Archive for the ‘General’ Category

A Few Thoughts on War

There’s a doctrine in warfare known as proportional response. If one country seizes or destroys a ship of another country, the second country should respond on the same level, or perhaps escalate the response slightly. The second country shouldn’t do something “horrific,” like bombard or destroy an entire city. Except… sometimes that works, and then everyone speculates on why it shouldn’t have been done… even when such an act may have actually cost fewer lives than a continuing conflict.

In a limited logical fashion, proportional response makes sense, because a rapid escalation is hard on the people on one side for certain, and possibly for both sides, but that depends on the conflict and the cultures and demographics of the countries involved. Escalating proportional responses effectively lost the Vietnam War for the U.S. Given cultures and demographics, the U.S. had only two possible effective choices, although these choices are far clearer in hindsight than they were at the time. One was to realize that South Vietnam was a lost cause and make some sort of agreement with the north. The second would have been an immediate and total scorched earth attack on North Vietnam, which was deemed politically infeasible and could have escalated into a world-level conflict. By the time Nixon even thought of using overpowering aerial warfare, the war was effectively lost, even though the U.S. “won” almost all pitched battles, including the Tet Offensive.

One other lesson that comes out of studying warfare is that the military is almost always “fighting the last war,” particularly in times of social and technological change. There’s a reason for this. Tactics are developed based on available weapons and logistics, and upon past experience. When one side finds a way to use something new or apply something existing in a new fashion, there’s a time lag before the other side figures it out. And sometimes that time lag can be fatal.

In fantasy, of course, as authors we can war-game such doctrines, but one thing I’ve done that’s bothered some readers is that I’ve followed history with regard to innovation. What I mean by that is that when one side uses magic or technology in a new way, it takes the other side time to adjust… and they may never make the adjustment if they don’t have decent communications. First, they may not have heard about the innovations or tactics. Second, they may not believe what they’ve been told, or they may believe that they are different/better than previous commanders. Even though General Billy Mitchell showed that airpower could sink battleships in 1923, many U.S. admirals still didn’t really believe it would happen in a “real war,” until Pearl Harbor. And third, they may not have the time or training to change, even if they’re willing to change. The French army couldn’t adjust to the German blitzkrieg in time to keep France from falling.

I’ve also noticed, and maybe it’s just the books I’ve read, that “wars” in fantasy either tend to be heavy on blood, guts, grit, and action with all of the impact on the combatants…or treat war almost superficially. If history is any indication, war has impacts on all levels of society on both sides, even for the greatest of empires, and any empire that is devoting a significant percentage of its resources to continual warfare isn’t going to endure that long. Peace and prosperity prolong nations and empires, provided, of course, that the empire has a strong enough and talented enough military force to squelch small brushfire insurgencies or border incursions before they become a real threat.

A Secular Nation

Start with this point. I am not you. You are not me. We each have different thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. Most people understand that we all have different thoughts and experiences. Where people and society get into trouble is the problem with beliefs, especially strong ones like religion – or lack of religion.

The problem with religion is simple. Far too many people firmly believe that everyone should believe what they believe and follow that set of beliefs. This ignores the basic fact that there are far too many different belief systems for that ever to work, especially in any nation that is not a police-state theocracy.

According to those who keep track of such matters there are more than 4,000 different religions in the world, and more than twenty that have more than a million believers. Even in the United States there are more than fifteen major religions/denominations with significant numbers of adherents, and some of the basic tenets of these faiths don’t agree on aspects of how society should be governed and even to what degree beliefs enshrined in faith should be legislated into law.

The Founding Fathers insisted on separating church and state. For them, at that time, that separation was politically and practically much easier because, despite all the bloodshed during the European religious wars, the main conflict was between Catholicism and Protestantism, and the two faiths weren’t as separated and as disparate – and numerous – as various faiths, including atheism, are today in the United States. Even so, the basic principle espoused by the Founding Fathers makes even more sense today.

That principle was the creation of a nation where the laws were based on the basic ethical principles on which both religious factions could agree, such as the fact that murder and theft were not acceptable and should be punished. “Non-conforming” religions were not banned, but certain practices, such as polygamy and human sacrifice, were criminal offenses, and what was legal and what was not were based on facts and political agreement – with, of course, the exception of slavery, which a failure to address on a national basis led to the bloodiest war in our nation’s history.

We’re now facing a schism along lines of belief, and it shows up in many fashions, from reproductive freedom to gender identify to the conflict over how far freedom of speech should extend, and whether government should address economic and social inequality.

In far too many of these areas, people have tried to enact laws based on beliefs they want to impose on others, rather than trying to work out practical compromises on the basis of science and common ground. Even when practical compromises have been worked out, they often don’t stay worked out for one simple reason.

Too many people believe that ALL their beliefs are correct and should be imposed on others. The history of Europe after the Reformation shows how well that worked out. [For those who have forgotten or never knew, in just one of those wars, Germany lost 30% of its population.]

There was a reason the Founding Fathers separated church and state to create a secular nation, but like so many lessons of history, that one appears to have been forgotten.

More Than Problematic

The other day I got a review of Fairhaven Rising by a reviewer for an online publication. The review panned the book. I don’t have a problem with that. Writers should expect that. We can’t please every reader or reviewer.

I do have a serious problem with why and how he panned it.

These days science fiction is seeing, as with The Expanse series, a movement toward competent and compelling CHARACTERS who happen to be male or female. Why does fantasy lag? Why must female characters in fantasy hew to stereotypes of women who must – whether competent or not – all too often be victims of some kind? And who must express their victimhood in specifically proscribed ways? If something horrible happens to a man, he can rise above it and be the competent hero, but a woman must somehow continue to exhibit or constantly come to terms with her brokenness?

In the case of this reviewer, he is perfectly happy with the “same cookie-cutter” characters with great abilities who were male in previous Recluce books (and he actually wrote that), but when I changed to a female protagonist, a woman who turns up to have great abilities, he doesn’t like it at all. In short, men are allowed to be handsome, great tacticians and mages, but women aren’t.

And because Taelya has lived “through trauma and death since she was 7 years old,” and doesn’t have PTSD (because, after all, she should because she’s a woman) she’s “boring.” She keeps her emotions in check – like all the guys – but that means to this reviewer that Taelya’s “emotionless.” Because she doesn’t fit the image he has of his daughters, she can’t possibly be real, because, after all, women must be filled with overt or overly exaggerated emotion at all times and must respond to trauma in specific ways, so that men can rescue them, rather than the other way around.

The patrols and chores are “boring.” The strange thing about this claim is that I’ve been writing about the mundane aspects of life in the world of Recluce for thirty years, and he didn’t find them boring before, but when they’re experienced by a woman, they’re “boring.” That suggests that this reviewer finds women doing daily tasks boring, because men are more inherently interesting when doing them (as with my other books).

I’m not bitching about a bad review. I’m bitching about a review steeped in hypocrisy and misogyny so deep that the reviewer will never even recognize how hypocritical and misogynistic he is… and I’m also writing about it because it shouldn’t be a problem in fantasy – and it too often still is.

A Particular Typo Problem

As several readers have noted, there were more typographical errors in Fairhaven Rising [which, if you haven’t picked it up, came out almost exactly a month ago], and, when I read those comments, I wondered why – for about a minute.

That slowness on my part was because of the length of the publication process, and it took me that minute to realize what had happened. Over the course of 2019-20, Tor was completing the process of making the entire production process electronic. Now, to people familiar with computers, this would seem simple and quick enough. When you’re dealing with a major publisher, nothing is simple, and history helps explain why.

When I first started with Tor in the early-mid 1980s, the process was almost entirely paper-driven. I submitted a printed manuscript. My editor read it, sent me back marked-up pages and a sheet of editorial suggestions and requests and asked for revisions. I made the revisions and sent a clean manuscript back embodying what I hoped would satisfy the editor. Sometimes, there were several go-rounds. Then once Tor accepted the manuscript, it went to a copy-editor. The copy editor marked-up that manuscript and sent it back to Tor. Another set of copies was made, at least one for the editor and one for me. The editor sent me a copy so that I could make sure the copy-editor’s “corrections” didn’t do violence to the book [usually not, but at least twice, the copy-editing was so bad that I said I never wanted that copy-editor to touch my books again. At Tor, at least, authors aren’t usually told the identity of the copy-editor, which is probably best for both author and copy-editor]. Then I would change incorrect corrections, address inquiries, and swear a lot.

My “corrected” copy-edit went back to my editor, who then smoothed out any differences and forwarded the final paper copy-edited manuscript to production for typesetting. Sometime later, I’d get the printed first pass galleys for proofing to make sure that production didn’t screw up. I could still make small corrections [essentially ones that didn’t change the basic format of the book] and I sent back only pages with corrections.

This process lasted until using the internet became feasible, at which point, roughly in the late 1990s, I could send the manuscript electronically, but not all editors liked electronic manuscripts, and often the first thing those editors did was print out the manuscript, because, back then, laptops were cumbersome and expensive, and publishers didn’t supply them to editors, and also because editing on paper was easier than lugging around heavy laptops. My editor, and many others, often edited on their train commutes, because most editors with families couldn’t [and still can’t] afford to live close to work.

As editorial computer skills improved and tablets and laptops became affordable, publishers moved more and more into handling manuscripts electronically, but the one area that lagged was in handling copy-editing. I don’t know why, but I suspect that setting up common codes and symbols electronically was a problem because almost all copy-editors are free-lancers, and they work for a number of publishers. Since there 30 different publishing imprints that publish ten or more F&SF titles annually, and since many publishing houses have differing requirements and electronic systems, all this makes any transition time-consuming.

Then, COVID-19 hit, and Tor, as well as other publishers [I assume, always dangerous], had to finish setting up copy-editing electronically – in a hurry. I won’t go into the gruesome details, but Fairhaven Rising was my first book that was produced entirely electronically, and the process didn’t quite go the way it was supposed to. I had to go through all sorts of electronic contortions to make corrections, and in some cases, I couldn’t make them at all, and had to resort to the equivalent of electronic margin notes. And frankly, I made some mistakes as well in dealing with a new system, mistakes that, unfortunately, I wasn’t aware I’d made until they showed up in print.

And that is why there just happen to be more than a few additional typos in Fairhaven Rising.

The Spoiled Media

The other day some pundit featured in the Washington Post complained that President Biden hadn’t held a single press conference since he took office, claiming that it had been almost a hundred years since an incoming President had gone that long without a press conference.

How many press conferences a president holds – or doesn’t – isn’t a measure of accomplishment. That’s a metric set up by spoiled media types. The measure of accomplishment is what a President gets done, not how many questions from the press he answers.

The mainstream media has spent the last five years in “media paradise.” Almost every single day, they had something “newsworthy” or outrageous from Trump or his cabinet, sometimes both. Trump loved to get up and brag, usually misstating and often outright lying, but always providing red meat for the press.

Biden’s much more low key. Also to the point is the fact that, put bluntly, answering loaded questions fired at high speed isn’t his greatest strength. With Trump, it didn’t matter, because whatever he did was the “greatest” and he made so many misstatements and told so many lies that no one could keep track at the time he spoke of how many lies he uttered. According to that same Washington Post that criticized Biden, Trump issued 30,573 false or misleading statements during his presidency, averaging 21 a day.

Every president is different, and each can and should be expected to play to their strengths, not their weaknesses. Biden’s moderate and thoughtful. He’s not given to wild exaggeration or verbal pyrotechnics. He’s also been known to make media gaffes. These gaffes aren’t deliberate falsehoods or planned exaggerations, and from what I can tell, he’s tried to clarify when he’s made them. But it’s certainly natural for him to minimize the situations that cause such gaffes.

Besides which, Biden’s press secretary gives the press almost daily briefings on what the new administration is doing, where she takes questions and provides answers, or arranges for the department in question to provide an answer. The media isn’t really looking for answers when they want more opportunity to grill Biden. What they want is to put him on the spot so that they look good. Biden doesn’t have to play their game, and he shouldn’t.

For all their disclaimers, the media doesn’t really like a deliberate approach. They’re only interested in “news,’ particularly if they can make it. We don’t need more of that kind of news. We need careful and measured reports on accomplishment or lack of accomplishment.

Despite an impeachment process of his predecessor that Biden never asked for or endorsed, and an attack on the U.S. Capitol by right-wing insurgents, Biden’s already proposed, and Congress has passed, and Biden has signed into law a massive COVID aid bill, which he promised he would. He’s also accelerated the production and distribution of various COVID vaccines. Given how slowly the Congress works and a total lack of Republican support, that’s a fair amount for less than two months in office, and that doesn’t count undoing much of the damage done by Trump’s Executive Orders. All that is a far better measure of accomplishment than the number of press conferences.

Learning, Knowledge, and Credentials

Sometime back, I wrote about some of the “innovations” proposed and since implemented by the local university, in order to create a three-year bachelor’s degree, a degree pushed by the state legislature. One of those “innovations” was to cut the length of the semester by twenty percent, without any increase in the length of classes or the number of classes. Despite all the rhetoric, what that means is that students won’t learn as much.

I’d thought about detailing more of the so-called improvements in education and pointing out how they actually degrade learning and how most students today know less, have lower critical thinking skills than their predecessors, and have more difficulty learning and recalling material.

But there’s little point in that exercise. Most of the American people have turned their backs on what used to be the objective of education, especially higher education, and that was the ability to read and write critically, to think analytically, to understand what numbers actually mean, and to obtain the skills to be able to learn and to attain new skills on a lifelong basis.

Instead, public education, at least through the collegiate baccalaureate level, has largely become a charade of exercises in mastering objective tests and obtaining paper credentials in the hopes of leveraging an inadequate education and an overstated degree into a job that will provide an adequate income.

It’s also become an incredibly expensive exercise, as millions of young Americans with massive student debt can testify, especially given that we’re graduating twice as many students from college every year as there are jobs requiring a college degree, and yet the mindless push for more students to go to college continues.

At the same time, we’re seeing a growing contempt for science, for verified facts, and for reasoned analysis of everything, and unthinking tribalism is running wild. All that suggests to me that, despite record high numbers of high school graduates and the proliferation of college degrees, the possession of credentials, and the mastery of the cellphone, Google, and objective tests, doesn’t help much with critical thinking, logical writing, or understanding and solving the problems facing the world.

A Little Perspective, Please

Liberals tend to be very good at portraying the historical and current evils in our society, and they tend to focus on what hasn’t been accomplished, as opposed to what has. They’re also very good at influencing mainstream media and more “elite” institutions of higher education. The problem with this is that it suggests greater political strength than actually exists. The far-left liberal media and organizations are also incredibly good at disgusting and angering much of middle America, all too often unnecessarily and against their own interests.

Police reform is an absolute necessity, but screaming “defund the police” undermines realistic and necessary reform. For example, the Baltimore police department has a bad reputation for dealing with minorities, but almost half the department is black, which suggests that the problem lies not primarily with racism, but with the “police culture.”

Beating people over the head with incessant shrieks of “white privilege” just alienates people rather than educating and persuading them that, in our culture, those who are white and male don’t get the same unthinking skepticism and doubt that minorities and women do.

The conservatives are always screaming about the domination of “liberal “higher education, but all that rhetoric ignores the fact that there are thousands of colleges and universities that are not “bastions of liberalism.” Those universities just don’t get the press – unless one of their presidents has a personal scandal – but they’re still there, and they’re not going away. Neither is the less visible and often semi-underground conservative media.

Keep in mind that despite an overall performance by Trump as President that was substandard at best, and pretty much a botch of the COVID crisis [except for vaccine development], liberals actually lost ground in terms of the number of U.S. House seats and only picked up a few Senate seats despite the fact that the Republicans had far more potentially vulnerable Senators up for re-election and that Democrats outspent Republicans in most races. Liberals also did poorly in state level elections.

Because I live in a non-liberal state and media market, I can see that conservatives and even ultra-conservatives are not about to dry up and blow away. In fact, if Democrats don’t get their act together and deliver results for the entire country and not just measures backed by the so-called “progressives,” they’ll have their heads and their asses handed to them in the next election.

President Biden seems to recognize this. He’s opposed a number of “progressive” demands and appears to be focusing on the baseline problems facing working Americans, but the so-called progressives are already showing dissatisfaction, and the conservatives have never stopped being dissatisfied.

In the end, we’d all be better off if we toned down the screaming, identified and worked out solutions for the basic problems, and stopped agitating for political correctness – and despite what the far-right says, there’s far too much political correctness in the extremes of both parties, not just the left. The left is just better at pissing people off.

Public Higher Education

Republicans used to believe in helping people help themselves, even if they underestimated the amount and type of help necessary. Now, it seems as though their message is that the government’s given you as much help as you deserve [except for big business], and the rest is up to you, even if you didn’t get any help, and that applies to public higher education as well.

For the Democrats, on the other hand, it seems as though they’re addicted to more and more help, with less and less required of those who receive it and no questioning about whether programs are worthwhile. As I’ve observed previously, the idea of free college education for everyone is nuts, as well as a social, financial, and educational disaster. So is forgiving college debt. But targeted college aid or assistance programs [up to and including full tuition and fees, but also with accountability goals] for promising poor and minority youth make a great deal of sense, assuming that the education bureaucrats can figure out how to make targeting work.

Part of the problem with college aid is that it’s extremely difficult to predict how the majority of students will do in college. Various tests can predict accurately those likely to succeed, IF they’re from a certain higher family income, but aren’t that accurate for students from minorities or less affluent backgrounds. Likewise, with the massive grade inflation and “pass practically everyone” system prevalent in public secondary schools, it’s virtually impossible to determine for the “middle 80%” of college applicants which students have the raw ability. And given how hard some parents push their children, it’s also almost impossible to determine which ones have the determination to succeed on their own.

The result is a huge waste of money and ability, and pouring more money into higher education, under the current system, will only make matters worse. Part of that is because state politicians are more interested in the numbers than the education. So long as more students graduate, even if they’ve learned essentially nothing, the politicians and university bureaucrats can claim “success.”

No one, if for different reasons, is asking the hard questions, such as:

What percent of students can analyze multiple input situations and provide a workable and cogent solution?

What percent of students can read a set of facts and immediately write a logical and grammatically correct analysis?

How good are they at recognizing fallacies?

Why do universities put so much money into athletic programs, while more and more classes are taught by part-time adjuncts, paid poverty-level wages? Why do top
coaches make more money than university presidents?

Why are professors paid, based at least in part, on their popularity as measured by student evaluations, filled out by 18-22 year-olds who know far less about the
subject being taught than the professor?

Why do universities feel that they can’t weed out students who either fail to do the work or appear unable to do so?

Since the Republicans really don’t believe in effective education – except for the elite – and the Democrats think that more aid and money will automatically solve the problem, until both sides are willing to look at public higher education and ask those hard questions – and more than a few others – higher education will consume more and more resources while continuing to diminish the quality of public undergraduate education and bankrupting the unsuccessful students and hanging debt chains around the successful ones [unless they come from family money].

Why Not Change?

A recent commenter on this blog made an observation along the lines that the Republican Party was dying, but that instead of changing, the GOP was rigging the system in an effort to disenfranchise Democrats and reduce their voting influence. Although I have doubts that the Republican Party is dying, its base is a minority in the U.S., and that minority appears to be slowly shrinking.

So why don’t Republicans change?

Over the past several decades, some have tried, either by returning to the ideas of fiscal prudence and personal responsibility. Others have tried to bring in new ideas, such as true immigration reform. Those efforts have been rejected by the “mainstream” Republicans, although they do justify blocking any increases in social programs by citing fiscal responsibility, even while they cut taxes on the wealthy and provide business subsidies.

The only real “change” in the Republican Party is making a greater and more concerted appeal to the far right and ultra-conservatives.

Real change is difficult, both for political parties and individuals. This is true of both parties.

The simple fact is that we live in rapidly changing times, and the majority of human beings, while adaptable, resist rapid change. That’s understandable. Rapid changes are disruptive, both to society and to individuals. But we now live in a time where not changing can be even worse.

Coal mining jobs, for example, are not coming back. The only even marginally profitable coal mining is highly mechanized strip mining with greatly reduced jobs and tremendous environmental problems. That kind of mining likely wouldn’t be profitable if the costs of environmental remediation were included in the cost of that coal. The number of high-paying oilfield jobs has decreased enormously in recent years as oil producers have automated and streamlined operations. This sort of change is occurring everywhere.

Years and years ago, I found that there was essentially no market for my skills in the area where I grew up, and the jobs that were available that would support a family didn’t match my skill set. So I moved to where such jobs existed. The same was true of my wife when she graduated from college. To continue as a professional academic musician meant moving where the jobs were – and moving away from friends and family. While such moves were costly in many ways, including failed early marriages, we each eventually made it work and found each other along the way, which entailed yet another move.

Republicans tend to be conservative in more than politics, both in their family, and in where they grew up. The problem is that, if you choose staying where you grew up, particularly in rural and agricultural areas, all too often the economic opportunities are limited and pay less, even for highly skilled professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, etc.. This is a relatively new aspect of culture, and it’s caused by technology. But the people in these areas are angry that technology created a choice between staying with their roots – and getting steadily poorer, for the most part – or leaving everything behind in an effort to make a decent living, and with no assurance of that. Such anger fuels a strong commitment to a party that recognizes the situation and the fact that people either can’t change or won’t and identifies with those who feel that way. But for a party to tell people, in any way, that times are changing and that some change is necessary leaves supporters feeling disenfranchised. They want the benefits of technology without the costs.

The same is true of the Democrats, in a different way. They’re angry because much of their base has been disenfranchised economically and politically for centuries, and all they see is that the Republicans are doing everything they can to keep them down economically and politically, and any politician who suggests moderation is considered a sellout.

Right now, neither side can afford politically to recognize the other’s concern because emotions are running so high, and those emotions will remain high unless and until the majority in both parties feel that their situations are improving… and improving more than just marginally.

And that’s the challenge facing both President Biden and the Congress.

Power Trumps Ethics

Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, pleaded with Trump to call off the rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol, and Trump essentially refused. Yet McCarthy opposed impeachment, as did most Republicans in the House of Representatives. All but ten House Republicans voted against impeachment despite the fact that mob that invaded the Capitol threatened their lives, and family members have condemned one of the Republican Representatives who voted to impeach Trump.

Mitch McConnell votes to acquit Trump…and then gives a speech blaming Trump for the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Seven Republican Senators voted to convict him, and it appears that all seven have either faced or will face Republican Party censure or disfavor in their home states. Yet, from what I can determine, very few, if any, Republican Senators think Trump is actually innocent of inciting the attack.

Instead, their various rationales for not voting to convict him included: (1) it’s unconstitutional to try a President who’s left office [which is patently and legally false]; (2) it’s better for the country not to convict him [better for the senators in question, certainly]; or (3) it was deplorable but doesn’t fit the legal definition for incitement [which isn’t necessary in an impeachment trial].

Various polls show that, while the majority of Americans think Trump was guilty of inciting the attack on the Capitol, something like 70% of Republicans opposed the action to convict Trump.

Yes, Republicans, the so-called former champions of law and order, and they don’t want their boy convicted. They’re happy with troublesome non-violent civil rights activists being thrown in jail, especially if they’re minorities, or even women protesting for equal rights with men, but not our white, blond, blue-eyed former president who turned a mob on his own Vice-President for daring to uphold the Constitution.

Is it any wonder that Republican members of the House and Senate are reluctant to act ethically? Why, if they voted ethically, they might lose their seats to an even more far-right extremist in the next Republican primary.

And all that goes to show that grass-roots Republicans are so angry and so tribal that they don’t care about law or the Constitution, especially if either gets in the way of what they want.

The problem is that what they’re angry about are fundamental principles on which the nation was based, if imperfectly. They’re opposed to equal voting rights, or why would they do their best to restrict voting in ways that disadvantage the poor and minorities disproportionately?

They keep trying to enact religious dogma into law, despite the design of the Constitution by the Founding Fathers to separate church and state.

Yet they insist they’re the ones who who support the Constitution.

Failure to Convict?

The Republicans have tried to make an issue out of the idea that the country will be better off if former President Trump is NOT convicted of inciting the January 6th demonstration and riot that resulted in five deaths to date and injuries, many of them severe, to 140 police officers.

Tell me again how the country would be better off when a rich, white, powerful politician is acquitted of inciting a riot that damaged the nation’s capitol, had lawmakers fearing for their lives, and caused deaths and widespread injuries, when thousands of minorities have been jailed merely for taking part in peaceful demonstrations in attempts to obtain fair and equal enforcement of the law.

Acquitting Trump would be yet another example of white privilege carried to the extreme… and the Republicans think the nation would be better off as a result?

This is a man who had non-violent protesters tear-gassed so that he could use a church for a photo-op, a man who has consistently supported and praised white-supremacist groups, a man who spent over two months trying to discredit the most-fraud free election in U.S. history, and who attempted what would have been called a coup, had it occurred in any other country.

And the Republicans think an acquittal will cause the divisions in the United States caused by centuries of inequality in justice, in income, and in civil rights to go away? Or even improve the situation?

An acquittal would declare to the nation and the world that not only do most Republican senators have neither ethics nor courage, but that the Republican Party fears that it cannot win elections without the support of white supremacists and that Republicans have no intention of ever addressing the real problems facing the nation.

Empty Respect

Republicans are always talking about law and order, and how they respect police officers and other law enforcement personnel.

During the attempted Trump coup of January 6th, police officers put their bodies and lives on the line to protect the members of he House and Senate, and, as a result, three officers are dead, and at least a hundred forty were injured, often severely. So how are Republicans in the House and Senate respecting those police officers?

They’re insisting that January 6th attack on the “just happened,” and that Trump had little or nothing to do with it, and that impeachment is a meaningless, empty gesture, and a “waste of time.”

I can’t even think of another recent event or incident that killed or maimed so many law enforcement personnel, not since 9/11, and in the case of 9/11, we went to war trying to bring those responsible to justice. Yet right now, in the self-interest of personal political gain, the Republicans are doing everything possible NOT to bring to justice the man responsible for the death and injuries to more than a hundred and forty police officers.

Just what does this say about how highly Republican House and Senate members “respect” law enforcement officials?

To me, it says that what they say about respecting police officers is just more empty rhetoric, just as what they say about “working Americans” is also empty rhetoric.

But so far, most grassroots Republicans don’t see it… and that’s largely why the Republicans in the House and Senate continue to get away with what amount to hypocritical actions and actual disrespect.

The Latest Lie

The latest Republican lie is that trying an impeached former president for offenses he committed while in office is unconstitutional. The vast majority of legal scholars who have opined on the subject declare that the trial is indeed constitutional, especially since Trump was impeached the second time before he left office.

Saying he cannot be tried is akin to declaring an embezzler who was charged can’t be tried because he’s no longer employed by the company he stole from. Furthermore, there have been two prior cases of federal civil government employees who were impeached and tried after leaving government service.

The lie that it’s unconstitutional to try former President Trump since he’s no longer in office is merely another Republican excuse not to hold Trump accountable for instigating and inciting the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol that resulted in five deaths [to date] and the often severe injuries to 140 police officers. While it is likely that the majority of Republican Senators have neither the ethics nor the courage to convict Trump, to hide behind a legally unsustainable lie is just another form of cowardice.

Five deaths and 140 injured police officers! If a sitting President had told a Black Lives Matter demonstration to attack the Capitol, and that demonstration resulted in equivalent deaths, injuries and damage, does any thinking individual have any doubt that such a President would be impeached and convicted, whether or not he was still in office?

As I’ve written before, Republicans can vote to impeach a Democrat president for lying about an affair with an intern, but they appear all too willing to refuse to convict a president for actions that many of them have publicly deplored, for various reasons, giving a range of reasons unfounded in fact or law.

Why? The only answer I can find is that they care more about being re-elected than they care about doing what is ethical… or about their country… no matter how they protest to the contrary. And what’s more, all too many of their constituents agree.

Ethics, Expediency, or Cowardice?

In a secret ballot, the majority of the U.S. House Republican Caucus voted not to remove Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney from her position as House Republican Conference Chair, in effect supporting her right to vote her conscience in supporting the House vote to again impeach Donald Trump. The vote was 145 House Democrats voting not to remove, 61 to remove. That secret ballot allowed Republicans to vote their conscience – or beliefs – without political backlash.

On the other hand, the Republican conference refused to sanction the QAnon spouting, hate-mongering Marjorie Taylor Greene, who had also earlier threatened Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Barrack Obama. To top matters off, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy claimed he was unfamiliar with the QAnon extremists – except he seemed to forget that he denounced QAnon months ago.

Before joining Congress, Greene posted videos questioning whether the 9-11 terrorist attacks ever happened, stalking and taunting a teen survivor of the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, as well as suggesting that space lasers owned by wealthy Jews were causing deadly wildfires in California. She claimed school shootings were staged by Democrats to promote gun control laws and that “the stage was being set” to hang former President Barack Obama and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Even Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell denounced Greene’s views as a “cancer” on the Republican Party and on the country.

When the Republicans refused to discipline Greene, the Democrats pushed through a bill to strip Greene of her committee assignments. One hundred ninety-nine Republicans voted against the bill, in effect publicly supporting the ultra-right-wing, hate-mongering Greene. Only eleven House Republicans wanted her to be sanctioned for her actions.

And what do all these votes illustrate? That the majority of Republican national office-holders are either scared to death of the extremists in their political or base or that they think they can’t get elected without pandering to those extremists… if not both.

And, by the way, Greene says that she’s raised almost $2 million from small donors in the past week or so.

Glue

The assault on the U.S. Capitol and all of the right-wing rhetoric about individual freedoms got me to thinking about some other related aspects of American culture. In the United States, there coexist two “schools” of how matters get accomplished.

The longer-standing one is an outgrowth of the myth of the rugged individualist, and today we see that modeled in the business world by entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, and in earlier years of the Republic by others such as Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, etc. All of them built supporting organizations, but those organizations initially existed to further the dreams and aims of the founder.

The other model has also been around for a time, but those following it tended to emphasize “team-work” or cooperation.

In fact, in the end, in terms of function, the organizational structures didn’t turn out all that differently, for a very simple reason. No large organization can be effective and survive without cooperation and teamwork.

What’s so often overlooked is a key element in success of organizations. That key element is the person or persons who hold everything together – call them “glue.” But “glue,” whether in holding furniture or physical objects together or in holding organizations together, seldom gets its due.

In any business, government entity, non-profit, or other organization with more than a handful of people, I’ve never seen much recognition of such individuals. I have seen great hoopla over a single achievement of an individual, who may never replicate that, but who continues to be rewarded, recognized, and promoted, often years after that single “flash in the pan,” but seldom much recognition of those whose quiet efforts produce more over time and who hold things together.

I’ve also seen continued quiet achievements of various individuals minimized, even when their combined results far exceed the single one-time brilliant accomplishment of another, far more highly recognized and paid, individual (individuals whom I personally mentally tab as “flashes”).

So why does glue so seldom get its due?

The “New” Republicans

The Republicans who voted to impeach Bill Clinton because he once lied about screwing around with an intern can’t be bothered to even consider impeaching a President who spouted lies about non-existent voting fraud for over two months and then topped it off by inciting a mob attack on the Capitol to stop the certification of those votes… and apparently followed that up by plotting to remove the acting attorney general in order to allow a junior political appointee to try to void the election. Nor do Republicans appear to consider that Trump has had lawsuits filed against him for rape.

Even AFTER the attack on the Capitol, most Congressional Republicans still voted against certifying the results of a free and fair election.

They complain about non-existent election fraud after spending decades supporting various voter suppression schemes all across the nation.

These same Republicans insist on the right to carry firearms everywhere, but won’t allow women the freedom to determine what goes on with their own body.

They also cite the need for fiscal restraint and decry welfare to poor people, many of whom can’t get jobs or who work full-time and still make wages below the poverty level while enacting tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans and supporting massive subsidies to American big business… and while refusing to support a living minimum wage.

They suppress largely peaceful marches and demonstrations by people seeking equal treatment under law with massive arrests and tear gas, but fail to use the same level of suppression and arrests against white supremacist mobs… and they support a former President who calls white supremacists “good people” and who has said he “loves” them.

For years, the FBI has warned that the highest levels of violence and greatest danger comes from the far-right, but Republicans continue to ignore that danger and blame the far left for all forms of violence, even falsely claiming in some cases that the far-left was behind far-right violence.

The question isn’t just how craven, ignorant, unethical and self-centered these Republicans are; it’s also about how ignorant, unethical, and self-centered those who elect them are as well.

Unethical, Stupid, or Cowardly?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the majority of Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate do not want to convict former President Trump in an impeachment trial, despite his months of efforts to overthrow an election that even all Republican state election officials said was without fraud and despite his successfully inciting a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol while Congress was in joint session to certify the results.

These Republicans offer a number of excuses, ranging from the barely plausible to ones far worse. The barely plausible one is that the U.S. needs “to heal.” Who do they think they’re kidding? The only ones who need “healing” are the far-right and their supporters, and they’re not interested in being “healed.” They’re still plotting to overthrow any democratically-elected government that doesn’t support them and their goals.

The next excuse is that it’s unconstitutional. Bullshit! First, legal precedent has already been established in the case of federal officials previously impeached after they left office. Second, as a practical matter, do we let embezzlers off the hook just because they’ve left the company they looted? Or teachers who’ve been abusive because they’re no longer teachers?

The third excuse is that Trump really didn’t do anything wrong. He just got carried away. Really? Plotting and pressuring officials to overturn election results for over two months and, apparently, even after the assault on the Capitol, from recent reports from the Justice Department.

The fourth excuse is that it will get in the way of the new Administration. This one is incredibly hypocritical. Already the Republicans are signifying opposition to many of the Biden administration’s proposed policies.

The fifth excuse is that it’s just better to let Trump fade away, as if he’ll EVER willingly fade way. Not the man who treated the White House like the set for a TV reality show.

The sixth excuse is that Trump was the only one addressing the needs of the “forgotten workers.” Just because he told those workers he identified with them shouldn’t give him a free pass. Besides, as far as the neglected workers go (those pushed out of the workforce by technological and economic change), Biden’s far more likely to address their problems in a meaningful way than Trump — or most Republicans — ever would.

The real reason is that those Republicans care more about getting re-elected than they do about morality, about law, and about the Constitution. They’re either self-interested cravens or too ignorant about law and ethics to be a U.S. Representative or Senator [not that ignorance is any barrier whatsoever], and they’re still afraid that Trump will strike back at them.

All the rhetoric and all the excuses to the contrary, they won’t oppose Trump because they’re either too unethical themselves, too stupid, or too cowardly to do their ethical duty…if not all three.

Who’s Listening?

The other day, I happened to see on the satellite directory The American President, a favorite movie of mine, despite it’s being dated, its political inaccuracies, and its hokey ending. One of the reasons I like it is that it offers hope – that and the line that the President (played by Michael Douglas) levels at his ultra-conservative political opponent about the ACLU, words to the effect that, if you’re so big on the Constitution, why are you so opposed to people exercising their Constitutional rights.

But… as I was thinking about the movie, I realized that, in one very crucial way, almost all political movies are dated because they embody the idea that a candidate can change people’s minds by speaking, campaigning, or even outlining absolutely accurate and verifiable facts in an equally accurate context.

Today, most people don’t listen very much, and very few listen to anything that might change their opinion. As events in Washington, D.C., demonstrated last week, that becomes a serious problem for society as a whole when people believe in events that did not happen based on inaccurate or non-existent facts and do not listen to anything outside their “bubble.”

This problem isn’t just in the political sphere. It’s everywhere. Almost all the teachers I know report that one of the biggest problems they face is that students don’t listen well, and that even when they try, they have a hard time retaining facts and information. Part of this, I suspect, is because they want to be entertained and spoon-fed answers and resist any instruction that requires more effort on their part. This wouldn’t be such an enormous problem if it weren’t for the fact that fewer and fewer of them read, and less and less reading is required in most school systems.

“Personalized” news just magnifies the problem, as has the isolation resulting from the Covid pandemic, because people tend to stay within their personal comfort zone.

Will people ever get back to listening?

I’m generally an optimist, but this is one area that challenges that optimism.

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.