Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, December 10, 2016

An Archdruid Reports

On a blog called The Archdruid Report by a fellow named John Michael Greer, who styles himself Past Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America and current head of the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn -- So druids have grand archdruids. Who knew? -- In any case, he has some interesting comments on the recent presidential elections here in the US of A. (There were 50 of them, you may recall.) He believed the good guys lost and lost for reasons that no one has talked about.

He writes:
The point I think the Left tends to miss is that not everyone in flyover country is like that. A few years back, in fact, a bunch of Klansmen came to the town where I live [an old mill town in Appalachia] to hold a recruitment rally, and the churches in town—white as well as black—held a counter-rally, stood on the other side of the street, and drowned the Klansmen out, singing hymns at the top of their lungs until the guys in the white robes got back in their cars and drove away.  Surprising? Not at all; in a great deal of middle America, that’s par for the course these days.

To understand why a town that ran off the Klan was a forest of Trump signs in the recent election, it’s necessary to get past the stereotypes and ask a simple question: why did people vote for Trump?
The Archdruid goes on to give four reasons, based on things he's heard people say in his presence. 
1. The Risk of War. This was the most common point at issue, especially among women—nearly all the women I know who voted for Trump, in fact, cited it as either the decisive reason for their vote or one of the top two or three. They listened to Hillary Clinton talk about imposing a no-fly zone over Syria in the face of a heavily armed and determined Russian military presence, and looked at the reckless enthusiasm for overthrowing governments she’d displayed during her time as Secretary of State. They compared this to Donald Trump’s advocacy of a less confrontational relationship with Russia, and they decided that Trump was less likely to get the United States into a shooting war.

War isn’t an abstraction here in flyover country. Joining the military is very nearly the only option young people here have if they want a decent income, job training, and the prospect of a college education, and so most families have at least one relative or close friend on active duty.  People here respect the military, but the last two decades of wars of choice in the Middle East have done a remarkably good job of curing middle America of any fondness for military adventurism it might have had.  While affluent feminists swooned over the prospect of a woman taking on another traditionally masculine role, and didn’t seem to care in the least that the role in question was “warmonger,” a great many people in flyover country weighed the other issues against the prospect of having a family member come home in a body bag. Since the Clinton campaign did precisely nothing to reassure them on this point, they voted for Trump.
2. The Obamacare Disaster. This was nearly as influential as Clinton’s reckless militarism. Most of the people I know who voted for Trump make too much money to qualify for a significant federal subsidy, and too little to be able to cover the endlessly rising cost of insurance under the absurdly misnamed “Affordable Care Act.” They recalled, rather too clearly for the electoral prospects of the Democrats, how Obama assured them that the price of health insurance would go down, that they would be able to keep their existing plans and doctors, and so on through all the other broken promises that surrounded Obamacare before it took effect.

It was bad enough that so few of those promises were kept. The real deal-breaker, though, was the last round of double- or triple-digit annual increase in premiums announced this November, on top of increases nearly as drastic a year previously. Even among those who could still afford the new premiums, the writing was on the wall: sooner or later, unless something changed, a lot of people were going to have to choose between losing their health care and being driven into destitution—and then there were the pundits who insisted that everything would be fine, if only the penalties for not getting insurance were raised to equal the cost of insurance! Faced with that, it’s not surprising that a great many people went out and voted for the one candidate who said he’d get rid of Obamacare.
3. Bringing Back Jobs. This is the most difficult one for a lot of people on the Left to grasp, but that’s a measure of the gap between the bicoastal enclaves where the Left’s policies are formed and the hard realities of flyover country. Globalization and open borders sound great when you don’t have to grapple with the economic consequences of shipping tens of millions of manufacturing jobs overseas, on the one hand, and federal policies that flood the labor market with illegal immigrants to drive down wages, on the other. Those two policies, backed by both parties and surrounded by a smokescreen of empty rhetoric about new jobs that somehow never managed to show up, brought about the economic collapse of rural and small town America, driving a vast number of Americans into destitution and misery.

Clinton’s campaign did a really inspired job of rehashing every detail of the empty rhetoric just mentioned, and so gave people out here in flyover country no reason to expect anything but more of the same downward pressure on their incomes, their access to jobs, and the survival of their communities. Trump, by contrast, promised to scrap or renegotiate the trade agreements that played so large a role in encouraging offshoring of jobs, and also promised to put an end to the tacit Federal encouragement of mass illegal immigration that’s driven down wages. That was enough to get a good many voters whose economic survival was on the line to cast their votes for Trump.
4. Punishing the Democratic Party. This one is a bit of an outlier, because the people I know who cast votes for Trump for this reason mostly represented a different demographic from the norm out here: young, politically liberal, and incensed by the way that the Democratic National Committee rigged the nomination process to favor Clinton and shut out Bernie Sanders. They believed that if the campaign for the Democratic nomination had been conducted fairly, Sanders would have been the nominee, and they also believe that Sanders would have stomped Trump in the general election.  For what it’s worth, I think they’re right on both counts.

These voters pointed out to me, often with some heat, that the policies Hillary Clinton supported in her time as senator and secretary of state were all but indistinguishable from those of George W. Bush—you know, the policies Democrats denounced so forcefully a little more than eight years ago.  They argued that voting for Clinton in the general election when she’d been rammed down the throats of the Democratic rank and file by the party’s oligarchy would have signaled the final collapse of the party’s progressive wing into irrelevance. They were willing to accept four years of a Republican in the White House to make it brutally clear to the party hierarchy that the shenanigans that handed the nomination to Clinton were more than they were willing to tolerate.
Item #4 may be why the results were more due to lower Democratic turnout than it was for higher Republican turnout -- although Mrs. Clinton's utter lack of charisma may also have been a factor in that. 

A close attention to #3 as well may reveal that opposition to illegal immigration was less a matter of xenophobia or racism than an objection to corporations importing cheap labor to drive down wages. Bipartisan support for trade deals may also explain why Trump spent most of his time attacking and demolishing the conservative wing of the Republican party with apparently no ill effect on his support. They disliked the Republican establishment nearly as much as they did the Democratic establishment.

#1 and #2 were scarcely mentioned at all by the punditry. Hunh. But you might notice that the reasons the Archdruid heard bruited about amounted to the Old Democratic Platform and as the industrial belt had become the rust belt, the core of the Party has become disaffected. The Father of TOF told him once that he had voted for the first time for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and if they were to disinter him and reanimate his corpse, he would vote for him again. But in recent years he had voted for the likes of Reagan and Romney because they actually sounded to him more like the old Democrats than modern Democrats did.

The Archdruid continued:
Those were the reasons I heard people mention when they talked in my hearing about why they were voting for Donald Trump. They didn’t talk about the issues that the media considered important—the email server business, the on-again-off-again FBI investigation, and so on. Again, this isn’t a scientific survey, but I found it interesting that not one Trump voter I knew mentioned those.

What’s more, hatred toward women, people of color, sexual minorities, and the like weren’t among the reasons that people cited for voting for Trump, either. 
The media seemed unable to grasp this and continued to interpret matters in terms of their favored paradigms, as in the bed of Procrustes. But the same set of facts can mean very different things when viewed from the perspective of different theories.
Example: The media recently reported as if it were a contradiction (or "controversy," as they are wont to put it) the statement of Trump that he saw no evidence that the Russians had interfered in the US election and the CIA's conclusion that Russia had released the DNC and Clinton Campaign emails in order to encourage the election of Trump.* But if the vast majority of Trump supporters really didn't care about the emails, but were more concerned about Mrs. Clinton's bellicose posturing over Syria, triple-digit increases in health care costs, job loss, or (among disaffected Democrats) the suppression of the Bern, then both could be correct because Mr. Trump and the CIA were actually speaking to two different issues: Yes, the Russians were messing around; no, it didn't affect the election.  
Basically, most voters other than the extremes didn't care about the issues that the elites thought were central -- boutique concerns, let us call them -- but more about bread and butter issues.
__________________________________
(*) CIA. Just this morning, TOF heard to his astonishment, the mainstream media rush to the defense of the CIA after Trump had badmouthed them for being wrong about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq (so why believe them over Russian hacking?) Who are you? he asked the screen, and what have you done with the real NBC? A day or two before he had heard the media defend big corporations against Trumpean tweets accusing them of overcharging the government or putting profits over jobs. (This could affect your 401(k) plans. Yes, yours!) No one warned us of this possibility when investigative reporters accused corporations of overcharging, nor worried overmuch when the Usual Suspects accused the CIA of masterminding All the Evils in the World. Have we fallen into Bizarro World?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Magic of Donald Trump

He has succeeded in getting NBC and the Democratic Party to leap to defend the honor of big corporations, job loss, and overcharging on government contracts.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Does This Sound a Tad Ominous?

“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
-- Marine Gen. James "Mad Dog" Mattis,
in a speech to his Marines when they arrived in Iraq in 2003

Trump to meet with Mattis on Saturday
-- headline, Politico, 11/18/16

This looks almost too easy...

h/t The Peoples Cube satirical website

Thursday, November 17, 2016

It's Never as Bad as Some People Think


Never believe your own propaganda. The opponent may not
be what you imagine her to be.
Never blame on malevolence what can be adequately explained by "the arrogance of complacent incompetence." One of the problems with having the media in the tank for you is that you never get the hardball questions and you come to accept the rosy picture of adulation and worshipful inevitability they present. Brandon Watson at the philosophy blog, Siris, tells us:
Let us be quite clear from the beginning: The Democratic Party deliberately nominated a candidate who was undergoing federal investigation for matters under national security law, and who was associated with a charity, the Clinton Foundation, that was also under federal investigation. The Clinton campaign actively worked to make sure that Donald Trump would get the Republican nomination and be on the ballot. Clinton then ran a campaign heavily governed by an algorithm. In the meantime, both the campaign and the party failed to make any serious attempt to re-integrate Sanders supporters, despite their vehement complaints about her tactics during the primary campaign. The campaign repeatedly assumed that it could turn out blacks and Latinos in the neighborhood of Obama's turnout while doing almost nothing specific to help local groups make it happen; and she passed over several Latinos to pick as her running mate the weak and barely helpful Tim Kaine. They did next to nothing shoring up the Democratic Party in Wisconsin despite the fact that it was known that the state party there was in disarray, and despite warnings that the entire Rust Belt was in imminent danger of being captured. One could make the list much, much longer. If one wishes to find something to blame for the rise of Donald Trump, one need not look beyond a campaign whose chief characteristic was the arrogance of complacent incompetence.
Both the winners and the losers in the recent presidential election have been talking as if there had been some enormous swing in the country; but the electorate was, by and large, the same electorate that had elected Barack Obama in two previous elections. They were not suddenly spirited away by the Flying Saucers and replaced by pod people.
Photograph circulated by Hilary Clinton staffers in early 2008.
Generally speaking, half the electorate prefers blueberries and half, strawberries; that is, half blue, half red, and has done so for a long time. In various elections, more of one faction turn out at the polls or more of the other; but it's been a coin toss for several election cycles now. No one is entitled to crow, "I won, you lost; deal with it," as B. Obama was said to have said.
Never believe your own propaganda. The opponent may not
be what you imagine him to be.
In the most recent election, 107,000 people in three states decided the election. Trump won the popular votes in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania by that combined amount, securing a collective 46 electoral votes. Had Clinton shifted this relative handful of voters, she would have sealed the presidency with 274 total electoral votes.

The Glass Ceiling

Everyone was expecting an historic breakthrough in elective the Nation's First Woman President. Because of this, many folks were looking past the election itself to the big party afterward. This is always a mistake. When you are driving down a highway, it is best to keep your eye on the road ahead and not think of all the fun you'll have when you get home.

But in the general caterwauling that ensued afterwards
or celebration

what was overlooked was that the glass ceiling had indeed been shattered. Never again will a serious woman candidate for president be overlooked or marginalized solely on the basis of her sex. Mrs. Clinton accomplished that, even if she did not win, and we ought to tip our hat to her for that.

The Electoral College

Naturally, in any election this close, the loser always calls for elimination of the Electoral College. It is, we are assured, an anachronism. But some years back, when it appeared as if George W. Bush would win the popular vote total but Al Gore would secure an electoral majority, Mr. Gore took to the waves to declare that the rules were set and we had to abide by them. In the end, so razor-thin was the election that it turned out that Gore had more popular votes and Bush more electoral votes. But Mr. Gore stuck to his principles and graciously conceded.

Ho, ho! TOF jests. Gore did a 180 so fast he could dispense with chiropractors for the next 25 years. Instead, he contested the election, fantasized about "butterfly" ballots, and brought suit demanding selective recounts in those FL counties where Democratic votes might yet be discovered behind potted plants or under the bed. Alas, with each recount, Bush's margin in the Sunshine State grew.

Abolishing the Electoral College is effectively a desire to be ruled by California.

In the popular vote, Mrs. Clinton received a nationwide margin of 1,341,642 votes, but in California, her margin was 3,168,486 votes. This means that in the rest of the country outside California, Trump had a majority of 1,826,844 popular votes. Similar, though not identical figures are here.

2016 Election map, adjusted for electoral vote
The increasing use of vote-by-mail, early voting, late voting, absentee voting, and so on, means a lot more paper ballots and so a lot less automatic tabulation.
As of November 11, according to the state’s updated “Estimated Unprocessed Ballots” report, more than one million ballots were as yet uncounted in Los Angeles County. Two days later, San Diego County reported that it has more than 600,000 ballots to count. 
The opportunities to discover previously unknown buckets of ballots are obvious. And a national popular vote would increase the incentives to do so. Presently, once a state is won, there is no benefit to be had from discovering new ballots under your hat or in the trunk of your car.

So the Electoral College is a way to force candidates to pay at least some attention to wider regions of the country rather than to concentrate only on areas of high population density.

Besides, how can you add up all the popular votes? Each state has its own rules for collecting and counting votes. Take felons. In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while incarcerated. In Florida, Iowa and Virginia, felons and ex-felons permanently lose their right to vote. Virginia and Florida have supplementary programs which facilitate gubernatorial pardons. In other states, ex-felons automatically gain the right to vote upon completion of their sentence, or they must wait for a certain period of time after the completion of their sentence before rights can be restored, and in some states, an ex-felon must apply to have voting rights restored. There are also differences based on 1st time vs. repeat offenders, nature of offense, etc. In Maryland, voting rights are restored automatically at completion of sentence, unless the conviction was for buying or selling votes, in which case voting rights can only be restored through executive pardon.

So the popular votes in these states cannot be added into a "national total" because they are not based on the same definition of "eligible voter." There are a number of other items like residency requirements, citizenship, and so on, some of which may vary also from state to state or may not be verified in some states.

In addition to defining an "eligible voter," there are also operational definitions regarding a "valid ballot." Does anyone remember the hanging chads? Counting paper ballots differs from machine tabulations, from computerized balloting, from punch-card readers, and so on. Each method has its own characteristic error rates, or "capability" and makes it problematical to compare or add the returns from different states.
"You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don't break it. Don't break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That's not being faithful to what this country's about."
-- Barack H. Obama

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Enemy Has Capitulated!


General Order General Headquarters, A. E. F.

No. 203 France, November 12, 1918

The enemy has capitulated. It is fitting that I address myself in thanks directly to the officers and soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces, who by their heroic efforts have made possible this glorious result.

Our Armies, hurriedly raised and hastily trained, met a veteran enemy, and by courage, discipline and skill always defeated him. Without complaint you have endured incessant toil, privation and danger. You have seen many of your comrades make the Supreme Sacrifice that freedom may live.

I thank you for your patience and courage with which you have endured. I congratulate you upon the splendid fruits of victory, which your heroism and the blood of our gallant dead are now presenting to our nation. Your deeds will live forever on the most glorious pages of America's history.

Those things you have done. There remains now a harder task which will test your soldierly qualities to the utmost. Success in this and little note will be taken and few praises sung; fail, and the light of your glorious achievements of the past will be sadly dimmed.

But you will not fail. Every natural tendency may urge towards relaxation in discipline, in conduct, in appearance, in everything that marks the soldier. Yet you will remember that each officer and EACH SOLDIER IS THE REPRESENTATIVE IN EUROPE OF HIS PEOPLE and that his brilliant deeds of yesterday permit no action of today to pass unnoticed by friend or foe.

You will meet this test as gallantly as you met the test of the battlefield. Sustained by your high ideals and inspired by the heroic part you have played, you will carry back to your people the proud consciousness of a new Americanism born of sacrifice.

Whether you stand on hostile territory or the friendly soil of France, you will bear yourself IN DISCIPLINE, APPEARANCE AND RESPECT FOR ALL CIVIL RIGHTS THAT YOU WILL CONFIRM FOR ALL TIME THE PRIDE AND LOVE WHICH EVERY AMERICAN FEELS FOR YOUR UNIFORM AND FOR YOU.

John J. Pershing,
General, Commander-in-Chief.