Archive for April, 2024


Because I’m originally from Denver, and because my grandfather bought season tickets back when the Broncos were terrible and tickets were actually affordable, he took me to a few games when I was a teenager. As result, I do follow the Broncos, if neither religiously nor obsessively.

I was mildly surprised to see a headline that the Broncos had drafted Bo Nix – the Oregon quarterback who’s gotten a lot of attention over the past few years. I was then even more surprised to learn that, despite the fact that the Broncos desperately need a first-rate quarterback, and not a retread from elsewhere (despite their short success with Peyton Manning), and the fact that Nix was about the top of those available when the Broncos picked, all the football “pundits” decided that the Broncos had made one of the worse choices possible.

I read a bit further and discovered those same pundits had trashed the choices of a few other teams as well, all of which irritated me. Choosing which college players will make it in the NFL is anything but a sure thing, and the pundits are often wrong. Sometimes, players no one ever heard of make it big time. Brock Purdy, the current SF 49ers quarterback, was “Mr. Irrelevant,” the very last player drafted in 2022. Back in 2000, the New England Patriots took the 199th pick in the draft to choose a fellow named Brady.

On the other hand, who remembers JaMarcus Russell, Terry Baker, Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf, or quite a few other high draft picks who never lived up to their college performance and hype?

It’s one thing to judge a professional football player on his NFL statistics and career, or a coach on his won-lost record, but it’s another to second-guess a football team’s picks well before the fact. One of the reasons I don’t like such second-guessing is that almost no one holds the second-guessers to account. By the next draft, everyone’s forgotten inaccurate second-guessing, but the negative impacts to coaches and teams tend to linger.

But then, I’ve never been fond of negative second-guessers in any field, particularly in politics, where all too many of the inaccurate second-guessers don’t have that much in-depth experience, and in writing, where too many second-guesses reflect more what critics and reviewers like as opposed how well the author accomplished what he or she set out to do.

Fake News?

In the April 22nd and 29th issue of The New Yorker, in “How Gullible Are You?”, Manvir Singh writes about “misinformation and the nature of belief.” It’s a decent article, in which Singh discusses misinformation, some of its recent history, and discusses French philosopher and cognitive scientist Dan Sperber’s distinction between “factual beliefs” (i.e., chairs are real) and symbolic beliefs (God is real) as well as the efforts of various theorists who offer ways to combat misinformation.

Singh points out that virtually all efforts to fight false fabrications and misinformation rest on the assumption of human gullibility while ignoring “the far larger forces that drive the phenomenon,” particularly the lack of trust in government and other social institutions. And essentially, that’s where the article ends.

What he doesn’t really or fully address is why misinformation and, for example, Donald Trump’s insistence that major media peddle “fake news” have gained such a hold on so many people.

The answer, as I considered the matter, is actually simple, and, in a way, profound. Much of what the media and the Democrats are pushing is in fact “fake news” to the people who endorse the Trumpist and MAGA rhetoric.

Declining unemployment is “fake news” to people who don’t have jobs and who live in situations where they cannot get decent paying jobs. In more than a few parts of Appalachia, jobs requiring college degrees or even graduate degrees pay less than what coal truck drivers used to make. In fact, one of my wife’s cousins made more driving a coal truck than she did as a tenured college professor. But most of those coal jobs vanished with the closure of the mines, and the inadequate “reclamation” and the massive rains of two years ago have destroyed thousands of homes, with no repairs or replacements. Tell all those people that times are better, and they’ll likely think you’re purveying fake news.

Tell all the young people who’ve mortgaged their future to get higher education and graduate degrees and who can’t find jobs paying enough to service their debt that times are improving, especially when we’re producing more college graduates than we have higher paying jobs for.

Inflation rates are down, but food prices and housing costs are not, and telling people that inflation is down doesn’t agree with what they are paying for groceries and lodging, and that equates to “fake news” in many people’s minds.

The only thing that will change the views of most of these people is real improvement in their lives, and that’s unlikely to occur any time soon, given the multiplicity of factors compounding the problem, ranging from high housing and transportation/relocation costs, the mismatch between skills and/or lack of skills and existing job requirements, to the unwillingness and/or inability of unemployed or underemployed people to relocate.

All that means that “fake news” will remain “fake news” for the foreseeable future.

Not Just the President

With all the polls and furor about who supports Joe Biden for President and who doesn’t – and the same for Donald Trump – there’s another question that’s being overlooked.

That question? Who will each of them pick for the White House staff and the Cabinet and how well will those individuals work together and for the next President?

While it’s apparent that Biden has put together an administration that can work together, that wasn’t often the case in the previous Trump administration. Even more telling is that very few people who worked closely with Trump, especially at the highest levels, seem willing to repeat the experience, and the horror stories that have seeped out suggest that Trump is either extraordinarily difficult to work for or that he’s terrible at picking a team that will work together for any length of time… or perhaps both.

This isn’t surprising, given the management style Trump has revealed, which requires absolute one-way loyalty that often is only rewarded until someone disagrees or cannot achieve what Trump wants in the way he wants it. This proved a problem in the Trump administration when Trump demanded acts and/or policies and implementation that were either impossible in a practical way, illegal, or unconstitutional. That hasn’t changed, but is continuing now when lawyers are unable or unwilling to act as Trump directs.

Since Trump shows absolutely no signs of changing his authoritarian leadership and management style, it’s likely that, if he’s re-elected, we’ll have more administration chaos and continual turnover in officials and staff, at least until all those appointees who follow the law and the Constitution are fired or otherwise removed.

You think otherwise? Then why did Trump want his vice-president hanged for following the law and the procedures in place for over two hundred years? What makes you think Trump will change in the slightest?

If You Don’t Like Your Voting Choices?

Recent polls suggest a significant percentage of voters, especially younger voters, may not vote at all in the coming Presidential election, largely because they don’t like either major party candidate.

I can certainly understand people not liking the choices facing them in the coming Presidential election. I haven’t liked the choices presented by either major political party for decades.

But that’s no reason not to vote. In fact, not voting effectively supports the candidate you find most awful, because not voting deprives the less bad candidate of your vote. So does a vote for a non-viable third-party candidate. Throwing your vote away on a non-viable candidate may make you feel good, but the only impact is to support the major party candidate you find most distasteful or least capable.

And voting against an incumbent to “punish” him for not doing all you wanted or taking a single action you disliked intensely can backfire if you vote for a candidate whose record and/or promises are at odds with your beliefs and requirements, because the only person you’re punishing is yourself.

Voting reflects life. Sometimes, we don’t get ideal or even good choices, only a choice of which downsides to accept in jobs, housing, schools, or other areas. The same is true of politicians. The choice is between flawed candidates, because all candidates are flawed to some degree, just as all people are. So, if you vote, the choice is about which flaws you can accept, and which you cannot.

If you decide not to vote, that’s a choice as well, and that’s the choice to let other people decide, which, to me, is a form of cowardice.

Profit-Pushed Inflation?

Most of America is complaining about inflation, and more than half of Americans blame that inflation on President Biden, but is the President, any President, for that matter, the one to blame?

Federal Reserve research found that “corporate profits contributed a large percentage to inflation in the first year and contributed much less in the second” after the pandemic. In particular, Fed researchers found that corporate profits accounted for all the inflation in the first year of the pandemic recovery (roughly July 2020 to July 2021) and 41 percent of inflation overall in the first two years of the post-pandemic recovery (July 2020 to July 2022).

But that was just the beginning. According to one study, corporate profits hit an all-time high in 2023. Profit margins were above 15 percent – a level not seen since the 1950s. Another found that corporate profits after tax were at 11.08% in the fourth quarter of 2023, compared to 10.93% last quarter and 10.79% last year. This is 54% higher than the long-term average of 7.19%.

In fact, corporations raised prices on consumers – not to offset inflation – but to increase their own profits. In February, Fortune printed a story pointing out that corporate profits drove 53% of inflation during the second and third quarters of 2023 and more than one-third since the start of the pandemic. Comparatively, over the forty years prior to the pandemic, profits drove just 11% of price growth, while, since the beginning of the pandemic, corporate profits as a share of national income have skyrocketed by 29%

In addition, although consumer prices rose by 3.4% over 2023, input costs for producers have only risen by 1%, and in many sectors producers’ prices have actually decreased without corporations passing on those savings to consumers.

In just one example, in 2021 PepsiCo announced that it was “forced” to raise prices, despite record profits of $11 billion. Then in 2023, PepsiCo announced another price increase, of more than 10%. Interestingly enough, PepsiCo’s only major competitor, Coco-Cola, followed a similar pricing model, with its CEO claiming that Coco-Cola had “earned the right” to price hikes because its products were popular. How was that possible? Because, with a combined total of nearly 92%, three companies control the U.S. carbonated soft drink market – Coco-Cola (44%), PepsiCo (26%), and Dr. Pepper/Keurig (22%)

Likewise, in the area of meat products, by the end of 2023, Americans were paying at least 30 percent more for beef, pork, and poultry products than they were in 2020. Might it just be because four companies now control the processing of 80% of beef, 70% of pork, and nearly 60% of poultry?

Such near monopoly power goes beyond soft drinks and meat products. In 75% of U.S. industries, fewer companies control a greater percentage of their markets than they did twenty years ago.

Complain all you want about inflation, but at least place the blame on the largest cause – corporate greed.

Obsolescence or Plot?

Perhaps my wife and I are old-fashioned, or too cautious. It also might be that we find long conversations on a cell phone tiring, but for whatever the reasons, we not only have cell phones, but a landline as well.

This has downsides I never imagined, as when, last week, the handset on my office phone decided that it would no longer retain the cord leading to the body of the thirty-year-old landline telephone in my office. I thought the problem was in the cord and decided to get a replacement cord – only to find that not a single place in Cedar City carried replacement cords. I did find one at the Staples in Salt Lake City, which arrived three days later. Although I’d taped the old cord to the handset in the meantime, that didn’t work all that well, and it turned out that the handset couldn’t hold the new cord any better than the old one had.

So I decided to replace the entire telephone, but, again, although we have CenturyLink, Verizon, and AT&T stores/offices here in Cedar City, none of them carried any landline telephones – even though their websites said that they did. Nor did any of the big box stores, whose websites said they carried them – but didn’t. It also turned out that the second landline phone, from a seldom-used corner of the house, that I’d pressed into use to replace my office telephone also didn’t work particularly well. So I’ve had to order two landline phones.

It also struck me that the landline phone lasted thirty years at a fraction of the cost of the cheapest cell phone, and I’m on my third cell phone in the last fifteen years.

Sheerly coincidentally, the local paper carried a story noting that roughly a quarter of Americans still don’t use cell phones and rely strictly on landlines. That got me to thinking. If I have this trouble getting a replacement landline telephone, who’s going to supply telephones for the roughly eighty million people who still need them? Or do the manufacturers think all those eighty million are suddenly going to switch? Or is this a nefarious plot to force them to switch?


More than a few people know the poem “Ozymandias,” written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which in the days of my youth was part of the English curriculum, not only because Shelley wrote it, but because the poem was considered a parable about how fame and fortune vanish over time.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

What fewer people know is that Shelley and his friend Horace Smith each wrote a poem on the same subject over the Christmas holidays in 1817, and both were published at different times. But where did they come up with the name Ozymandias? In antiquity, Ozymandias was a Greek name for the pharaoh Ramesses II (1279 –1213 BC), who definitely left a great deal of statuary behind.

Interestingly enough, the poem (or poems) convey stylistically an impression of the loneliness and singularity of such an occurrence, when, in fact, more than a few cities great in their time have totally vanished, with numerous references to their existence, but no present trace of their location. The latest issue of Archaeology contains an article on ten cities of the ancient world that have not yet been located, including Agade, the capitol of the Akkadian Empire; Tarhuntasha, the one-time capitol of the Hittite Empire; Serai, the capitol of the Golden Horde; and Wanggeom-seong, the capitol of Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom.

In addition, almost every issue of Archaeology or Current World Archaeology seems to contain a reference to yet another empire or city (and not just small towns) recently discovered, one of the latest being an extensive urban area in Amazonia revealed by lidar scans.

In fact, one could even say that homo sapiens’ desire to be remembered is only matched by how much rubble we’ve left behind, with so few individuals actually memorialized and recalled over the ages.

Writing for Whom?

Some authors would say that you have to write to please yourself, at least to some degree, because it’s almost impossible to put in the effort and skill that’s necessary to write a novel if you dislike what you’re writing. While that’s accurate, as far as it goes, if you want to be a successfully published writer, your work has to appeal to an audience larger than yourself, and most likely larger than just people like you.

One best-selling writer has created a person in his mind, for whom he writes. He has crafted that person lovingly and in depth, from where she works and what she does precisely at that job, what kind of food she enjoys, what jokes she finds amusing, down to what NFL team her husband roots for. That obviously works that writer, given his sales.

Another published writer tends to tailor each book to a specific person, or occasionally to a type of person. Another might write for a circle of friends… or for his or her writing group.

Some writers obviously “write for the market,” consciously or unconsciously adapting or mimicking wildly popular books, as is obvious from the flood of vampire novels and the number of Tolkien knockoffs. The problem with that approach is that more often than not the imitation is usually not as good as the original. There are exceptions, but they’re rare.

For whatever reason, I never really asked myself who I was writing for. I just wanted to write, although initially my creative efforts were in poetry. When I started writing science fiction, I concentrated on telling a good story with at least some measure of uniqueness. And, as I’ve related elsewhere, when I turned to fantasy, I wanted to write it with economic, technical, and human “realism.”

Along the way, I was asked what my “target” audience was, something I’d never considered defining. When I actually thought about the matter, I realized exactly who I was writing for – and that was for readers who could think and who wanted more “depth” in their fiction.

Some of that depth, I admit, was for me as much as for my readers, as when, in The Elysium Commission, I buried snippets of John Donne’s poetry in the book – since the main character is a consultant/problem-solver-for-hire named Blaine Donne. But there’s far more than meets the eye or the casual read in most of my work, although much of what I write can be enjoyed without having to know or recognize the depth. Not always, however, as in Quantum Shadows, The One-Eyed Man, or Haze.