Friday, December 9, 2016

New Fiction

     It’s ready at long last:

     Stephen Graham Sumner is a lawyer from Onteora County, New York and a descendant of the late William Graham Sumner, one of America’s forgotten great thinkers. We meet Sumner in his mid-thirties: he’s capable and passionate about justice, but his life ambitions are unformed. He becomes general counsel to Onteora Aviation, a defense-industry corporation, and meets those who will mold his ambitions, with particular emphasis on a single figure: Louis Redmond.

     In consequence of his reluctant agreement to become the running-mate of the incumbent governor of New York, Sumner develops a vast distaste for what American politics and government have become. Surprised and made optimistic by his unexpected popularity, not merely in New York but throughout the Northeast, he campaigns for and wins the presidency on the Constitutional Party ticket: the first candidate to rise to the White House from a third party since Abraham Lincoln.

     Sumner’s presidency is not a tranquil one. Foreign military adventures, provoked by Islamic terrorism, lead to horrifying consequences. These, plus his domestic efforts to return American government to its Constitutional origins and his support for maverick inventor and space enthusiast Todd Iverson’s orbital habitat project, cause the rise of an implacable enemy: Ian McIlvaine, U.S. Senator from California. By dint of brilliant though darkly-motivated tactics, McIlvaine succeeds Sumner in the Oval Office, and contrives a downfall for Sumner that no previous president has had to face.

     Statesman is the fifth and final novel of the Realm Of Essences saga. Only $2.99 at:

Friday, December 2, 2016

For Those Who Have Wondered...

     ...what sort of war commander General James Mattis, retired commandant of the United States Marines who's President-elect Donald Trump's choice for Secretary of Defense, really was: The following went out to the 1st Marine Division on the eve of its action in Iraq in March, 2003:

     I’d say that settles it, wouldn’t you?

Communication Breakdown

     Two entities cannot communicate without a common language. Neither can they communicate unless they agree on the meanings of the terms in that language. And when one party has decided that he gets to redefine every term in the lexicon, according to his preferences and entirely without restrictions, it becomes clear that he doesn’t want to communicate. What he does want is likely rather sinister.

     Consider this case:

     “If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,” fumed Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri, who traded verbal jabs with Trump campaign manager-turned-transition strategist Kellyanne Conway and others during day 2 of the Harvard Institute of Politics’ quadrennial Campaign Managers Conference.

     “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did,” she said, noting how the billionaire’s campaign chief executive, Stephen K. Bannon, was an alleged racist.

     Conway fired back, “Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”

     At which point, Palmieri replied: “You did, Kellyanne. You did.”

     “Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters?” Conway asked. “How about, it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about, they have nothing in common with her? How about, she doesn’t have an economic message?”

     Joel Benenson, Clinton’s chief strategist, disagreed — saying it was obvious that Trump’s campaign was run on hate and bigotry.

     “There were dog whistles sent out to people,” he said to Conway. “Look at your rallies. He delivered it.”

     There’s no communication going on there, is there? What the Clinton representatives sought wasn’t to convey a message, nor was it to receive one. Their objective was – and quite likely will remain, for as long as they can hold the public’s attention – to defame the candidate that defeated them and his campaign manager and strategist.

     Quite a lot of Americans are already onto the scam, though the “technical details” might be of no interest to them. Look at the Clinton camp’s serial abuses of the language: “white supremacists;” “hate;” “bigotry;” “dog whistles.” This is now a fixed part of Leftists’ “outreach” strategy. But by sawing at the reins so long and so savagely, they’ve given the horse a callused mouth. Millions of us simply shrug off their slanders, wait for them to run down, and resume listening only when someone speaks who has something to say and says it in plain English.

     The residual irritation can be shrugged off...for now. Winners don’t need to justify themselves. But beware; there are plenty of other emotionally loaded words in the English language the Left can contrive to abuse. As soon as you detect it, snort in derision, wave a hand dismissively, and walk away. Perhaps you might enjoy a little serenity-restoring music. Something soothing, with no ragged edges on it:

     (Come on! What did you expect me to post?)

Deflections And Redirections

     You’d need to be old -- really old; roughly a centenarian – to have any personal memories of the operations and tactics of Communists in America in the Twenties and Thirties. It was a tumultuous time for several reasons, not the least of which was that the United States had recently taken part in a foreign war for the first time. Though we’d been on the winning side, popular opinion of that involvement was mixed, to say the least. Many Americans regarded Woodrow Wilson’s intervention into purely European troubles as a huge breach of American ideals. They had some good arguments for their view, and the concurrence of one of the most notable figures of the Twentieth Century: Winston Churchill.

     No, I have no personal memories of that period; I’m not that old. What I know about it is from my reading. But the pictures that reading has drawn, particularly of Communist agitation and the themes it employed, are vivid.

     By the mid-Twenties, even before the death of Lenin, the Soviet experiment was already failing. Communist agitators in the U.S. were aware of that; it spurred them to redouble their efforts. (Cf. “fanatic”) The steady deterioration of conditions in Russia made it clear to them that they couldn’t tout the Soviet Union as a model for the future in fact. Tactics that skirted any mention of the economic collapse of Russian socialism were required.

     The Communists’ principal tactics during the interwar period were:

  • Promotion of pacifism;
  • Infiltration of the labor-union movement;
  • Exploitation of the racial tensions swelling in American cities;
  • Soliciting the attention and affection of prominent writers and artists.

     It was during that period that Communist axioms and overall habits of thought most successfully infected American life, particularly in government, the schools, and the arts.

     The lesson to be drawn from Communist operations during that period is simple: Infer strategy from tactics, and objectives from strategy. This is just as imperative in studying hostile political movements as it is in warfare. The Communists wanted to inject socialism into the American political bloodstream. Their planners knew they couldn’t do it by pointing to the collapsing economy of the Soviet Union. They had to focus their target’s attention on more attractive ideas. The tactics they chose were well suited to the task and to American attitudes in that time.

     The very same principle is on display in today’s operations on the Left. Warden at Ace of Spades HQ provides a video example. As unpleasant as it is, I urge you to watch it nevertheless.

     There’s a wealth of vital information here. What American actually likes feeling hatred or revulsion? Who actively wants to feel hostility toward others, for whatever reason? Americans aren’t like that. When we feel ourselves growing angry toward someone or something, our natural inclination is to seek out the reasons and put an end to them. Thus, appealing to that inclination is a far more positive tactic for the Left, which seeks to redirect our energies away from the threat Islam presents to the U.S., than any imaginable argument for Islam’s “innocence.”

     Of course, when there are sound objective reasons for hating someone, the proper course is to put an end to him. But the Left would prefer that you not think about that.

     The desirability of the Left’s goals and the wholesomeness of its intentions are so frequently contradicted by the evidence of our senses that it must put special effort into deflecting our attention from them. When that approach fails it, the Left strains to redirect our responses from paths that disfavor its agendas. Sometimes, its tactics are easily spotted and dismissed; at other times, it takes more of a mental effort.

     The point to bear in mind is that the tactics flow from the strategy, which in turn flows from the objectives. For example, the Left seeks to persuade us that we, the normal, decent persons of America, are the offenders – bigots and xenophobes – in our current struggles with Islam. Why? Because Islam is a highly useful weapon to the Left; its menace promotes fear, which causes us to seek protectors. This is a typical strategy for the enlargement of government power. But why does the Left seek to enlarge government power? Because it wants totalitarian power over all things, and the larger governments grow, the more susceptible they are to Leftist takeover. But obviously, freedom-loving Americans must not be permitted to think about that, so it strains to deflect our attention with phantasms, side issues, and tu quoque ripostes, and to redirect our attention into more positive-seeming paths, such as social harmony. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

     Look for this pattern in the ongoing disturbances on our college campuses.

     Please stop by a bit later, as I expect to have an announcement that will please...well, that I hope will please some of you. It’s not quite ripe yet. Until then, adieu.

Pearls of expression.

It is well known that Idi Amin lived to such an old age because he only ate vegetarians.
Comment by Jason Calley on "Time to Say Goodbye…" By Francis Marion, The Burning Platform, 11/30/16.

A different breed of cat.

It never ceases to fascinate me why our Western elites have broken loose from any moorings that pass for common sense. Reading articles on the web and the many intelligent comments, I see that many other people struggle to deal with families divided along ideological lines. I even have a dear friend who said a couple of years ago that the reason why Obama's not been as successful as he could be is because he's "too conservative." Quote unquote. He's hardly a ruling class moron and is simply a great guy but where is there common ground on the subject of politics?

Francis Marion wrote a great article at The Burning Platform from which the excerpt below is taken. It just struck me as a particularly insightful look at what a huge gulf there is between normal people and the people who inhabit our supposed cultural and political centers. When you talk yourself blue in the face trying to reason with leftists, this article should be kept in mind. The people who inhabit the urban centers of our land are batting for a different team indeed, and I don't mean in the usual sense of that witticism:

This is a pattern that has been repeating itself with more and more frequency all cross the western world over a period of decades. The liberals and the elites that grow up around these patterns of ‘decadence and dependency’ are a different breed than those of use from the conservative and normally productive heartlands of our nations. Indeed, I wonder, what do people like this, a product of liberal moral nihilism living in a densely populated urban enclave have in common with the rest of us these days? And they have the nerve to call those of us in flyover country “deplorable”?

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions to all these patterns, of course there are, but as a rule of thumb the trend has been one of division and distancing ourselves from one another along the lines of both philosophy and geography for at least the last 50 years or more. The last two elections, both south and north of the 49th parallel, prove it.

The photos at the page linked to under the phrase "people like this" above show people with whom I have nothing in common. They show something that's a lot like a get together of Mia Farrow's neighbors in the movie "Rosemary's Baby." The people recently revealed to be aficionados of "spirit cooking" are in the same class. Unmoored and twisted people. And they vote Democrat.

Where is the common ground?

"[1] Time to Say Goodbye…" By Francis Marion, The Burning Platform, 11/30/16.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Little Late Afternoon Irony

     (Doesn't everyone need a little irony in his diet?)

     Kellyanne Conway is the first woman ever to manage a successful presidential campaign. Given that it was the campaign of the legendarily tough-to-manage Donald Trump, and that she needed to spar regularly with the honchos of two male-dominated industries – media and politics – that’s an achievement of note for a woman. But Mrs. Conway’s achievements don’t end there. She’s also a lawyer, a business owner, a mother of four, and possesses a seemingly inexhaustible cheerfulness.

     Not a bad candidate for a role model for young American women, eh? I’d certainly say so. All the same, I wouldn’t advise Mrs. Conway to hold her breath waiting for an endorsement from American feminists:

     But modern-day feminists are still wringing out their “I’m With Her” crying towels and snubbing Conway’s historic victory because, well, she’s a Republican.

     Without any sense of irony, they ignore the achievements of a self-made woman (Conway), while lamenting the loss of a candidate who earned fame and power largely because of her husband. If she were a Democrat, Conway would be the toast of women’s groups across the country, feted in the media, splashed across the pages of Vogue and Cosmo. She would be touted as a future candidate herself. Maybe even Lena Dunham would’ve thrown out a tweet or two after her Election Night shower-cry.

     But I suspect there’s even more to this than partisan politics. After all, you can’t accuse a man of misogyny—which literally means “hatred of women”—if he puts a female in charge of the riskiest, most important endeavor of his life. Trump can’t be a sexist pig who hates women if he fires two men and replaces them with a woman, right? Acknowledging, even celebrating, Conway’s success would undermine that entire plotline.

     The Federalist’s Julie Kelly has even more bad news for the feminist Left:

     Now that President-Elect Trump is appointing women to key posts such as UN Ambassador, Secretary of Education, and Deputy National Security Advisor, [feminists’] anger is rising rather than abating. If anything, this election has further revealed the hypocrisy of the left—particularly modern-day feminists—who despite all their talk of empowerment, are now exposed as a weak and whiny sisterhood of victims.

     No one likes to be revealed as a hypocrite. To be weak and whiny victimists as well? I’ll let you form your own conclusions.

The Ultimate Monopolist

     There are days I find myself wondering, “Would the aftermath of a full-scale nuclear war be any worse than this?” It can take me a while to dispel such a mood. It was brought on this morning by the realization that Frederic Bastiat, though he was right, lacked imagination enough to envision the horrors that would one day come:

     Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it....Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons, and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and treats the victim—when he defends himself—as a criminal....

     But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

     That’s simple enough, isn’t it? It’s a test any halfwit can apply. Its answer would be unequivocal, impossible to “reinterpret.” Nevertheless, it overlooks a sheaf of important cases.

     There’s a species of legal plunder in which the stolen goods have no recipient.

     Here’s the story that triggered my apocalypticism:

     The American Royal’s World Series of Barbecue is a longstanding tradition for community members of Kansas City, Missouri. Since 1899, the event has attracted the most talented barbecue chefs from all corners of the state, who gather annually to show off their skills. With so many BBQ experts in one place, there tends to be a fair amount of leftover food once the festivities come to a close.

     Hating to waste such a vast amount of quality barbecue, some of the event’s BBQ gurus got together and founded the charitable group, Kookers Kare. Partnering with the Harvesters Community Food Network, Kookers Kare has made a tradition of donating the leftover food to local homeless shelters at the end of each annual event.

     This year, the two groups collected over 3,000 pounds of meat and 1,200 pounds of sides, all bound for a local nonprofit organization called Hope City, where it was to be served to over 3,000 homeless citizens in need.

     That sounds extra-tasty good, doesn’t it? Not only would this private, wholly voluntary organization feed the needy, it would feed them first-class barbecue! That’s not quite enough to make me wish I were one of the intended beneficiaries, but reading it did give me a warm glow. However, we’re not quite done with the story:

     However, the Kansas City Health Department put the kibosh on Kookers Kare’s attempts to feed the homeless before anyone was even able to enjoy the food.

     Claiming they had no fore knowledge of this charitable tradition, the health department forbid the food from being served to the needy. Suspiciously, the inspectors just happened to be doing a random inspection of Hope City the day the BBQ arrived.

     “All of that food was uninspected, so that makes it from an unapproved source, it cannot be served to the public,” Kansas City Health Department Operations Manager Joe Williamson said in response to the department’s decision to stop the food from being consumed.

     The health department did not stop at simply forbidding the food from being served, they demanded that it be destroyed immediately. Those who had worked diligently to collect the food were forced to douse over 3,000 pounds of award-winning barbecue food with bleach, in order to ensure its destruction and appease the local health department. Meanwhile, 3,000 homeless individuals went without a meal that day.

     If that doesn’t enrage you to the threshold of violence, check your pulse: you may have died and not noticed.

     I once encountered a young man who claimed that “government is for doing the things we can’t do for ourselves.” I have no idea where he got that notion, though I have my suspicions. I wonder what he would think of the actions of the Kansas City Health Department as chronicled above.

     The original rationale for involving government agencies in charity was that private action is insufficient: i.e., that only government could guarantee that all needy persons would receive the assistance they require. We were entertained with imagery of the most macabre sort: streets filled with the corpses of beggars who’d starved to death, because the private charities that had always filled needy bellies had run out of food, or had otherwise “missed them.” Complementary to the horror images were images of clean, efficient government offices to which everyone could go for sustenance at need. Somehow these organs of the State would succeed in discriminating between the importunate idler and the genuinely deserving sufferer, such that none of the former would be served yet none of the latter would be turned away.

     It’s quite possible that those who proposed government involvement in charitable action were moved entirely by wholesome motives. It’s even more likely that, like Bastiat, they lacked enough imagination to foresee what would follow. For the State is ruled by a particular dynamic: to grow without limit. When it enters into an enterprise already occupied by private individuals and organizations, its natural tendency is to expel them by force.

     In commenting on the antitrust laws, Isabel Paterson made the plainest case imaginable:

     Government cannot "restore competition" or "ensure" it. Government is monopoly; and all it can do is to impose restrictions which may issue in monopoly, when they go so far as to require permission for the individual to engage in production. This is the essence of the Society-of-Status.

     Governments view a monopoly over charitable action as no less desirable than a monopoly over the use of coercive force. Indeed, such a monopoly is exceedingly valuable to a government, for it furthers every government’s fondest dream: to insert itself into every variety of human interaction, such that private citizens are unable to communicate or trade without State mediation.

     If generosity itself is a subject for government “regulation,” what aspect of human life is omitted from its scope?

     I’ve cited more than once the efforts of government worshippers to take over all retirement funds. The rationale proffered for such a move differs little from that for a government takeover of all soup kitchens: “You can’t trust private actors. You can only trust the State.” That after six thousand years of recorded history there are still persons who accept that statement is striking counterevidence to the claims of the Darwinists. Yet such persons do exist; I’ve met them.

     “Redistribution of the wealth” has been a rallying cry of the government worshippers for a century and more. Did those of Marx’s time envision a point at which, rather than “redistributing” extra food, governments would command its destruction rather than allow the penurious to have it? For no more than fifty years after Marx’s death, our federal government did exactly that...under the pretense of “price support” for agricultural products.

     What a government once did supposedly to “help the farmers,” it now does to “protect the public” from the danger of award-winning barbecue. One rationale will serve quite as well as the other. What really matters is that the State possess a monopoly undreamed of by any corporate titan: unbounded and irresistible power over all things. Not even charitable action will it permit to escape its aegis.

     Perhaps it’s time for me to lie down and close my eyes for a bit.

The worship of theft.

When I lived in Seattle, I observed with dismay, British Columbia, becoming more socialist every year. I never really understood what it was with Canadians. Perhaps they were infected like many others with the idea that something for free was really FREE! That is the immorality of Socialist thought. The lie behind Socialist thought. Of course, it isn’t. Someone always pays.

The Socialist promise of FREE to be accepted requires one to relinquish rational thought to maintain a sense of being a moral person. In their mistaken understanding of what moral means, Socialists elevates theft to a moral imperative. . . .[1]

This brings to mind the trenchant observation that you can't persuade someone of something if his job depends on his believing the opposite. It's no wonder that millions embrace the untruths of socialism. Self interest clouds moral judgment.

[1] Comment by Homersays on "Time to Say Goodbye…" By Francis Marion, The Burning Platform, 11/30/16.

Best headline of the month.

"BBC on Suicide Watch After Aleppo Civilians Seek Safety of Syrian Army."

In the embedded video civilians liberated by the Syrian Army exclaim "God bless the Syrian Army." They must be ignorant of the fact that Assad is a brutal dictator. Boy, are they in for a rude awakening.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

From Hypothesis To Premise To Piety

     The mystery of where the milk went to was soon cleared up. It was mixed every day into the pigs' mash. The early apples were now ripening, and the grass of the orchard was littered with windfalls. The animals had assumed as a matter of course that these would be shared out equally; one day, however, the order went forth that all the windfalls were to be collected and brought to the harness-room for the use of the pigs. At this some of the other animals murmured, but it was no use. All the pigs were in full agreement on this point, even Snowball and Napoleon. Squealer was sent to make the necessary explanations to the others.
     "Comrades!" he cried. "You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for YOUR sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Yes, Jones would come back! Surely, comrades," cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, "surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?"
     Now if there was one thing that the animals were completely certain of, it was that they did not want Jones back. When it was put to them in this light, they had no more to say. The importance of keeping the pigs in good health was all too obvious. So it was agreed without further argument that the milk and the windfall apples (and also the main crop of apples when they ripened) should be reserved for the pigs alone.

     [George Orwell, Animal Farm]

     If there’s a mandatory-reading article anywhere on the Web this morning, it would be John Tierney’s excellent, nearly encyclopedic survey of the Left’s exploitation of “science.” The Left’s “war on science” claims about the Right have been a critical part of the American political discourse for several decades. Yet – surprise, surprise – virtually no media attention has gone to the identities and tactics of the real perpetrators of the attack on science and scientific thought.

     To unearth those identities and tactics, it’s mandatory that we first be absolutely clear about what we’re talking about when we discuss “science.” It’s been long enough since I was in school that I cannot say whether the nature of the scientific method is still taught there:

  1. Note a pattern in observable natural phenomena.
  2. Formulate a hypothesis that might explain that pattern.
  3. Examine the hypothesis for its causal implications.
  4. Design experiments to test all those implications.
  5. Perform experiments:
    • Under carefully controlled initial conditions;
    • With safeguards against “experimenter interactions” and “confirmation bias;”
    • And full attention to the time intervals involved.
  6. Match the observed results of the experiments to the causal implications of the hypothesis:
    1. If the results conform to what the implications predict, the hypothesis survives. (alternately, “is confirmed.”)
    2. If the results fail to conform to those predictions, the hypothesis is disproved.

     Note that according to step 6.2 in the above, one nonconforming result is sufficient to disprove a hypothesis. There are no exceptions to this rule. In contrast, though the hypothesis survives any number of conforming results, no accumulation of conforming results is sufficient to prove the hypothesis for all time. In shorter and much more imperative terms:

The Science Is Never Settled.

     That is the foundation of all scientific inquiry.

     My years in the sciences acquainted me intimately with the problem of faith as a substitute for science. Faith is relevant only to propositions that can never be either proved or disproved. Yet faith has been critically important to the flacksters of the “anthropogenic global warming” hypothesis. Those...persons, frustrated with their lack of success at getting sufficient “buy-in” from the general public to support their political ambitions, are the ones best known for the use of the phrase “The science is settled.”

     In this connection, refer back to the previous segment. “Anthropogenic global warming” is a hypothesis. It has several clear causal implications. However, the predictions founded on those implications have been contradicted by real-world observations. By the rules of real science, that’s sufficient to disprove the hypothesis. That’s why the warmistas harp on the results emitted by their beloved “models.”

     But that hypothesis is too precious for the Left to allow it to be discarded. It supports their fondest aspiration: accession to total control of the world economy...and therefore, of the world. So they repeat that “The science is settled” in every available venue, hoping to win the day for their cause by exploiting the widespread ignorance about the nature of science through repetitious browbeating.

     This is the first step: the recasting of what started as a scientific hypothesis – a proposition with causal implications to be tested through experimentation – into an unchallengeable premise.

     In a number of cases, no amount nor intensity of repetitious browbeating will suffice to “close the deal.” The hypothesis cannot be made into a premise for a simple reason: the evidence of its falsity is too widely available and is too easily observed and comprehended. If the proposition is to survive, more will be required of those who insist upon it. The faith must be “established:” i.e., made into a social piety of which no discussion will be tolerated.

     Social pieties are dangerous things to question. As I wrote in that earlier essay:

     One cannot challenge the pieties of a society without provoking condemnation or ostracism. To question a piety, even along its margins, is to ask to be thrown out of the church. This is an absolute that applies to all peoples and times.

     Pieties have their dangers. The unquestioned belief, in late 17th Century France, that Catholics were morally superior to Huguenots allowed Louis XIV to revoke the Edict of Nantes, the decree of religious tolerance for the Protestant minority. The resulting mass emigration of Huguenots to Belgium weakened France severely, as the Huguenots were among the most industrious and educated persons of northern France. Indeed, part of the Catholic animosity toward them was that they worked on Sundays, and thus had a competitive edge over Catholics in business and commerce.

     If we are in thrall to a piety contrary to the actual facts of our society, we are in danger too. The question is only of degree.

     Thus the Left sees the elevation of a cherished hypothesis to a social piety as a supreme achievement – a supreme political achievement. It’s a close parallel to the creation of an established church in which membership is mandatory for all subjects. No one wants to be thrown out of such a church; the foreseeable consequences are too dreadful to contemplate. Heretics have all too often been burned at the stake.

     The transformation of hypothesis into a piety requires two steps:

  • The association of dissent with something near-unanimously regarded as shameful;
  • The placement of any contradicting facts, no matter how widely available and easily comprehended, beyond polite examination or discussion (i.e., “tabooing” the subject).

     Note how the Left has achieved this in its promotion of “racial equality” – and note how complete is the contrast with the observable facts.

     I could go on about this for many pages, but I’ll spare you. For most Americans, the essential part is to be aware of the process that converts a hypothesis to a premise and / or to a piety, the reasons for it, and the steps the Left and its fellow travelers take to achieve it.

     At this time, the Left is in retreat politically. However, its aims will not permit it to back away; therefore, it has “doubled down” on the methods above, and has chosen to treat new subjects to those methods. Consider in this light the Left’s treatment of particular figures in the incoming Trump Administration as “fascists” or “Nazis.”

     But to return to John Tierney’s core thesis, the greatest of ironies can be found in this: The Left alleges that it’s the Right that’s conducting a “war on science.” It’s attempted by repetition to make that proposition as unchallengeable a premise as “anthropogenic global warming.” The campaign has largely failed, for which reason we may expect the Left to attempt to make “the Right’s war on science” into a piety, for example by associating conservatives’ observations about differences in academic performance among the races, sexes, and ethnicities with “a desire to bring back slavery.”

     You might want to bookmark this essay. Forewarned is forearmed. The weapons are your keenness of observation and willingness to dispute Leftists’ assertions with sharp, evidence-based questions. I hope I’ve provided a sufficiency of ammunition.

Gays, Muslims, and feminists – keepin' it real.

In April 2017, Fillon, an Anglophile and practicing Catholic, could conceivably confront Marine Le Pen, the anti-Islamist leader of the National Front, in the second and conclusive round of the French presidential election. If so, the pundits will find that their old mental maps have been rendered useless in a conflict between two “conservative” candidates. That’s because the working-class vote, once claimed by the Left, has been abandoned by the French Socialists, who, like their counterparts in America, have run off in pursuit of an incoherent alliance of gay, Muslim, and feminist voters.
"French Twist. How Marine Le Pen quietly became the left-wing candidate in the French elections." By Fred Siegel, City Journal, 11/30/16.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Other People’s Money And Other People’s Lives

     The Left has unrolled its customary screen of defensive dithyrambs in the wake of the death of Fidel Castro.

  • “He educated the whole country!”
  • “He gave them free health care!”
  • And of course, “The U.S. kept trying to assassinate him!”

     We’re deluged with them whenever anyone dares to mention that Castro was a murderous thug who reduced the entire country (except for his cronies) to poverty, imprisoned, tortured, and killed anyone who dared oppose his regime, used Cuba’s skilled professionals as trade goods, and welcomed Soviet nuclear-armed IRBMs into his nation. Apparently the Left believes that “free health care” trumps that list of peccadilloes.

     (Try asking a Leftist whether a Castro-level program of tyranny would be justified if it could bring “free health care” to the United States. Ask from a significant distance. Report back on your results.)

     Of course, it’s all just rhetoric to them. The Left isn’t blind to the inherent contradictions of government-provided “free health care,” or free anything else. Otherwise they wouldn’t tie themselves into knots straining to justify ever higher levels of taxation. The only things that really matter are getting, keeping, and enlarging their power over us. The immediate launch of the “free health care” shibboleth is probably triggered by some subconscious mechanism they can’t override.

     One who believes in power over others must possess rationalizations with which to justify breaking the eggs to make his government-provided omelet. Otherwise he can’t maintain his belief in his superior wisdom and virtue.

     About three years ago, I wrote the following:

     A man has committed acts of sabotage to which he freely admits. Those acts have taken the lives of several persons presumed to have been innocent of all crimes. In the U.S., we would call those "felony murders," which are punished at least as harshly as any second-degree murder. His defense is to claim that the political system against which he fights justifies any and all such acts in the effort to overthrow it.

     If the story is stripped of any further details, most persons would say that the saboteur is guilty and deserves the full weight of the law. But there are further details: the saboteur was Nelson Mandela, and the context was apartheid South Africa.

     Let's stipulate that Mandela did mend his ways, to the extent of forgiving his enemies and striving for unity in post-apartheid South Africa. It remains an incontestable fact that as a young man he was personally involved in acts of sabotage that cost the lives of presumptive innocents. He was outspoken about it at his trial. That demands that we ask the core question of all civil uprisings: Does the situation Mandela fought against justify the violence he perpetrated?

     When he was tried in 1962, Nelson Mandela boasted of his acts of sabotage. Persons familiar with those events are virtually unanimous in condemning them and him. I’m one of them. South Africa’s apartheid regime was wrong, but it wasn’t murderous. Moreover, it was failing even then, as employers, landlords, and other South Africans devised ways to circumvent the apartheid laws.

     How, then, can we allow these attempts to justify Fidel Castro’s bloody and brutal reign of terror over Cuba?

     Few nations today are as brutally oppressed as Castro’s Cuba. North Korea and Iran come to mind. Venezuela comes pretty close. The rationalizations mounted by American Leftists for the actions of despots such as Venezuela’s Chavez and Maduro make a perfect parallel to those Leftists’ rationalizations of the actions of Fidel Castro.

     Apparently, to the Left a tyrant can make free with other people’s money and lives as long as he does it for the right reasons: e.g., “free health care.”

     I must post once more a brilliant snippet from a uniformly brilliant novel:

    "Your certainty is impressive," Ryan said. "It allows you to justify your faith in mass murder."
    "It's not murder," she said, "when the violence is justified by the revolution. The bourgeois regime being attacked is criminal and inhuman and all who are obedient to it are complicit in its interminable violence. In acts of revolutionary violence against the enemy anyone complicit with the enemy who is killed is guilty of the crime of the enemy. It is not murder."
    "So riding a subway train to work," Ryan said, "is a criminal act punishable by death?"
    "When seen in its true historical context, it certainly is," she said confidently.
    "Everyone on the subway is equally guilty," Ryan suggested.
    "No, not if you go person by person, a maid or janitor is not carrying the same level of guilt as a stockbroker or corporate executive, but revolutionary violence sweeps with an inclusive broom. The statement it makes is bold and absolute and is a warning to all...."
    "And what do you believe in, soldier boy? Gawd?"
    "In the individual and his liberty," Ryan said, rising to the bait.
    "Oh dear, an American. You people are so charming, so quaint," she said, "always the perpetual football players running onto the field to the roar of the crowd and the bouncing breasts of the cheerleaders."
    "You're an American, aren't you, Ms. Garvin?" he asked.
    "Ah, no," she said. "I stopped thinking of myself as that, as an American when I was a teenager. That's what we call 'the normal maturation process' these days, soldier boy. Sorry you missed it."
    "So you're not an American," Ryan said. "What are you?"
    "I'm a citizen of the world," she said.
    "That's a big concept," Ryan said.
    "It's basic," she said. "You must have missed it while you were attending your ROTC meetings."
    "I guess I did," Ryan said. "That would explain why I'm still just an American with a silly belief in freedom."
    Garvin laughed.
    "Freedom? You think this America is free? You've got ninety percent of the people glued to their couches gazing like zombies into their televisions and eating non-stop. And then they jump off their couches for five minutes of history when a couple of tall buildings are knocked down in New York. That's the America I see. That's the America the revolution sees. This freedom thing you believe in, soldier boy, is a fairy tale, just like Gawd. History is unfolding right before your eyes and you're running in the opposite direction after the fairies of freedom and the goblins of terrorism. You should run in the direction of revolutionary violence, all of you should, get out in front of it, get off this America thing, because it is dead, a thing of the past. America no longer exists. You just haven't realized it. None of you have....
    "What you people refuse to understand," Garvin said, jumping into the silence that had fallen over the room, "is that this freedom of yours is no more than pitiful self-indulgence at the expense of others. What the revolution does is take the anger and frustration of those who hunger for justice in the world and shape that into purposeful violence. You try to deny that by calling it 'senseless violence' and "mass murder,' but I'm looking at your faces now and I can see those old defenses and the lies that support them draining out of you. You all look like children who have just been told that there is no Santa Claus, and you had really known that all along. You just needed an adult to make it official for you. Well, here I am, kids, giving it to you straight, what you already knew."

     [Martin McPhillips, Corpse in Armor]

     Sorry, Leftists. “Free health care” cannot justify that program.


     CSO: Why on Earth are you whistling Keith Richards’s guitar break from “Time Is On My Side” at this hour?
     FWP: Possibly because I’m slowly going insane.

     CSO: You need to get out more.
     FWP: I think I need to get out less.

     CSO: That would be pretty hard to do. You could sign up with the parish to have the Eucharist brought to you.
     FWP: What, and just watch the Mass on television?

     CSO: Or on your computer.
     FWP: God, no! It arrives as a string of tweets.

     CSO: It beats the way the non-English-speakers get it.
     FWP: How’s that?

     CSO: Emojis.
     FWP: Get thee behind me, Satan!

     This marriage schtick has a definite downside.

Works for me.

Goodwhites pose as our moral superiors: so-o-o-o tolerant, open-minded, progressive, humane… But they are in fact, though, nasty pieces of work: vindictive, self-righteous, cruel, contemptuous of their fellow citizens.
"Moral Of The HAMILTON Hate Fest: These Goodwhites Are Nasty Pieces Of Work." By John Derbyshire,, 11/26/16.

Monday, November 28, 2016

One Explanation, But Not Necessarily A Complete One

     I’ve recently had my attention drawn to this piece by CBS News’s Will Rahn, which appeared on November 10. It’s impressive in many ways, most particularly in its heartfelt mea culpa for the torrent of press arrogance about the recently concluded election. However, I found one segment of it to provide extra food for thought:

     Journalists increasingly don’t even believe in the possibility of reasoned disagreement, and as such ascribe cynical motives to those who think about things a different way. We see this in the ongoing veneration of “facts,” the ones peddled by explainer websites and data journalists who believe themselves to be curiously post-ideological.

     This explanation for press smugness is actually a premise. It might not be accurate in all cases.

     As Rahn says above, a journalist who believes himself to be “absolutely correct” on some political issue would naturally tend to dismiss those who differ with him. He might be tempted to call them stupid or, if he were feeling a trifle generous, perhaps misinformed. Alternately, if he were the sort to ascribe dark motives to those who disagree with him, he might do so in such a case. But what about the journalist who knows an insufficient amount about the issue to have an opinion of significance, and is aware of it? Given that he knows he cannot justify holding a firm opinion, how would we explain his denigration of those who “differ with him?”

     What comes to mind immediately is the utilitarian value to the journalist of “borrowing” a firm position, specifically because it’s fiercely promoted by someone else – someone important to him. A few candidates:

  • His wife;
  • The editors of his news outlet;
  • Important political figures who’ve granted him access;
  • A candidate for office who has promised him an appointment in the event of victory.

     The sort of prose such a journalist would emit on the issue in question would be just as dismissive and just as demeaning of those who “differ with him,” even though they’re really not differing with him, but with that important figure he hopes to placate or propitiate. Thus can a journalist find a reason for prostituting himself at the expense of the public he claims to serve.

     It’s a sad thing to find oneself ready to disbelieve in the sincerity of others. It’s even worse when those others supposedly work to “keep us informed.” But sometimes there are good and sufficient reasons, which is why the greater part of the reading public rates the “news media” as less trustworthy than the average three card Monte hustler.

Cancerous Lumps Continued: The Dreaded Prologue

     As yesterday’s piece on this subject has proved surprisingly popular, it’s impelled me to think further about the subject, particularly as it connects to the all-important realm of backstory.

     Every writer struggles with backstory. It’s a particular challenge for those of us who work in a speculative genre: science fiction, fantasy, or horror. SF writers, in particular, are under immense pressure to explain things: the sociopolitical nature of their fictional world; the scientific discoveries and technological developments that have occurred in it; the social, economic, and political positions of its most important figures. There’s this sense that the reader needs the information to grasp what will follow: what brought about the story’s initial conditions and why the actions of the characters are rational (if they are). That sense is not always incorrect. (NB: The periphrasis in the concluding sentence of the paragraph immediately above should imply something. That’s the only hint I’ll give you. And now, back to our Swedish movie.)

     To serve that sense of a need, the writer will often resort to a prologue.

     The purpose of a prologue is to convey backstory information to the reader. It can be as narratively clever as any segment clipped from the story-time present, but it is not part of the story; it is prior to the story, often separated from story-present by a large number of years. In most cases, no one involved in the prologue participates in the story’s present events.

     Just now, Pub World editors deem prologues to be bad things. They have a good case, for a prologue puts the reasons the reader bought the book some distance from the front cover. A long or awkward prologue can cause the reader to toss the book aside. If the writer has done his job really badly, that can happen in the bookstore.

     Yet there are cases in which a prologue is vitally necessary. I’ve written one that I felt the novel couldn’t do without. I might have been wrong, but so far no one who’s gone on to read the whole book has complained about it. Of course, that omits the opinions of those who didn’t read the whole book, which might be the most important ones.

     The need or lack thereof for a prologue will always be a judgment call. No one but the author is qualified to make it. Accordingly, it behooves us to consider the following questions:

  • What makes a prologue desirable?
  • How can a prologue enhance the story?
  • How can a prologue discourage the reader?

     One of the most important architectural techniques in fiction goes by a Latin name: In media res. In English, that’s “in the middle of the matter.” It denotes the technique of dropping the reader into the middle of the action without any preparation: i.e., without prior acquaintance with the setting, the characters, or the backstory. The reader is immediately confronted with events important to one or more of the Marquee Characters and is compelled to claw for a purchase on them. The opening to On Broken Wings provides a good example:

     At first, there was only darkness, and a dim sense of upward motion, like swimming through dark water. Then there was light, and noise, and incredible pain.
     Christine half-remembered the crash, but had no idea where she was or what was being done to her. The flood of pain from her face blocked her rational powers. The perception of restraint threatened her sanity. A single phrase roared through the torture.
     "She's coming awake!"
     She surged upward against whatever was holding her. Strong hands pressed her back. Something metallic attached to her face, pulling upon it, tore loose and fell off to rest against her ear. Her scream could have shattered stone.
     A needle pierced her arm. Her terror flew beyond any recall. She dropped back into the darkness, certain she would never see light again.

     What’s happening in the above? If you’ve read the whole book, you already know, but did you have a firm idea before you proceeded to the subsequent material? If I managed to pique your interest with the opening, such that you felt a strong desire to discover what was going on, then my employment of in media res architecture was a success. If you frowned, muttered “I don’t have time for this,” and tossed the book aside, then I failed.

     When in media res works, which is often, it obviates the need for a prologue. Indeed, it makes adding a prologue a redundant notion, something that would insult the reader’s intelligence. But it will only work if the subsequent narration introduces the necessary information about what the reader has just read in a smooth and timely fashion: i.e., without creating any significant expository lumps. That, too, is a judgment the author isn’t guaranteed to get right.

     Perhaps the most famous dispute over whether a prologue was necessary concerns J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The first volume thereof, The Fellowship of the Ring, contains a fifteen-page, single spaced prologue packed densely with important information about hobbits, the Shire, and the world of Middle Earth. Quite a number of Tolkien’s critics considered that prologue unnecessary, owing to the existence of The Hobbit, his earlier novel about the adventures of the young Bilbo Baggins. Yet a considerable percentage of those who’ve read The Lord of the Rings did so without having read the earlier novel. Perhaps for them, the prologue was vitally necessary. Needless to say, the matter will never be unanimously agreed.

     A prologue can enhance the subsequent story when:

  • It’s kept brief;
  • It doesn’t digress;
  • It functions as a story of its own.

     Brevity, of course, is relative. Tolkien’s five thousand word prologue to The Lord of the Rings is followed by a half-million word fantasy adventure. The ratio is appropriate. But were that prologue attached to a shorter novel, it would look grotesquely disproportionate.

     The prologue to Which Art In Hope is just under 1800 words long. I fretted over it, fearing that so much precursory narrative might detract from what follows. Nevertheless, I found that I couldn’t reduce it in length without omitting details I felt the reader had to have before I dragged him into the story proper. In any event, “what follows” proved to be longer and wider in scope than I’d anticipated, which eventually allowed me to relax about the length of the prologue.

     A prologue can discourage the reader in several ways:

  • By being overly long or discursive;
  • By drowning the reader in too much detail;
  • By being unappealing as a separate narrative.

     I trust the first of those conditions is self-explanatory. No one picks up a 50,000 word novel – approximately 200 mass-market paperback pages – expecting to slog through a 50 page prologue. Proportion is essential. So also is a sense for the proper degree of detail. It’s vital to remain rigidly within Chekhov’s Law:

     “Everything not essential to the story must be ruthlessly cut away. If in Act One you say that a gun hung on the wall, then by Act Two or Act Three at the latest, it must be discharged.” – Anton Chekhov

     If you violate that precept in your prologue, you risk the very worst sort of “loose end:” the sort that has the reader wondering “why did he tell me that?” throughout the rest of the novel. So don’t!

     The third condition discriminates between narrative prologues, which tell a brief, dramatic story of their own, and “encyclopedia” prologues, which do nothing but convey information. The latter are inherently dry, anti-fictional. They’re very hard to get away with. It’s been done – see the earlier material about The Lord of the Rings -- but successes of the “encyclopedia” sort are rare.

     If you decide upon a prologue for your novel, try to structure it as a narrative of its own. Imagine a Marquee character or two within it, even if none will actually appear, and write it from their perspective. One constructive approach is “a story told around the campfire.” I heartily recommend it.

     So much for prologues. If you intend to pursue “conventional” publication, remember that the majority of editors frown upon them. If you decide to “go indie,” there’s still reason for caution. You want readers; more, you want those readers to finish the book. If they don’t, how likely are they to purchase your next book – or, God help us all, this one’s sequel?

     Best of luck.

     (Cross-posted to my fiction promotion site.)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Beware: Cancerous Lump!

     The political news is becoming repetitive, and I already have a problem with repeating myself, so for today I’ll rule it out of bounds. But really, what does that leave for my Gentle Readers, many of whom are as hungry for fresh material as I always am?

     Fiction, perhaps.

     In your fiction reading, have you ever run into a passage that reads like a segment cut and pasted out of an encyclopedia, or perhaps a geography text? Perhaps something like the following:

     At last, after eleven years of traveling at trans-light seven, the Earth colonists had arrived at the planet his grandfather, Emilio Nandez, had discovered almost a century ago. Suspecting conditions on the planet were favorable for life, Emilio had convinced the Colonization Alliance of Independent Nations to send an auto-ship on a scouting mission. What the ship found exceeded even Emilio’s wildest dreams.
     Even though the planet had one small continent above sea level, it offered an interesting geological formation: a huge fissure that split the continent in half. Millions of years ago, the planet’s tectonic plates had formed a mountain range, leaving two valleys on either side. Dark green moss covered the thousands of canyons of the planet’s large valley, which was thousands of kilometers in length and stretched for hundreds of kilometers in width.
     Rivers, some a kilometer or more wide, and others narrow enough for a man to jump across, ran through the canyons, which split off from the large valley like branches on a tree. Spectacular waterfalls fell thousands of feet to the valley below.

     Behold, in all its dread beauty, the expository lump.

     What’s above is only half of the lump. It goes on for two more long paragraphs: approximately 400 words in toto. I simply haven’t the patience to type out the rest. It’s one of the most egregious cases I’ve seen lately...and it’s from a writer who prides himself on his writing and will tell you so.

     Anyone can fall into this trap. I certainly have. It had to be pointed out to me by a crack editor. It was a harsh but quite necessary lesson of a fundamental sort:

The reader is there for an emotional journey.

     The writer’s fascination with his imaginings (or his skill with words) is of no importance to the reader. The reader is there to experience events and changes in the lives of your characters, especially your protagonists. This flows from the never-too-often repeated Two Great Commandments of Fiction:

     1. The raw material of fiction is people.
     2. The essence of story is change.

     A landscape can be attractive, but what’s more important to the fiction reader is how the viewpoint character reacts emotionally (if he does) to the landscape. The backstory events of a novel can be critically important, but again, what really matters is how they influence the viewpoint character as he remembers them in the context of some significant story-time event.

     When a writer departs from the lives of his characters for a sizable expository lump, he risks causing the reader to disaffiliate himself from the characters – in other words, to lose his reason for reading the story. No matter how important the facts being conveyed in the lump, it’s a bad bargain. It risks a reader reaction so deadly that it’s usually referred to by its acronym: MEGO, or “Mine eyes glazeth over.”

     As if more were necessary, the innate dynamic of the expository lump, like all cancers, is to expand. The lump swells; the reader’s distance from the characters’ story-time lives and events tends to grow. The narrative loses focus from being drowned in exposition.

     The lethal power of the expository lump is one of the reasons for Elmore Leonard’s famous advice about descriptive passages:

Avoid writing passages the reader will be tempted to skip.

     Long descriptions of physical settings are the most obvious kind. Backstory exposition is just as poisonous to reader involvement, though often less obvious. There are other temptations toward the creation of an expository lump, but these are the most important ones.

     If you’ve ever encountered the fiction writer’s maxim “Show, don’t tell,” it’s advice that should immediately warn a storyteller away from such lumps. At the very least, he should be ready to recognize them when he rereads his own work. A number of indie writers I’ve encountered recently seem never to have heard that maxim. A pity.

     As a writer of fiction, your principal task is to engage the reader’s emotions and take him for a dramatic ride. No matter how charmed you might be by the factual details of the setting you’ve imagined, your reader will stay with you – if he does – because of the drama you depict. Drama is about emotion, and emotion stems from the changes in your characters’ lives. It can be found nowhere else.

     [Cross-posted at my fiction promotion site.]