Category: Weird thoughts about Presidential Elections

I’ve noticed a couple of weird things about presidential elections.

First, since 1944, an odd pattern has developed. During Truman’s administration, the country passed the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limits a president to two terms. But in fact, it seems to have made two terms the default.

Consider. List all the presidential terms since 1944 by whether the White House was held by the Democrats or the Republicans. Now, we’ve had assassination, resignation, things that changed who the president was, but not the party. So just list the party holding the White House, by term. I’ll put four on each line.

DDRR  Truman, Eisenhower
DDRR  Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford
DRRR  Carter, Reagan, Bush 41
DDRR  Clinton, Bush 43
DDR     Obama, Trump

Only one term, from 1980 to 1984, breaks the pattern. How weird is that?

Here’s a second weird thing. Consider the Democrats who won election for their first term:

Kennedy – first-term Senator from Massachusetts
Carter – Governor of Georgia
Clinton – Governor of Arkansas
Obama – first-term Senator from Illinois

None of these guys was on national radar until about four years before the election, and none had been active in national politics before then.

Consider now the Republicans who won election for their first term:

Eisenhower – general in command of Allied forces in Europe during WW2
Nixon – VP under Eisenhower, Governor of California
Reagan – movie actor, TV personality, Governor of California
Bush 41 – war hero, ambassador to China, head of the CIA, VP under Reagan
Bush 43 – Son of 41, Governor of Texas
Trump – entrepreneur, developer, TV personality

All of these guys were widely known to the public for at least a decade or two prior to being elected president.

When the Republicans ran people who weren’t well known (Dole, Romney, Ford) they lost. When the Democrats ran people who were well known (Hillary, Humphrey, Gore) they lost.

Now how weird is that?

So if the Republicans want to win in 2020, and even in 2024, they’ll run someone you already know. Trump in 2020. In 2024, maybe Nikki Haley, or Mike Pence. But it’s got to be someone who’s already famous.

And if the Democrats want to try to break that pattern above and win against Trump in 2020, they’ll run someone nobody knew anything about before 2018 or so. Not Hillary, not Bernie, not Biden. And their potential winning candidate for 2024 isn’t even on the national radar yet. Probably either a governor of a southern state or a first-term Senator (who won’t even be elected until 2020 or 2022) from a northern blue state.

Just some weird stuff I noticed. Will the patterns hold up? Who knows?

But it’s probably the way to bet.

Weird Thoughts On The Nature Of Now

I’m coming up on the three-year anniversary of having a heart attack. I’m not sure exactly when the anniversary is, because I’m not sure when I had the heart attack. I started getting out of breath with very little exertion. I would have to wait five minutes to catch my breath after walking up one flight of stairs. This began sometime around Christmas 2015.

On January 6th, 2016, I checked my pulse, and I had a resting heart rate of 135. I called my cardiologist’s office and said I had shortness of breath and a 135 resting pulse, and the Physician’s Assistant asked me if I was going to go into the ER or if I preferred to die at home. So Wendy drove me into the ER, and they did an EKG, and they did an enzyme test, and, yeah, I’d had a heart attack.

About two weeks before.

I was admitted, and they did some testing, and I had a 99+% blockage of The Widowmaker, the LAD, the Left Anterior Descending Coronary Artery. The doctor looked at all my stuff, and he said, “It says here you were ambulatory?” “No, Doc. I didn’t take the ambulatory. The missus drove me.”

They gave me all kinds of drugs to stabilize me, and got me off blood thinners, and the second day after I was admitted they put two stents in me. The third day, they sent me home.

They still don’t know how I survived. That kind of blockage of the Widowmaker usually results in you falling down and being dead before you hit the ground. I was walking around with it for two weeks.

And so we get to today’s topic. Until the heart attack, I was living in ‘some day.’ Some day I was going to do this, some day I was going to do that, some day I would do this other thing.

With the heart attack, ‘some day’ became ‘now.’ That is, if I didn’t do it now, I probably never would. It was a major shift in my thinking.

One of the things I was going to do some day was be a popular fiction author, in particular, a science fiction author. I had written a novel in 2006. I submitted it to the Baen Books slush pile and got a polite No, thank you. I set it aside — my ‘trunk novel’ –and did other things.

But by 2016 the availability of self-publishing resources opened up a whole new possibility. I could just write and publish my own stuff. The first thing I published was an update version of a technical legal book I had co-authored ten years before. Next was a book of short stories. While the short story book did not sell particularly well, it did get me some critical — and positive! — feedback from people I respected.

So on July 1st, 2017, freshly returned from Libertycon 30, I sat down to write a novel. I published it and started on the next. And the next, and the next, and the next, and the next. I have published a new novel every ninety days since July 1 of 2017.

People ask, How can you write so fast. It’s easy. I can’t finish my novel ‘some day,’ I have to finish it now. Because Now is here, and I don’t know how long Now is going to last.

So I have a piece of advice. Live in the Now. Don’t live in the Some Day. Whatever you’re going to do, do it. Don’t think about it, or plan it, or decide to do it some day. Do It Now.

You don’t need a heart attack to do that.

Sha’nel

[This story appears in the anthology “Adamant and other stories.” It was something of a dare to myself. Could I write an epic fantasy in 1200 words? Yes, as it turns out.]

Sha’nel had left her traveling party at their base camp at dawn, as she had been instructed. The climb since had been strenuous but not difficult, as she was still in the flower of youth, and well built.

The peak was marked with a cairn of stones. She stopped a hundred yards distant, and set down her pack. She removed her dusty traveling clothes, her cloak, her blouse, her skirts, her bindings, until she stood naked in the wind blowing across the peak. She removed from her pack the vial of oil and anointed herself, just a touch, at her forehead, her breast, her palms, and her feet. Shivering, she removed the ceremonial clothes from her pack and donned them, woolen trousers, blouse, heavy fleece tunic, vest of mail, boots, gloves, and helm.

She removed from her pack the pouch of kindling, and her flint and stone.  The kindling was from the great tree that grew in the courtyard of the Keep of Kor’dal the Great. The Keep was the seat of government, where the Elders of the Thirty Villages met in the great throne room. Where, every three years, they elected one of their number as The Eldest, she to rule in the queen’s stead. The Throne itself sat empty on its dais. Not for four hundred years had a queen ruled in Logarn. For four hundred years, there had been peace.

The wind whipped at her long black hair as she looked out across the world. Gamrok was the highest peak of the range, on the clearest days visible even from the capital itself, the holy mountain that appeared on Logarn’s flag beneath dragon rampant. Away north and south its lesser brethren stretched to the horizon, while to the east spread the fields, farms, and villages of Logarn. To the west, hills marched down to the sea.

Taking up the vial of oil, Sha’nel approached the cairn. To the east of the cairn, she knelt and dug a small depression in the loose gravel, and filled it with kindling from the pouch. She made a pocket in the side of the little pile, into which she placed the finest shavings. She huddled over the depression, shielding it from the wind, as she used flint and stone to spark the shavings, then blew them alight. As the fire grew, she added more of the kindling, until the entire pouch was emptied upon the fire.

She folded her legs under her, and sat facing the cairn over the fire. She emptied the small vial of oil over the fire, and the fire flared up. She then picked up a sharp stone from the gravel about her, and dug the point into the fleshy heel of her hand. Forcing a single drop of blood from the puncture, she dripped it on the fire, laid her hands open upon her knees, and waited.

Sha’nel had no idea what she was waiting for. Her single task was to travel to the mountain, scale its peak, make this offering at the cairn, and wait. The same offering was made in the courtyard of the Keep every week by herself or one of the other twenty-nine acolytes that attended the Elders. When she had asked the Eldest what she was to wait for, she had only smiled and said, “You will see.” “But how will I know if my offering is worthy?” “You will know.”

And so she waited. She thought about this task, a hopeless last offering to the uncaring gods on the eve of war. For four hundred years, no one had dared attack Logarn. The legend said Logarn was invincible, despite having no army. But a warlord had swept up Logarn’s smaller neighbors in conquest. He had built a great army that was even now preparing to attack Logarn.

There was a sound of rock sliding on rock. Sha’nel stared transfixed as the stones of the cairn shifted and flowed into each other. The cairn became the bent seated figure of a naked, wizened old man. The bowed head lifted, and piercing green faceted eyes glittered in the firelight as they peered at Sha’nel.

“Who summons Gamrok?” his deep voice rumbled.

“I am Sha’nel, an acolyte of Logarn.”

“I may not be summoned save in the direst cause. Show me.”

The old man’s eyes grew in Sha’nel’s vision until she was lost in them. She felt another mind, an ancient and cunning mind, enter her memories, memories of the long peace of Logarn, defenseless but for the thirty acolytes, and the army now on its borders. The alien mind withdrew.

“All is as it should be. You and your people have kept faith with the agreement I made with your ancestor, Sha’nel of Logarn. And so Gamrok and his people will keep faith with you.”

“Agreement?”

“A thousand years and more ago, Kor’dal and I became unlikely friends. My people had wandered the nations of men, seeking a home. But the turmoil of war, the screams of women and children, these allow no peace for such as we. Kor’dal invited us to live here, in these mountains, unmolested, and agreed to make no war, to keep no standing armies, to forsake conquest for a life of peace for all of Logarn. In return, we guaranteed the safety and peace of Logarn.”

“You? You guarantee the peace of Logarn?”

His deep chuckle seemed to shake the very ground. “Do not be fooled by appearances, young one. I and my people were born from the very bones of the earth in the beginnings of time. My shape is of my choosing.”

The old man bowed his head, and flowed down into the rock once more. Sha’nel jumped back as the cairn began to grow, pushing up out of the ground, getting larger as it pushed upward. Higher and higher it rose, the rock flowing as it uncoiled. Towering over her head, the rock took the form of a great dragon, three hundred feet long, more, a gigantic beast out of myth and legend. Six great feet clutched the ground with six-foot talons, a spiny crest ran down its back from head to tail, and it was covered in armored plates the size of a man’s shield. It spread enormous wings, lifted its head, and with a great gout of flame let out a roar that echoed across the mountains.

The sinuous neck stretched out and down to Sha’nel until the great head was directly in front of her, one vast green-faceted eye looking directly into hers. “Mount your steed, Sha’nel, Queen of Logarn.”

“Queen?”

“Only one of the blood of Kor’dal can summon forth Gamrok the Great. Only the Queen may ride me to war. You were chosen. It is your destiny. Ride now, to the defense of your people.”

Sha’nel mounted the neck of the giant beast, taking a seat behind the great head between two of the spines running down its neck, and Gamrok lifted from the mountaintop. Around them, twenty-nine other dragons, summoned by Gamrok’s war cry, rose from the neighboring peaks and followed them into the east.

Category: Weird Thoughts About Politics (first posted to Facebook on 3/31/2016)

Yeah, I’m going to go there. Fasten your seat belts and make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their upright and locked positions, boys and girls.

People say to me, “You’re intelligent, educated, solidly upper middle class. How can you possibly be considering voting for Donald Trump?”

Mostly because I’m a working class kid who made good. I got a great education financed by parents who valued education above all else and did what they had to in order to get their kids through college. I stayed for the masters degree, did the coursework for the PhD. I switched to business and did the first half (the important, general half) of the MBA. And I made it into the upper middle class.

I made more money my first year out of college than my father made in any year of his life, including overtime.

I married above myself, to a woman more intelligent, more mature, and more educated than myself.

I got lucky. I got really lucky. I won the genetic lottery for being smart. I had great parents, who emphasized and enabled education through no small sacrifice on their own part. I got lucky in my career. I’ve been lucky in love.

So, yeah. I’m upper middle class. The doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists class. And knocking on lower upper class, the corporate class, CEOs and the like. A little more luck, and I’ll be there. That lucky streak seems to be hanging in there, and I’m gonna ride it if I can.

All in all, being lucky is better than being smart.

So why Donald Trump? Because I’m still just a working class kid.

I won a scholarship to a private high school. I went to school with the sons of the upper middle class, the doctors’ kids, the lawyers’ kids, the bankers’ kids, the shopowners’ kids. The people whose parents could afford to send their kids there, where, absent that scholarship, mine couldn’t. Many of them are upper middle class doctors and lawyers and bankers and shopowners today.

And they don’t get it.

My wife’s parents were upper middle class (at least). She doesn’t get it either.

How can I even be thinking about supporting Donald Trump?

Because the working class has been getting screwed since the early 1970s. I know it, I’ve seen it, I feel it in my gut. And they don’t.

When I was in high school, I took my girlfriend out for a very special evening. Dinner out, at a very nice place. Steak dinner with all the sides and salad and desserts and all. No alcohol of course; I was 17 and she was 15. But a very nice dinner out. Total cost for the two of us was five dollars, four hours of my take-home pay at minimum wage.

Today in Bloomington, IN, it’ll cost you closer to a hundred. That’s about sixteen hours of take-home pay at minimum wage. Four hours of take-home pay at minimum wage will get you pizza and cokes. You may be able to afford a couple of ice cream cones for dessert. Maybe.

What happened to the money? The government destroyed it. No skin off the investing class; their investments went up. It all came out of the savings of the working class, taxed into nothing where it sat, in their bank accounts and their money jars. It came right out of their paychecks, as incomes didn’t keep up with the government’s inflation of the money.

And that’s for the working class people that are still working. That haven’t seen their jobs exported due to unfair trade agreements and an insane tax policy that encourages U.S. corporations to keep their overseas earnings overseas, to invest and build their new manufacturing plants in foreign countries.

The U.S. employees who got laid off? Human debris, the detritus of a throw-away economy that treats people like things. That fifty-something who’s a Walmart greeter, or stocking the shelves at Kroger, or waiting on you at Staples? He’s one of the skilled blue-collar workers who got laid off when the factory closed and his job got moved to China or Mexico. He’s slid from the skilled working class to the underclass, trying to make ends meet on minimum wage with food stamps while his kids take on massive debt to try to get through a college education that no working-class parent can afford anymore.

Or the entire coal industry, the victims of the upper-middle-class fascination with getting away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, and damn the cost. Too often the human cost, as mines close and the miners and the people who depended on their business are left along the roadside in the rush for progress.

The working class, the patriotic backbone of America, the can-do people, the ones who supply most of the people in our armed forces, the ones who still stand for the national anthem even when it’s playing on TV, is being slowly and agonizingly destroyed.

And nobody else in this presidential race gives a good goddam about any of them. They look down on the working class, on “flyover country”, on old-fashioned patriots, on rednecks, and they laugh. When they don’t sneer.

Except Donald Trump. Another working class kid who hasn’t forgotten where he’s from. (Yeah, I know he inherited 200 million dollars — in 1999, when he was in his 50s, almost 20 years after he built Trump Tower.)

I know that Hillary Clinton would be an execrable president. You only need to look at the shambles of U.S. foreign policy and her undistinguished career in the Senate for that. And there’s all the other things, like stealing $200,000 of White House furnishings and being ordered to give them back.

Ted Cruz would be just as bad. He’s really, really smart, I’ll give him that, but he’s too calculating, too devious, and too conniving by half.

Bernie Sanders would be a disaster, except he probably couldn’t get anything passed anyway. He can’t even manage the basic arithmetic required to see that his plans can’t work.

As for John Kasich, he’s part of the problem. When he was in Congress, he voted for all the policies that have hollowed out the working class, including NAFTA.

No, Donald Trump gets it. He isn’t the most polished talker, the most well-briefed candidate, and he sticks his foot in his mouth with regularity. He too often falls back to the rough language and rough manners of his origins. But the people who actually know him best have high praise for him.

And his generosity is legendary, from paying off the mortgage of the guy who stopped to change the flat tire on his limousine, to paying off the mortgage of the family who was going to lose the family farm in Georgia, to dispatching one of his planes to fly children with terrible diseases to the specialty hospitals that can treat them, to his financing college for the son of a Miss USA contestant who came down with a terminal illness. All long before the run for the presidency. It just seems to be who he is.

Trump understands. I get him. And he gets me. And I don’t have any confidence that any of the rest of them gives a shit about anybody or anything beyond their own desire for power.

And by his generosity, Trump has shown that he still knows that when you have a breakdown on the highway, it will be one of the working class who stops to help.

As long as any of us are still around, anyway.

Category: Weird Thoughts About Reclaiming Modernism

There was a time in this country when things worked. No, really, they did.

And now they don’t.

If you’re young enough, you might not even be aware of this. But I am old now, and I remember.

I remember a time when light bulbs were bright enough to be able to read a paper book by, without a backlighted screen.

I remember a time when dishwashers actually cleaned dishes. You didn’t have to clean the dishes first. And they cleaned them so well you could use them to sterilize baby bottles.

I remember a time when clothes washers got clothes clean. When white things came out white, not gray, and colors came out vibrant and glowing, not subdued and dim. And when you set the water to Hot or the water level to High, it actually did that.

I remember a time when toilets flushed properly, and didn’t spray their contents up onto the toilet seat. And they held enough water that your stool slid into the water where it’s odor was neutralized. Now when you use the toilet, the whole bathroom smells like you gutted a raccoon in there.

I remember a time when you could set an oven to a specific temperature, and it would actually heat up to the exact temperature you specified, not twenty-five, or thirty, or thirty-five degrees less.

I remember a time when you could fill a pot with water for pasta without needing to stand at the faucet for several minutes while a flow-constricted faucet took it’s damn time about it.

I remember a time when you could rinse off in your shower. Completely rinse off, in seconds, not spend minutes under a flow-restricted shower head trying to get the soap off so you didn’t suffer eczema, rash, or worse.

None of those things I remember so well happen now, and we did it to ourselves.

We cut back on water use for everyone, across the entire United States, because twenty million people decided to live in a desert called Los Angeles, and because California decided not to carry through on the California Water Plan, which would have built sufficient reservoirs to capture the plentiful rainfall in the Sierra Nevada. We live a mile from a reservoir, from which our water comes. Water that goes down the drain goes into the septic system, where it leaches out of the septic field into the valley, where the stream carries it right back to the reservoir.

We cut the strength and effectiveness of our detergents.

We killed incandescent light bulbs, and replaced them with immature technologies that couldn’t replace them at the same level of effectiveness, and still can’t.

We cut back on electricity use by simply lying about things. Lying about the temperature of the oven — which saves electricity by not heating up to the temperature it’s set to. Calling LED light bulbs “60W equivalent” or “100W equivalent” when they weren’t.  Calling the water level in the clothes washer High, or the water temperature Hot, when it isn’t.

And we’re paying for it. Toilet seats, believe it or not, used to be relatively free of disease. Researchers were shocked when they grew cultures from swabs of toilet seats and found that they were more free of disease than, say, a pay phone. That’s no longer true. Toilet seats now teem with all the diseases the human body casts off in its eliminations, splashed up onto the seat by the high-pressure flush required by our laws.

Sewers now clog up with congealed fats, which used to be swept away with everything else. There’s not enough water flowing in the sewers to do that anymore, so we end up spending millions digging up streets and rebuilding and replacing sewers. Water falls out of the damn sky, for crying out loud, and we don’t catch enough of it to be able to keep from destroying our public health infrastructure.

In  the most advanced country in the world, we wear dirty clothes while we eat poorly cooked food from dirty plates in badly lit kitchens. We use smelly and diseased toilets that have trouble flushing and draining through deteriorating and clogged pipes.

One interesting sidelight of this is that the regulators know that none of this stuff works. How do I know that? Because restaurants, cafeterias, and hospitals are not allowed to use consumer dishwashers and dishwasher soap. They’re unsafe. They’re a public health hazard. They have to use commercial dishwashers and commercial dishwasher detergents. What are those commercial dishwashers and commercial dishwasher detergents? They are the ones we used to have in our homes, and now can’t.

Similarly, restaurants, cafeterias, hospitals, and hotels are not allowed to use consumer laundry machines and consumer laundry detergents. They’re unsafe. They’re a public health hazard. They have to use commercial laundry machines and commercial laundry detergents. What are those commercial laundry machines and commercial laundry detergents? They are the ones we used to have in our homes, and now can’t.

Operating rooms, construction sites, factories, and the like must maintain proper light levels for their workers per OSHA and FDA rules. It would be bad for the workers’ eyes to work under reduced light levels. How do they do get those high light levels? By using commercial fixtures and bulbs that we can’t get for our homes. They’re the ones we used to have, but now we can’t.

And do you think that restaurant cooks stand there for minutes at a time waiting to fill a damn pot? No, they don’t. They aren’t required to use flow-restricted faucets. Because their time is valuable. Clearly yours isn’t.

I’m getting pretty damned tired of this nonsense. How about you?

Category: Weird Thoughts About Space

One of the things one does if one writes science fiction is think about space. Most people know very little about space, but you can’t get away with that if you write science fiction. You have to know something about space to write almost anything. And the one property of space that is most compelling is its size, its incomparable vastness.

Consider a thought experiment. Let’s compare a large ship to a crossing of the Atlantic. The distance from New York to London is 3460 miles. That’s a straight line, and you have to round the corner a bit, so let’s just use 3500 miles as a round number.

A large ship is one thousand feet long, give or take. So the distance from New York to London is 18500 times as long as the ship is. And anyone who has been on the ocean, even on a large ship, knows how vast it is.

OK, so how about space? The closest exoplanet found is Proxima Centauri b, which is 4.25 light-years away. So if we had a spaceship that had the same ratio of length to that trip as a large ocean-going ship has to the trans-Atlantic voyage, how long would that ship be?

One and a third billion miles long.

Wait. That can’t be right. Let’s invert the problem. If one had an interstellar ship the same size as a large modern ship at 1000 feet, how big would a ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean be if its length had the same ratio to the length of the trip?

The ratio of the ship length to the distance is 1.45 trillion times.

OK, so the Atlantic crossing is 3500 miles. If the ship was 1.5 trillion times smaller than that, the ship would be how long?

The ship would be just 0.00015″ long. If you put 25 of those ships end to end, they would span the thickness of a human hair.

But that’s the closest star with a known planet. 4.25 light-years. The width of the Milky Way galaxy is 25000 times that distance.

And that’s why space travel to other planets is such a pipe dream.

Right now, at least.

 

 

 

The End Of Summer

This week is the Rental Truck Festival in Bloomington, Indiana.

Seems like anyway. This is Indiana University Move-In Week, when 40,000 students move back into a town that has 45,000 permanent residents. Today, Wednesday, is Move-In Day, the peak of the craziness, when more than 10,000 people will move into town on the same day.

It’s absolutely nuts. None of the parents know where they’re going. They don’t know which streets are one-way, so every intersection can be a challenge to avoid a head-on in the left lane of a one-way street.

Bloomington helps out by having one-way streets seemingly at random, streets that terminate abruptly into Ts or dead-ends, especially around campus, and a lot of roundabouts that visiting people may or may not know the rules for. Also, major streets in Bloomington change names every mile or so. If you get off of Indiana 37 on Tapp Road, for example, it goes for one mile as Tapp Road. It then becomes Country Club Drive for a mile. Then it is Winslow Road for the next mile. It then becomes Rogers Road for an entire mile and a half, before it makes a 90-degree sweeper to the north and becomes Smith Road.

The dorms are all set for this invasion. Everyone’s dorm key (a mag card) and welcome packet are all organized in boxes ordered by last name, with half a dozen check-in people per dorm quad (four dorms with a common cafeteria). There are people all over to help get people oriented. The locals do their part by staying the hell out of campus.

Every pizza joint in town is working non-stop every day, and pizza delivery guys zoom around delivering free pizzas by the dozens to the dorm rec rooms, with every box having a dozen coupons stapled to the lid. There’s probably one person at each pizza place whose whole job all week is stapling coupons to pizza box lids.

Target has pallets of microwaves and compact refrigerators as end-caps, with “MICROWAVE meets IU dorm requirements” and “REFRIGERATOR meets IU dorm requirements” signs on them. When the pallet is empty, they bring out another. And another. And another.

The Science Fiction Towel Store (Bed, Bath, And Beyond) has a table in the back for pre-orders. Students ordered things on-line, so they go directly to the pre-order table in the store. Staff pulls the box with their order in it, and they check the items. Any they don’t want they put in a re-stock box, the rest goes into their cart and they go straight to checkout.

The quiet, lazy summer has come to an end here.