cultures of the world live. No longer is great expertise in a field – any field – enough for success. Expertise must be presented expertly and with great appeal, often with great visual appearance as well. And, in too many cases, the visual and personal appeal greatly outweigh the expertise.

My wife has seen this transformation in the world of opera. Once, a singer with a great voice and less than great physical beauty could be a star – but there hasn’t been a star diva who isn’t also close to a beauty in the last two decades, and few of the recent divas have lasted all that long compared to their predecessors.

In the popular music area, I don’t doubt that Taylor Swift can sing; but there are many singers who sing as well or better, and some of them are doubtless as attractive as Swift. What they don’t have is the strength of overall presentation.

And sometimes, the presentation is so appealing that no one seems to notice its flaws, as in the crypto-currency fraud perpetrated by Sam Bankman-Fried with his FTX cryptocurrency exchange.

Donald Trump is an outstanding performance and presentation artist, so much so that he can get away with lies, crimes, and criminal charges, although he’s done far less constructively than Joe Biden. Despite Biden’s greater achievements and lack of documented evidence of wrongdoing, almost half the USA prefers the Trump presentation to the Biden presentation.

So, I have to ask, “How’s this Presentation World thing working out for you?”

A Nation of Laws?

One of our Founding Fathers, John Adams, said that a republic was “a nation of laws, not of men,” meaning that men were not above the law.

And for generations, politicians and others have claimed that a distinction of the United States was that we are a nation of laws, and that no one is above the law.

Yet today, we have a former president asserting that, as president, he was and is above the law.

Legal scholars, some of them quite conservative, have also charged that Trump cannot be president again, because the presidency is forbidden to him by the wording of the Fourteenth Amendment, which declares that no one who has taken an oath to the United States and then betrayed it by taking part in an insurrection can hold public office.

Both these issues are being appealed and will likely come before the Supreme Court.

Trump supporters and populists are opposing limits on Trump, primarily on the grounds that the application of these laws would deprive the American people of a free choice.

What this “free choice” argument means, make no mistake about it, is that any man popular enough to gain great support is above the law.

Now, the Supreme Court may issue a weasel-worded opinion allowing Trump to run for President, or create a narrow exemption for him, but such an opinion, however worded, is simply an endorsement of power over law.

The Trumpists will come up with legal contortions to deny that, but the fact remains that Trump created an insurrection in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election.

They may also claim that Biden is “corrupt,” but so far, there is no evidence to prove that. More important, even if Biden were corrupt, that has no bearing in law on whether Trump should be allowed to seek the presidency again.

Also, Trump has already been convicted of sexual assault and defamation. He has also been found guilty of tax evasion and fraud. And he faces four indictments and ninety criminal charges. Equally important, he’s already stated that he’ll set aside the Constitution if it gets in the way of what he wants to do.

He has built a campaign on denying the laws, and vilifying those who want to hold him legally accountable… and gaining greater and greater popularity and power through those continuing lies.

The question before the Supreme Court is rather simple.

Will we continue as a nation of laws, however imperfectly? Or become one based solely on power and lies?

One-Star Review?

There are certainly books that deserve a one-star reader review, but there’s one phenomenon that I find amusing in a cynical way. That’s when more than ninety percent of the hundreds or thousands of reader reviews of a book are four or five stars and the one star-reviews barely register.

All of that suggests to me, in such instances, that the handful or less of readers who post one-star reviews not only don’t get the fact that the book isn’t one-star bad, but they’re screaming in print that no matter what the universe says, that their opinion is the only one that counts. That’s true in the sense that their opinion is all that matters to them.

But why post a one-star rating or review that suggests, not that the book is bad, but far more that the author didn’t do what you wanted?

No author does what every reader wants. Some authors come closer than others, and some authors who are critically acclaimed can be a sales disaster. One award-winning author published a SF novel with a 98% return rate, according to the late David Hartwell, who definitely knew. That makes The Green Progression, my worst-selling book, look like a best-seller in comparison, even if comparisons are odious, a phrase that has been around since 1440, and has been joyfully pirated by Cervantes, Marlow, Dunne, and, of course, Shakespeare.

But then, despite their insidious and often overwhelming presence in our electronic society, ratings are all too often overrated. Of the 50 highest rated books on Goodreads with more than 10,000 ratings, 39 (if I counted correctly) are part of a series of some sort. Most are genre books of some sort. And what does that indicate? Only that people rate what they like as excellent, which means that ratings are indeed excellent for determining what people like, but far less valuable for determining any form of excellence besides popular appeal.

But then, that’s why I’ve found that some highly-reader-rated books left me cold enough that I never finished them. Unfortunately, I’ve found a number of books with great reviews from critics that I only finished through sheet willpower.

The Real Trump Campaign

Here’s a letter I’d like to send, but which I’ll just post, because it will have the same impact. That is, no impact at all.

Dear Media –

Would you please stop giving Donald Trump moment-to-moment continuous campaign exposure?

Are you so stupid to think that all your negative coverage of Trump is doing anything but boosting his image – or perhaps we’re stupid in believing that you’re interested in presenting the news rather than obsessed with gathering every last viewer and every last penny of advertising revenue, regardless of the effect on the nation… and likely the world.

Like every bully, Trump’s reveling in the attention, and every attack results in more voters and more donations.

You’ve even aired shows describing that effect, but you keep up attacking and analyzing, as if that would do anything. The only thing that would have any possible effect would be a Trump news blackout or brief bulletins saying, “Trump Made Another Legal Motion Just Like All the Others.”

But you’ll keep on, regardless of the consequences, and I won’t even be able to tell you that I told you so, because once he becomes President, he’ll likely abolish you as Fake News, unless you can fawn enough to become his de facto ministry of propaganda.


What made me think about this was something my publisher, Tom Doherty, told me more than twenty-five years ago, when I worried about a not-so-good review one of my books had gotten.

He said, “There’s no such thing as a bad review. Even bad reviews increase sales. The attention helps.”

For years, I had my doubts, but Donald Trump has proved that Tom Doherty was right.

Hypocrisy – and Power

Part I

The Jewish people have had a difficult time in holding on to their identity and their presence in what is now Israel. Back in the eighth century BCE, a portion of their population was expelled from Samaria (Israel) over the period from 733 BCE to 722 BCE. That was followed by the Babylonian captivity in the early sixth century BCE. The Jews revolted against the Roman Empire in 66 BCE in the First Jewish-Roman War, which culminated in the Siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of most of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. In 132 CE, Bar Kokhba led a rebellion against Hadrian, and after four years of warfare, the uprising was suppressed, and Jews were forbidden access to Jerusalem.

The Jewish community in Palestine regrouped and remained numerous, until the Byzantine–Sasanian War in 614 CE, when Jewish rebels aided the Persians in capturing Jerusalem, where the Jews were permitted autonomous rule until 617 when the Persians reneged on their alliance. After Byzantine Emperor Heraclius promised to restore Jewish rights, the Jews aided him in ousting the Persians, after which Heraclius subsequently conducted a general massacre of the Jewish population.

Following the Muslim conquest of the Levant area, Jews were initially allowed to re-enter Jerusalem, but subsequent taxes and restrictions on non-Muslims significantly reduced the Jewish population. Depredations by European crusaders and others over the years further reduced the Jewish population so that by the beginning of the Ottoman Empire in 1517, there were only some 5,000 Jews in Palestine.

Matters weren’t that much better in much of Europe. In 1290, English King Edward I expelled all Jews from England. Shortly thereafter, Philip IV of France ordered all Jews expelled from France, with their property to be sold at public auction, and some 125,000 Jews were forced to leave. Then in 1315, Louis X lifted the ban on Jews, but later in 14th century Jews were accused of poisoning wells in France, and five thousand Jews were killed, after which Charles IV expelled all French Jews. Spain expelled all Jews in 1492. A great many Jews fled eastward and ended up in Poland and Lithuania.

In Russia, in the early 19th century, matters became worse, due to a series of Czarist decrees, beginning with the Pale of Settlement, establishing where Jews were allowed to live, which immediately uprooted 100,000 Jews, and forbade the Jews from living in any of the main cities. Next came the Cantonist Decrees which effectively forced military service and “indoctrination” on the Jewish population. By the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, Russian pogroms were intermittently ongoing.

The last and most horrific of attacks on Jews, of course, was the Holocaust, which almost no nation in the world even mentioned while it was occurring and which killed six million Jews, as well as five million others, the Nazis found “undesirable.

This summary is far from inclusive and doesn’t include the hundreds if not thousands of smaller incidents since 1945,

Part II (which may seem irrelevant, but isn’t)

The United States has mythologized itself as a bastion of freedom and a “shining city upon a hill,” and more than a few (older) histories have described North America before colonization by Europeans as a wilderness and sparsely filled with savages.

In fact, neither was ever true. Recent studies show that, before Europeans arrived, North America likely had between ten and twenty million inhabitants, that is, before gun powder, horses, greed, and European diseases ravaged the continent and destroyed more than ninety percent of the population because they lacked immunity to European diseases and because they didn’t have the tools of power – especially usable beasts of burden. It wasn’t that they didn’t know. There’s evidence that Indians were smelting copper on the banks of Lake Superior 6,000 years ago. But they gave it up because, without any supporting technology and beasts of burden, it wasn’t cost or labor effective, which also limited the development of weapons.

Historically speaking, what human beings can do without domesticated animal power is extremely limited, and there weren’t any powerful and domesticable animals in the western hemisphere.

So the indigenous peoples couldn’t compete with Europeans, initially. But some indigenous tribes went to work, and by 1830, the “Five Civilized Tribes” (the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole) began to compete on the white man’s terms… and were successful enough that Southern whites got “good ole boy” President Andy Jackson to pass the Indian Removal Act (which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional and which finding Jackson ignored) and to use power – the U.S. Army, in fact – to force 60,000 Indians onto the Trail of Tears, killing thousands along the way.

But this abuse of white power wasn’t limited to the indigenous peoples.

In the century after the Civil War, almost every time a successful black business community developed, white men destroyed it. In 1921 mobs of white residents destroyed homes and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, burning and destroying more than 35 square blocks of one of the wealthiest black communities in the United States, colloquially known as “Black Wall Street.” More than 800 people were admitted to hospitals, and as many as 300 may have died. While the most notable massacre occurred in Tulsa, there were at least fifty others, with twenty-five occurring between 1917 and 1923, with an estimated death toll in the thousands.

The Point of All This?

History is littered with discarded or ignored principles that fell by the wayside or were pushed there by the unbridled desire for wealth or power or both, and the history of even great nations has more than a few despicable acts.

No people can rely on the promises of others unless it has at least a modicum of power.

This is a fact that nearly 3,000 years have taught the Jewish people, and asking them to forgo that power when they’ve been betrayed over 3,000 years is not only unwise, but, frankly, insulting, even if Netanyahu is little more than a corrupt street thug in tailored suits.


Despite both George Santayana and Winston Churchill declaring that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, most people really don’t learn anything from history. They’re more inclined to agree with Henry Ford, who declared, “History is more or less bunk.”

Not only that, but even when they’re faced with great horrors, unless it affects them, most people are inclined to do nothing.

In the time of Hitler, most Germans did nothing to oppose the death camps that killed millions of Jews and others classed as “undesirable” by the Nazis. Neither did most Poles or most French people. Americans, for the most part, ignored the genocide, at least until Germany was defeated.

Few if any Turks did anything to oppose the killing of Armenians, and many Turks still deny that genocide. The list of genocides is long, and most people know about only a small fraction, if that, unless they have personal, familial, or cultural experience.

Hitler’s death camps weren’t the first or only time Jewish people were threatened. Pogroms were common in Russia from the second half of the nineteenth century well into the twentieth century. Some of the bloodiest pogroms took place in England in the late twelfth century, which culminated with Edward I issuing an Edict of Expulsion that removed all Jews from England and forbid their presence until it was effectively revoked in the 1650s.

Given more than two thousand years of attacks and persecution, and given that history shows that almost no one steps up to prevent genocide, although there’s often futile handwringing and a great deal of tears [many of them of the crocodile variety] after the fact, is it any wonder that Israel has reacted as it has?

Exactly what is Israel supposed to do? Be “lenient” and give Hamas yet another chance, when all of Hamas and the majority of Palestinians seek Israel’s total destruction?

Too many of those condemning Israeli tactics have forgotten or never learned that defeating someone who wants to destroy you is anything but bloodless. Among the forgotten or ignored knowledge is the fact that over 600,000 German civilians, including 75,000 children, died from allied bombing in the effort to defeat Hitler, and, back then, Americans certainly weren’t bemoaning German civilian deaths when “American boys” were dying for their country. Or is it somehow different when “Israeli boys and girls” are dying for theirs?