defrog: (license to il)
I should probably post something about Fidel Castro, if only for posterity.

Obviously a lot of people are assessing his legacy via their own narrow political filters. For some people on the Left he was a symbolic hero with good intentions who gave Conservative Self-Righteous America the finger for decades – oh, and great healthcare system. For some people on the Right he was an evil, ruthless murderous Commie dictator (just like Obama) and not at all like (say) Vlad Putin (admirable) or Saddam Hussein (not a Commie, great terrorist killer).   

I think it's fair to say that Castro was all of these things. For me, however, Castro was mostly a cartoon character in American pop culture.

For context, I was born in 1965, well after the Communist Revolution in Cuba and the Bay Of Pigs incident. By the time I was aware of “the news” and the existence of geopolitics in the mid-70s, Castro was more a comedy staple than Terrifying Communist Menace On America’s Doorstep. Even with the Cold War still raging, Castro wasn’t an actual threat to America so much as an irritant for right-wingers annoyed that anyone could get away with setting up a Damn Commie regime just 90 miles off the coast of this great nation, etc.

So by the time I was aware of who Castro was, my image of him was more like this.




Of course, as I got older, I learned about the details of his regime, which are far more nuanced and complex than either side cares to admit. But really Castro has always kind of remained a television news character – like Reagan, Yasser Arafat, Mikael Gorbachev and others. So I didn’t take him all that seriously.

Which is probably why by the 1990s – like a lot of people – I thought the US ban on trade and travel with Cuba to be anachronistic and pointless. Sure, dictatorships are bad, and life under Castro was pretty bad for a lot of people.

On the other hand, by then I was very aware that the US govt has always been selective about which dictatorships are bad. And frankly by the 90s it was pretty clear that the US sanctions that were meant to isolate Castro and hasten the demise of his revolution simply weren’t working. At all. They weren’t working all the way up to the time that Obama put an end to them.

I guess that’s why on a purely objective level, it’s hard not to be impressed with Castro a little. He was a genuine cult of personality who started his own banana republic and defied the world’s biggest superpower right up to the end of his long natural life. The US couldn’t kill him (and don’t think they didn’t try). They couldn’t squeeze him economically. Nothing worked. (The going joke now is that the CIA finally got him by getting him to die of old age.)  

Still, yes, murderous dictator, etc. For all of the US’s hapless failings regarding its foreign policy on Cuba, no one should be glossing over the fact that Castro was pretty ruthless and heavy-handed as dictators go. You could argue that his predecessor Batista was worse, but let’s not pretend Castro’s opposition got off light.

Anyway, he’s gone, and now many Cubans are hoping that, with reformist brother Raul in charge, the country can move forward somehow and join the 21st century.

There is one hitch, of course.

Cuba libre,

This is dF 

defrog: (Default)

My daily routine has changed thanks to a new job, so I’m still working out where the all the previous reading time fits into the new schedule. Still, I did get some reading done. Which is good news for the book report fans out there.

MatildaMatilda by Roald Dahl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roald Dahl’s classic kids’ novel about five-year-old genius Matilda Wormwood, who lives with her rotten parents and deals with their rottenness by playing pranks on them. Once she starts school, she is pitted against the vicious and abusive headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who is clearly insane and hates kids. Like many Dahl classics, this book is top-loaded with dark but cartoonish humor and heavy satire that takes a very dim view of both bullying headmasters and parents who don't appreciate how exceptional their kids are (to say nothing of used car salesmen). Even the over-the-top punishments meted out by Miss Trunchbull serve to make a point about how some people manage to get away with outrageous behavior. It’s a bit much at times, but otherwise it’s a well-told tale that deserves its reputation as a classic.

Quicker Than the EyeQuicker Than the Eye by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a mid-90s anthology of 21 short stories, some of which appeared previously in magazines, with the remainder exclusive to this collection. Bradbury covers a lot of his usual territory – sci-fi, the supernatural, sentimental American nostalgia, dystopian futures, murder, literary tributes and surrealist fantasy. Inevitably, even the best stuff here will get compared to Bradbury’s classic stories and perhaps come up short for many readers. But there are a number of gems here – an apartment complex haunted by the ghosts of Laurel and Hardy, an octogenarian couple gleefully trying to kill each other, an explanation of why people build cities in disaster-prone areas, and a closet connecting parallel worlds, among others. Not everything works perfectly, but for my money, this collection demonstrates that even this late in his career, Bradbury still had the ability to tell a good page-turning tale, and tell it well.

Zero HistoryZero History by William Gibson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the final installment in Gibson’s “Blue Ant” trilogy, which – as is tradition for Gibson trilogies – brings together characters from the first two novels, although the balance here skews more heavily to the second book, Spook Country. That book’s protagonist, ex-indie rock singer Hollis Henry, returns as she is once again hired by mysterious Blue Ant chief Hubertus Bigend – this time, to track down a mysterious designer who makes secret-branded denim clothing. Bigend also hires Milgrim – another Spook Country character, fresh out of an experimental rehab program – to perform industrial espionage. The objective in both cases is the same – giving Blue Ant an edge in winning a govt contract to design military uniforms (which are in turn a leading indicator of fashion design trends, it seems). Things get complicated when a couple of Blue Ant employees defect to another bidder who doesn’t appreciate the competition. At first I had trouble grasping the idea that the marketing and fashion industries are full of this much danger and intrigue. But Gibson makes it work – possibly because, when I think about it, he has always written about the intersection of art, corporate culture, government power, fashion, and technology, but the art/fashion/culture aspects are more obvious when he uses a contemporary setting rather than a futuristic cyberpunk dystopia. Anyway, although Gibson pushes his luck a little by the third act, Zero History is for me the most satisfying episode of the series – perhaps because I’ve learned to recognize the underground territory he’s mapping out here. And it's strangely interesting territory.

The Elephant in the RoomThe Elephant in the Room by Jon Ronson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short Kindle-Single follow-up of sorts to Jon Ronson’s Them: Adventures with Extremists, which was published in 2000 and featured, among other extremists, Infowars’ Alex Jones, who at the time wasn’t really well-known outside of fringe conspiracy theory circles. These days, Jones is a national figure as one of the voices of the “alt-right” movement driving Donald Trump’s presidential run – Trump is on record as a fan of Jones, who arguably started the whole “Hillary For Prison” meme. Ronson reconnected with Jones at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in hopes of accessing Trump. He didn’t, but Ronson did spend time with Jones, Trump advisor Roger Stone and alt-right Trump fans – and this is the result. Like everything else related to the election, your opinion of this will largely depend on how hardcore and partisan your political views are and how much what Ronson wrote differs from what you wanted him to write. Personally, I liked it – as with Them!, Ronson has an uncanny and important ability to get to the humanity of his subjects without painting them as conveniently 2D caricatures of pure evil. (In fact, Ronson argues that the Left has inadvertently empowered and galvanized the alt-right in part by doing just that.) At under 50 pages it’s not comprehensive by any means, but it’s a good snapshot of the influence of the alt-right on Trump’s campaign and the chaos and madness that has manifested on both sides of the aisle.

View all my reviews

Not alt-right in the head,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)

A few other random observations about the 2016 election:

1. This is probably the first election in my lifetime where it seemed people went to the polls with virtually no idea what either candidate actually planned to do if elected.

Yes, they knew where Trump and Hillary stood on various issues and each other. But that’s not the same thing as offering details on an actual plan for acting on those positions. Trump went to the wire offering close to zero concrete details on his big plans for the country (“Build The Wall™ and make Mexico pay for it” does not count – that’s a catch phrase, not a plan), while Hillary had detailed plans but no one was talking about them. Everyone was talking about her emails, her pneumonia and her vast global criminal organization that only conservatives can see. If it ever came up during the debates (and I admit I didn’t watch them), the media highlights never mentioned them.

I don’t remember ever encountering this before. I know lots of people who vote for trivial and self-centered reasons and don't pay attention to policy details, but at least some of them usually talk about the issues and what their candidate plans to do about them in detail, especially regarding the economy. Not this year.

2. Another strange detail about Trump’s victory is that he won in part (or perhaps mostly) because he and his supporters are under the impression that America is in the worst shape it’s ever been – or at the very least, it’s worse than it was before Obama took over the dump.

The thing is, by just about every traditional metric we typically use to judge the health of the country under a given administration, the US has actually done okay under Obama, especially when you consider the shape it was in when he first took office (i.e. two wars, an economic meltdown, double-digit unemployment and an escalating national deficit, among other things).

Almost eight years later, the economy is going well, Wall Street is thriving, unemployment is at historic lows, and annual deficits are declining. Even the crime rate is way down. To be sure, the national debt is up 121% since 2009. On the other hand, did anyone even talk about the debt this election?

Anyway, the point is that by the numbers, the country is in relatively good shape, and better than it was in January 2009 – and yet at street level, almost half the country seems convinced that it’s actually worse. That was the whole point of Trump’s MAGA campaign – America has become the worst place ever under Obama, and only Trump can fix it.

There’s a couple of conclusions to draw from this: (1) Trump supporters are completely delusional and living in an alternate reality America – which is possible if they get their new solely from Fox News, Infowars and World Net Daily – or (2) the traditional metrics don’t reflect the reality on the ground for ordinary people – which is also possible (regardless of which reality they inhabit). So it's possible the old metrics don't mean as much to voters as they used to. Someone should do a tl;dr research paper on this, maybe.

3. I mentioned this before, but one interesting fallout of the Trump win is that the GOP has finally given up all claims of being the Wholesome Family Values party.

Which was never a very credulous claim to begin with, I know. I only mention it because I came of voting age at a time when the Moral Majority – and after them, the Christian Coalition – emerged as a heavy right-wing political force in the GOP. Which meant that pretty much every POTUS candidate had to pass a CC litmus test. Consequently, from the mid-80s up to now the political wisdom was that it was impossible for anyone to be a GOP candidate unless they were a devout Christian who not only openly supported Wholesome Family Values (i.e. Christian heterosexual nuclear family with 2.4 kids, no divorces and no fornicating before or outside of marriage), but also lived them.

Donald Trump is of course damn near the opposite of that model. Most evangelicals voted for him anyway, and for a variety of reasons – one being that many seem convinced that there’s a difference between Loud Outrageous Angry Pussy Grab Trump and President Trump. One was just an act, the other is the “real” Trump, or at least a changed Trump.

Another, of course, is that social conservatives in general have not fared well in the culture wars, and with a SCOTUS seat up for grabs, some see Trump at their only shot at regaining lost legal ground, because they’re certainly not going to get that from Hillary.

Anyway, I think that from this point on, the GOP going to have a very hard time supporting Trump and criticizing every Demo candidate after this for not being a clean living Christian monogamist still married to his first wife (who is not a foreigner).

Or maybe not. Never underestimate the ability of politicians and their supporters to harp on the opposition’s shortcomings no matter how many of them they may have in common, and no matter how blindingly obvious this is to everyone outside of their hyperpartisan reality bubble.

4. For people wondering if the results would be different if Gary Johnson and Jill Stein had minded their own business, well, we may never know. The Wall Street Journal says probably not, though of course it depends on how Libertarian/Green voters would have voted in a strictly two-party race (with the caveat that they may well have voted for no one at all).

I would argue that at the very least they kept either from achieving an outright majority, which just muddies the waters further.

5. Also, for people wondering just how Hillary could have blown it against someone as clearly unqualified as Trump, well, everyone has an opinion on that. These stories from Politico and The Atlantic are as good a guess as any.

Of course, some people will tell you she lost because she wasn't Bernie Sanders (and by “some people” I mean “people who voted for Sanders in the primaries and know for a fact he would have won because OBVIOUSLY”).

Yeah. One reason they’re saying that is because polls back before the convention had Bernie at a higher spread over Trump than Clinton did. The thing is, I was never convinced that meant anything. For one thing, the spread wasn’t that big – just a few points more. That might have helped in an election this close, but the other thing is that Bernie was running mainly against Clinton. The GOP barely paid attention to him because they assumed he wouldn’t be their opponent in the general election. If he’d won, you can bet they (and Trump) would have trained their guns on him and let rip, starting with his Socialist Agenda.

Still, maybe he would have overcome that. By traditional metrics, Trump should have lost before the primaries, so maybe that would have worked in Sanders’ favor too. We’ll never know. But since I never really felt the Bern, I can afford to assume that Trump would still be POTUS.

6. Amusingly (or not), Donald Trump is so annoyed at the recount clamor that he’s taken the trouble to tell everyone via Twitter (where else?) that in fact he did win the popular vote – all those extra votes Hillary got were the result of illegal voters.

He didn’t mention how he happens to know this, but by a wild coincidence Infowars – of whom Trump is a fan – ran a story claiming that 3 million people who voted were noncitizens. Their source: one guy who said so without providing any evidence backing up his claim. WaPo has a good wrap-up of how bogus this claim is.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice the unintentional irony of Trump alleging voter fraud on a scale that you’d think would justify the very recount he’s annoyed with.

Okay, I'm done.

An explanation for everything,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)

Perhaps inevitably, we’re back in recount territory. Between Hillary’s pop vote lead now exceeding 2 million, and the fact that the polls all showed her in the lead (albeit barely) – and also supposedly Russians and/or Julian Assange hacked voting machines, maybe – HRC fans are desperately demanding a recount in key states. Even Jill Stein is doing it, and has been raising money to fund recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the latter of which is now underway.

Personally, I’d rather they didn’t, because it’s really just asking for trouble the same way that asking the Electoral College to switch their votes is asking for trouble.

For one thing, it always comes across as sour grapes when the losing side demands a recount and accuses the other side of cheating or hacking voting machines or whatever because HOW COULD WE HAVE POSSIBLY LOST OTHERWISE?

Sure, Stein and others are arguing that it’s not about changing the results so much as proving the results are accurate so that we can all trust the system. On the other hand, if the situation were reversed and Hillary won in the same manner, would Stein and her supporters care nearly as much about the integrity of the result? (And I ask that knowing full well that Stein and many of her supporters never liked HRC in the first place – but I’ll bet many of the people contributing to her fundraiser would much rather see HRC in the White House than Trump and are more interested in proving Hillary really did win the electoral vote and that the GOP cheated.)

To be sure, it’s probably time we had an audit of some kind on the electoral process, and I don’t mind if it uncovers some real issues that need fixing. We’ve been talking about this since at least 2000, but once the election’s over, everyone loses interest and moves on. If we're seriously going to audit the voting process, now is as good a time as any to do it. 

On the other hand, there’s no real evidence that any significant fraud took place, or that voting machines were tampered with – not to the extent that it would change the results. And we already know it’s mathematically possible to lose the pop vote but win the electoral vote without the other side cheating or gaming the system. So it’s hard to know what Stein is really trying to accomplish apart from giving HRC one last shot at the White House.

It should be noted too that the one person not calling for a recount is Hillary – which is probably political savviness on her part. She’s already conceded and resigned herself, and instructed her fans to do likewise – only an idiot would actively demand a recount after that. So I’m sure she knows what she’s in for if she demands a recount and wins (or still loses).

Anyway, it comes back to what I said before – at some point you just have to accept that you lost and move on, because the alternative is an endless cycle of distrust and retribution where both sides become less and less willing to accept the transition of power. And whatever Stein’s personal motives might be, I think support for a recount is mainly from people who want Hillary to be declared the winner – and I will bet good money they won’t accept the recount results if Trump still wins.

Also, if the recount does somehow hand it back to Hillary, you can’t expect Trump and his supporters to take that calmly. Because would you?

Here we go again,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
Regarding the #NotMyPresident protests that Fox News is complaining about in the same way they didn’t complain about the “Obama is not legitimate” conspiracy theories:

Personally I’m not very critical of the anti-Trump protests in and of themselves, because I see them largely for what they are – a massive release of the fear, loathing and rage that has characterized this entire sad stupid election. It’s been a savagely emotional two years for everyone involved, and to lose when the polls all said otherwise (more or less) – and to do so yet again in a way where they won the pop vote but lost the electoral vote – is a hard pill for anyone to swallow.

And let’s be clear – Trump supporters aren’t really in a position to criticize the protests when (1) many of them refused to recognize Obama as POTUS because he’s gay Muslim foreigner, and (2) their own candidate said he would refuse to recognize the results if he lost. So let's not pretend that Trump fans would take an HRC victory calmly and agree to move on and unite the country instead of (say) grabbing their muskets, because they literally said they wouldn’t before the voting even started.

Also, it’s important to understand that a lot of this is driven by fear of what Trump and his fan base will or will not do to LGBTs, Muslims, immigrants and every other non-white-Christian-male demographic in America.

I get that. When I was a kid, I got bullied at school all the time (at one point it was for being gay, which I wasn’t, but people said I was, which was close enough for them). I had to go to school every day wondering what kind of shit I was going to be handed, if I was going to get teased or mocked or roughed up, or whatever. Some days were better than others, but that fear was constantly hanging over my head – not knowing what was coming or when or from who, but knowing that I would be forced to deal with it, that I wouldn’t like it, and that no one would back me up. And I had to go to school every day and face that.

That, I imagine, is how a lot of minorities in the US feel right now, only more so. The PEOTUS has given bullies a license to express themselves however they like – and they have been doing just that, and in the manner you’ve come to expect. So I can’t really fault anti-Trump protesters for taking to the streets to reject that philosophy. And it's a good sign that they are.

Having said that, I do think at some point they need to just accept the fact that Trump will be POTUS and prepare to deal with him and his minions on those terms.

Again, I get why that’s hard for them to do. At best they face a much more uncertain future than The Straight White Guys Of America – living in dread of what the Trump admin is going to try to do to them, or what their neighbors/work colleagues/strangers in food courts will do to make their lives sad and terrible.

But while I understand the emotional context of #NotMyPresident, I don’t support it in practice. For me, it’s very simple – the whole point of democracy is to create a peaceful transition of power. If you refuse to accept that transition, then yr headed down a road that leads to one coup de tat after another.

Note that there’s a major difference between refusing to accept the legitimacy of a POTUS and refusing to support any bad or dangerous ideas that POTUS may enact. You can both accept that Trump won AND oppose him on policy. What you can’t do is force him out and put Hillary in just because you want her there, no matter how dangerous you may sincerely think he’ll be.

Well, okay, technically yes you can, which is where people start talking about Hillary winning the pop vote and how the electoral college sucks and the electors should do their duty, become faithless electors and change their votes for Hillary.

Yes, legally they can do that. That doesn’t make it a good idea. Here are couple of reasons why:

1. If you were one of those people who criticized Trump and his posse for saying they would refuse to accept the legitimacy of a HRC victory, then it’s kind of hypocritical to refuse to accept a Trump win to the point of actively trying to change the official result in your favor.

2. Given how Trump supporters were convinced that Hillary would win by cheating – and were prepared to take action to save America – I’m pretty sure they’ll feel twice as strongly about that if the electors actively deny Trump the White House at this stage. If you think the pro-Trump racist groups act like violent jerks when they win, imagine what they’ll be like when they have their POTUS taken away from them.

For that matter, imagine the situation being reversed, where Hillary won the electoral vote only to have the electors give it to Trump.

So sooner or later, I think the Left is going to have to just bite the bullet and prepare to challenge the Trump admin enough to keep damage to a minimum. It will suck, yes. A raging civil war with street violence and possibly endless coups will suck a lot worse.

If it makes you feel any better, we’re already seeing hints that Trump was never serious about a lot of what he said, and only said it to exploit the far-right. He’s already denounced the so-called “alt-right” movement (notice the timing) and said he’s not going to bother putting Hillary in jail.

And suddenly every racist kook in America is starting to get the feeling they’ve just been played.

So there is that.

As I said in the last post, none of this necessarily means Trump will be a good POTUS after all. He’s still likely to do dumb and terrible things, and if he doesn’t personally, his appointees might, and certainly some of his supporters will (and already are). But if we’re lucky, Trump will turn out to be the ultimate huckster who – intentionally or otherwise – actually did us the favor of demonstrating to everyone that America still has a serious racism/bigotry problem that (it turns out) can’t be fixed by pretending that it doesn’t exist.

Interesting times, eh Jim?

The man who sold the world,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
Well. Talk about a twist ending.

And yet one I had a strange feeling we were going to see. When the nominees were selected, I called the election for Trump. I was kind of joking, and yet I never really wrote him off because he was never supposed to make it past the silly season last year.

Consider the traditional litmus test that the GOP usually applies to its candidates: ideologically pure, conservative Christian, family values, 100% American, etc. Which means that it should have been impossible for a womanizing atheist playboy with several divorces under his belt (and is currently married to a foreigner) to get the Republican nomination, let alone one who also managed to alienate every minority voting bloc in the country and bragged about being able to see beauty contestants naked (and grab them by the pussy, perhaps) just because he could.

Yet here we are.

And a significant portion of America – i.e. every liberal in the country and not a few Republican establishment people (not to mention Tea Party conservatives aghast that the anti-establishment candidate they wanted isn’t a “real” conservative) – is duly freaking out.

There’s really nothing I can say to them, because no one listens to anything anymore that isn’t authorized by their hyperpartisan echo chamber. Reason is useless (otherwise we wouldn’t be in this mess).

So really I’m just typing this for my own peace of mind. If it resonates or helps you in any way, great. Also, I’ll split these up for what passes for clarity around here.

Given the general fear that America has suddenly become one big KKK/Nazi rally, let’s start with some perspective of just what happened.

1. As you no doubt know, Trump actually lost the pop vote – by something like 1.3 million votes.

2. Voter turnout was around 52% – which is apparently the lowest since 2000.

3. Trump got about 47% of the vote from that pool, which means – according to my bad math – only about 25% of eligible voter voted for him and his agenda. (And again, that number is around 1.3 million votes lower than what Hillary Clinton got.)

4. Of the people who voted for Trump, many voted for reasons that had little or nothing to do with Trump’s extreme views, especially the ones that the KKK are very fond of. Because, believe it or not, lots of people really will vote for a candidate for one personal pet reason and ignore everything else. I know lots of people who do exactly that. I know people who voted for Trump solely because their insurance premiums went up under Obamacare, or because they liked Mike Pence saying he supports the police (and they liked it mainly because one or more family members are in law enforcement). I also know people who don’t believe Trump is a racist sexist anti-Semitic xenophobe because they think the media makes it all up.

We can argue all day about whether a vote for Trump is a vote for racism whether you intended it to be or not. (John Scalzi argues that it is, though his point is not that voting for Trump proves yr a racist sexist anti-Semitic homophobe – it means that you voted for someone with arguably racist sexist anti-Semitic homophobic views and has the express approval of people who actually are racist sexist homophobes, and is installing at least some of them in his admin, and if they enact any racist sexist anti-Semitic homophobic policies, you have to own that because you enabled it by voting Trump.)

The point is that at the end of the day, Trump’s victory is not the racist sexist anti-Semitic homophobic mandate that liberals fear it is, or that the white nationalists hope it is.

Put another way, 75% of eligible American voters did NOT vote for Trump. Which means that, worst-case, only a quarter of the population actively supports his most extreme ideas. My off-the-cuff guess is that it’s actually far lower.

That ain’t a mandate, not even if you assume that the 48% who didn’t vote stayed home out of disinterest to what happens to minority groups.

And it’s potentially a way to keep Trump and the GOP in check. Trump may not do focus groups – but the GOP does. And for all the dithering over the GOP having rubber-stamp powers come January, even Mitch McConnell has already said that Trump may not necessarily get everything on his wish list. Remember they were expecting to deal with President Jeb or maybe President Rubio, not some reality-TV blowhard conspiracy theorist. (Remember also that GW Bush had a rubber-stamp Congress at his disposal too – and for all the damage that he did, the GOP somehow failed to turn America into the Nazi Christian Theocracy Dictatorship my liberal friends were convinced they would.)

None of this is to say Trump won't try to do (and succeed at doing) terrible and dumb things. At the very least, if he doesn't personally do them, his proposed cabinet might.

And none of this is to say that there’s no institutional racism problem in America. More than anyone, Trump has proven that there is. And that’s not to say that minorities targeted by Trump and his minions will be unaffected.

What I’m saying is that – mathematically, at least – the vast majority of the country is not on board with his batshit. I think that will matter in the coming months when policies start to get enacted, because Trump is not a dictator. His policies may please people who are racist sexist anti-Semitic xenophobes, but he can't force you to be one. You do have the ability to oppose and resist such policies, and the numbers are on yr side.

“But dEFROG!” you may shout, “Trump is a fascist! He’ll scrap the Constitution, make himself dictator and turn America into Nazi Germany! Literally!”

He might. It’s not impossible. I seriously doubt that he will, because – as I say – he doesn't have the numbers, and to be honest, I don’t think he’s that interested in it. A lot of his campaign platform is the bog-standard far-right wish list that, nasty as it is, is still designed to work within the structure of a constitutional capitalist democracy.

(Also, I feel I should point out that many of my liberal friends have said that about every Republican president since Reagan. So far, I’d say their fears of a literal fascist dictatorship are misplaced.)

I'll add that I fully realize I have the luxury of saying all this as a straight white guy who doesn’t even live in the US (though I do have friends and family there, so it’s not like I have no skin in the game, so to speak). But I think it’s important for racial and sexual minorities to know that the whole country hasn't turned against them suddenly – the bullies have temporarily taken control, and that’s not good, but it’s not as hopeless as it looks.

Not yet, anyway.

Hang in there,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)

More later – I’m going to let the details settle into place before I post anything else.

DISCLAIMER: I'd planned to post this regardless of who won. It's not about who wins so much as how we react to it. And right now we're living in a state of constant polarized rage. 

A house divided,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
I am staying in a hotel that is outfitted with lots of TV screens in the public areas. They are all tuned into the US presidential election – it’s Election Day and the voting has just started. The big news story is that Donald Trump is having some kind of dramatic public meltdown over new allegations of sexual harassment.

I am taking a lift down to the lobby. The lift stops and an elegant looking woman gets on, accompanied by two bodyguards. She looks familiar but I can’t place her. She looks slightly troubled. I ask her if she’s okay – she says yes.

The lift descends and stops. When the doors open, a man tries to charge his way in past the bodyguards, hands clawing at the woman as he screams rabidly, “YOU FUCKING BITCH I’LL GET YOU FOR THIS! YOU’VE RUINED EVERYTHING! TWO YEARS DOWN THE FUCKING DRAIN! I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU!”

I get a good look at him. It’s Donald Trump. His face is a mask of orange rage and his hair is a wild mess. There’s a team of paparazzi behind him, documenting the whole thing on live television and Facebook. The bodyguards shove him back and the lift doors close.

That’s when I realize I just happen to be staying in the same hotel where Trump’s campaign team has holed up for the election.

I arrive in the lobby, which looks more like a shopping mall atrium with a network of escalators. I see Trump going up one of the escalators, talking to the press as they follow him. He says that he’s received word from the Federal Election Commission that his nomination has been revoked and that he has to hand in his American Flag lapel pin, which means he’s no longer eligible to run for office.

“I’m done, I’m out, nothing I can do,” he says, looking haggard and exhausted but also somewhat relieved. “Talk to Crooked Hillary’s friends in the FEC. It’s out of my hands. I told you this would happen.”

As he rises out of earshot, I look at the nearest TV screen. The media is naturally going crazy about this development, as it’s literally unprecedented in US presidential election history – so much so that no one is sure what it means or what the consequence is, especially since voting has already started.

Possible options offered by talking heads:
  1. Mike Pence will simply be bumped up on the ticket and inherit whatever votes Trump gets, although as Pence has no running mate, that could disqualify him
  2. The FEC decision will probably trigger a constitutional convention that the GOP-controlled Congress will use to prevent Hillary from taking office
  3. Or perhaps we’ll just have to do the whole thing over again and postpone the election to 2018, which would give Obama another two years in office, which has conservative pundits convinced he engineered the whole thing and hired those women to set Trump up. Liberal pundits respond that Trump probably staged the whole thing because he knew he was going to lose – being stripped of his candidacy by the FEC means no one can say he lost.
The only thing everyone is sure about is that Trump is finally out of the race.

And then I woke up – momentarily thinking, “Wow, so he’s finally out.”


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Book report time, y’all.

In the Heat of the NightIn the Heat of the Night by John Dudley Ball

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first of seven detective novels to feature Virgil Tibbs, whom most people probably know mainly from the film version of this book (or maybe the TV series based on it). Odds are you know the basics: Tibbs is passing through a small segregated Southern town when as a man is found murdered. Initially a suspect, Tibbs is roped into solving the case against the wishes of recently hired racist police chief Bill Gillespie on the grounds that Tibbs is a cop with more homicide experience than Gillespie. Unsurprisingly, the story focuses as much on the drama between Tibbs and Gillespie and the racist context as it does on the murder mystery itself. It’s interesting to me that Tibbs is a lot more calm and soft-spoken in print than he was portrayed in the film by Sidney Poitier – so much so that he almost seems like a secondary character to Gillespie, who spends much of the book struggling with the idea that a black man is more educated and experienced than he is. In fact, Gillespie is the more interesting character here, with Tibbs mainly serving as a catalyst for him to rethink his prejudices. John Ball’s writing style is occasionally clunky, but overall he tells a good story. Here’s hoping other Tibbs novels are in print, because I’d like to check them out.

Labyrinths:  Selected Stories and Other WritingsLabyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings by Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges is one of those authors that gets namedropped by enough authors I respect that I figured I was going to have to try him one of these days. And I did with The Book of Imaginary Beings, which was interesting enough to convince me to try Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, his most famous collection of short fiction and essays. And I’m sorry, but after almost a month of trying to get into it, I’m giving up. I’ll admit up front that the problem is me, not him. The first few stories are packed with interesting concepts, but his tendency to express them as almost whimsical philosophical ruminations makes it difficult for me to grasp the concept he’s trying to get across, the result being that by the time I get to the end of each piece, I’m not really sure what I just read. Again, this is likely more to do with my aging brain and recent lack of sleep – it could be I need to be in the right mindset to read Borges. So in fairness I’ll skip the rating and put it on the “Gave Up” shelf. Maybe I’ll return to it when I’m better rested.

Thieves Fall Out (Hard Case Crime)Thieves Fall Out by Gore Vidal

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Gore Vidal is known mostly for his literary and historical novels. But he also wrote some pseudonymous crime fiction in the 50s, most of which has since been reprinted under his own name – except for this novel (the only one he wrote using the pen name Cameron Kay), which was recently republished by Hard Case Crime. The story involves Peter Wells, a down-on-his-luck American in Cairo who is recruited by a sexy ex-Nazi to smuggle a valuable MacGuffin out of the country – which won’t be easy as revolution brews around them and it seems other parties want the MacGuffin for themselves, to include a corrupt cop. It’s well written enough to be a quick read, but overall it’s not all that original or interesting, and Wells isn’t especially likeable. The main attraction for many may be just seeing Vidal write pulp fiction instead of intellectual American history novels. But even Vidal didn’t like it much, and didn’t want it republished when he was alive. Reading it now, I can see why.

Resume SpeedResume Speed by Lawrence Block

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading Lawrence Block’s books for over 30 years now, and this novella is a compact masterclass illustrating why. The basic concept is a well-worn one in crime fiction – drifter with a dark, mysterious past tries a fresh start on life in a new town, but his past catches up with him. But it's how you tell it, and Block tells it so well, with the crisp economical narrative style and dialogue typical of his work, and brilliant pacing. As Bill Thompson settles in Cross Creek, Montana, the tension builds not from what he does so much as the slow reveal of what he’s done and what he’s trying to avoid doing again. It’s gripping, page-turning stuff, and deeper than it appears at first glance. Resume Speed is a miniature character study of how humans sometimes seek redemption and a second chance, but just can’t seem to attain it – even when it’s placed right in front of them – because they’re running away from their own guilt over transgressions real and imagined. All that and a cracking good story in 21,000 words.

Changing PlanesChanging Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short story collection with a unified theme woven around the concept that airports are generally terrible, and that if you are sufficiently exhausted, bored and full of bad airport food – and if you know the right technique – you can literally leave this plane of existence and visit thousands of other planes as a tourist, spending weeks traveling to different planes while perhaps just minutes pass by in the airport. Each chapter covers a different world with a different civilization populated by humans, humanoids and/or assorted creatures, with the stories covering key historical or social aspects of that culture that also reflect Earth culture, so in that sense it serves a satirical travelogue of cultures that share dreams, or never speak, or engage in extreme genetic engineering, or for whom anger is the default emotion, etc. There’s also a common theme of how difficult it is for travelers to understand cultures foreign to their own and the misunderstandings that can result. If you can get your head around the basic concept of plane travel (which does require some suspension of disbelief), it’s an enjoyable and thoughtful collection of stories, rich in variety and told with Le Guin’s typical storytelling flair seasoned with more dry humor than I’ve encountered in her other works so far.

View all my reviews

On a plane,

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I am on a business trip covering a major telecoms event. Every year the organizers book some entertainment for the last night of the conference. This year’s entertainment: Rush

Unfortunately I can’t go to the concert because I have a deadline to meet, but we have a flatscreen installed in the press office so we can watch the concert. They play great, but the lighting isn’t very good and whoever is operating the cameras isn’t that skilled, so it’s hard to actually see the band playing.

At one point Rush start playing a medley of songs where they only spend about 30 seconds on a song before moving on. It ends with the spacy keyboard section of “Jacob’s Ladder”, which turns out to be on tape so the band can leave the stage and take a break.

We decide we’ve got enough work done to take a break ourselves, so we head to the auditorium to catch the second half of the show. When we get there it looks like what we last saw on the TV – pulsating purple lights and humming synths. While we’re waiting, I get into a conversation with one of the delegates about how much better the entertainment has become at these shows.

I explain that they used to avoid booking bands because they wanted to go with something with as much mass appeal as possible – which generally meant all-purpose dance acts or magic shows, something generic and safe. “But then they realized that people really want to see bands like this who can play and put on a good show.”

Eventually the lights and synth droning fade out, and the president of the telecoms association goes up on the stage to give a short speech before the second half. It ends up being more than a speech – a bunch of PR people get up on stage with him and perform a sort of dance based on Drunken Master kung fu. I’m starting to wonder whether there is actually going to be a second half for the Rush concert – maybe that was the ending we saw on TV.

And then I woke up.


This is dF
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Well, we’re getting close to the end now. And it’s looking likely that Hillary is going to win this by an electoral landslide, if not a pop-vote one.

Which is good news for Hillary fans, certainly. And it’s arguably good news for America in the sense that the White House will be occupied by someone who is not an egotistical vindictive blowhard / dream candidate for every racist sexist xenophobe organization in the country.

There’s just one catch: it won't be the end of all the ugly savage batshit animosity we’ve endured in this election. Whether Trump wins or loses, his influence is going to continue long after November 8.


On average, just over 43% of the voting public is still supporting Trump, regardless of every outrageous thing he’s said so far, let alone the fact that he has offered no real concrete plan to execute any of his ideas.

To an extent, that’s because they either think the media is making up or exaggerating his statements, or they hate Hillary so much that the only thing Trump could do to put them off at this stage is be caught on tape actually having sex with Hillary backstage at one of the debates. (And they’d still probably assume it was fake.) But I think it’s also because many Trump supporters see him as a champion of glorious political incorrectness who is vindicating every non-PC thought that crosses their minds. They have similar worldviews regarding Muslims, immigrants, black people and fat chix, and they wish they could get away with saying stuff like that at work without being shouted down by the office gay feminazi agenda task force or whoever.

I would also add that this is happening in the broader context of America devolving into a cynical “fuck everyone and everything” outlook that is pervasive in American pop culture today. It’s not ubiquitous, but I encounter it all the time in TV shows and Facebook memes – this worldview that everything is generally terrible and stupid except for “my” clique of people, who are “normal” and okay – everyone else can get fucked, fuck those motherfuckers, get the fuck away from me.

The parameters can be defined many different ways – maybe that ire is targeted at fat people, or handicapped people, or stupid people, or religious people, or poor people, or rich people, or hipsters, or people who shop at Wal-mart, or guys with man-buns, or whatever. But it basically comes down to dividing everyone into people you like or don’t like, and then saying it’s okay to pick on and make fun of the latter group because fuck ‘em, really.

This isn’t defined strictly by where you sit on the political spectrum – some liberals do this too, they just have different targets. It’s a human nature thing, really, not a political thing.

That said, it’s fair to say that the GOP has made it a point to exploit that worldview for political purposes and incorporate it into its platform (albeit more nicely worded). Trump has taken that basic strategy and dialed it up to 11, and the results speak for themselves. Many Trump supporters love his anti-PC schtick because they find it empowering and liberating. They want to be able to establish their superiority by expressing their hatred and disdain for people they look down on – fat girls and retards and foreigners and people who Don’t Belong, etc. They want a society where they can mock and bully the undesirables and have social mores back them up – just like the old days when America was "great".

Put simply, they want the right to act like a dick. (Or am I being divisive here?)

To be clear, I’m not saying this is why they’re voting for Trump. I’m saying it’s why his politically incorrect schtick isn't costing him the support he already has. Intentionally or not, Trump has successfully tapped into that mentality.

And here's the thing: that mentality won’t magically vanish if he loses. Those divisions will remain, in no small part because those divisions already existed. I would argue that Trump hasn’t divided America so much as amplified those divisions by ripping off the mask of civility we’ve used to either ignore them or at least keep them from becoming insurmountable barriers to moving forward as a country and a civilization. (And to be fair, Trump didn’t set this garbage fire all by himself – the GOP wrote the instruction manual and Fox News. Breitbart and Rush Limbaugh etc supplied the fuel.)

So with all that in mind, it’s easy to understand why some people are worried that Trump has been talking about this massive global conspiracy to keep him from winning, that the election is totally rigged and he will not accept a loss under those conditions, however imaginary.

Personally, I’m not sure Trump is really serious about that. I think he’s just salving his ego and creating a pre-emptive excuse if he does lose so he can say, “Hey, not my fault.” For all his talk about “I’ll decide at the time”, I think when the results are in he’ll shift the blame, make his excuses and go on to start his new TV channel or whatever. According to some people that’s been his exit strategy for awhile now. Maybe that was his plan all along. Who knows for sure?

The question is whether his base is going to leave it at that. If they’ve really bought into The Donald’s Grand Global Conspiracy meme that the Gawdamn World Liberal Media Crime League has rigged the system and the media against “real” Americans, how likely are they to simply accept a Hillary presidency?

Not likely at all.

Mind you, I doubt we will see full-scale pitchforks-and-torches riots across the country (to say nothing of muskets). We’re more likely see some outbreaks of personalized, opportunistic vandalism and violence directed at Trump’s enemies list, or another one of the Bundy Boys’ armed-standoff stunts (because hey, it’s not like you can go to jail for that).

All of which will be awful and wrong, but it’ll be nothing even close to a full-scale revolution or general breakdown of law and order that some people imagine.

But we will see extremely loud, hysterical resistance to an Imaginary Hillary Dictatorship. Hillary’s reward for winning the election will be the chance to govern a country where 43% of the population is convinced she’s an evil criminal mastermind backed by a global conspiracy who stole the election and should be in jail for crimes only they know for a fact she has committed.

And it’s a fair bet that the GOP opposition in Congress (whether they hold control of the House and Senate or not) will milk that sentiment for everything it’s worth because why wouldn't they? They’ve been milking the Evil Hillary meme for 30-odd years – why stop now when most of their base is doing the same thing?

That’s what we have to look forward to for the next eight years. That’s the best case scenario. Even if Hillary wins, Donald Trump will continue to encourage America to rip itself apart in a fury of paranoia of distrust and impeachment hearings and racist sexist bullying – he’ll just do it from the studios of Trump TV instead of the White House. We can only hope that the marks don't take it so seriously that a few of them decide to do a McVeigh. 

BONUS TRACK: See this interesting BBC take on Trump’s rigged election meme. One takeaway: it wouldn’t be the first time a POTUS has been declared an illegitimate winner. But every POTUS since at least Bill Clinton has been accused by the opposition of being a fraudulent POTUS. Makes me wonder if we will ever return to a point where the losing party will gracefully accept the results and move on.

Things fall apart,

This is dF

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After three or four years of releasing several albums’ worth of songs individually, Banäna Deäthmüffins is finally releasing our very first proper album, which is actually an EP or a mini-LP or whatever you call a record that only has seven songs on it.

Five songs are brand new. Two songs have been previously released, but since only about 25 people have heard either of them, we’ll go ahead and say they’re as good as new.

You can stream the whole thing from Bandcamp (or via the player below), and you can also download it in the format of yr choice (to include CD-level quality if you have a lot of storage and a decent internet connection).

Just put “0.00” in the price box and it’s yrs. (You can put more than that if you really want to, but I wouldn’t recommend it – we’re not exactly professionals here.)


Why release an album now?
Because albums are dead, so we figure now is the perfect time to put one out.

Are these songs really political?
Isn’t everything nowadays?

Which political party do you support?
Oh no you don’t, we’re not playing that game.

Is it a coincidence that yr releasing this just before the US presidential election?

Are these songs really for Miley Cyrus to sing?
If she wants to do any of them, that’s fine by us.

What about Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea, Carly Rae Jepsen, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, etc?
We don't object. But Miley gets first pass. We'll give Taylor Swift second pass since she went to my high school for a year.

Why Miley Cyrus?
Dunno. It seemed like a funny idea at the time.

If she does cover any of these songs, will you return the favor and record a Miley Cyrus cover?
We can't actually name any Miley Cyrus songs, much less play them, but we are willing to learn.

Aren’t you afraid she’ll sue the bejeezus out of you?
Not really – we’re sure she has a sense of humor about it. She may even get the reference.

How about her record company?
That’s a risk, sure, but given that (1) we don’t make a dime off our music and (2) even if we did, the number of people who even know we exist is smaller than Miley’s entourage, we’re not too worried.

Have you actually read the book Who Moved My Cheese?


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Like this album? You can find other lo-fi tracks from the official Banäna Deäthmüffins page on Soundcloud.

Also, be the first to like us on Facebook.

Achievement unlocked,

This is dF
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Cranking out the book reports, Jim.

The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien (Maigret, #4)The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien by Georges Simenon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was excited when Penguin started reprinting all of George Simenon’s Maigret novels, but the first in the series, Pietr the Latvian, indicated that the early Maigret novels were somewhat unpolished compared to the later novels where Maigret had matured as a character. I needn’t have worried – this fourth novel is classic Maigret, where the focus is more on the psychology of the characters than pulp detective action. The story begins when Maigret follows a man acting suspiciously and inadvertently causes him to commit suicide in a hotel room in Brussels. Determined to find out why, Maigret investigates and soon finds himself hounded by Joseph Van Damme, a successful businessman with no obvious connection to the case yet a little too interested in what Maigret does or doesn’t know. It’s an interesting and concise story, but the main appeal for me is in watching Maigret work – his doggedness, and his Columbo-like ability to both annoy his suspects and play dumb to the point that they underestimate him.

ISIS: The State of TerrorISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are plenty of books out now about Islamic State (or ISIS), most of them naturally out of date (this being an ongoing story) and many of them politically motivated. This one has a more academic approach, and covers a lot of bases: how and why ISIS came into being, how it operates, the context in which it operates, its innovative use of social media, and what it ultimately wants to achieve. Understanding all of this, the authors argue, is key in developing the most effective strategy to dealing with ISIS, with the caveat that even under the best of conditions, it’s going to take generations. (Put another way, it’s not the kind of problem that can be solved in a single presidential term.) Obviously, what other readers make of this book may depend on their specific political views about terrorism and radical Islam. For me, I found it very educational – I feel I have a better handle on the ISIS problem, and I agree with the authors’ view that history and context matter; complex problems require complex, nuanced solutions; and that we can’t beat terrorism by allowing ourselves to be terrorized to the point of stooping to their level of ruthless violence and simplistic worldviews. The text gets a little repetitive at times (due to different chapters covering parallel aspects of ISIS’ development), but overall I’d recommend this to anyone who wants a better understanding of ISIS and the scope of the problem – because they're sure not going to get it from American cable TV news.

The WitchesThe Witches by Roald Dahl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t read Dahl as much as I probably should, because I’ve generally liked what I’ve read by him so far. I’m trying to correct that, starting with this classic and controversial story of a young boy whose Norwegian grandmother teaches him everything there is to know about witches, which comes in handy after he finds himself trapped in a hotel ballroom full of them. Two things struck me upon reading this: (1) just how brilliant Dahl is at telling stories, and (2) the fact that in the 1980s (when this was published) you could still get away (barely) with the stuff Dahl gets away with here in what is ostensibly a children’s book – especially the ending, which is a bit unsettling, given the relatively lighthearted tone of the rest of the book. Still, I guess that’s to be expected from a writer who traded in … well, the unexpected.

The Puppet MastersThe Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After reading The Body Snatchers, it made sense to follow up with Robert Heinlein’s version of the “aliens-possessing-humans-as-Cold-War-metaphor” story, not least since Heinlein wrote this several years earlier. A secret govt agency investigates a UFO sighting in Des Moines and discovers that slug-like alien parasites are attaching themselves to humans to take control of them. In some ways this is better than Jack Finney’s take – for one thing, for all his old-fashioned sexism, Heinlein writes better female characters than Finney did. And Heinlein is generally good at keeping you turning the pages and introducing neat story twists, as well as framing the action within a kind of institutional reality (i.e. the agents spend as much time fighting govt bureaucracy and Congressional politics as the actual aliens). On the other hand, narrator Sam Cavanaugh is a tiresome mix of red-blooded American machismo, overbaked melodrama and indignant outrage – the kind of character that Heinlein is a little too good at writing. Also, while the storyline intentionally pits the reality of back-riding aliens against American puritanical morality, the results are often so over the top that it’s unintentionally funny at times (at least I assume it’s unintentional). In that sense, it’s easier to appreciate if you enjoy low-budget B-movies and don’t take it seriously. It's not terrible by any means, but as RAH books go, this was a little too OTT for my taste.

The Book of Phoenix (Who Fears Death, #0.1)The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book – a prequel to Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death (which I haven’t read yet, though I’m assured reading order is irrelevant) – tells the tale of Phoenix, a genetically altered woman living in one of seven towers run by an R&D corporation known as the “Big Eye”. She’s happy there until she’s told her boyfriend Saeed committed suicide after seeing something he wasn’t supposed to see. Then all hell breaks loose – literally – as Phoenix escapes, sprouts wings and learns to use her power to generate sun-like heat to the point of being able to rise from her own ashes. As she learns the true horrors of the Big Eye’s experiments, she becomes an angel of vengeance on an increasingly epic scale. It’s a mind-bending mashup of dystopian SF, superhero comics, mythology and mystic folklore. It’s also a stunningly angry book – Phoenix’s rage against the racist greed and corruption of Big Eye (and the society that turns a blind eye to it all) radiates off the page – and yet Okorafor masterfully expresses Phoenix’s anger without devolving into clichéd polemics and slogans. A couple of scenes take dramatic license a little too far for my taste, and the bits about time travel don’t quite work for me (more in terms of how it’s used rather than how it works). But overall it’s a gripping, imaginative and well-written story.

View all my reviews

Burn baby burn,

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I’ve been failing in my blogging duties, I realize. I have good reasons. One of them is a lack of time – it’s been a busy and transitional month at work, and family time has also been busier than usual.

Also, I find I don’t have much to say about the hot button issues I might normally blog about, if only because I’ve already made similar comments elsewhere and I find I’m just repeating myself. Either that or my response just seems so obvious that it doesn’t seem worth the effort to post anything about it.

Burkini bans in France? Stupid and bigoted.

Taco trucks on every corner? Best pro-immigration argument EVER. (I’ll bet good money Marco Gutiérrez wishes he’d used a different example – like “rape trucks” or something.)

Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem? Good for him because guess what – you get to do that in a free country.

Hillary’s “basket of deplorables”? Apparently it's okay to say what everyone is thinking if yr Trump but not if yr HRC.

Whatever Donald Trump said this week? Of course it’s ludicrous, but what else could I add to it? I’ve already endorsed Hillary Clinton – it’s not like I need additional “evidence” at this stage to prove Trump isn’t qualified to be POTUS.

Okay, there is The Donald’s Birther Reversal, which is about as stunning a display of CHOOTZ-spa as you could ask for in a presidential election. But there’s not a whole lot to say there, since it’s essentially another example of the constantly shifting alternate reality Trump entertains in his head. It takes a special kind of mentality for someone to go on national television and claim he personally solved that mystery for America five years ago, and by the way yr welcome, when he’s actually been milking the birther conspiracy with the old “I don’t know, nobody knows, why don’t we know?” routine for those last five years (and it’s not like we don’t have documented evidence of him doing this), and expect everyone to believe him.

Which is why for my money, it’s really just more proof that Trump and other conservative politicians and pundits never seriously cared about Obama’s birth certificate – it was just another handful of rhetorical mud to give The American People™ to throw. It didn’t matter if it stuck – it just mattered that you could get the rubes to throw it at him.

So … that’s me caught up, I think.

We blog econo,

This is dF
defrog: (devo mouse)
Speaking of Gary Johnson, he took a lot of flak for his Aleppo moment a few days ago.

It’s not hard to see why, but some people have said, well that’s it for Johnson, no one’s going to elect a guy who blanks on a question like that.

Personally, I don’t think it will hurt him that much, for a few reasons:

1. George W Bush couldn’t name three out of four foreign leaders he would be dealing with when he ran for POTUS the first time. He went on to serve two terms.

2. D. Trump knows less than Bush, or at least what he knows comes from an alternate universe. He won a major party nomination and he’s only a few points behind Hillary Clinton at the moment.

3. Johnson’s chances weren’t that great to begin with, although I understand he’s the first third-party candidate since Ross Perot to make the ballot in all 50 states. And one good thing about Aleppo is that a lot more people now know who Gary Johnson is. Any publicity is good publicity, they say.

But yeah, I don’t think it’s going to cost him an election he has a very slim chance of winning anyway. And most of his support is coming from people who hate Hillary and Donald so much that I doubt they care if he blanks on the occasional question. If there's one thing I've learned from past elections, it's that anything your candidate does or says is excusable, explainable or overblown by the biased media. 

Ask me something,

This is dF
defrog: (science!)
For those Americans who aren’t happy with the major party POTUS candidates, well, you can always go third-party.

And I don’t mean Gary Johnson.

Gabriel Green for President! 1960

[Via Slobber Drool Drip Has Risen From The Grave]

Change you want to believe in,

This is dF
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Gene Wilder is gone, as you probably know.

I should probably say something – partly because I’m a fan of many of his 70s films, but also because the very first film I remember seeing in a cinema was Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

Or at least it’s the first live-action film I remember. My parents may have taken me to see a Disney film or two (which would have been either The Jungle Book and/or The Aristocats), but I have no memory of that. But I vividly remember going to see WW&TCF. I was six when it came out, and I remember the contrast between the darkness of Charlie’s world (especially the scene where Slugworth tries to recruit him as an industrial espionage agent) and the bright Technicolor world of Wonka, and I remember the fates of the bad kids, and the twisted horror of the psychedelic riverboat scene (which scared the hell out of me).

And of course I remember Gene Wilder alternately singing, chattering and shouting his way through the picture. Wonka was the first movie character to stick in my head. He’s been there ever since, though it wasn’t until I was older that I realized just how well-constructed a character Wonka was, and how a lot of that was down to Wilder’s brilliant performance.

And then came his work with Mel Brooks – The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein – and Richard Pryor (the first two films, anyway).

By the 80s, I’d lost interest in Wilder after he seemed to just want to do sentimental romantic comedies, a genre which has never really interested me. The Woman In Red in particular seemed to cement his image as the Lionel Richie of Hollywood comedy – politely inoffensive romantic man in a cardigan – at a time when I was getting into horror movies and punk.

But I still enjoy watching him in his 70s heyday. I used to joke that he was one of the Great Shouting Actors Named Gene of my generation (the other one being Gene Hackman). But it’s intended as a compliment.

Incidentally, one Wilder film I’d recommend that isn't a Wonka or Mel Brooks film is The Frisco Kid (1979). You may want to approach with caution because (1) it got mixed reviews and (2) I haven’t seen it for over 30 years. But I remember liking it at the time. If nothing else, you get to see a younger Harrison Ford play cowboy.

Pure imagination,

This is dF
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Whittling down that “to read” pile one book at a time (or two books at a time, really, but it’s getting smaller, is the point …):

The Rhesus Chart (Laundry Files, #5)The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fifth novel in the Laundry Files series (in which a secret British intelligence agency is all that stands between humanity and death by Cthulhu) sees protagonist agent Bob Howard accidentally discovering a nest of vampires in the high-frequency trading division of a merchant bank – despite the apparent official Laundry position that vampires do not exist. Stross has a lot of fun with this one – not just in determining how vampirism would work within the context of the Laundry’s applied computational demonology, but also in terms of how the Laundry (which is at heart a civil-service bureaucracy) would deal with them. Of course, there is more to this sudden outbreak of vampirism than meets the eye, and Bob’s investigation results in a shocking climax I can’t really comment on more without giving away the ballgame. The one downside is that the prose seems a little repetitive – which seems to be more for the benefit of new readers just starting the series, rather than long-time fans who understand how the Laundry universe works. But that’s a minor complaint – this is another satisfying entry in a series that has yet to get stale. And the next instalment is already in my to-read pile.

The Body SnatchersThe Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve seen the films (the first two, that is) but never read the novel until now. Of course you probably know the basics – Dr Miles Bennell in Santa Mira, CA starts hearing from patients that their relatives are not who they appear to be, and discovers that alien pods are duplicating people with the aim of taking over the planet. As a concept, The Body Snatchers is a classic staple of paranoid alien-invasion SF. As a novel, it’s seriously flawed in places – namely the tendency of Dr Bennell to have revelations from out of nowhere or react to a situation in ways that make no real sense (to include being preoccupied with his budding romance with Becky Driscoll, which serves no real purpose apart from giving him a damsel to rescue). Also, the climax (which is different from the films) isn’t very convincing. Yet the set-up is quite good and some of the scenes focusing on the paranoia of the situation are really gripping and believable. Overall it's a rather uneven novel: sometimes effective, sometimes ridiculous. Great idea, though.

Rumor, Fear and the Madness of CrowdsRumor, Fear and the Madness of Crowds by J.P. Chaplin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

William Gibson namechecked this book on Twitter awhile back, so I decided to check it out. Published in 1959, it’s meant to be an academic study of examples of mass hysteria in the US, including the Red Scare of 1919, McCarthyism, the War Of The Worlds broadcast, apocalypse preachers, UFO sightings and distraught Rudolph Valentino fans, among others. But there’s not much in-depth analysis of each event, and some of them really qualify more as examples of mass gullibility and pranks than hysteria. Also, J.P. Chaplin’s writing style isn’t exactly accessible. That said, it’s an interesting collection of anecdotes that manages by the end to make a larger point: (1) most of these events took place in the context of general fear and uncertainty over local, national and global events (i.e. both World Wars, the Cold War, anarchist bombings, sensationalist media, etc), (2) that fear and uncertainty is what makes us vulnerable to exploitation by demagogues and charlatans, and (3) the key is to understand those fears, what drives them and how to address them – because if we don’t, our enemies will. Given current events, I’d say he had a point.

The Bridge Over the River KwaiThe Bridge Over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first thing to mention is that I haven’t seen the film. The second thing to mention is that it’s a challenging book to read in 2016 because of the inherent racism in the narrative. The anti-Japanese sentiment is to be expected from an early 50s WW2 novel written by an author who was a POW in Asia (albeit under the Vichy French, not the Japanese), but the premise of the British POWs – led by Col. Nicholson – that Anglo-Saxon civilization is superior to Oriental civilization comes across as self-satisfyingly smug. On the other hand, Nicholson was meant to be satirical of British snobbery, so perhaps Boulle was also satirizing that mentality (the opening chapter suggests as much). Anyway, when you get past the racist stuff, what you have is a very tight, suspense-filled page-turner that spends as much time on the inner thoughts of the characters as it does on the action (as well as the technical details on how to blow up a bridge). It also highlights the horrible conditions POWs were forced to work under to build the railway (which did happen, though the story and characters are fictional), without dwelling on it or resorting to melodrama. The narrative gets somewhat unfocused by the end, but not to the point of derailing itself (so to speak).

View all my reviews

Take it to the bridge,

This is dF
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One thing Donald Trump and Bernie Bros have in common is their unshakable belief that the election is rigged against them. This is one of the great unsung traditions of democracy, of course – when yr candidate loses, accuse the other side of cheating because WHAT OTHER EXPLANATION COULD THERE POSSIBLY BE?

However, it’s one thing when voters do it. It’s another when the candidate does it. The former has the luxury of being sore losers. The latter doesn’t. And it’s another thing again when a candidate does it well ahead of the actual election, effectively warning his supporters, “If I lose, it’ll be because the election was rigged against me.”

Which D. Trump did.

And it’s comments like this – as well as the adamant belief of some Bernie Sanders fans that Hillary literally stole the nomination and thus is not a legitimate candidate – that get me to wonder if we’re not seeing the end of democracy as we know it.

To explain:

American democracy has always generally been a model for a peaceful transition of power. That’s actually kind of the point. You may hate that the opposition won, but yr not going to try and change the result with a coup de tat like they do in other parts of the world. Even in 2000 when George W Bush was effectively handed the election by the Supreme Court, as angry as liberals were about that, they weren’t furious enough to resort to violence as a remedy.

Occasionally some idiot resorts to assassination to eliminate a specific POTUS or candidate, but that doesn’t result in a handover of power from one party to another. (Put simply, assassinating President Obama results in President Biden, not President Romney.)

So generally, we accept the results of a given election, as much as we may hate them. The question is how much longer we will continue to do so.

Consider the following:
  • Trump’s campaign hinges on milking anger and frustration and providing scapegoats in the form of foreigners, Muslims and – notably – the liberal opposition
  • Some of his supporters have a tendency to express that anger and frustration in the form of opportunistic violence (a tendency that Trump hasn't exactly gone out of his way to discourage)
  • Others who stick to verbal expressions have expressed their feelings about Hillary Clinton in the form of chants such as “hang the bitch” and “kill the bitch” – to include his own advisors (albeit without using the “B” word)
  • Many Republicans – even ones that don’t support Trump specifically – are already convinced that voter fraud is a widespread problem that favors Democrats, which is why they’ve been pushing voter ID laws in as many states as possible
  • A number of those laws were recently weakened or overturned in court decisions.
So with all of those factors currently in play, it’s only natural to wonder how the Trump Mob is going to react if Hillary wins – especially given Trump’s recent Second Amendment crack.

A couple of quick points:

1. I feel obligated to point out at this stage that lots of people assumed the Republican convention would be a bloodbath thanks to the Trump Mob. It wasn’t.

2. I also think the 2A “joke” has been blown out of proportion in the sense that I don’t believe Trump was actively or intentionally calling for someone to shoot his opponent.

Similarly, on the rigged-election meme, I don’t think Trump is intentionally calling for revolution, assassination or any kind of violent remedy should he lose. I think he’s more interested in making sure everyone understands the only possible way he can lose is if Hillary cheats, because DONALD TRUMP NEVER LOSES.

However, as this article at The Atlantic points out, it’s not about what Trump meant, it’s about what his fans thought he meant – especially in the context described above – how much they take it to heart, and how far they’re prepared to run with it.

(I'll also add that while I doubt Trump gives a second thought about how his rhetoric is being processed, I do think whatever violence breaks out will be on him, no matter what his intentions were. He may have no control over the mob he’s created, but that doesn’t absolve him of responsibility for its actions.) 

That’s just the Trump camp. Elsewhere, we are seeing that a growing number of voters are becoming polarized to the point where they believe the opposition has become clear and present danger to the country, making compromise or possibly even co-existence impossible. I hear this from conservatives and liberals alike, and boy are they angry about it.

To be clear, most of them aren’t talking about armed revolution, and the ones who are don’t have the numbers to come anywhere close to succeeding. But it seems to me we are heading in a direction where people eventually decide, “What the hell is the point of democracy if my side doesn't win?”

It may take us decades to get to that point. It might take until November. I don’t know. But it’s clear there’s a serious breakdown of trust in the current electoral process – it’s not rigged, but people think it is because they don’t understand how it works. Everyone thinks it’s a simple matter of whoever gets the most votes wins – it’s not, and hasn’t been for a very long time. But people don’t know that. And making matters worse is the process that does exist is starting to buckle under the strain of political polarization among the voting public.

If something isn’t done to correct this – either by reforming the process, simplifying it or even just educating people on how and why it works the way it does – the problem is going to get worse. Democracy works when people trust the system. When that trust is replaced with sufficient anger, suspicion and paranoia … well, at the very least you get D. Trump as a POTUS nominee telling his Very Very Angry supporters to assume a Hillary victory is illegitimate – and refuse to let her get away with it.

If we’re lucky, D. Trump’s numbers will keep dwindling until all he has left is a handful of die-hards. On the other hand, in a room full of dynamite it only takes one dingbat with a match to set it off.

Revolution ballroom,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Well, we’re down to the final two for POTUS 2016, and the election so far has gone exactly as I predicted … except that Donald Trump actually won the GOP nomination and Bernie Sanders made Hillary break a sweat.

Apart from that, I totally nailed it.

It’s amusing to think many of us thought this election would be predictable, and that we had another Bush/Clinton fight to look forward to, and how boring is that, it’s the same old thing, would it kill them to mix it up a little or find someone who isn’t a member of a political family dynasty to run, etc.

Like the man said: be careful what you wish for.

Anyway. Here we are.

And now everyone wants to know who I’ll be voting for because almost everyone I know is unhappy with either choice and seems convinced that no matter who wins America is doomed doomed doomed because their guy didn’t survive the primaries.

As usual, I’m incapable of giving a straight answer without overexplaining my viewpoint, so I’m going to write this in a tl;dr Q&A format. Sorry.

Blah blah blah oh you probably know already ... )

Anyway, I’ll revisit this question in a few months. In the meantime …

I’m with her,

This is dF


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December 2016

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