Archive for February, 2024

The Exaggerators

For some reason I get bombarded with political emails, from both the left and the right, but the right sends almost ten times as many as the left. Here is a representative sample of the message subject lines of those from the right.

The Left is Coming for Us
Drunk Kamala Goes Viral
Riots Break Out- National Guard Deployed
Veterans Sacrificed for Migrants
Leftist Protesters Threaten My Home
President Trump to Win Nobel Prize
Say a Prayer for the January 6th Prisoners
US Days Away from Major Terror Attack
Stop Biden’s Deep State Apparatus
Jack Smith Hides Trial Facts
Joe Biden’s Cognitive Failure Even Worse!
White House’s Dereliction of Duty!
The Woke Mob Removed Founding Father’s Statue

And here are some of the message subject lines from the left.

Undecided Voters Not Breaking for Me
$7 Million in Negative Ads from SuperPac
Planet for Our Future
Our Numbers Need to Improve
Did you get the Invite?
We’re being Outspent by Dark PACs

Notice a certain difference?

Those from the right are pointed and eye-catching, and every one is somewhere between an exaggeration and a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

Those from the left tend to be more factual – and boring.

I can assure you that for months the tone and substance of the ads from the left and right haven’t varied, but it does strike me that the ceaseless eye-catching exaggerations are bound to have some effect.

The “Other” Inequality

Over the last decade, there’s been a fair amount of verbiage expended on income inequality, and how the rich are getting even richer. And that’s unfortunately true.

But all that verbiage has tended to obscure another growing inequality – and that’s an inequality that afflicts the U.S. system of justice. While there’s been lots of heat and light focused on law enforcers at all levels, there’s been little light and even less progress in dealing with the inequality in the courts created by lack of resources and exploited by wealth.

While the delay between the time a defendant is charged and when the case is tried varies considerably by state and locality, statistics show that, on average, that delay has been increasing steadily since 1990, to the point that in some of slowest areas, such as Chicago, someone charged with murder will wait four years before going to trial. Some cases have been delayed a decade.

Part of the problem is political, because Congress deadlocks over appointing federal judges as each party wants its judicial candidates, with the result that ten percent of federal judge positions are vacant. Also, the number of judges hasn’t kept pace with population growth.

These resource shortcomings play into the hands of unscrupulous litigants for whom every day of delay offers a benefit. The delays also punish innocents without financial resources, some of whom have been held in captivity awaiting trial for years. This creates pressure to plead guilty to a lesser offense… and the result that someone found innocent might spend more time in jail than someone found guilty.

In the higher profile cases, such as those involving Donald Trump, all the endless motions and extended litigation provide illustrated example after example of how those with wealth and accomplished (I wouldn’t use the term “good” here) attorneys can thwart and string out prosecution and trials for years.

And often even when they lose, at least in civil cases or cases involving fraud and white-collar crime, the cost to them is less than to what they’ve gained.

Large corporations can do the same in dealing with the government, as well as in civil matters against individuals or small companies creating legal proceedings that can bankrupt those without extensive legal resources.

Yet, even as the Trump legal spectacle fuels Trump’s re-election campaign funding and furthers his political ambition, few seem to grasp the impact such tactics have on those who can’t afford those kinds of attorneys.

Whose Mental Slippage?

There’s been a hue and cry about Joe Biden’s age, mental confusion, and age-related memory problems. But some of this has little to do with age. He was stuttering from childhood, made the occasional verbal gaffe when a senator or as vice-president. Are those gaffes increasing? They’re apparently more frequent, but I’d submit that they’re not as much more frequent as the media reports, simply because, now that the issue has been raised, every media reporter anywhere is looking for slips or gaffes, especially since Biden recently turned 81.

But, at age 77, and about to turn 78 in four months, Donald Trump is no spring chicken, either. The other day, I watched a montage of recent Trump misstatements, and gaffes, delivered at full Trump volume, and, outside of that one report, I’ve neither heard nor read any significant media concern about Trump’s mental readiness for the Presidency.

Why might that be?

I’d submit that, first, Trump delivers most of what he says forcefully and emphatically, which creates the illusion that he actually knows and understands what he’s talking about. Add to that the fact that too many American voters care more about HOW someone speaks more than they care about what they say. Second, Trump lies and misstates so much that it’s effectively impossible to sort out the gaffes and errors from all the lies and misstatements. Third, because his basic themes are always on the same subjects, he’s seldom challenged on new subjects or areas in the way that Biden routinely is. And when he is, he seldom says anything even close to profound, but merely repeats the soundbites on which he’s always campaigned.

Unless, of course, he promises to turn over to Putin any country that he thinks doesn’t spend enough on its national defense. That’s not a gaffe, but a policy position with frightening consequences, yet it’s already been almost forgotten, if heard at all, by the gaffe-hunters, who are far more interested in easy and often meaningless pickings than in truly frightening mental slippages.

False Generalizations

One aspect of comments by readers about both books and politics is the number of false/inaccurate generalizations that crop up, often because the commenter is extrapolating from too few examples.

If one takes Lerris or Creslin from the Recluce Saga, for example, they’re both woefully ignorant of the greater world, not because they’re stupid, but because they grow up in a restricted and sheltered environment. On the other hand, Cerryl has to claw his way to power from the bottom of society and has very few illusions about people.

Yet I’ve seen comments that imply all my main characters are “almost criminally ignorant” or that they’re all “ruthless” or excessively competent.

The same sorts of ignorant generalizations also show up in the political arena, where so many rightwing politicians portray immigrants as criminals – yet study and after study has shown that the percentage of criminals among legal and illegal immigrants is far lower than the percentage of criminals in the overall U.S. population.

My wife the university professor gets extremely irritated about the generalizations that that universities are hotbeds of liberalism and university professors are all liberals, perhaps because she teaches in a university that’s anything but liberal in a state where almost all colleges and universities are predominantly and extremely conservative. While she’s a moderate Democrat, she’s so outnumbered by conservatives on both the campus and in the town that she rarely offers political opinions (nor do I, except on paper).

Yet I must admit that she’s also generalizing from experience, because, perhaps by chance, most of the ten colleges and universities where she has taught for over fifty years tended to be conservative, if not very conservative. Yet study after study has shown that while “liberal” professors make up either the plurality or a slight majority of university/college professors, depending on the study and data, moderates and conservatives comprise the rest, which statistically reveals that far from all college professors are liberals. Except for the 75 so-called “elite” colleges and universities, especially in New England, where conservative professors are indeed rare.

Yet people continue to draw generalizations from their own experiences, even though most people’s experience in many areas isn’t broad enough to be accurate, at the same time ignoring more representative statistical findings that conflict with their feelings and personal experience.

Do-Nothing Crybabies

For years, Republicans have been crying and screaming about the need to fix the immigration problem.

And now that a bipartisan Senate initiative has been developed (in large part by a conservative Republican senator) that would tighten up the system significantly more than in twenty years, if not more, what’s the reaction of Congressional Republicans?

Waah, waah, waah…it’s not enough. We want it all our way or we won’t play.

The bipartisan immigration proposal is far from perfect, but it would definitely address some aspects of the immigration problem.

As I’ve said before, and as this reaction proves, Republicans, especially House Republicans, are the party of “no.” They’re not in the slightest interested in fixing problems. They’re totally invested in exploiting grievances. Whether those grievances are real or imagined, it makes no difference, because they have no interest in actually addressing the problems and no workable plans for solutions. They just want to create anger against the Democrats.

It’s so easy to propose “solutions” so extreme that half the population won’t and can’t accept them and then to say that the other side is uncooperative or that the other side created the problem. Proposing cutting social programs while pushing tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans doesn’t lead to cooperation, but polarization.

That, of course, isn’t surprising, because, at least for now, the Republicans and the far right seem to believe that polarization benefits them… and realistic political solutions don’t… as witness the reaction to the bipartisan immigration proposal.

Campaign Beggars

I’ve mentioned recently the deluge of political emails I’ve gotten, but I haven’t dwelt on the underlying subject behind the vast majority – money.

They all want money, whatever I can give, in order to be elected or re-elected to stop the evils of their opponent or the other party.

One of my initial reactions is, why should I give you more money when all you seem to do with it is bad-mouth your opponent? [I realize there are a few candidates who don’t, but VERY few.]

The senders of these emails also all seem to think that people, individually and collectively, are a bottomless and endless source of funds, either for campaigns or for government. Or in Trump’s case, to pay his seemingly endless legal bills.

Once upon a time, I thought that the simplest campaign reform measure would be to allow unlimited contributions to specific candidates – but only from individuals whose names had to be public. But then, with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, corporations effectively became persons, at least in the legal sense, in being allowed to contribute unlimited sums to entities not legally linked to political parties or candidates. On top of that, those “dark-money entities were also allowed to spend unlimited amounts in supporting or opposing specific candidates.

Then, too, recent events have convinced me that people only care about who spends inordinately on electioneering when it’s someone supporting the other side.

So, as I read the FEC rules, while an individual is limited to contributing $3,300 to a candidate for a primary election and another $3,300 for the general election, corporations can and do pour far more into “independent” political action committees and those committees can spend unlimited amounts in political ads or activities benefiting or opposing candidates for office.

In the 2022 election, United States House and Senate candidates running in the 2022 election cycle reported raising a total of $3.1 billion and spending $3.7 billion between January 1, 2021, and September 30, 2022. That averages $4 million per seat – for a job that pays $174,000 annually.

But what I want to know is with all that money floating around, why is every candidate claiming they don’t have enough funding?

The Cultural Difference

The other day, I read a comment about my portrayal of women in a Recluce book, which said that my political leanings resulted in an unrealistic view of women in a lower tech society. This isn’t anything particularly new, although such comments are not common.

I definitely understand that sources of power, particularly physical power, affect societal relationships, but there’s also another, often overlooked, factor. For at least the last few hundred years, particularly in western cultures, there’s been a misrepresentation of what women actually did and accomplished on our planet in earlier societies and cultures.

Far more women were battlefield warriors than are mentioned in either historical tomes or most historical fiction. The remains of more and more earlier societies are showing that women were anything but “fireside sitters” and cave homemakers. The Mongols used quite a number of mounted women archers, and the female elders managed the logistics of one of the most effective fighting forces in history, and from fairly close to the fighting. Scythian tombs containing remains of warriors, once thought to be men, have been determined to be women. The same has also been found in Celtic and other tombs. In the early years of Islam, there were women scholars and rulers. In the early United States, Benjamin Franklin’s wife Deborah, ran and controlled all of his enterprises in Philadelphia for most of a period of twenty years, and who ran all those plantations and farms during the revolutionary and civil wars?

I’m not saying that the “traditional” gender representation was “wrong” so much as it was woefully incomplete and created an inaccurate portrayal of societal structures and gender roles in many instances. There have always been women who didn’t fit the stereotypes largely created by men; it’s just that the mostly male historians and politicians overlooked or actively tried to erase the records of their accomplishments.

In addition to that, while accomplishments in any society are indeed affected and shaped by power, in fantasy worlds, the scope and use of magic should also affect roles and power, just as technology is reshaping gender and sexual roles today. At the same time, while brute force can impose gender-based roles on a society, history shows that such imposition usually handicaps that society.

So, in commenting on any fictional view of a society’s structure and gender roles, it’s more accurate to look at real history and/or the way the author has structured the basics of his/her world, rather than relying on inaccurate and fact-outdated stereotypes or beliefs.