Saturday, February 23, 2019

Hierarchies And Rebellions

     Before I get started on the morning’s serious topic, I have a request for my Gentle Readers and anyone else who enjoys reading Web punditry:

Support your favorite bloggers.

     I don’t mean monetarily. Donations do constitute a form of approbation, but there are other kinds that are arguably more important. Express your appreciation of those whose emissions you admire and enjoy. There aren’t many of us left. That’s largely due to the rise of “social media,” which are proving to be about as social as the Black Death. So we greatly appreciate comments, emails, crosslinks, and other sorts of feedback that let us know that we have an audience, and that that audience would miss us were we to depart from our posts.

     Any expression of your appreciation, however you might choose to phrase it, will help to energize the recipient to “keep on keepin’ on.” Don’t excuse yourself on the specious grounds that “He gets enough of that already” or “Somebody else will do it.” Do your part; never mind what others might do or not do. (I could launch into a lecture on renormalized rationality at this point, but I’ll spare you.)


     This morning at Ace of Spades HQ the proprietor himself declaims thus:

     [Sean Trende] talked about the break-up of the [Republican] party being about the "Senior Partners" in the coalition -- the Establishment, which actually had a relatively small popular base of support but was closer to power, as they ran magazines and lived in DC -- not being willing to cede any amount of power-sharing to the "Junior Partners" in the coalition -- religious cons, real conservatives -- despite the fact that the Junior Partners were not willing to be mere Junior Partners any longer.

     Please, please read it all, including the embedded tweet series. It illustrates an important aspect of group dynamics, about which I’m about to wax eloquent...well, as eloquent as I can get this early on a Saturday morning. I’ll wait here.

     There’s an old pseudo-paradox, which I’ve seen discussed by Gregory Benford among others, about the emergence of a power center within a body that makes decisions by majority vote. Let’s take a simple case that can easily be generalized. Given a committee of nine, any group of five members who agree to vote concordantly can control the committee’s decisions. But that group itself constitutes a committee of five. Therefore any group of three within the five could take command of the five by the same sort of concerted voting, and thereby control the larger committee of nine. But that makes the group of three a committee in its own right, and therefore...

     Got the idea? Good. Now answer this question: Why doesn’t it work that way? It doesn’t, you know. The “cabal within a cabal within a cabal” approach to dominating a decision-making body has been tried innumerable times, and has always come apart. What’s the element that undoes the seams?

     All right, you’ve had long enough to think about it, and I can’t bring myself to be cruel on a Saturday. The answer is time.

     Time gives rise to change: in positions, in priorities, and in the relations, whether personal or political, among committee members. Sometimes those things interact to change one another. Smith might have been “solid” with the cabal until now, but then some new issue arises about which he differs with the others. Or his opinion of the relative importance of various issues might undergo a change. Or he might oppose the initiatives of dominant voice Jones out of pique, or envy, or personal ambition, even at a cost to some interest Smith once held sacrosanct. People change over time, and in unpredictable ways, at that.

     Long-term dominance of a voluntarily constituted body by a subgroup is rare, almost unknown. What’s been called here and elsewhere the “Republican Establishment” or “Conservatism, Inc.” has learned this to its sorrow. Unfortunately for those persons, they have largely failed to accept the lesson as valid.

     The application to Republican politics could hardly be clearer. Establishment figures’ acquiescence to the left-liberal / big-government status quo over the past three decades has cost them their previous dominance of conservative-leaning voters. The voters rebelled, chose to support an insurgent figure who challenged the Establishment’s dogma, and overturned the existing hierarchy in the GOP. The “NeverTrumpers” discovered, quite painfully, that the electorate was willing to see them “take their ball and bat and go home.” What remains is to trace out the specific changes that brought this about.


     We can observe a number of significant changes in the American legal and political milieu over the thirty years just behind us. Recall the executive timeline:

  • 1989 – 1992: George Bush the Elder.
  • 1993 – 2000: Bill Clinton.
  • 2001 – 2008: George Bush the Younger.
  • 2009 - 2016: Barack Hussein Obama.
  • 2017 – present: Donald Trump.

     Twelve years of Establishment Republican dominance interleaved with sixteen years of Leftists in power, followed by two years of the Upstart. Who performed, and how well?

  • George Bush the Elder: Gulf War I, several broken promises, especially on taxes. environmentalism, and gun rights.
  • Bill Clinton: Further tax increases, first thrusts at nationalizing the medical-care system, several scandals.
  • George Bush the Younger: A modest tax reduction, Gulf War II, no progress on abortion, gun rights, or restraining the power of the alphabet agencies.
  • Barack Hussein Obama: Nationalization of medical insurance, sharply increased taxes and regulations, hobbling of the energy industry, emasculation of the military, encouragement for illegal immigration, heightened racial / ethnic tensions, reduction of America’s international influence, high unemployment and low growth, innumerable scandals. “America in decline.”
  • Donald Trump: Reassertion of America’s international pre-eminence, lessening of foreign military involvements, reduced tax rates and simplified tax code, sharp reduction in regulations, unleashing of the American energy industry, economic boom, first thrusts against abortion and illegal immigration.

     The Upstart has discarded the Establishment’s “go along to get along” policy of accommodating the Left’s demands for ever larger government at the expense of Americans’ rights and interests. He seems prepared to go even further in the name of a national renewal of promise and purpose. He’s upstaging the Establishment, made them look irrelevant, and they don’t like it one little bit. It’s no wonder they bear ill will against him personally.

     There are several factors involved in the “NeverTrumpers’” ongoing opposition to the Upstart’s reign. For one, it has laid bare their highest priority: the maintenance of their positions among Those Who Matter, a.k.a. the Washington cocktail-party circuit. For another, performance beats bullshit, anywhere and anywhen, and it always makes the bullshitters hate you. For a third, the “NeverTrumpers’” tantrums and sour-grapes act have made them look petty – which they are – and have caused many who once respected their opinions to turn away from them as sources of information and political guidance.

     Thus, a hierarchy that once looked to endure indefinitely has been revealed to have been built on a foundation of sand. All it took was an Upstart, who spoke to the disappointed and demoralized in a tone of respect for them and their interests...and who meant what he said.


     I have in mind a passage from early in Atlas Shrugged:

     He did not know why he suddenly thought of the oak tree. Nothing had recalled it. But he thought of it—and of his childhood summers on the Taggart estate. He had spent most of his childhood with the Taggart children, and now he worked for them, as his father and grandfather had worked for their father and grandfather.
     The great oak tree had stood on a hill over the Hudson, in a lonely spot on the Taggart estate. Eddie Willers, aged seven, liked to come and look at that tree. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought it would always stand there. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to seize it by the top, he would not be able to uproot it, but would swing the hill and the whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string. He felt safe in the oak tree’s presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.
     One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside—just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.

     A thing which has lost its connection to its animating purpose will always rot from within. The desire to perpetuate oneself and one’s privileges and perquisites is insufficient of itself. Or as a character of mine once said:

     “Malcolm, you know far too much to have learned it all in one normal lifetime. Combat. Warfare. History. Sociology. Philosophy. Economics. Politics. Ethics. I've put my heart and soul into it, but I've only glimpsed the edges of what you know. You've lived several centuries at least....So you have to have some kind of purpose. A man dies without a purpose. A purpose strong enough to keep you alive that long must be as vivid and powerful as the sun.”

     As with individuals, so also with Establishments and the hierarchies over which they claim to preside. But don’t expect the deposed members of “Conservatism, Inc.” to admit that any time soon. They have a lot more denial to get through.

Quickies: A Compact Insight

     This one is from AoSHQ’s Weird Dave:

     If you can find someone who will talk honestly about single-payer, you will usually find the pro side talking about how it's “fairer” or “cheaper” than market-based systems (I'd contest the second, but we don't really have any market-based systems to compare with) but will usually admit that the outcomes are better in our system (as I said, you have to find someone on the pro side willing to be honest, which is rarer than a hen's tooth). That's bullshit. What it's all about is, like most lefty garbage, is manufactured virtue. “Oh, look at how COMPASSIONATE I am, I want healthcare to be FREE”. In fact, isn't that kind of a hallmark of all left-wing, totalitarian systems? Using force and theft “for the greater good”, the unstated premise being that individuals won't do it on their own. Thus the entire world view of left wing systems is inherently contradictory: Their totalitarian approach is necessary because people are inherently bad (Hmmm, smells a lot like “original sin” to me), yet their systems won't work unless you also believe in the perfectibility of man (which will be accomplished through force). No wonder these people are crazy.

     First: Leftists must try to represent their totalitarian approaches as virtuous – i.e., morally superior and obligatory – because they have nothing else going for them. Certainly neither efficacy nor efficiency.

     Second: Note that they implicitly exclude themselves from the “people are inherently bad” premise. After all, someone has to do the dirty work of perfecting the rest of us...and don’t you dare mention “God.”

     Third: Compare this insight with Dystopic / Thales’s “weaponized empathy” formulation. They dovetail nicely.

Friday, February 22, 2019

HRC - A Different Perspective

Remember when Comey laid out the case for HRC having committed MULTIPLE crimes? Remember the end of it, when he said that there was no intent, and and "no reasonable prosecutor" would charge her?

Well, he was wrong (BIG surprise!) Apparently, a whole lot of people - including many so-called Republicans - knew about the details on the case, and at least one prosecutor disagreed with Comey.

I know, I know - it's not exactly a state secret (unlike the many actual secrets/confidential information that HRC let slip past the normal security controls). But, because it happened a while back, and the focus of many unaligned people was more on the election/TV/their own lives, it does need to be said again.

And again. Not so much to persuade the unpersuadable, but to give heart to Gideon's 300.

In Other News

Leftist women are gathering at a conference sponsored by Women4Climate in Chicago, and they are complaining about the 'unfair' treatment they are receiving from the media - they insist - against all evidence - that they are being asked more difficult questions than the men.

Information about the organization was not available on-site. If anyone knows where their money for operations/conferences is coming from, please comment here.

A Teaser

     [The opening segment of The Wise and the Mad, the sequel to Innocents and Experiences. -- FWP]


Monday, June 3, 2030

     Nathaniel Abernathy had only just set down his cosmetologist’s kit and closed his apartment door behind him when his phone rang. Though he hadn’t seen the number displayed on its screen for months, it remained unpleasantly familiar. He muttered an oath and snatched the handset from its cradle.
     “Hello, Dennis.”
     “Hello, Nate. Why so sour? I could almost think you were unhappy to hear from me.”
     “I’ve had a tough night, Dennis. Is this about something important?”
     “Nothing specific, Nate. It’s just that I haven’t heard from you for quite some time.” Dennis Addison’s tone was greasier than usual. “We did one another some favors at one time. I thought we both gained by them, which makes it odd that so much time should have gone by since I heard from you last.”
     “You gained by them,” Abernathy said. “I can’t say the same.”
     “Ah. Trouble with your employers, or with Chuck?”
     Abernathy suppressed a second oath. “I’d rather not discuss it, Dennis. What is it this time?”
     “A little bird tells me that Rachel MacLachlan will shortly be a guest on Overtime again. Friday this week, in fact. Am I correct?”
     “You’re correct. What of it?”
     “Has she requested a recorded dress rehearsal, like the last time?”
     “She has.”
     “And do you expect to be present for that?”
     “Not this time, Dennis. The station just hired a new cosmetologist. He’ll be the one going to the clinic. It will be a good chance to give him some practice. Break him in, as it were.”
     “But surely with so important a guest, you’ll be asked to supervise?”
     Abernathy could imagine the reporter’s smirk. It made him clench his jaw. “I doubt it, Dennis. It’s only a rehearsal. The recording is mostly a way of affirming the station’s no-surprises promise to MacLachlan. It won’t be aired.”
     “But you are the senior cosmetologist at WHUP, aren’t you? Even if the recording will never be aired, won’t it fall to you to debrief the rookie?”
     “It’s possible I’d be asked to comment on his efforts, but he’d be under non-disclosure—”
     “But you’re an employee of WHUP. He’d be perfectly free to speak to you. And if you weren’t at the clinic, you wouldn’t have signed an NDA.”
     Abernathy wilted inside.
     The bastard’s got me.
     “The MacLachlan therapy has already been heavily publicized, Dennis. What could I possibly be able to tell you about it that you don’t already know?”
     “Ah, isn’t that just the question! Why would MacLachlan be returning to the show if she has nothing new to tell us about her therapy, her clinic, or anything related to them? The guests that appear on Overtime tend to have new and interesting things to say. It’s as much a news show as the six o’clock version, just with a human-interest flavor and an upstate New York focus.”
     Abernathy did not reply.
     “The Register needs news just as much as ever, Nate. I need it too, for professional reasons. And if I were to learn that you’d denied me an interesting, newsworthy tidbit that I could have wrapped a major story around, it would make me sad. A little bit cross, too.”
     Abernathy vented a deep sigh.
     “All right, Dennis. I’ll see what I can dig up.”

#

     His Eminence Pietro Cardinal Famiglietti, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and late the Archbishop of Milan, could hardly conceal his anguish over the willfulness of his new boss.
     Didn’t I warn them that this would happen? Didn’t I say explicitly that to put an American on the Throne of Saint Peter would bring disaster upon us all?
     This is no time for recrimination. I must cope.
     “Your Holiness,” he murmured, “to invoke technology for such a purpose—a technology understood and controlled by only one person on Earth, an unbeliever!—is to mock the Covenant the Almighty has made with fallen Man.”
     His Holiness Pope Clement XV, until only a week previously known as Gerard Cardinal O’Rourke, prelate to the archdiocese of New York, maintained his habitual blandness of demeanor. Famiglietti found it supremely irritating.
     “Technology, Pietro, like all of Creation,” Clement said, “is one of God’s gifts to His children. It is the fruit of human understanding of the laws of Nature. We are permitted to use it, if possible, to promote the good among us. If possible, we must prevent it from promoting evil. No other laws apply, whether secular or canonical.”
     The pope’s utterance bore the heft of an encyclical. Famiglietti could not marshal an argument against it. Clement plainly sensed his frustration. He smiled and nodded.
     “The Covenant is indisputably important as a backdrop to the great story of human history. It speaks eloquently of the trials of temptation, to which all men are subject under the veil of time. Yet it does not bind us as the Commandments do. It does not forbid the use of technological means to assist us in meeting those trials.” He rose, stretched, and reseated himself. “Perhaps the Almighty, noting the grave peril to which the Church is subject, has taken a hand in our fate by encouraging the development of this technology. It may allow us to surmount the worst of our current problems. If it should, no doubt other temptations will arise, but those lie in the unimaginable future, as do the measures I or my successors will deploy against them.”
     He is God’s elect, the vicar of Christ. Yet he eschews the way of faith and reposes his confidence in machines. He is as American as I feared.
     “Your Holiness,” Famiglietti ventured, “do you not fear that this technology might be a temptation in itself? That it might become the instrument not of our renewal but of our ruin?”
     “I fear many things, Pietro,” Clement replied. “Most of all I fear that this opportunity will slip past us out of our fear of what we cannot foresee.”
     “So the welfare of the Church will rest in the hands of a layman and an unbeliever,” Famiglietti murmured. He regretted his words at once, for the pope’s gaze darkened dramatically.
     “It will not be the first time, Pietro,” Clement said. “The Church has often been defended by men who bore us no allegiance. But God has shielded us. When Hitler arose to imperil all the world, we Americans came to Europe to answer him. Not all those who took up arms against the Third Reich were Catholics, nor even Christians.” His expression softened. “Besides, we already have some report of this person, and it is most encouraging. Father Altomare speaks very well of her.”
     But how well do we know Raymond Altomare?
     Clement smiled and nodded.
     “That was a very expressive wince, Pietro. It spoke your thoughts most eloquently. You need not fear that I have shot an arrow into the dark. I ordained Raymond Altomare. I know him very well indeed.”
     He reached for his intercom and pressed the button that would summon the papal nuncio to his office.

#

     There was something off about Craig Mackenzie, but Rachel MacLachlan couldn’t put her finger on it. It might have been his endurance athlete’s good looks. It might have been his habit of mirroring her posture. It might have been his smile, which seemed too meticulously rehearsed to be sincere. It might have been the way he ended every sentence with a tonal uptick. Or it might have been that, despite a Scottish heritage of which he claimed to be proud, he refused to capitalize the ‘k’ in his last name. Whatever it was, it chafed her sufficiently to prolong his interview to the limits of her endurance.
     But not his. After a full hour’s grilling he remained as slick as when he’d seated himself in her office. He hadn’t become flustered or hesitant at any point. His smile seemed welded in place. His stare focused upon the bridge of her nose, unwavering throughout, and that troubled her worst of all.
     She badly wanted to rise, offer her hand, and tell him that he’d be notified. She was on the verge of doing so when her intercom buzzed.
     Saved by the bell...the buzz.
     She pressed the push-to-talk. “Yes, Elise?”
     “You have a call on line 1, Rachel.” There was an unusual tremor in Elise Rosenthal’s voice. “It could be important. It’s long distance and the caller sounds nervous.”
     “About what?”
     “He said he could only mention that to you.”
     “Where’s he calling from?”
     “Rome.”
     “Oh, that’s not...wait: Rome, Italy?”
     “That’s the one.” Elise’s vocal quaver became more pronounced. “He gave his name as Gennaro di Giuseppe. He says he’s the papal nuncio.”
     “Please tell him I’ll be with him in just a minute.” She rose, indicated that Mackenzie should do the same, and offered him her hand. He took it in a gentle clasp. His smile never fluctuated.
     “Thank you for coming, Mr. Mackenzie. I simply must take this call, and other matters are pressing upon me as well. Will you be available for a chat this evening?”
     “I will, Ma’am. You have my number.” He dipped his head. “Thank you for your time.”
     He pivoted smoothly and left her office. Rachel released a huge sigh and resumed her seat. “Elise?”
     “Still holding.”
     “I’ll take the call. Thanks.” She connected to the open line.
     “Rachel MacLachlan speaking.”
     “Good morning, Doctor MacLachlan. This is Gennaro di Giuseppe. How does the day find you, Doctor?”
     “Please call me Rachel, Your Eminence. I’m quite well, thank you. And yourself?”
     “Thank you, Rachel. I am very well indeed. Rome is at its most beautiful at this time of year. I assume Miss Rosenthal told you of my position?”
     “She did, Your Eminence.” Rachel paused. “I must say, I never expected to have dealings of any sort with the Vatican. What can I do for you?”
     “News of your desire modification therapy has reached us here in Italy. There’s a great deal of interest in it, in many quarters.”
     “Including the Vatican?” Rachel said.
     “Especially at the Vatican. No doubt you’re aware that the college of cardinals has just placed a new Supreme Pontiff on the Throne of Saint Peter. An American, for the first time in Church history.”
     “Yes, I am aware,” Rachel said. “It was a controversial choice.”
     “Yet there could be no other, for God had ordained it. The college spent quite a few days in discernment. In the end it seemed that the choice of Cardinal O’Rourke had been plain from the very start, that all our deliberations were merely to assuage our uncertainties and assure ourselves that we were of a single mind.”
     “I can imagine,” Rachel said, “that the amazement of the waiting crowds of faithful at hearing of that choice took quite a while to quiet.”
     “Indeed it did, Rachel. But all is settled, His Holiness Pope Clement XV has been installed, and the work of the Church must continue as if it had never been interrupted. It is our way to proceed thus.”
     “Yes, I understand. But what possible service can I, a non-communicant, render to the Catholic Church?”
     “That is as yet undecided, Rachel. The Holy Father wishes to speak with you himself. Would your schedule permit you to take a brief trip to Rome some time in the near future?”
     Rachel paused to draw a deep breath.
     “Allow me a moment, Your Eminence.”
     “Certainly.”
     She pulled her keyboard toward her and surveyed her schedule for the coming month. It was busy, but not so packed that she couldn’t make rearrangements enough to free a three-day span for the trip to Rome. If she could reschedule her appearance on Overtime...
     But what could the Pope want from me? Does he plan to issue an opinion about the canonical acceptability of the therapy for use by Catholics, or has he conceived of a use for it himself?
     It’s not something to settle over the phone, anyway.
     “I think it would, Your Eminence. From my calendar, I’d say later this week would be best.”
     “Excellent. Shall I connect you to His Holiness’s appointments secretary to arrange the details?”
     “Certainly.”

#

     Kevin Conway forked up the last of his scallops and fusilli in vodka sauce, savored its delicate aroma, chewed and swallowed it appreciatively. He set down his fork and sat back with a broad smile.
     “Jeanne, I have never had anything like that. Where did the recipe come from?”
     Jeanne Iverson mirrored his smile. “I threw it together one evening a few months ago, when there was very little in the larder because I’d been too lazy to shop.” She reached for her husband’s hand and squeezed it. “Todd likes it, too.”
     “Hell yes,” Todd Iverson concurred. He poked at his waistline. “Maybe too much.”
     “The way to a man’s heart and all that,” Kate Conway intoned.
     “Actually,” Todd said, “I prepared the first dinner we had here. Jeanne was suitably impressed, but as you can see she has some culinary talent of her own.”
     “Well,” Kevin said, “don’t let her near Grucci’s or they’ll try to hire her away from you.”
     “Not a chance,” Jeanne said. “I’m having too good a time. Besides, we like to eat there now and then.” She rose, circled the table to collect the dirty dishes, and disappeared through the swinging doors to the Iversons’ kitchen. Kate immediately rose and followed her. The men waited for the doors to close behind her.
     “So,” Iverson said, “you said you had a need.”
     Conway nodded. “A pretty big one.” He fitted his fingertips together. “I have a friend with a problem she can’t solve. A problem in genetics.”
     Iverson’s eyes narrowed. “Details?”
     “She has a freezer full of zygotes of unknown characteristics. She needs to know what would develop from them if they were to gestate.”
     “What, doesn’t she know whether they’re human?”
     “She’s pretty sure of that,” Conway said. “But there’s a possibility she’s concerned about.” He hunched forward over the table. “Do you know the word ‘futanari?’” Iverson shook his head. “It’s a very rare genetic anomaly. It produces a child with two X chromosomes, but that has only male genitalia.”
     Iverson’s eyebrows rose. “Really? Is the baby otherwise healthy?” Conway nodded. “So it’s not a disabling or life-threatening condition, then.”
     “Not quite, Todd. Futanari are incapable of reproduction. Their testes produce sperm, but it can’t fertilize a human ovum. So they are disabled in one way, at least.”
     “Not to mention the social reactions,” Todd murmured. “Which I would guess are about like what pre-op transwomen face.”
     “To some extent, yes,” Conway said.
     “Why is your friend concerned about this possibility?”
     “Do you remember, about a year and a half ago, how I was intermittently out of touch for weeks at a time?”
     Iverson nodded. “Kate did a lot of bitching about it.”
     “I’m not surprised,” Conway said. “There was a reason.”
     “Connected with this freezer full of zygotes, I assume?”
     “Yeah,” Conway said, “I brought it back from one of those jaunts. I found it in a lab that was dedicated to turning out futanari.”
     Iverson’s face fell. “Why—no, how?
     “By cloning.”
     “But there’s hasn’t yet been—no, strike that,” Iverson said. His gaze became intense. “Obviously there has. But what were you doing in that lab?”
     Conway swallowed and attempted to smile.
     “Destroying it.”

#

     The obstetrician, a most expensively procured high expert in his field, stood defenseless before the rage of the man who had committed to paying his fee.
     “I have no explanation, Your Grace. We’ve sent three samples to three different laboratories. We’ve emphasized the need for accuracy and privacy. We’ve waited patiently for the returns. All three have produced the same result as the amniocentesis.”
     His customer’s mask of anger remained unaltered. “Yet it has a penis.”
     “She does—”
     “Do not refer to a clearly male child as she!” the Duke of Norfolk roared. Despite his years he still presented a formidable appearance. His voice had lost neither its force nor its rolling-thunder timbre, as his colleagues in the House of Lords could attest. He rose from his seat and smashed his fists down upon its surface, the better to glare at the only target available to his fury.
     “Your Grace,” the obstetrician quavered, “the prenatal care of your wife, the delivery of your child, and the results of the genetic assays are all I have to give you. Is there some other service you would ask of me?”
     The duke’s face twitched once, twice. He opened a drawer and pulled out a checkbook, wrote out a check, and thrust it at the obstetrician as if it were a blade he would have preferred to bury in the man’s vitals.
     The obstetrician glanced at the amount in puzzlement. “You Grace, this is twice what—”
     “You will say nothing of this to anyone. Now get out.”
     When the obstetrician had departed, the duke dropped back into his chair, covered his face with his hands, and wept. A timeless interval later he felt a soft hand caress his brow.
     “Thomas?” Olivia murmured. “What’s the matter?”
     Thomas Landsdowne Walsingham, Knight Commander of the Order of the Garter and by royal decree of His Majesty Charles III Duke of Norfolk and Protector of the Northeastern Marches of the Realm, lowered his hands and looked piteously into his wife’s face.
     “I am accursed.”

==<O>==

Thursday, February 21, 2019

I Knew I Wasn't Crazy

Well, not THAT crazy.

I had been talking to someone a few years ago about Amazon, and I insisted that I remembered an online bookstore that predated its founding. I had a clear memory of a store that you could reach through online BBS (Bulletin Board Systems, a method of 'going online' that, for a time, coexisted with the early Internet). That store was located in Cleveland, OH.

I just verified that my memory of that Amazon predecessor was correct. It was Book Stacks (later Book Stacks Unlimited). The neat thing about it was that you could get books that weren't available at any other local store. I remember ordering computer-related books that were near impossible to get elsewhere.

Other sources of books included the Cleveland Public Library, which was one of the earlier libraries to have public access to its card catalog. The technical books were limited, and the waiting lists could be long. By taking advantage of ordering through their online system, you could reserve books and have them sent to a local branch.

One Month To Go

     ...to the Vernal Equinox (traditional). (I haven’t yet checked the ephemeris to see when that moment will actually occur this year.) For those unacquainted with the meaning of the astronomical term equinox, it refers to the instant when the plane of the Earth’s ecliptic passes through the geometric center of the Sun. At that instant, night and day are exactly the same length...or would be, if whichever one it isn’t at that moment in your part of the world were to change places with the other one.

     Oh, never mind. Have a few scraps of observation and commentary.


1. The Coup.

     Victor Davis Hanson sums it up:

     In sum, the Left and the administrative state, in concert with the media, after failing to stop the Trump campaign, regrouped. They ginned up a media-induced public hysteria, with the residue of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s illegal opposition research, and manipulated it to put in place a special counsel, stocked with partisans.

     Then, not thugs in sunglasses and epaulettes, not oligarchs in private jets, not shaggy would-be Marxists, but sanctimonious arrogant bureaucrats in suits and ties used their government agencies to seek to overturn the 2016 election, abort a presidency, and subvert the U.S. Constitution. And they did all that and more on the premise that they were our moral superiors and had uniquely divine rights to destroy a presidency that they loathed.

     Whereupon Mike Hendrix, who sees consequences more reliably than most other Internet pundits, calls our attention to a bleak prognostication of the coming civil war:

     The civil war [John Mosby] anticipates is not the one of 1861–65 with set-piece battles by uniformed soldiers. It’s guerrilla warfare.

     “This is about people burning down their neighbors’ houses and businesses, to run them out of town, over ideological differences. Look at the Balkans in the early 1990s. This is about a group from one side, murdering the entire family — Dad, Mom, Brother and baby Sister — of their neighbors, over political differences.”

     It seems unreal, impossible, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s happened in other countries. Why should we think America immune? Especially with all the shit-stirring and hate-mongering coming from the Left lately.

     “The gentlemen cry peace, peace, but there is no peace. The war is already begun!” – Patrick Henry


2. “Fundamental Rights.”

     You can always count on a socialist to prattle about “rights” that do not and can not ever exist:

     Whereupon Marta Hernandez deposeth and sayeth:

     No, really. A zillion.

     Not only does Warren claim that health care should be government-funded, along with her fellow socialist leeches, who claim that need is a claim check on the skills, knowledge, hard work, and education of medical personnel, but now the former law professor exhibits her profound ignorance about the concept of fundamental rights by claiming that those who need it also must appropriate the efforts of child care providers.

     Explaining this over and over gets tiresome, but one more time:

If someone else must give it to you
whether he wants to or not,
it’s not your right.
It’s theft.

     I can’t use shorter words. There aren’t any.


3. Play A Dirge For Europe.

     Mark “Mad Dog” Sherman points us to some fretting about Europe’s insouciant lassitude from Walter Russell Mead:

     Decline, not the Donald, is the specter haunting Europe today. The numbers make this clear. Some readers objected to World Bank data in last week’s column showing that, in dollar terms, the eurozone economy had not recovered from the 2008-09 financial crisis. In euro terms, they point out, eurozone gross domestic product has been growing. But even using the euro-denominated figures issued by the European Central Bank, the growth rate from 2009 to 2017 was only 0.6% per year. That’s anything but robust.

     Decline, among a people who have been as dynamic and prosperous as Europeans once were, is a choice. As Mark points out, the principal drivers of that choice are right out in the open:

     Mead used to be such an incisive analyst but his analysis today is flabby and flaccid. The problem in Europe involves economic decline, but that is not the root. The root is the fact that the Europeans have decided to die demographically by not having children, plumping up their welfare state, pensions, and government benefits while lounging in cafes sipping plonk waiting to die.

     Mead doesn’t address Europe’s vanishing demographics. He thinks Europe’s increasing disunity is the problem – and that it’s a problem for the United States:

     It does not advance U.S. interests for Europe to go the way of the Soviet Union or stay deadlocked in decline. A vibrant Europe whose unity is based on common-sense cooperation and pro-growth economic policies suits America best, but neither the immobilism of Angela Merkel’s Germany nor hostile rhetoric from the White House can bring that about.

     Nonsense. The European Union is of no consequence to American interests, nor would its dissolution be of consequence to the subsequent geopolitics. The problem is a lack of will to struggle, prosper, and thrive, which is most evident in the explosion of Europe’s welfare systems and the disappearance of its militaries. NATO preceded the EU and would likely be there after the EU is no longer. While the current structure and military balances of NATO are perverse, those things could be addressed and corrected, just as the Common Market corrected the mess of trade barriers that hindered Europe’s recovery from World War II – and in his characteristic way, Donald Trump is trying to get them corrected. No one else is doing squat.


4. A Late Awakening.

     Quoth retired tennis legend Martina Navratilova:

     Tennis great Martina Navratilova reiterated her stand against biological males competing against natural-born women, because the males have a competitive edge.

     “It’s insane and it’s cheating,” the famously gay tennis star said in a Sunday op-ed published by the Sunday Times.

     “Letting men compete as women simply if they change their name and take hormones is unfair — no matter how those athletes may throw their weight around,” Navratilova said of transgender players’ efforts to be recognized under their “chosen” gender.

     Well, yes, it is insane. But it’s been going on since 1977:

     RenĂ©e Richards (born August 19, 1934) is an American ophthalmologist and former tennis player who had some success on the professional circuit in the 1970s. In 1975 Richards underwent male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. She was then denied entry into the 1976 US Open by the United States Tennis Association, which began that year requiring genetic screening for female players. She disputed this policy, and the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1977 in a landmark decision in favor of transsexual rights. As one of the first professional athletes to identify as such, she became a spokesperson for the transgender community.

     It should not have taken forty-two years to open anyone’s eyes, especially not those of the greatest player ever to grace women’s tennis. But perhaps Miss Navratilova has been too busy to opine for us.


     That’s all for today, Gentle Reader. The Wise and the Mad is finally picking up some real steam – what’s that you say? You’d like a teaser? Maybe later – and I have other chores to attend to as well. See you tomorrow.

Fred on American Empire.

Fred's take on the Empire is worth a look:

"The Empire: Now or Never." By Fred Reed, The Unz Review, 2/20/19.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Quickies: Tragedy Begets Sanity

     Or at least, a halting step toward sanity:

     HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo says 'no-knock' warrants will end on his watch after the controversial raid that left a man and his wife dead on the southeast side....

     "Nobody is as pissed off as me," Acevedo told the crowd. "There's a lot of good work going on. One or two people have taken relationships and taken community relationships back decades, and it pisses me off."

     I am unfamiliar with what any court has said about “no-knock” raids. If a federal court has ruled on such things, it would have to contrive some sort of legal exception to the Fourth Amendment:

     The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

     I can’t see it. How could there be any exception to the plain wording of the amendment without destroying all basis for the stated right? Never mind that there have been so many erroneous “no-knock” raids, that innocent people have been killed, have had their homes and lives destroyed, and have often faced criminal charges for acting to defend themselves against the invasion of their property. Never mind the numerous cases of “SWATting,” in which maliciously inclined persons have used police power to disrupt the lives of those they dislike. And never mind that there is no way to get your reputation back once one’s neighbors have seen the police at your doorstep.

     In the case cited here, the Houston police killed two entirely innocent persons. That’s an outrage of the highest degree. But what if those persons had possessed some sort of contraband? The usual excuse for a “no-knock” raid is the presence of drugs that can be easily destroyed should the possessor have any warning that the police are coming. Given the significant probability that a “no-knock” raid on the home of someone who would face felony changes for what he possesses will eventuate in lethal violence, how can anyone rationalize it? Is it reasonable that a man should face the prospect of death by gunfire for such a thing?

     I know, I know: I’m a hopeless idealist who thinks people should be free to own whatever they can rightfully acquire without legal consequences. Totally out of step with the hyper-paternalistic ethos of our era. But I leave those of you who are supporters of the War on (Some) Drugs with a question: How many persons, innocent or otherwise, must lose their lives to police-state tactics before you concede that there’s something wrong with the law? Were the law and its enforcers to target something you prize – say, your guns – would you feel the same way as you do about the War on (Some) Drugs and the tactics used to prosecute it?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Frenzy

     The “Jussie Smollett hate crime” story is much in the “news” just now, owing to its original, lurid character, and to the discovery, after patient investigation, that it was a fraud from first to last. Commentators innumerable have discoursed on its “significance” both before and after its debunking. The shitstorm appears to have peaked, though the impassioned rhetoric continues.

     Almost at once, major figures on the Left loosed public statements and fusillades of “tweets” condemning – who else? – conservative Americans generally for our “racism.” Commentators on the Right demanded substantiation, for which the aforementioned Leftists condemned them. As Smollett’s allegations unraveled under scrutiny, the shrieking from the Left crescendoed as the Right figuratively crossed its arms, sat back, and smirked at yet another case of racialist fakery “disposed of.”

     If it’s been disposed of, then why is it still the hottest button in American commentary? Why has this self-serving racialist con job, written, produced, and directed by its “victim” for entirely self-serving purposes, continued to command so much media attention?

     In large part it’s because the media, especially the giants of social media, have decreed that only opinions from the Left shall be aired in their networks. Merely to report, as Rod Dreher and others have done, that the Chicago police have debunked Smollett’s allegations is deemed unspeakable on Facebook.

     Yes, it’s about the Left’s desire to defend its “narrative,” but that should elicit further questions: What narrative? What reason has any private person in this country, aware of the realities of contemporary social tensions, to believe such an obvious con job? Isn’t the fakery just more evidence that the Left’s shrieking about the Right’s awfulness is a lot of crap?

     Surely we’ve had enough of this. Yet it keeps coming. The media partake in the fakery by giving the Left’s claims of Right-wing bigotry and violence wildly disproportionate attention. As the facts emerge, the media, including social media, collaborate with the Left’s efforts to suppress mention of them. When that’s no longer possible, the media disallow further discussion of the affair: it’s “yesterday’s news.”

     The pattern has had several high points. Tawana Brawley. The Duke Lacrosse case. Covington Catholic / Nathan Phillips. Matthew Shepard. And now this exceedingly minor figure in the world of entertainment – both black and homosexual, a twofer! — who was upset that he’d been “excessed.” Unless you’re a left-wing true-believer who discards any facts that contradict the Left’s dicta, you simply can’t be fooled any longer. So why does it continue?

     My thesis is that the Left has nothing else. No other weapons remain to it.


     The word of the day is frenzy.

     frenzy, n:
  1. extreme mental agitation; wild excitement or derangement.
  2. a fit or spell of violent mental excitement; a paroxysm characteristic of or resulting from a mania.

     Paroxysm is the applicable descriptor for what the Left has been doing. As the effect of its “bigoted oppressors” tactic has attenuated near to zero, it’s multiplied and intensified its efforts. Its mania is born of the recognition that it has lost the intellectual, social, and moral battles for the respect and allegiance of the American electorate. The only weapon it retains is the ability to stir a furor out of accusations of bigotry, with the assistance of its media handmaidens. Owing to its repeated failures, married to Americans’ perceptions of the reality around them, that ability has faded almost entirely away. But that’s its only weapon in the struggle for “mindshare.” Like a duelist with a blunted sword, it must keep flailing away.

     The Left can’t change tools because it has no others. Yet it cannot yield, for to the Left, power is the only thing that matters. The mania for power plus the lack of alternative tactics induces the paroxysm of frenzied action.

     Decent Americans are tired of it. We want it to cease. As it hasn’t, we’ve begun to turn away from the media organs that press it upon us. We’ve begun to exclude the shrieking true believers from our circles. Ever more of us are putting our attention where it’s always belonged: on our communities, our families, and our personal pursuits.

     But the Left’s frenzy won’t cease. Indeed, it will strive to pursue us. It will harass the vendors we patronize. It will infiltrate our churches and civic associations. It will browbeat us through what remains of our public life until we wrest the bludgeon from its hand.

     The Left has nothing else.

     UPDATE: This list of hate crime hoaxes deserves to be among your bookmarks. Don't let it get away!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Ocasio-Cortez - An Economics Major?

No. Her Wikipedia entry about her degree states:
She graduated cum laude from Boston University's College of Arts and Sciences in 2011, majoring in international relations and economics.[24][28][29]
In the boxed summary (top of article, right), AOC's degree is reported as a BA from Boston University. So, to recap, she has a BA in International Relations. It would appear that the Economics part is a TRACK - the International Economics, Business, and Politics Track, in fact.

[NOTE: I had written Boston College above - I double-checked to see that the info on coursework was from BU - it was - and made the correction]

The students who chose that track do have to take certain Economics courses - the CAS (College of Arts and Sciences) EC 392 International Economics

Among the required coursework: [Fixed this - was not displaying well]

EC 201 Intermediate microeconomic analysis

ec 202 intermediate macroeconomic analysis


EC 320 economics of less-developed regions


EC 391 International Economics I


eC 391 International Economics II: problems and policy


Other than two courses relation to specific regions (Latin America and China), that's it for coursework in the Economics Dept., other than a few advanced level courses, two of them similar in name and number to those offered at the undergraduate level. I can't say just how skewed the teaching was in the direction of Leftist thought, but other than the first 2 courses, nothing indicates that the courses were primarily analytical.

The other coursework is in International Relations, Politics, Management, or other non-economics areas. So, it would appear that AOC had a concentration (at Boston College, called a Track) in Economics, Business, and Politics. NOT an Econ major, although that has been the implied degree in many of the stories written about her. Many of them skate over the actual major, preferring to word the details as though she were a budding Milton Friedman (only smarter and more woke).

I'm not saying that she is not smart in specific areas - given her interest in science, she likely scored rather well on the math/science areas of the ACT. Much has been made of her participation in the Intel Science Fair:
She won second prize in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair with a microbiology research project on the effect of antioxidants on the lifespan of the nematode C. elegans.[21]
There were 3 top finishers that year - she was NOT one of them. I would surmise that her second place finish was in the subsection of Microbiology. Not bad, but not the absolute top. I've talked to other teachers, and many of the participating students work with mentors - it's not a matter of solo brilliance. They do get some assistance and guidance from actual scientists.

The remainder of the coursework in the International Relations track she likely followed is more politically oriented in the usual Leftist slant. Her identification with Socialism is an extension of her studies, and is not based on a rigorous analysis of conditions in the less-developed world, but more on her politically-oriented viewpoint.

So - to sum up AOC's much-hyped Economics Knowledge. She likely has a bare knowledge of the basic concepts. That good beginning has been overlaid with a heavy mass of Standard College Leftism - and only the last part of that education, seemingly, stuck.

Pearls of expression.

If traditional religion is to be described as “the opium of the people,” the new revolutionary faith might well be called the amphetamine of the intellectuals.
Fire in the Minds of Men. By James H. Bullington excerpted here.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sweet Things

     [A short story for today. Love and romance aren’t reserved to the young’uns. We geriatric types enjoy them just as much. Maybe more. -- FWP]


Sweet Things

     It was one of her less satisfactory crowds, but then, it was one of her less inspired performances. She tried to suppress the feeling of pointlessness, but that night the suspicion was too much with her that her time as a performer was drawing to a close. It didn’t help that small venues such as the Tipplers’ Retreat and crowds that seldom exceeded two hundred listeners had become her norm. The sense that her career was drawing to a close seeped into her playing and singing against her will.
     Yet except for a handful, they stayed to the end. That, at least, was gratifying. Her guitar playing was still competent, if not much more. Even when not at its best, her voice could still compel and woo. At sixty years of age, a performer by trade for forty of them, it was something to be grateful for. Probably more grateful than she was.
     She played and sang for ninety minutes, with a single ten minute break in the middle. It was all she had in her. The crowd applauded perfunctorily as she took her closing bow. There was no request for an encore. It was just as well.
     Weakness born of hunger coursed through her as the attendees rose and made for the exit. She drooped and started to totter. Her guitar fell from her hand and clattered against the stage as she toppled forward. A man who’d been sitting in the front row surged forward. A moment later she was wrapped in his arms, her head resting on his shoulder. She moaned her thanks as she lost consciousness.

#

     She awoke slowly, finding herself in a high-backed chair that was sidled up to the bar. Across from her sat a stranger, presumably the man who had caught her when she fell from the dais. He was of a medium height, perhaps a little taller than she was. He had a trim but broad-shouldered build, a weathered but pleasant face, and a mass of dark brown hair around a prominent Saint Anthony’s bald spot. He wore a navy blue sport jacket over a blue dress shirt, neatly pressed slacks, and black walking shoes. He watched her with open concern. Apart from the two of them and the bartender, Tipplers’ Retreat was empty.
     “What time is it?” she slurred.
     “Isn’t it customary to ask ‘where am I’ first?” he said.
     She shook her head gently and waited for her eyes to focus. “Thank you, I’d forgotten the rules. And thank you for catching me. That hasn’t happened in quite a while.”
     There was still concern in his eyes. “But it has happened before?”
     She nodded.
     “Have you had a checkup recently?”
     “No, I...I’m fine.”
     “I hope I won’t offend you if I express a smidgen of doubt about that.”
     She grimaced but said nothing.
     “When did you eat last?” he said.
     She shrugged. “Yesterday afternoon.”
     He swore under his breath. “That would explain a lot. Do you think you’re able to walk? Safely, I mean.”
     She levered herself out of the chair and stood. Her balance seemed restored. “I can manage from here. Thanks again.” She started away.
     His hand flashed out and took her by the forearm.
     “Nothing doing,” he said. “You need to eat, and right away. Pull up the hem of your gown so you won’t trip.”
     At an earlier time she might have responded with violence. Even ten years before she would at the least have protested his assertion of authority over her. That night she did as she’d been told. She allowed him to wrap an arm around her waist, to lead her out of the bar to a large, dark automobile parked a few dozen yards away, to install her in the passenger’s seat, and to drive her away into the night.

#

     “Why are you doing this?” she said as the waitress moved away. She attacked her eggs Benedict and candied yams with unconcealed hunger.
     “Shouldn’t I? Have I embarrassed you?”
     “No...well, maybe a little,” she said between bites. “But kindness isn’t something to expect around here.”
     He smirked. “Tough area?”
     “You could say so.”
     “You had a pretty good turnout this evening.”
     She shrugged. “There isn’t much to do in Hamilton on a Friday night.”
     “That’s true of a lot of New York,” he said. “But we had you.”
     The note of warmth in his voice piqued her curiosity. “You’re not local?”
     He shook his head. “I was in town for business.”
     “Where’s home?”
     “Onteora County. About an hour’s drive south and west. I decided to hang around rather than drive back home at once.”
     “What sort of business?”
     “Venture capitalist. I look for new business possibilities that could use more money than they have. If I find one that I like, I give the principals a shot in the arm and take a piece of the action.”
     “A big piece?”
     “Not usually. It averages around ten percent. I want the people I fund to feel a little obligation, but also to remember that they’re largely working for themselves, just as they were before I happened along.”
     “Is that what you’ve always done?”
     “Most of my life,” he said. “I started out as an industrial chemist. I got lucky early on. I patented a process I came up with on my own time, and I was able to license it to a Fortune 100 firm for a big advance and some serious royalties. That gave me choices. I talked with my wife about it. I asked her whether she wanted to be conventionally, boringly rich, or would she be willing to take a little risk? She chose the latter, and off I went.”
     “You’re married?” she said.”
     He shook his head. “Widowed. About fifteen years now.” His face worked. “Ovarian cancer.”
     “I’m sorry.”
     He nodded. She studied him with heightened attention.
     At an earlier time she might have feared him, especially given the way he’d taken command of her. He was big and strong enough to be a threat to a woman her size, and she had no way to defend herself. Yet he radiated a subtle benevolence. He might look out for himself first and foremost as most men do, but there was more to him than that.
     He noticed and smiled. “You should finish your yams. They’re no fun when they get cold.”
     She returned the smile. “I’ve eaten them cold often enough. It hardly matters. I like sweet things.”
     He nodded. “I can tell.”

#

     Their conversation grew animated. It lasted through what remained of her eggs and yams, three cups of coffee, and a slice of banana cream pie. He kept to coffee as he spoke of the businesses he’d funded and the ones he’d passed by. He got her laughing with tales of “developers” with ideas for products no one in his right mind would purchase, and others who’d “invented” things that had been around for years. Other stories concerned promoters with business ideas he wouldn’t touch, no matter how much profit he’d forgo by turning them away.
     He spoke casually, almost carelessly of his monetary returns. He seemed uninterested in the “big score.” His profits were sufficient to outweigh his losses; that was enough. More than his gains he prized the exposure to what was going on, what ideas were percolating in the minds of adventurous young Americans, and some not so young ones as well. He didn’t regret any of his failed investments, only the opportunities he’d missed by being unaware of them.
     He said nothing about his late wife, the son he’d lost to a road accident, or any other family. It seemed he was alone in the world. Despite her curiosity, she resolved not to press him about it.
     She spoke of her career as a performer, first of the lean years when her band was building a fan base, then of the period when their records were selling well, when venues that would seat thousands sought them out, when photos of her appeared on the covers of pop music journals and women’s magazines. Then came midlife and the falling-out, when her bandmates decided they would no longer “hide in her shadow,” and she found herself alone. He listened without a word, even as she spoke of her pauperized present of one-night stays in cheap hotels when she could book a few venues such as Tipplers’ Retreat in sequence, and of sleeping in her car, her few remaining possessions piled around her, when no bookings were in prospect.
     She told all, held nothing back. He flinched at none of it.
     When she ran down he said “So it’s been hard for a while now?”
     She nodded. “Tonight was one of my better gigs. But I don’t have anything lined up for the future.” She smirked. “Not the sort of business you’d leap to fund, is it?”
     His lips thinned. “It presents what we would call an ‘unfavorable risk profile,’” he said. He leaned toward her. “All the same, your music has immense appeal. Your songs are original and striking, and you sing them with feeling.”
     He looked away for a moment. “Never mind your age. You’re beautiful and you have the voice of an angel. You can keep performing if you want to, even if it’s for small crowds in coffee shops and bars.”
     “Did you go into that bar,” she murmured, “to hear me?”
     He shook his head gently. “No, I can’t honestly say that.” He smiled. “But I think I would have, if I’d been familiar with your music.”
     The surge of warmth made her briefly lightheaded.
     “Thank you,” she said. “That makes the evening worth while. Local bar, small crowd, faint, and all,” she said. “But it would be nice if more such places were willing to book an aging has-been. For tonight at least, it’s back to my car.”
     He peered at her. “You were serious about that?”
     She nodded.
     He locked eyes with her for a long, uncomfortable moment.
     “No.”
     “What—”
     He pulled out his wallet, laid two twenties on the table, and rose.
     “Come to Onteora with me.”

#

     She could have resisted. She could have protested. She could have excused herself to use the ladies’ room and fled through the diner’s rear exit. She could have started screaming in the hope that the police would arrive promptly enough to save her from abduction by—and immeasurable obligation to—this entirely too benevolent stranger.
     She did none of the above.
     He drove her to her car, helped her gather her few clothes and other personal items, and secured them in his trunk. He drove her back to Tipplers’ Retreat, where she’d left her guitar, and tipped the bartender for looking after it for her. From there he drove them south and west to Onteora County, of whose existence she had known nothing.
     It was nearly two in the morning when he ushered her into Niagara House and rang the front desk bell.
     An old man, tall but beginning to stoop from his years, came forth from the back rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He squinted at her Samaritan. “Evan? What on earth?”
     “Thank you for getting up, Jared,” Evan said. “This lady needs accommodations. I trust you’re not full up?”
     “Not nearly.” Jared turned and plucked a brass key from the board behind him. “Room 21 is available and ready. Assuming, Miss...?”
     “Gail Kristof,” she said.
     Jared’s eyes widened. “The singer?”
     She nodded. “I’m not used to being recognized, even by name.”
     “Well! I never saw you in concert,” Jared said, “but I’ve always enjoyed your music. How long will you be staying with us?”
     Evan proffered a black credit card. “That’s indefinite for the moment. We’ll let you know. Let me—”
     She sensed a last chance, worth lunging for even if she should fall and humiliate herself. She interrupted in her most authoritative voice.
     “Evan,” she said. Both men turned to her at once. “May I suggest another arrangement?”
     His eyes narrowed. “What sort?”

#

     He hadn’t looked uncomfortable before that, but the tension in his face and the set of his shoulders had become unmistakable. He drove through the darkened streets with great care, as if he were braced for an unpleasant surprise. Perhaps the surprise he feared was to come from her.
     He pulled into the driveway of a large home in a neighborhood of similar houses, killed the engine, and turned to her.
     “You’re sure about this?”
     She nodded. “You’re alone. So am I. I don’t like it much, and from what you’ve told me I suspect you don’t either. I can’t offer much, Evan, but I can keep you company and keep house for you. My cooking isn’t haute cuisine, but it’s usually edible. I can clean, do laundry, and all the rest of it as well as anyone. I’ll happily do that for a warm, safe place to sleep. And if you’ll throw in a couple of meals a day,” she said, “I’ll play and sing for you whenever you like.”
     “Gail—”
     “Please, Evan?” She reached for his hand. He did not resist her. “Could we just try it out?”
     You’re the best man I’ve met in forty years. Please don’t turn me away.
     After an eternity he said “All right.”
     He led her into the house, up a flight of stairs, and ushered her into a small bedroom he might have been using as a guest room. There was a neatly made queen-size bed, a large dresser, and a capacious closet. A spare chair stood in the far corner. Illumination came from a lamp mounted in a wall sconce above the bed.
     “Is this all right?” Evan said.
     “I’m sure it’s a lot more comfortable than the back seat of my old Chevy.”
     He grinned mirthlessly. “Let’s get your stuff out of the car and get you settled in. I’ll give you the rest of the tour in the morning.”
     “What time do you usually get up?”
     “Never fear,” he said. “You won’t wake me.”

#
     But she did wake him.
     She’d slept for perhaps an hour when she woke to the sound of his sobs. The wall between her room and his wasn’t substantial enough to dampen the sound. Her many nights spent sleeping in her car had sensitized her to such noises.
     She got out of bed, pulled on an oversized t-shirt, and slipped out of her room and into his. He seemed to be asleep. Even so he was plainly weeping in the darkness. Some tragic dream, perhaps a memory of his wife and son, had come to torment his slumbers.
     She carefully pulled back his bedcovers, slid under them, and slid her arms around him.
     It took about a minute for him to awaken. His eyes immediately went wide. He gasped, “Gail...what...”
     “Shhh.” She pulled him snugly against her and rested his face on her shoulder. “It’s all right, Evan. Go back to sleep.”
     To her relief, he did.

#
     The morning was upon them too soon for her taste. She would have happily remained in his bed, merely holding him, for several hours more. A man’s embrace was a pleasure and a comfort she had been too long denied.
     His eyes opened. She smiled. His face worked. He slid out of her arms in silence, arose and pulled a robe from his closet, and slipped out of the room. She waited until she heard the sound of running water, rose, and descended to the kitchen.
     He came down the stairs a few minutes later. His persona of the night before, authoritative and decisive, was absent.
     It’s my turn.
     She looked up from the skillet and donned as unstressed a smile as she could produce.
     “Good morning, Evan. The coffee’s ready.”
     “What...?”
     “I did mention that I can cook, didn’t I? Making coffee is one of my other skills. Have a seat, this is almost ready.”
     He seated himself at the dinette table. She’d already set out two place settings, a dish of butter, and a small pitcher of milk. Presently she toted over two plates laden with jelly omelets and home fries. A moment later she added a toasted English muffin to each plate. Mugs of hot coffee followed. Rather than sit, she pulled open the refrigerator and peered inside.
     “Strawberry, raspberry, cherry, or peach jam?” she said. “I put strawberry in the omelets.”
     “Peach,” he said, barely audible.
     She extracted the jar of peach preserves, brought it to the table, and seated herself. “Done. Milk for your coffee?”
     “Please.”
     She added milk to each of their mugs, seated herself, and bowed her head over her folded hands.
     “Father, bless this repast,” she intoned, “and accept our thanks for all Your blessings, especially those that arrive unexpected in our times of darkness. In Christ our Lord, Amen.” She looked up and grinned. “Well? Dig in!”
     They ate their breakfasts in silence. When both had finished she collected the dishes, rinsed them and put them into the dishwasher, reseated herself, and took his hand.
     “You look a little shaken, Evan,” she said. “Want to talk about it?”
     “I didn’t expect...what you did,” he said.
     She nodded. “I know.”
     “Why?”
     “Woman’s prerogative,” she said. “It’s what we do. Are you objecting?”
     “No, it was sweet of you.” He looked away. “It’s been a long time.”
     “You told me last night.”
     “What are we doing, Gail?”
     She shrugged. “Making one household out of two.”
     He snorted, some of his composure restored. “That’s terse.”
     “That’s how you have to talk to rock musicians,” she said. “They have short attention spans. But would more words change it into something else?” she said. “Or did you want to lodge an objection?”
     “No.”
     “To which?”
     “To both! But I didn’t expect—”
     “You said that already.” She chafed his hand. “I wanted to, Evan. From much earlier in the evening, to be honest. But it’s your home. If you don’t want it to happen again, just say so, and it won’t.”
     “No,” he said, “I do want it. But what now?”
     “Well,” she said, “I took a quick look around the house before you came down. It looks pretty clean, so I don’t think there’s much to do about that just now.”
     “Yeah,” he muttered. “I have a cleaning lady who comes in on Wednesdays.”
     “Hm. You didn’t mention that last night.”
     He scowled. “I had a lot of other things on my mind at the time.”
     “So do you have an agenda for today? Appointments or anything like that?”
     “No,” he said. “My day is open.”
     “Well, then,” she said, “have you showered?”
     “Uh, not yet.”
     “Want to join me?”
     “Gail!”
     “Why not, Evan? I want to make love with you. Would you rather do that while we’re still dirty?”
     He opened his mouth, closed it again.
     “Or maybe,” she said, “you don’t want to do it at all.”
     “No!” he said. “I mean, I do want to. But this is pretty sudden.”
     “I’m sixty, Evan. How old are you?”
     “Sixty-two,” he muttered.
     “Are you getting any younger? ’Cause I’m not.”
     He scowled and looked away.
     She rose and pulled at his hand. “Come on. Time to shower. Then we make love. Then maybe we shower again. I like showering. Especially when I have someone to wash my back.”
     “Gail,” he said, “this is serious.”
     “Damn it all, I know that!” she said. “And whether we go upstairs, turn on the shower, and get in together or sit here and agonize over it, time is passing that we’ll never get back. That’s as serious as life gets. So what are we waiting for?” She stood with her arms akimbo. “Have you decided I’m not good enough for you?”
     “Great God in heaven, Gail, of course you’re good enough!” He rose and took her in his arms, and she pulled him close. “You’re a fantasy come to life. I can’t quite believe it’s really happening.”
     She nodded. “I can’t quite believe it either, but it is. Last night I was ready to give up on music, life...everything. Instead I fainted and fell into the arms of the best man I’ve ever met. The man I want to spend what’s left of my life with. That’s you, in case you were wondering. So we’ve each got a fantasy to get over.” She frowned. “Evan what?”
     “Hm?”
     “What’s your last name? I’m not sure it’s proper to make love with a man whose last name I don’t know. Is it a secret? You’re not on the run from the law, are you?”
     He laughed. “Hardly. It’s Conklin.”
     “Evan Conklin,” she said. “I like it. It suits you.”
     “I should hope so, after sixty-two years.”
     “Any middle name?”
     He grinned. “Now you’re asking a lot.”
     “Come on! Mine’s Amarantha.”
     “Really? Gail Amarantha Kristof?”
     “Mom was a hopeless romantic. And a bit of a ditz. So what’s yours?”
     “James.”
     “That works. So shall we shower?”
     “First things first,” he said, and kissed her.
     A long, blissful interval later she said “You should have waited till I’d brushed my teeth before you did that.”
     “Didn’t bother me,” he said. “I like sweet things.”     

==<O>==

     [Copyright (C) 2019 by Francis W. Porretto. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Border, The National Emergency, And The President

     President Trump has followed through on his promise that, if necessary, he’ll declare a national emergency to get the border wall built. Congress has forced his hand with the spending bill, which he must have felt he could not veto without doing more harm than good. I’m concerned about the bill’s “poison pills,” but perhaps Trump is counting on their blatant infringement of the executive branch’s Constitutionally assigned powers to prevail in the courts.

     However, Mark “Mad Dog” Sherman notes that the screeching from the Left has already begun:

     Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she will introduce a bill with fellow Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro to stop President Donald Trump’s planned emergency declaration. New York’s Ocasio-Cortez, who was speaking on Instagram, didn’t provide specifics but Castro previously said he’d offer a joint resolution.

     There are several facets to the declaration of emergency and the reactions to it. Not the least of them is this one: A presidential declaration of national emergency cannot make, overturn, or modify an existing law. Neither can it abridge a recognized right, with certain exceptions permitted for “cases of Rebellion or Invasion” (e.g., habeas corpus). What it can legitimately do is (re)allocate federal resources, including personnel, to specific priorities: a perfectly legitimate use of executive power. As it's the president’s Constitutional duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," this is entirely within his purview, and no Congressional emission or court ruling can legally affect it.

     Let the socialists in Congress chatter and whine. They can do nothing except beclown themselves. I hope Trump is aware of that. I hope he's also aware of this: the bill he's just signed is the Republican Congressional caucus's statement that “We want no part of this border security business. If we support you, we lose our Chamber of Commerce supporters. If we oppose you, the conservative base will attack us. So we're throwing it into your lap, Mr. President. Excuse us as we pusillanimously exit stage right.”

     Are there any actual spines available for transplanting into Republican politicians?

Got To Get This Off My Chest Right Away

     Peter Grant is normally a sensible fellow. All right, he’s got a couple of stupid notions, but then, most people do. To be fair, I once thought opening the borders was a good idea. But there’s stupid, and then there’s are you BLEEP!ing kidding me?

     Let's be honest: most companies are out to separate you from as much of your money as possible, as painlessly as possible. It's only because we aren't vigilant, and don't pay enough attention to what's going on, that we continue to tolerate this.

     What's more, many of the prices charged for goods bear no relation whatsoever to the actual cost of production of those goods - another con game.

     I emphasized the arrant idiocy.

     The notion that the “cost of production” should help to determine the price of a good is a Marxist idea. It cannot be found anywhere in reality. The sole participation of the cost of production, however a maker might arrive at it -- and that's a lot harder than you might imagine, Gentle Reader -- is to determine the bottom of the price range for the good: i.e., the lowest imaginable price at which he could continue to make and sell the good without going swiftly bankrupt. Even this relation has exceptions, as some manufacturers deliberately make and sell “loss leaders” to make the other goods in their lines more attractive.

     Just in case you never took high school economics, the price of a good offered in a reasonably free market is set by two factors:

  1. Supply: The immediate and / or projected availability of the good at some proposed price.
  2. Demand: The number of immediate and / or projected persons ready, willing, and able to purchase the good at that price.

     Except for governmental intrusions upon the marketplace, nothing else matters.

     I begin to wonder whether the rampant socialist idiocy being offered us by such...persons as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kamala Harris – say, what a presidential ticket that would make, eh? With maybe Ilhan Omar as our Secretary of State and Rashida Tlaib as Ambassador to the U.N.? — has become contagious. A mind virus, slowly taking over all our brains through the agency of the Left’s political luminaries and their handmaidens in the major media!

     Stranger things have happened. As I’m stuck here in New York, in uncomfortable proximity with Ocasio-Cortez, Bill de Blasio, and Andrew Cuomo, perhaps I should start to worry.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Ending A Sour Week

     ...on an sweet note can take some effort. Accordingly, have a track from the first October Project album, featuring the most beautiful contralto voice ever employed in popular music, that of Mary Fahl:

     (I just barely missed being able to see Mary Fahl perform this weekend, up in Beacon, NY. That’s part of what soured the week. Oh well. Maybe next time.)

Assorted Thoughts On Character Selection And Design

     When I’m in the middle of writing a novel, I seldom take the time to think about the fundamentals of the enterprise. I’ve done enough of this to have internalized those principles. However, some recent experiences have caused me to revisit a subject a lot of fledgling writers struggle over: what makes a character, particularly a Marquee character, plausible and attractive.


     In my little tome The Storyteller’s Art, I posited a three-tier scheme for characters:

  • Marquee Characters: The persons whom the story is mostly “about.”
  • Supporting Cast: Persons involved with the decisions and actions of the Marquee Characters, but whose fates are of less importance.
  • Spear Shakers: Persons who appear where they do in the story simply because there has to be someone in that slot; unimportant except as human stage dressing.

     Broadly, a good story will pose its Marquee characters with conflicts, non-trivial decisions to make, and above all else tests of their values. By implication, they must have values, arranged in some sort of priority scheme. The story will then compel them to confront those values and ponder what they’re willing to say, do, pay, or sacrifice to uphold them.

     The writer’s decisions from that point forward will center on manifesting and demonstrating the Marquee characters’ values through the events of the story. This makes it fairly “obvious” that character design must come first.

     No plot idea is sufficient to make a story “work” if it isn’t first matched to characters who will act out their values through it.


     I inserted a large number of Marquee characters into Experiences:

  • Neurophysiologist and businesswoman Rachel MacLachlan;
  • College dean Amanda Hallstrom;
  • Novelist Holly Martinowski;
  • Holly’s flatmate Rowenna Walsingham;
  • Holly’s “fangirl” Irene Carroll;
  • Security specialists Larry and Trish Sokoloff;
  • “Star-crossed lovers” Daniel Loring and Ching-nien Chen;
  • And Onteora County’s Catholic pastor, Father Raymond Altomare.

     These interacted with one another and a gaggle of Supporting Cast characters of varying importance.

     Ten Marquee characters is about twice as many as even a large novel normally contains. At one point I found myself wondering whether I’d crafted an unmanageable mess for myself. I spent some time dithering over whether to “thin the herd” in the interests of keeping the story coherent. After a while I decided to tackle the challenge around the waist, as the central theme of the story – the power of the human desire for acceptance — required all of them to be depicted in its fullness. It proved to be a great deal of work, more even than Innocents had cost me, though I was ultimately pleased with the result.

     However, the price of that decision has followed me into the sequel to Experiences, tentatively titled The Wise and the Mad. Seven of the Marquee characters from the former book will appear in the latter one, along with a few new ones whose significance to the story is yet to be fully determined.

     If I weren’t already bald from “natural causes,” this would do it to me for sure.


     It’s a blessing to have your characters “snatch the story from you:” i.e., to dictate what the course of events must be, once the setting and initial conditions have been specified. Strong characters can do that for you. Indeed, the stronger they are, the more likely it is. But you must be ready to accede to their demand for control of the story.

     I’ve mentioned this before, which prompted fantasy and science fiction writer Margaret Ball to comment as follows:

     On moderately bad days the characters storm through the ms informing me that they never said anything like the vapidities I've ascribed to them. On really bad days I'm reduced to begging the characters not to hurt me.

     I got a big chuckle out of that, largely because I’ve often felt the same way. Nor is it a condition restricted only to us two. Indeed, I’ve begun to wonder if it’s a condition that should be striven for...but I must admit that I can think of no way to bring it about, apart from making your Marquee characters as vivid as you can.


     Another blessing, this one a bit more mixed than the one above, is to have a Supporting Cast character grab you by the lapels and shout “I deserve to be Marquee status!” That’s happened to me several times. In one case it caused the complete redesign of a novel, and the reorientation of its sequel. In the others I’ve “promoted” the assertive Supporting Cast member to Marquee status in a subsequent novel.

     Now for the “mixed” part. Apart from the eventual benefits, no writer actually enjoys rewriting. As for a large-scale redesign that forces you to discard your original outline, synopsis, and notes, let’s just say I’d rather have another root canal. But there are few assets of greater value than a character strong enough to carry a novel on his own shoulders, so one must learn to pay the price for it.

     Larry Niven, well known for his way with invented words among other things, has counseled us to “Save your typos!” It’s good advice. To that I will add: Don’t just carelessly toss off your Supporting Cast characters, expecting to use them just once. Be willing to think deeply about them. Some of them could be hiding heroic (or diabolic) stature of which you’re currently unaware.


     If there’s any more important brief maxim than John Brunner’s Two Rules of Fiction:

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

     ...I’m unacquainted with it. The most fundamental rule of all is therefore:

Story == People Changing.

     If the changes are dramatic, the story will be arresting...but that requires that the people -- the characters -- must be plausible and vividly colored. No plot, however original or convoluted, can save a story populated by pallid or implausible characters. On the occasions when I’ve gotten them right, all else has followed. On other occasions...let’s not go there, shall we?