Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Losing Freedoms?

One of the catch phrases used often recently by conservatives and especially the far right extremists is that they’re upset, or they’re demonstrating and attacking the Capitol, because they’re losing freedoms. But what exactly do they mean?

Cliven Bundy, who provoked an armed standoff between the BLM and armed militia types several years ago, raised that claim again this past week. What freedoms did Bundy fear losing? The BLM attempted to confiscate his cattle because Bundy had over a million dollars in unpaid grazing fees over 21 years. Bundy clearly wants the “freedom” to graze his cattle on federal land without paying for it. And the Trump Administration has continued to allow Bundy to graze federal lands without payment while claims and counter-claims clog the courts. So the taxpayers continue to fund Bundy’s grazing. No wonder he doesn’t want to lose that “freedom.”

Trump recently pardoned Phil Lyman, who wanted the freedom to ride his ATV anywhere he wanted, including in roadless areas and protected fragile archeological sites. Lyman was sentenced to jail and fined over $90,000 for the damage caused by the “protest” ATV ride he personally led. He was also subsequently elected to the state legislature, which indicates he has a number of constituents who favor those kinds of “freedom.”

The white supremacists are another group protesting the “loss of freedoms,” presumably, from their pronouncements and actions, the freedom to discriminate against minorities, immigrants, and women.

Quite a number of businesses, large and small, protest against government regulations because such regulations restrict their freedom to operate. Yes, they do. Environmental regulations restrict the ability to pollute air, water, and ground, and they do so because pollution restricts the freedom of the rest of the nation to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and to live on land not filled with toxic chemicals. OSHA rules restrict the “freedom” of businesses to engage in practices that endanger employees and the public. The FDA restricts the “freedom” of food suppliers/producers to sell cheaper foods that could be harmful to consumers.

And, of course, Trump insists on the freedom to incite others to violence and to support throwing out the results of an honest election.

All too often, such “freedoms” are the ability to oppress or injure others, and those who support them are disingenuous or hypocritical… if not both, a fact that far too many Republicans ignore in one way or another.

The Socio-Economic Powder Keg

Or possibly the socio-economic multi-megaton explosive device.

The other day the very conservative but very intelligent Peggy Noonan wrote an essay deploring the behavior of Trump, Cruz, and Hawley, but the aspect of the essay that was far more important will likely be largely overlooked… and that’s the underlying reason for what happened at the Capitol, a reason Noonan hinted at, but failed to pursue.

She made the very valid point that true conservatives, not demagogue conservatives, are conservative because they understand that the veneer of civilization in society can be very thin, and can be easily disrupted, and that such conservatives are leery of change for that very reason, because change always creates disruption. What she didn’t say is what follows.

Just as conservatives feel that any change may be for the worse, liberals have a tendency to believe that any change is for the better. In that respect, they’re both wrong, but that’s not the point.

The first point is that change, any change, is disruptive. The second point is that technology magnifies the pressure for change, and I don’t think many people truly understand how these factors have energized and angered the Trumpists and red-state conservatives.

For the last ten thousand years or so most human cultures have been based, if sometimes loosely, on the “agricultural model” which put a premium on brute strength. The result of that model has been a range of societies based on two factors: male supremacy and the alienation of the “other” so that those of other race, color, creed, ethnicity, etc., were either minimized, enslaved, subjected to genocide, or various other repressive measures. And, as part of male supremacy, women were also minimized as individuals and maximized as broodmares.

Technology has rendered the agricultural model obsolete, at least in developed societies, because brain-power has largely replaced brawn-power, but it hasn’t significantly changed the underlying societal “assumptions” of male supremacy and the alienation of the other.

What is now happening in the U.S. is that minorities and women, as well as those who don’t fit into gender stereotypes, are gaining real power and pushing for true equality… and they’re tired of waiting, and are pushing for what they believe they deserve… and, in the U.S., what laws also state that they deserve [largely, anyway]. Now that better education and training are more and more available to all these groups, more and more of them can compete in the workplace and professions with, in the U.S., white males.

No matter what anyone says, there are only so many good paying positions in any society, and in a world competitive economy, those better educated and trained women and minorities are beginning to advance over white (or the dominant ethnic) men of lesser ability… and, guess what, after 10,000 odd years of male superiority over women and the “others,” the less competent “dominant” males don’t like it. They really don’t like it. Put in the vernacular, they don’t like losing their “privilege.”

What U.S. politicians and policymakers seem unable to grasp is that this isn’t just a teeny-weeny reaction by a comparative handful of over-privileged and under-qualified white males. It’s the leading edge of a total societal makeover – a change which will be massive, if it occurs, and a cataclysm that could literally tear apart societies and result in massive oppression if it fails.

The Trumpists who briefly took the capital are losers, in more than one way. They’re people who are losing their position in society, a position they believe was sacred and ordained by history, and they cannot and may not ever see that their position was based upon the oppression and/or minimization of others.

Too many of the liberals who have opposed the Trumpist followers merely consider them ill-educated and prejudiced white supremacists, or possibly just misguided conservatives. Such a dismissive view fails to understand the true magnitude and costs of what this societal change will entail. The entire image of sexual/gender/ethnicity roles will be recast, along with the associated economic factors and costs. And as such changes become more apparent, tens of millions of people will resist such change, because the very basis of society will have to change.

If it doesn’t, of course, what follows will make the gulags of the USSR seem mild, because oppressors really don’t like to be threatened. Just remember the Capitol… and consider that it was disorganized and poorly planned. Other such events might not be.

The Un-Proximate Cause

The direct cause of the Q-Anon/Far Right assault on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday is not in dispute, at least not to anyone who can think and is in command of his or her faculties and who understands facts. That direct and proximate cause was Donald J. Trump, who planned a rally for that morning and who incited fanatical supporters to march on the Capitol and to disrupt the certification of the results of November’s Presidential election, a certification that is largely ceremonial, given that the states control the vote count and the electors.

That mass assault occurred and succeeded in overwhelming the Capitol Police Force for a very different reason. Trump and other extremist groups – largely but not exclusively right wing – have succeeded in effectively brain-washing 25%-35% of the American public because public education has largely failed the majority of students in U.S. schools. The result is that far too many people cannot or will not think and will accept whatever ideology they feel comfortable with… even if every fact behind it is incorrect or flat wrong.

Trump has filled his followers with four years of falsehoods and lies… and those in that mob swallowed them whole and without thinking… and attacked the Capitol.

The Capitol Police failed to prepare for the descent of the mob on the Capitol for much the same reason. They’ve been conditioned to think of BLM movements or even women equality protesters as “dangerous,” but not alt-right white supremacists – even though the FBI has been pointing out that the most dangerous extremists are white supremacists. In short, the leadership of the Capitol Police didn’t think or prepare, even though Trump made no secret of the rally.

And one of the reasons for these occurrences is, put bluntly, that the majority of students don’t know how to think, to analyze, or even to read effectively. They believe that knowing facts is irrelevant and that they can “Google” any fact they need to know… and this is true of college students as well. There are a number of factors behind this development, but one of the most important is the turn of education away from learning “facts.” Now, I’m the last person who would support mere memorization of facts as education – that’s a waste of brainpower and time – but there are certain core bases of knowledge that citizens need to absolutely “know” in their mind and hearts, and the same is true of all professionals in their field, whether that field is electrical work, plumbing, landscaping, law, medicine, engineering, or politics.

One of the reasons why two Boeing 737 Max aircraft crashed was Boeing’s failure to install multiple sensors for airspeed, but the other was the failure to understand that emergency procedures cannot just be put on paper. They have to be not only understood, but practiced – a lot. There weren’t just the two crashes that made the headlines. There were several other instances where sensor malfunctions caused the autopilot to override the pilot, but in those other instances, highly trained pilots knew what to do. One of the FAA requirements for the return of the 737 Max is more pilot training on those systems.

Right now, at least half of all Americans don’t understand the Constitution and how our government works [or is supposed to work]… but they think they do, and they’re absolutely convinced that their understanding is correct. Why? Because they never really learned the facts and the systems, largely because public education never really insisted on that. “It’s just history, and it’s old stuff that students don’t have to learn.” Most of the young women that my wife teaches honestly don’t know, for example, that U.S. women have only had the right to vote for a century… or that women still only make on average 60-80% [depending on the state] of what men do for the same position and hours worked. Many of those young women unfortunately, not only don’t know, but don’t care, even though statistics show that more than 60% of them will be the primary breadwinner at some point in their lives.

The mob that descended on the U.S. Capitol had literally no understanding of why there couldn’t have been vote fraud on the scale they were told and believed. They didn’t understand that elections are run on a state and local basis, and that roughly two-thirds of the states are currently controlled by Republicans, and at present, fairly conservative Republicans at that, and that Republicans aren’t about to allow Democrats to get away with voter fraud.

That mob also didn’t understand or care that Republican lawmakers who were contesting the validity of the Presidential vote weren’t contesting the validity of the election as far as their own re-election went, which, I submit, is a considerable failure in thinking things through.

No… those in the mob haven’t been forced to think, because our society no longer requires it, and there’s a growing culture that believes that whatever news and information appears that appeals to them must be correct… because it feels “right.”

True thinking and learning requires confronting the uncomfortable, testing one’s own beliefs against hard verified facts, and learning to discern what comfortable beliefs may in fact be wrong or not based in reality and what beliefs need modifying.

And U.S. education, for the most part, is failing in getting students to understand the importance of and the relation between facts and thinking… which was demonstrated by how many in that mob were comparatively young.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

For some reason, the way too many people are acting during this pandemic reminds me of some of Yogi Berra’s sayings. Yogi Berra – the Hall of Fame catcher for the N.Y. Yankees and later a major league manager – NOT the cartoon character Yogi Bear (who appeared in 1958, more than a decade after Berra began his baseball career and whose name was suspiciously like Berra, although Hanna-Barbera claimed the similarity was “coincidental”).

The saying of the real Yogi that struck me when I heard the news this morning was: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” That’s because too many Americans are denying the deadliness of Covid-19 and are being stupid all over again. The highest amount of air travel in a year this past weekend? At a time when Los Angeles has issued a directive to ration oxygen to patients and for EMTs not to bring terminally ill patients to hospitals because there aren’t any beds.

Or as Yogi also said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Exactly! This pandemic isn’t going to be over until mask-wearing, social distancing, and vaccination are actually implemented by most Americans… and if they aren’t, we well might see a million deaths before it’s truly over, if it ever is.

Why is it so bad? As Yogi also said, “We made too many wrong mistakes.” Like having unrelated individuals to parties that shouldn’t have been held. Like going to church and compounding the mistake by not wearing a mask. Like holding crowded political rallies that never really mentioned Covid-19. Or saying that the virus would be gone by last April (when it won’t even be gone by this coming April).

But people don’t seem to listen or take in what’s going on around them. As Yogi also said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

One other thing he said that’s also applicable to the U.S. Covid-19 mess. “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.” And, in that light, way too many Americans haven’t been careful at all.

Which is why, as the sage of baseball and life also said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Wake-Up Call

Trump’s latest actions, and the Congressional reaction, show, again, the need for greater responsibility, and reform, in Congress.

Trump went off to sulk and play golf, addressing the possible government shut-down and the Covid relief bill, at almost the last possible moment, after a great deal of rhetoric and no action for weeks, a lack of action that harmed a great number of Americans. Then there was his rash of pardons, largely not for people punished unjustly, but for individuals justly convicted, often of offenses committed in getting him elected in 2016, to which Congress offered no reaction.

Now… Congress in fact should have recognized that leaving matters not to just the last minutes, but effectively the last seconds, of this session has put both the Congress and the American people in an incredibly difficult position. A major part of the problem also lies with the American people, most of whom have willingly and often enthusiastically sorted themselves into separate tribes, each of which fervently believes that only it is correct and that the other tribe is knowingly pursuing an evil course.

Polarizations this violent have too often escalated into violence and bloody war, as in the cases of the American Civil War and the conflict between the followers of Martin Luther and those who backed the Catholic Church – a conflict that killed almost a third of the population of Germany over the course of a century or so. Both these conflicts, as well as others, resulted from the unyielding anger and polarization of beliefs on each side.

While sometimes there is indeed true evil in a belief, as in Nazism, the one thing I am certain of is that no group, religion, or political party represents unalloyed good. In the case of U.S. politics, I’ve been around long enough and involved enough in politics to have seen that neither party is that “good” or that “evil.” Both occasionally have good ideas, and both more often try to carry matters to extremes, sure of their own virtue, and neither recognizes that extremes and absolutes are never virtuous… and that their own extreme “virtues” can often be as bad as the other parties “evils.”

And, so far, neither one has been able to recognize that. That recognition is long overdue, and if it does not occur, matters will escalate into greater and greater social unrest and violence.

Lost Words from Yesterday

When Ben Bova died a few weeks ago, I got to thinking about my various interactions with Ben, as I suspect many of us do when we lose someone who made a difference in our lives. Ben was my editor for two different publications, one being ANALOG, but the other being Omni online, which, as I recall, only lasted as an online publication for a little over a year roughly in the 1995-97 time period, at least as I recall.

When Ben was editor of the online version, he reached out to me, not for stories, but for several columns dealing with future economics and politics. One was on the economics of interstellar trade. But I have no idea what I wrote because, right after the online Omni shut down, a victim of being established far too early when the market wasn’t ready for an online magazine, my writing computer fried itself. Now, I’d backed up all of my fiction, but not those columns. I’d gotten paid for them, but I didn’t even have a subscription to the publication, and, in fact, I actually have no idea whether all or any of the columns (two or three) were even published, only that I got paid. If I printed out those columns, the print copies have long since vanished or have been swallowed up in my back papers.

With a bit of diligence I did find the table of contents of all of the print copies of Omni, but nothing relating to the online version. This, I suspect, is going to be more and more of a problem in years to come. With paper copies, there’s at least a chance of tracking down something, but purely electronic data can be incredibly ephemeral, even when it’s theoretically “saved,” especially if there’s no documentation or no devices left to “read” that data.

On the one hand, I’d like to dig those old columns up, or at least the record of their existence, but on the other… do I really want to know what I spouted forth in economic terms some 25 years ago?

The “Hype” Problem

Last weekend, in the third quarter of a game where his team was losing 28-7, a fifth year senior quarterback [third string, because the second stringer was out with an injury] took over for the touted first-string quarterback of the University of Utah. The replacement quarterback, who had been a walk-on, several years earlier, had never taken a single snap in a game. It was his last college game, and in a calm and collected way, he turned the game around and led the Utes to thirty-eight unanswered points and victory. He didn’t make any truly sensational passes; he just ran a good team professionally and successfully, unlike the first string quarterback, who has completed an incredibly uneven year, combining miraculous throws with bonehead decisions.

Why didn’t anyone give the third-stringer a chance any earlier?

I don’t know, but I’d guess it’s because he doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, isn’t a sprinter, and he wasn’t “hyped” in high school. Mostly that he wasn’t hyped.

This problem isn’t limited to college football. It happens in many fields, where all the attention focuses on someone with charisma, or some flashy special skill, and others, who are far more capable, overall, tend to be overlooked.

Every week I read about new authors who are supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, or the next great genius of the written word, and yet, by next year, most have vanished or are slowly fading, to disappear several years hence when their third book cannot earn out, while other authors, ignored by the hypesters, produce works that continue to sell. I’ve also been in the field long enough to observe that almost none of the works of those hyped and vanished authors ever turn up as “forgotten masterpieces.” Yet, James Oliver Rigney, Jr., more popularly known as Robert Jordan, who created the Wheel of Time series [which has sold more than 14 million copies and redefined fantasy in the process] won no major awards in the field, except one, that one seven years after his death.

This is nothing new. Vincent Van Gogh sold exactly one painting in his lifetime, but today his works are worth millions, while the “big names” of that time, such as Ludwig Knaus or Eduardo Zabala, have faded from view and their works don’t even sell, or sell for a few hundred dollars. Very few people even knew of Franz Kafka until after he died, and Edgar Allan Poe never made enough money to support himself.

Then, and now, it’s often all about hype, but hype is overrated all too many times and seldom has staying power.


Sociologists classify the population in a society in various ways, including by income level, class, or education level. But I’d like to suggest another system of classification, by competence. Over the years, I’ve observed that only a small percentage of individuals are highly competent in their field, followed by a larger percentage that are moderately competent, with the next grouping being marginally competent, followed by those who are incompetent, and, finally, those who are actively and dangerously incompetent.

While such a classification might be idealistically pleasing, in practice, it’s impossible to implement. Where does one place the brilliant surgeon who is incompetent in human relations? Or the politician who is extraordinary in gathering votes, and a total disaster in governing? And why is it that so many people are a mixture of various levels of competences in different areas?

One of the problems that humans have is that all too many people who are very successful, and competent, in one area think they’re equally competent in everything, that they are, quoting someone known to all, “stable geniuses” in everything. There are people like Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin who excel in more than one field, but even Jefferson was totally incompetent in managing his money.

Add to that the fact that studies have shown, time after time, that people overestimate their own competence, and what’s worse is that, in general, the less competent people are, the more likely they are to overestimate their competence.

I think I’m pretty well-rounded, but no one should ever let me mess with the inside of any engine, or any form of plumbing besides, possibly, the inside of a toilet tank. Nor do I know squat about computer coding, but at least time has made it clear to me that I have definite limitations. Yet we’ve all seen doctors and scientists who are competent, if not excellent, in their fields, carry that assumption of excellence to fields where they know far less, usually with poor results.

Then, there are the people who are incompetent because they really don’t care, like the medical technicians who lose messages or scramble records, the bank employees who take forever to process simple deposits, the education administrators who are more interested in test results and appearances than actual student accomplishment, the tree surgeons who never show up for appointments, the supervisors who change long-scheduled assignments or meetings for their convenience, thereby disrupting dozens of other professionals’ schedules and work… (and that list is far too long for a blog).

There are also those who suffer spells of drastic incompetence because they don’t pay attention to what they’re supposed to be doing, like the driver who was texting and drove into a transformer box and knocked out power for a third of the university, or the hundreds of driving texters who have killed or injured others, the train engineer who lost track of where his train was and entered a curve at too high a speed,

The other problem with competence, or lack thereof, is that we live in a fairly high-tech society, and technology magnifies everything, including incompetence. That’s one of the reasons why automobiles have ever more sophisticated safety-features. You can mess up enough to kill yourself in mishandling a horse, but it takes great effort to do more than that. On the other hand, a single small mistake at high-speed in a modern SUV can wipe out all your passengers, several other vehicles and block an interstate for hours, causing all sorts of subsidiary accidents and additional injuries.

All of which suggests that we’re doomed to endure incompetence in various forms, including our own

Weather Forecasts

Over my lifetime, weather forecasts have, in general, reached the point where they are accurate enough that they actually can be useful – except all too often in Cedar City, Utah, which is where we live.

On Monday morning, the weather forecasts from the major networks said that the snowstorm that had hit northern Utah was moving out to the east and that no storms were forecast in southwest Utah for the next several days. Roughly, an hour passed before it began snowing. Four hours later, it was still snowing, and there were at least three inches of snow on the ground. The snow flurries that followed lasted until dark.

This was hardly an isolated occurrence.

Now, I don’t blame the forecasters. Cedar City is a college town of roughly 40,000 people and is scarcely a population center or a media market on which forecasters might focus more expertise. There’s also the fact that its geographical location makes accurate forecasting a bitch. The town is located twenty miles north of Black Ridge, and the south side of Black Ridge drops almost 3,000 feet in roughly four miles, and another 1,000 feet over the next twenty. The east side of town literally climbs partway up red hills and cliffs that are the lower part of mountains that rise another 4,000 feet.

Cedar City is also known for its winds – strong and frequent. There’s a local saying about the town – that the Mormon settlers only stopped here until the wind died down, only to discover it never did. I’ve personally seen, and weathered, winds here that ripped the shingles off houses, and in one case peeled the vinyl siding right off the west side of a dwelling. We’re not talking tornadoes or hurricanes, just wind, Cedar City style.

And the weather can be freakishly weird – like the fifteen inches of snow we got on Mother’s Day weekend six years ago – incidentally also unforecast. We’ve often gotten a foot of snow in early September, and then sweltered through 80 degree weather for a month afterward.

And that’s why, while forecasts are useful most of the time, here in Cedar City, you still have to be wary about the weather.

Cowardly or Stupid?

Or unprincipled, lying, and hypocritical? Or all five? In case you haven’t guessed, I’m referring to all the Republicans lining up behind Trump’s claims of victory and election fraud on the part of Democrats, although Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security announced that the election was the most secure ever, and state after state has affirmed the same.

One of the latest of the sixty-odd frivolous lawsuits was filed by the Texas State Attorney General (who, by the way, has been charged with securities fraud and just might be hoping for a Trump pardon in return for filing the lawsuit). The Texas lawsuit claimed that election law changes in four states — Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania — which allowed more alternative ways to vote, violated existing law by essentially making it easier for citizens to cast their ballots. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the lawsuit, and that dismissal vote included three justices appointed by Trump.

Not only did Republican attorneys general from 17 states sign on to the lawsuit, but so did 126 Republican members of the House of Representatives, which raises another question. How can a ballot be fraudulent at the top and not at the bottom? If Biden’s election was fraudulent because of the process, how can their election not also be fraudulent?

The Trumpist Republican Attorney General here in Utah signed onto the Texas lawsuit without consulting either the Republican Governor or Lieutenant Governor, both of whom immediately denounced his action. His action was also hypocritical because Utah has had universal mail-in voting for the last two elections, and there’s never been a problem with fraud.

While Trump is stirring up those voters, the fact is that they’re easy to stir up, and that’s why so many Republican politicians don’t want to stand up against Trump’s claims. Most of those Republicans who have stated that the process was fair and without fraud have been subjected to threats, often death threats. So have quite a few electors.

Depending on the poll and the wording, between sixty and seventy percent of Republican voters think the election was “illegitimate.” What this means is that Republicans don’t like democracy or democratic processes when they don’t win. This isn’t a supposition; it’s fact. For last decade, if not longer, Republicans have been working methodically on the state level to restrict voting access to people who are less likely to vote Republican, including reducing the number of polling places in minority districts and “purging” voter registration records in minority districts, even removing the names of people who voted in the previous election and who didn’t die or move.

The United States was founded on the idea of equal opportunity, limited at first just to white males, but over the more than two centuries since its founding, we’ve legally determined that the votes of everyone born here or naturalized as a citizen are equal. Now, because Trump lost the election, Trump has decided that the votes in just certain states or certain parts of those states shouldn’t be counted because he says there was fraud – fraud that no Republican, or anyone else, has been able to prove… or even come up with a shred of verifiable evidence.

That hasn’t stopped Trump or the majority of Republican federal office holders from trying to use the courts to change the election results, something that has never happened before in our history. Why do these Republicans support an attempt at a de facto coup?

Pure and simple, they’re putting their political survival above the national interest, and they seem certain that their supporters won’t call them on it. Unhappily, all the polls and most of the Republican reaction seems to indicate that an attempted coup is all right with the majority of Republicans.

What’s also so sad and amusing about it is that if they all said to Trump, “You lost,” Trump wouldn’t have any power at all because he’d exhaust both his funds and public patience if he tried to attack them all.

So… all of those Republican politicians and officeholders who refuse to tell Trump the truth are either indeed cowardly, stupid, self-centered, unprincipled, or hypocritical, if not all of those… and the voters who support them are at the least stupid or totally ignorant… and if they aren’t stupid or ignorant, then they’re self-centered, unprincipled, and hypocritical.

Unless, of course, that they honestly believe that a right-wing dictatorship is preferable to an elected moderate President.

The Evil Empire?

As most of my readers know, as a writer I don’t quite fit into any stereotype. My books get published through the traditional system [otherwise considered as equivalent to the “evil empire” or the dark side by some “indie” authors], but what I write doesn’t quite fit into any neat pigeonhole, at least not if one reads it carefully. I don’t have an agent and never had. But I spent almost twenty years in jobs requiring suits, and sometimes three-piece suits at that.

Before that, after college, I started out as a conventional naval officer – technically, a line officer – but quickly decided that it wasn’t for me. So I qualified to be considered for either SEAL training [I figured more than ten years of competitive swimming couldn’t hurt] or flight duty. When I saw all the running that the SEALs did, however, and considered the fact that I have short legs and small feet and that they were always running through sand, I opted for flight training, in the middle of the Vietnam War, giving up relatively safe duty for something that was anything but safe. I ended up as a helicopter search and rescue pilot, flying off of carriers, and occasionally landing on tight places on cliff-tops.

Although I’d read science fiction from my early teens on, I didn’t even consider writing it until I was nearly thirty, after I’d spent fifteen years writing poetry that only got published in small literary magazines… when it got published at all. And it took twenty years after my first story was published before I could afford to become a full-time writer.

All of that is likely why I’m somewhat surprised by an attitude I’ve seen in a certain segment of F&SF writers, who quite vocally, or rather in print, are so disparaging of “traditional” publishing. Traditional publishing really shouldn’t be called that – it’s large-scale commercial publishing. So-called “traditional” publishers are interested in selling large numbers of copies of what they print. Given their systems and cost structures, they can’t afford to sell less than roughly 5,000 hardcovers of a novel [these figures may be out of date, but the basic point remains]. They may occasionally do so, for books that editors think are “special,” but that doesn’t happen often.

A generation ago, an author who couldn’t sell that many books had nowhere to go. Happily today, with the advent of small presses, print-on-demand, and even Amazon [ another evil empire], authors who sell below the unofficial cutoffs of traditional publishing can still publish and sell their work, always assuming that they have a body of readers. To make a decent living that way generally requires a great deal of work… and the ability to turn out several novels a year. Some authors, but not that many, I suspect, who publish this way do quite well. Every year a few are even “recruited” by traditional publishers. From what I’ve observed, some gladly accept, just as I’ve seen some traditionally published authors walk away because they found traditional publishing too confining.

Yet I see comment after comment talking about the evils of traditional publishing, and even forecasts of its coming collapse. I don’t see that happening. I do see an industry in the middle of massive change. The numbers of mass market paperbacks printed and sold, once the preferred reading material of F&SF readers, have shrunk to a fraction of former sales, largely replaced first by e-books, and more recently by audiobooks. Hardcover sales, on the other hand, so far seem to be holding up.

Some readers, of course, now bemoan the costs of e-books released by traditional publishers, which, after the first year of release, are priced roughly the same as mass market paperbacks. That bemoaning, I suspect, is because self-publishing “indie” authors offer their books at a lower price. That pricing gains them readers, but the author pays for it in another way. He or she also has to deal personally with the details for covers, publicity, editing, proofing, etc., or hire others to do so… or risk presenting a technically inferior package. In effect, those writers are trading off writing time for production time.

But unlike the evil empire of Star Wars, traditional publishing isn’t out to destroy “indie” or self-publishing authors. Those publishers, like everyone else, are trying to make money. For the author, it’s much more a question of which costs an author chooses or is forced to bear, the “tyranny” of the “evil empire” or the greed of the readers in the self-publishing market, but they do have an option besides traditional publishing, unlike writers of an earlier time.

Another Big Legal Loophole

As some readers of F&SF may have read, the Disney corporation is stiffing author Alan Dean Foster. According to Foster, Disney has not paid royalties since 2014 on Star Wars books that Foster wrote. Disney has not responded to his inquiries and claims, and, in fact, Disney’s attorneys won’t even discuss the matter with Foster unless he signs a non-disclosure agreement. Alan and his wife are in poor health, and it would certainly be helpful to have the royalty payments he’s owed.

All Disney has said is that they only bought the “properties,” but not any contractual liabilities associated with those properties. If this position is applied across the economy, any corporation could sell itself and all its holdings to another corporation and shed its liabilities, stiffing its creditors.

Now… from what I can determine, while corporation employees can at least bring payment problems to the Labor Department, the only recourse Foster or any author or independent contractor has for non-payment is a civil lawsuit. The problem with this “recourse” is that virtually all independent contractors lack the financial resources to afford the extensive legal costs required to sue a mega-corporation and, if they had the resources, it normally wouldn’t make sense financially to pursue such litigation.

The late Harlan Ellison pursued copyright violations with a vengeance, spending over $40,000, according to one report, just in going after internet pirates. He also sued publishers and CBS, among others, but most of those lawsuits were before media became mega-corporations. He once was hired by Disney as a writer, and was almost immediately fired by Roy Disney. Most writers and independent contractors have neither the time nor the funds to do the same… and they shouldn’t have to.

Equally to the point is that the legal precedents go far beyond Alan Dean Foster’s situation or the applicability to other authors. I certainly can’t find any federal criminal statute that applies to failure to pay independent contractors, and with the expansion of the “gig economy,” unless something is done legislatively, it’s quite possible that other mega-corporations will follow Disney’s example. In effect, corporations could fail to pay independent contractors, as Trump has done on more than a few occasions, or underpay them even more, almost with impunity. While I suspect this is already occurring in cases besides that of Alan Dean Foster, unless the law is changed, those occurrences are bound to increase… and it’s just another example of why government action is necessary to rein in the mega-corporations, because individuals can’t muster the power or the resources to obtain fair treatment.

“Socialist” Scare Tactics

With the election of Joe Biden as the next President, the right-wing scare-mongers have revved up their rants about how the “ultra-liberal” Democrats are going to impose “socialist” measures of all sorts on the United States.

Even if, unlikely as it is, the Democrats win both Georgia Senate seats, they’ll only have a one vote edge in the Senate and that includes two independents, one of whom is Angus King, who left the Democratic Party almost thirty years ago because it had become too liberal. Add to that Joe Manchin, who has consistently opposed almost all “liberal” Democratic positions.

Any legislation that has a chance of passing the next Congress is going to have to have bipartisan support in the Senate or be a small and incremental improvement on existing programs and laws. In addition, as President, Joe Biden will be limited in creating new initiatives through Executive Orders.

Trump was successful largely because the vast majority of his successes lay in destroying or limiting existing programs. While Biden could restore some environmental regulations, he will be very limited in creating new programs without Congressional approval, and he’s not going to get approval of anything even remotely close to what the right-wing scare-mongers are claiming and projecting.

Some of what he may be able to get is a statutory ban on using pre-existing medical conditions to deny health care insurance or to require higher premiums for such insurance. It’s conceivable he might be able to get an increase in the federal minimum wage, but is it all that radical to push for a minimum wage that’s higher that the present one – which is set at 60% of the poverty level? He might also be able to reinstate some air pollution regulations rolled back by Trump, which would be helpful in allowing people to breathe without greater damage to their lungs.

But there won’t be any “Green New Deal” or “Medicare for Everyone,” no matter what the scare-mongers claim. Even getting improvements in the Affordable Care Act, beyond a ban on pre-existing conditions, will be difficult.

The votes just aren’t there, just as the votes weren’t there for Trump to be reelected, but that apparently doesn’t matter to the far right, which is, again, busy creating an alternate political reality, rather than trying to fix the one we have…and the one in which all of us, including Trump, will have to live.

Scam Season

There are always scams and scammers, but one of the scams that’s taken off this year is one that, I have to say, really burns me, for several reasons. It’s not a scam that I would have guessed to be one of the “hot” scams of the season, but the fact that it is makes a very sad sort of sense.

What am I talking about? Puppy scams!

When we thought about getting another dog, we discovered that the internet is filled with fraudulent sites claiming to be reputable breeders/sellers, sites filled with pictures of adorable puppies. There’s also a site that deals with listing fraudulent sites called Petscam, and the numbers of such fraudulent sites are staggering. Because we have a fondness for dachshunds, I checked out the listing of fraudulent dachshund sites, and there were close to two hundred listed over the past two years [if I counted correctly]… just for dachshunds.

I checked out several of those sites, and while the pictures show healthy adorable puppies, the sites I looked at were short on specifics, such as addresses, references and other details that could be checked, and offered pure-bred dachshunds at well under the going rate [purebred dachshunds aren’t cheap!]. They also offer unnamed, nonexistent, and inexpensive “pet courier” services. Having had to transport a dog in the past, I certainly couldn’t find any courier that was reputable and inexpensive, and I suspect it’s even harder today.

Why are puppy scams up? I’d guess it’s because people are lonely, both children and adults. It’s been a long isolating year for most people, and puppies aren’t under quarantine. In addition, dogs are loyal at a time when loyalties have been strained for many people.

The internet has made scamming almost risk-free for scammers, and scammers always go for those who are vulnerable. Still, understandable as it may be why puppy scams are flourishing, and given that all scammers are lowlifes, I can’t find those who are engaging in this kind of scam anything but particularly despicable.

The “Sacred” Right to College

One of the cries of the left, not just the far left, unfortunately, has been a clamor for “free” college educations and even a forgiving of college-incurred debt. As someone who has raised college-educated offspring, who has taught on the collegiate level, and who is married to a university professor, I’m strongly opposed to both.


Because it would not only be a tremendous waste of money and resources, but because it would be absolutely the wrong thing to do. Obviously, I believe that a college education is valuable, but it’s not valuable to everyone. I also believe that while a college education should not be a blanket right, it should not be denied to anyone on the basis of race, color, creed, or economic background.

Unhappily, far too many incoming college students are not only lacking in basic skills, but also don’t know how to work intellectually, don’t want to do the hard work necessary to learn higher level skills, and don’t seem to want to learn anything that doesn’t interest them. But university administrations seem determined to increase their numbers, rather than to increase the quality of the education provided. Rather than flunking out the uninterested and the lazy, the pressure mounts on faculty, especially at public institutions, to provide watered-down “edutainment.”

This emphasis deprives the better and more motivated students of the best education that they could have while saddling those merely “processed” through the system with debts that they cannot pay and a pricey and close to useless “credential.” The result of doing this for the last fifty years has been degree inflation, so that additional education at additional cost is required in many fields as more of a “screening tool” than for work-related requirements.

Now, a college degree has become the panacea for economic inequality and the optimal way to assure a “better” life for one’s children. For the fortunate, highly intelligent, and well-connected, it usually is, but not always. Given the skyrocketing cost of higher education, and the even higher cost of graduate degrees such as law and medicine, the inexorable result is that as many as half of those graduates are so burdened by debt that they can barely make ends meet… and that’s without house payments or the cost of having children.

The political reaction is to forgive all that debt. Unfortunately, that will ensure the continuation of creating more graduates who cannot find jobs in their field of study. It will also increase the federal debt, which is fast reaching unsustainable levels, unless taxes are increased. While those on the left claim that higher real incomes of those graduates will contribute to higher tax revenues, that assumption rests on such jobs being continually created… and that’s highly unlikely.

As I’ve noted previously, the United States is producing roughly twice as many college graduates annually as there are jobs for them. The scientist and historian Peter Turchin terms this the “overproduction of elites” and has pointed out that such “overproduction” over history has always led to severe societal unrest, if not worse, as in the case of the French and Russian revolutions, because, in time, a significant number of those who view themselves as elites but who do not get elite jobs and income reject the “system” and enlist the help of the economically disenfranchised to attack the elites. In a sense, that was the whole message of the Trump presidency, beginning with Trump himself, who has always felt that the “elite of the elites” minimized him.

Over time, college can’t be for everyone. The question that needs to be asked isn’t how everyone can go to college, but who should attend, and for what reason, because assuming that everyone can and should go is an expensive proposition that isn’t working and that will become more unworkable every year.

The Party of “NO!”

What Democrats – and everyone else besides Republicans – fail to understand is that Republicans are opposed to any real improvement in government or the condition of anyone, including themselves. They don’t even like the status quo; it’s too “progressive” for them.

They’ve cheered every time that Trump rolled back environmental protections. They cheered when the Supreme Court declared that unlimited money could speak in elections, the way it did in the time of the Robber Barons of the 1890s. They initially even opposed the removal of lead from gasoline and warnings on the carcinogenic effects of tobacco. They opposed the clean-up of hazardous waste sites. They’ve consistently tried to minimize the voting rights of pretty much everyone but white males. They’ve opposed giving women equal rights to men under law. They’ve opposed affordable health care and worked to remove the prohibition on charging more or refusing health care coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Now, it even appears that Republicans even oppose fair elections, or at least any fair election that they don’t win.

The list of what Republicans oppose is almost endless. At present, I can’t think of a single positive measure that Republicans have seriously proposed in recent years.

What this means is that there likely won’t be any legislative compromises in the coming session of Congress. That’s because stopping any forward movement on almost anything is viewed as a victory by Republicans. The notable exception is tax cuts, because any tax cut limits federal spending and puts money in their pockets.

Unless the Democrats win both seats in the Georgia Senate run-off elections, Mitch McConnell will halt virtually all legislation that might benefit poor working Americans, and he and most Republicans will see that as a victory.

They aren’t looking forward to creating a better United States; they’re looking backward to an America that never was… and close to half of the United States agrees with them.

Facing Reality

There’s been much talk about the President not facing reality… and that’s obvious… and unfortunate. It’s already led to street violence between Biden supporters and Trump partisans who can’t and won’t accept the fact that Trump lost in a free and fair election. Trump is fomenting the illusion that the election was stolen because that illusion preserves his power. No great surprise there.

But there’s another illusion, one less obvious, that could prove far more dangerous over the years to come… that’s the failure of the Democratic Party to understand that, in all practical terms, it lost the election of 2020, if narrowly.

In an election where the Republican Party ticket was headed by a lying, crooked, misogynistic racist, who mishandled the greatest pandemic in a century, and whose mishandling resulted in enormous economic damage to the entire country and especially to the poorest segments of society, the Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives, and so far have failed to gain enough seats to capture control of the Senate (despite the fact that 23 Republican Senators were up for re-election and only 12 Democrat Senate seats were on the ballot). Democrats also lost ground overall in state-level elections.

If this was the best the Democrats could do against a ticket headed by Donald Trump, unless the Democratic Party does a complete overhaul of its strategy and messaging, the 2022 mid-term election will be a disaster for Democrats. Some perceptive Democrats have already voiced that concern, but the loud voices of the “progressive” wing of the party seem to be prevailing for the moment.

One well-known and progressive F&SF writer has publicly opposed the idea that “‘defund the police’ should be called something else.” That author goes on to say, “This argument is the same tactic that misogynists use re feminism and racists re BLM, derailing conversations on substance into pedantic nonsense about the name.”

Frankly, while I respect the author and that author’s work, the comment misses the point that any author should know. Words and labels matter. People are overwhelmingly in favor of the “Affordable Care Act,” but a majority oppose “Obamacare.” And too many don’t know that the two are exactly the same thing.

The columnist and author Carl Bernstein [one of the two who uncovered the Watergate conspiracy that ended the Nixon Presidency] has observed that Donald Trump has ignited the “civil cold war” into a hot civil war. And in war, labels become “truths” even when they’re not true at all.

James Clyburn, the black U.S. Congressman whose endorsement ignited Joe Biden’s candidacy has said, “Make headway, not headlines.” And he’s right. When rhetoric gets in the way of accomplishment, it’s time to ditch the rhetoric.

Several others have claimed that progressive Democrats won, while centrist Democrats lost. That’s not quite accurate. Progressive Democrats won progressively inclined districts; they lost ground in less progressive districts. To obtain enough power to change things, they need to win both.

Whether Democrats really understand this or will do anything about it remains to be seen.

Words For Democrats

Joe Biden got a personal mandate to do his best to unite the country, but the voters delivered a very different message to the Democratic Party. Voters don’t want radical change, and they especially don’t like radical rhetoric. They didn’t like Trump’s inflammatory statements, and they didn’t like what they heard from the far left of the Democratic Party, and what they did hear resulted in losses in the U. S. House and the squandering of an opportunity to flip the Senate.

Now, I just heard a newly elected Democrat Congressman dispute that, saying that the progressive movement elected Joe Biden and that candidates should be free to choose the message that galvanizes their own voters. I agree with the second point, as well as the fact that Biden wouldn’t have been elected without progressive votes, but what the Congressman ignores is that Biden also couldn’t have won with just progressive votes. He also said that he didn’t see how such slogans would matter in other districts. There… I disagree. Given today’s communications systems, Republicans and Democrats alike have taken words and slogans from anywhere in the U.S. and weaponized them. The Republicans were far more effective… and used lies effectively to make people see red, literally and figuratively.

What Democrats need to do is to craft their message in ways that don’t do that to their opponents while still maintaining their goals and positions. As I’ve written more than a few times before, Democrats are too often totally tone-deaf in choosing their slogans and rhetoric. They pick or adopt phrases and terms that, while they resonate within their own groups, absolutely alienate the majority of the body politic.

“Defund the Police” is an example. First, the very words frighten most whites and many others, while unnecessarily angering most police officers. Second, those words misstate the aim of the movement. What those behind the movement want is not to reduce policing, but to reduce bad policing and police brutality, to incorporate better community relations, to develop better strategies and tactics for avoiding confrontation, to develop expertise in dealing with individuals with mental problems [rather than immediately shooting them]… in short, to improve policing so that police force is a last resort rather than the immediate option. But no one simply wanted to rally behind “Improve Policing!”

A second area is health care. Millions of people need affordable healthcare, but right now, government healthcare replacing private insurance isn’t going to fly economically, politically, or practically, and endorsing it raises the spectre of “socialized medicine,” a spectre that a number of Democrat politicians have said cost the party seats in the House and Senate. It also fails to address the real problems, which include the sky-high cost of healthcare itself, the lack of adequate healthcare at all in too many rural and inner city areas, and the high cost of medical education, which forces doctors out of lower-paying medical practices such as in rural areas, or in family/general practice. Making healthcare insurance cheaper and expanding availability while not addressing costs is a recipe for disaster.

Taxes are another area where the Democrats blew it. Raising taxes in any form and on anyone just doesn’t resonate well with most of the electorate, besides which, the tax rates themselves aren’t the real problem and increasing them won’t raise that much money, not without other reforms. The problem is all the special treatments in the tax code. Non-renewable resources can get up to a fifteen percent “depletion” allowance – effectively reducing taxable income by fifteen percent. That’s a subsidy pure and simple, and the tax code is filled with such subsidies. That’s one of the principal reasons why companies and millionaires often don’t pay taxes. Merely increasing tax rates on high earners is likely to be a cosmetic measure that won’t do much at all to increase tax revenues from billionaires, or corporations, but which will scare everyone else.

The Green New Deal and a confused message on energy and environmental issues definitely hurt the Democrats in energy-producing regions… and it was unnecessary. All they had to do was to press for economically-efficient clean energy… and insist that fossil fuels meet clean air standards – which is all they’d ever be able to get out of Congress anyway… if that. But the “progressives” pushed hard for the “Green New Deal” and that alone hurt the Democrats badly in Texas and in other energy-producing areas.

As I’ve also written before, the Democrats need to gain power before they start pressing for radical change. Pressing for such change without power is a sure way to assure that you don’t get power in the Congress, where all changes in law have to occur – and so far they don’t have that power, and likely won’t get it, even if they manage to win both run-off elections in Georgia.

While replacing Trump will improve a great many things, what it won’t do is improve the laws. For that, you need control of both House and Senate, which is looking highly unlikely. And if the Democrats don’t stay focused and united, matters will get even worse… both for the party and the country.

And A Few Words for Republicans

To begin with, stop trying to thwart the will of the electorate. While Donald Trump certainly has the legal “right” to lie [so long as it’s not under oath], to create frivolous lawsuits, and to keep the incoming Administration in the dark for as long as possible, that doesn’t make it right, and it’s certainly not good for the country…and you don’t have to go along with it.

But then, much of what the Republican Party has done in this election hasn’t been good for the country. You’ve whipped up the old-line conservatives, the misogynists, the ultra-conservatives, the rednecks, and the non-college-educated white males into a rage with lies about what the Democrats haven’t done, won’t do, and can’t do. That was enough to trim the Democrat majority in the House and will likely retain your hold on the Senate.

Now you’re pandering to a lying, narcissistic, bullying crook by supporting unsupported charges of non-existent voting fraud, an effort which strongly appears to resemble an attempted coup at worst and delaying and attempting to undermine the transition to a new Administration at best.

All this is, of course, a culmination of the past four years, where the majority of Republican accomplishments were largely destructive, based on an unthinking visceral attempt to gut anything accomplished by the previous administration, regardless of the impact on the country, the economy, public health, or the environment. So far as I can determine, the majority of the positive Republican “accomplishments” in the past four years consisted of a tax bill that provided small tax cuts to most Americans and enormous tax cuts to the wealthy and a modest criminal justice reform bill.

The trade war with China hurt U.S. farmers more than it punished China; China just bought soybeans and other crops elsewhere. The costs of parts and components manufactured in China went up, and so did the prices of U.S. products incorporating them. Despite promising a better health care plan for four years, no plan was ever even drafted. Being against masks and not taking Covid-19 seriously for most of the past year showed a total lack of positive leadership, with the possible exception of speeding up the development of a vaccine. The “deregulation” effort increased air and water pollution and added to the U.S. contribution to global warming. The great Trump wall largely consisted of rebuilding existing barriers and was funded, likely illegally in part, by shifting federal funds Congress allocated to other uses, while the most notable feature of immigration efforts was to rip infants and children from their parents.

Foreign policy, if it can be called that, consisted of being friendly to dictators and other authoritarian governments, while attacking and/or minimizing long-time allies, and, of course, steadfastly refusing to condemn Russian interference in U.S. elections.

And to top it all off, most elected and appointed Republicans in Washington have now demonstrated that they’re largely Donald Trump’s bitches, with neither the guts nor the decency to stand up for democracy and for a peaceful transition of power to a new president.

Is that the kind of legacy and reputation you want?

Trump and Trumpism

Donald Trump won’t be president for the next four years, but I don’t see him going way. And Trumpism won’t vanish, even if Trump did. A good reason for that is because Trump effectively personified the anger and resentment of a large segment of the population, and they saw him as their voice against a society they believed had ignored them.

Over 70 million people voted for a lying, narcissistic, marginally competent at best, and totally corrupt incumbent president. One exit poll I saw showed that 85% of his supporters voted for him because of his stand on the issues.

They like the fact that he started a trade war with China, despite the fact that it meant the U.S. government had to provide massive subsidies to U.S. farmers. They like his stand on immigration, despite his stealing money from other programs to build an almost useless wall and despite the absolute cruelty with which his immigration policies were carried out. They either like his racist stands or those stands don’t bother his supporters. They want more coal mining jobs, despite the fact that those jobs will eventually lead to the early death of most miners and that the use of coal-fired power plants make it harder for millions of Americans to breathe. They support the existing structure of police forces despite a police culture that too often relies on brutality, especially against minorities. They like efforts to reduce the voting power of minorities. And most of all, they like his brash attacks on the “liberal” and “elite establishment.”

Now… most of his supporters won’t admit to supporting those specific policies, but there’s no secret about what his stands are on any of those issues… and 70 million angry people voted for him. Some will claim that his supporters are only angry because he lost. That’s bullshit. They were angry before this election. That’s why they voted for him in 2016.

They have reasons for their anger. All across the United States, rural communities are suffering, and many are dying. The income, standard of living, and lifespans of white, non-college-educated American men have dropped over the last thirty years. They don’t like it, and they blame the government and “the establishment.” Many of them also blame women, particularly educated and powerful women.

Because of the cost of environmental regulations, many “dirty” industries went off-shore, and those that didn’t either went high-tech and automated or closed up. The men – and they were largely men – who lost jobs blame the environmentalists and federal environmental regulations. To them, clean air and water come second to having a good paying job. Balanced eco-systems just mean greater chance of failure to farmers and cattle ranchers.

I even know a fair number of writers who violently opposed the Democratic ticket. They equate Democrat proposals with authoritarian dictatorship. I also know more than a few educators and business people who feel the same way, and for all of those people, Trump’s abysmal personal characteristics are secondary to their fear of what they see as the excessively prescriptive and over-regulated nanny state.

So…for these reasons, and quite a few others, Trumpism isn’t going away any time soon, and, if the coming Biden administration doesn’t act to defuse at least some of that anger with specific policies and programs, the 2024 election could revert to one like 2016.