Not The Greatest Path to a Book Deal…

So, less than a month before the election, a group called “Pantsuit Nation” appeared on Facebook. It was a Mecca for Hillary supporters, who were invited to join the “private” group en masse until, by the time the Washington Post was printing glowing reviews of the pro-Clinton site, it had nearly two million members. The Post contrasted its uplifting message with Trump supporters more acerbic and “in your face” social media presence. The coverage did not hurt the numbers either, as the site continued to grow after Clinton’s loss becoming something of a “safe-space” for online feminists to sit shiva and tell their stories.

Well, apparently this was all a scam.

The group’s founder, Libby Chamberlain, made a surprise announcement that “Pantsuit Nation,” after less than two months of existence, is going to become a book. This has come as a bit of a shock to the online membership. Who aren’t happy about it.

As mentioned on the Huffington Post:

And now, of course, there is a book deal, announced with no transparency as to where the profits from the book are going, whether the contributors whose posts Chamberlain is presumably selecting for this book will get paid, and without any consideration for breach of privacy laws were someone’s intellectual property and personal experience suddenly able to sit on your coffee table. Pantsuit Nation reportedly is working to become a 501(c)(3) and 501 (c)(4) charity, which raises more questions about profit allocation and distribution. Chamberlain is the only person credited on the book pre-order page, which also is troubling given that the book supposedly has no content, theme, or profit sharing structure and is already available for $17.99 on Barnes and Noble’s website.

As a writer and user of social media myself, I find this very disturbing, and very sketchy. It has all the earmarks of a scam, up to and including the accelerated timeline. It almost looks as if the site was founded with the intent to scrape free content for publication.

 

So Trump Won…

Despite pleas to the Electoral College, Trump got almost all the electors pledged to him.  While 2016 was a record year for faithless electors (most on Hillary’s side, interestingly enough) it was an order of magnitude short of what would have been needed to move the needle. So we have Trump for four years. While Democrats seem convinced that our country will end up as some alt-right dystopia somewhere between Fury Road and Hunger Games, I’m trying to form a more realistic picture of what the next four years might look like.  Here are some predictions in no particular order:

  • Business cycles being what they are, we’re overdue for a recession, and it will probably hit in 2017 if it’s not here already. It will probably be on a par with 2008, and it will be blamed on Trump’s economic policy, even though by the time we’re in the midst of it he’ll have barely outlined a proposal, much less implemented anything.
  • One of the first big showdowns will be over downsizing or reorganizing some major federal agency. There will be picket lines of civil servants chanting “We Will Overcome” and the stories will claim that this is the last stand of the labor unions. It will end much like Reagan and the air traffic controllers or Walker and the teachers’ unions.
  • There will be a major scandal in the media about some Trump company and conflict of interest. It will go absolutely nowhere, but every left wing pundit will find a way to work it into into every discussion about Trump for the next four to eight years.
  • The Republicans will learn nothing, claim their own permanent majority, and screw the pooch in the midterms, losing the Senate, possibly the House, and one or two governorships.
  • Because of this, the Trump presidency will tack to the center in a mirror image replay of (Bill) Clinton’s. Another similarity is that this will coincide with an economic recovery as we exit the 2017 recession. Trump will claim credit for it.
  • Like Clinton with welfare reform, Trump will piss of his base with some grand compromise on immigration reform. It will please no one, might actually work, and effectively take the issue off the table for the next election cycle.
  • Race relations will improve, not because of any structural or policy change, but because people’s perceptions of the black-white tensions will improve. This will happen because the media will shift focus away from racism and on to immigration and the economy.

A little political truism…

In a political discourse, if someone isn’t trying to debate, they’re attempting to exercise power.  That is where a large fraction of American political life has gone off the rails. It’s there in comment threads all the time; where one person attempts to have a rational discussion, and the other screams non sequiturs, ad hominem attacks, and declares how the other guy did it so that invalidates your argument but not their own.

That’s the difference between arguing to reach consensus and a solution to a given problem, and arguing to exercise power. Things suck not because of the Internet, not because of “Fake News,” and not because of those evil Russian hackers… It sucks because political debate is not debate anymore, it’s an exercise in power and virtue signaling to one’s own tribe. When you argue your point of view for the sake of power, rather than to convince people, you do not actually convince people. Funny that.

Ask yourself if the following exemplar of the form does anything other than try and beat up the author’s enemies with a rhetorical stick: “America is Held Hostage by Flyover States“.

Five Reasons Hillary Lost

There are some people out there in desperate need of a reality check. Right now, progressives are certain that, somehow, the country that elected Obama twice has suddenly become a cesspit of sexism, racism and misogyny. The angst is so over-the-top that my progressive Facebook friends are sounding like all those Alex Jones types back in 2008 who were talking about FEMA detention camps and UN black helicopters.

Trump didn’t win because of some racist surge.

In fact, Trump didn’t win.

Hillary lost.

Here are five reasons why:

  1. Hillary couldn’t turn out her own base. You look at the actual numbers between 2016 and 2012, and Trump pretty much held on to Romney’s numbers across the board with some significant inroads into Black and Hispanic voters (racism natch). Hillary hemorrhaged Democratic votes. She might have a razor-thin lead in the popular vote (200,000 votes about) but she lost about six and a half million votes compared to Obama’s 2012 totals. Think about that before you bitch at us third party voters.
  2. You can’t argue misogyny when the Clinton name is on the ticket. If anyone else was running, Trump’s attitude toward women would have been a fatal blow to his campaign. Bernie or Warren could have won against that alone. But, as soon as Bill or Hillary enter the frame, people suddenly remember how organized feminism sold its soul to the Clintons in the 90’s by giving Bill a pass and how every Democrat insisted that a man’s sexual behavior had no place in evaluating his character for the presidency.
  3. The media neutered itself. How many progressives form their opinion of Hillary by evaluating what Rush Limbaugh says about her? By going wholly, unapologetically anti-Trump across the board; with NY Times editorials declaring how it was time to dump journalistic “objectivity”; with CNN passing debate questions to the Clinton campaign: with “journalists” running stories by john Podesta for approval. . . How many people do you think just decided to ignore the press completely? The press went full partisan. You never go full partisan.
  4. The electorate wanted change. Right-track/wrong-track polling shows that in spades. Hillary wasn’t change. Hillary wasn’t just status-quo, she was pre-Obama status-quo. When the peasants want to storm the palace, you don’t offer them a return to a dynasty.
  5. When someone brings up forty years of scandal and potential corruption, saying “they never proved anything” is not a really effective counter-argument. Being subject to multiple FBI investigations is pretty damning for any presidential candidate, regardless of the outcome.

A playlist for the 2016 election…

This election is remarkable in that whoever wins will be absolutely loathed by a plurality of the populace, and distrusted by a majority. It is quite possible that on inauguration day our president elect will have underwater approval ratings. If there is any state out there that splits by less than the margin of error, we are probably going to see a reprise of 2000 and a return to “selected not elected” as a meme, with further damage to the infrastructure of our democracy. Our best case scenario at this point is for Gary Johnson to do well enough to deny anyone an electoral vote majority and kick decision to the incoming congress, something that would make the premise of Designated Survivor look like Reagan’s second term. So here are seven tunes appropriate to watching our republic burn.

  1. O Fortuna— Carl Orff: This election is the bastard stepchild of Fate and Karma, and the final line “mecum omnes plangite!” (“everyone weep with me![“) seems appropriate.
  2. Fortunate Son— Creedence Clearwater Revival: We seem on the verge of electing a Democratic administration set to continue years of unbroken military adventures, so yeah.
  3. Edge of a Revolution— Nickelback: I know what you’re saying. “Nickelback!? Everyone hates Nickelback!” But consider, if Nickelback’s doing protest songs, something is very wrong in this country.
  4. 99 Luftballons— Nena: Say what you want about the Cold War, it produced some catchy tunes. Since we’re reviving the specter of nuclear annihilation, we can at least bring back the fatalistic German pop music that went with it.
  5. Crack of Doom— The Tiger Lillies: This one is sort of self explanatory.
  6. Killing Strangers— Marylin Manson: No particular rationale, but every time I see a campaign commercial I have this running in my head accompanied by a John Wick firefight.
  7. Ticking Bomb— Aloe Blacc: Another self-explanatory one, from another action movie.

 

A Ten Video Defense of Cultural Appropriation

“Cultural Appropriation” has reared it’s sombrero-sporting head in the literary community once again in another series of critiques and critiques of critiques and critiques of critiquing and those doing the critiquing, over something that should, in the end, be a fairly straightforward caution for authors to just get it right, that somehow never ends up that simple.

Rather than attempt to spill more words into this never-ending tumult, I instead present a series of videos in defense of “Cultural Appropriation:”

So white dudes can’t rap…

This is really problematic…

If this isn’t cultural imperialism, I don’t know what is…

A university costume party goes really off the rails…

This has to be because we nuked Japan…

…or this is…

Italy, Fascism,  Eastwood, that empty chair, it all makes sense now…

A movie this fun must be bad for you…

That don’t look like Deep Purple…

And we all know country music is problematic…

So why are things so nasty?

You know what I mean. From the presidential election down to what stupid little award our geeky niche genre decides to award itself, we cannot seem to have anything like a polite disagreement anymore.  Everyone gets up in arms about everything from who’s using what bathroom, to who’s cast in what part in a movie no one wanted rebooted anyway. It’s reached the point where it’s necessary to write articles like this.  WTF happened?

The obvious answer is, “the Internet happened.” So now everyone goes on-line, withdraws into their little confirmation bias bubble, consumes all the news that conforms to their worldview only to pop out of their hole to virtue-signal to their tribe, troll the enemy, and block people on Facebook.

The problem with that hypothesis is, when people actually study the issue, the whole “self-contained political bubble theory” tends to leak a little. According to a Pew Research study:

These cleavages can be overstated. The study also suggests that in America today, it is virtually impossible to live in an ideological bubble. Most Americans rely on an array of outlets – with varying audience profiles – for political news. And many consistent conservatives and liberals hear dissenting political views in their everyday lives.

Frankly, political bubbles are probably a lot more permeable nowadays than they were in the good/bad old days of three networks when a kid had to join the army or go to college to be exposed to a political point of view different from wherever they grew up. So what gives? After all, actually interacting with different folks is supposed to be a good way to promote tolerance.

I have a theory, and the Internet and confirmation bias do play a role, but not due to any bubbling.

In fact, I think the opposite is happening.  In days of yore, were you to hear an alien political opinion, chances are the voice of that opinion would have been tested by prior debate, the message honed, practiced and tempered by experience.  In the days before instant viral communications, a political message had to pass through many gatekeepers and face many opponents before it reached you, either on the campaign stump, via the printed word, or over a broadcast network. Ideas from the crackpots, the insane, and the stupid rarely reached beyond their own street corner, and when they did, it was after their message had been polished so shiny that people couldn’t see the crazy for the gleam.

This is no longer the case.

Everyone has a political opinion, and almost everyone feels obligated to share it.  Today they all can.  Nowadays, when someone wishes to rail against conservatives, their opponent isn’t a William F. Buckley Jr. or a William Safire or even their local alderman— it’s “RedneckJesus66” on some YouTube comment thread.  Someone trashes liberals, they aren’t arguing with Adlai Stevenson or John Maynard Keynes— it’s “MoonshineUnicorn37” on Tumblr.

The great evil of the Internet is the unleashing of an army of actual living, breathing straw-men to feed the fires of all political debate.  Everyone’s core conviction that they’re the smart ones and all their political opponents are stupid is now fueled by the fact that any idiot can now publish any screwball idea, and have it carry the same weight as the New York Times.  This means that no one needs a coherent argument anymore, because there’s always some poor sod on the other side that’s published something stupider than they ever will. Nowadays on the Internet, and increasingly in real life, political discourse is always punching down. Everyone now eschews the engagement of ideas, preferring instead, the easy fight against the most idiotic comments from the opposition.

That’s why we can’t have nice things anymore.

Two random thoughts.

A couple of things to file under, “what the future might look like.”

First, what is the most significant thing the Internet has done to political communication, or communication in general? You know the answer, though it wasn’t the answer you just thought of.  Consider the MediaGlyph, and how it is both the natural product of the sound bite, and a compelling explanation for the state of the current political landscape.

Second, what is the most significant consequence of introducing self-driving cars?  If you didn’t answer “an increase in capacity utilization resulting in a crash of demand for new vehicles,” you may want to read this Zero Hedge article and think about unintended consequences.

Fantasy, science fiction, and the future of derp.

I have read some stupid assertions about Science Fiction and Fantasy over the years.  As I have internet access, this is inevitable.  People say idiotic things occasionally.  Then I read this from the Daily Kos, and watched as the bullshit  reached such a density that the article collapsed through it’s own event horizon until the pull of the derp became so strong that not even a coherent thought could escape.

We start with a intro about the distinction between Science Fiction and Fantasy, which is admittedly difficult on the margins. We already know we’re in troubled waters because the referents used seem to consist entirely of Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Lord of the Rings.

This is going to be fun.

There’s an easier way to define the two biggest categories of speculative fiction, and it has nothing to do with which one has pointy-eared people called elves and which one features equally mucronate Vulcans. Instead, it’s all about time. More specifically, it’s about Time’s Arrow.

We then get a slug from this Wikipedia article after an explanation of all the Google hits we’re not referring to.

Ok, Second Law of Thermodynamics, gotca.

It’s like this: fantasy works backward. That’s not to say that fantasy fiction is filled with self-assembling tea cups. In fantasy, what’s reversed is progress.

Progress is simply the idea that the world becomes better at making buildings, better at making gadgets, better at medicine, better at communicating, better at explaining the world, better at providing a decent life for everyone. Better … over time. And surely the future shall be better for thee than the past, etc., etc.

In fantasy worlds, that’s often not the case. In many fantasies, there was once a time of Great Ones, a category including Noble men, Stately Elves, Impressive Giants, Personally Involved Gods, Bearded Wizards, and Interstellar Mollusks of Ill-Defined Colors. In this past time Great Deeds were done. Great Deeds that include raising of Impregnable Castles that stand still on lonely peaks, the digging of Great Mines that delved deep into Unknown Depths, the weaving of Great Spells that worked Mighty Wonders, the construction of Darkly Towering Towers that shielded deeds of unforgivable self-aggrandizement, and the forging of Great Items that no artisan today can match (this paragraph brought to you by Fantasy Capitals. Fantasy Capitals, lending Terrible Significance to ordinary words for a Very Long Time).

And thus begins the spiraling collapse of any intellectual heft this argument might have had. The above assertion is so mindlessly reductive that I doubt the author even read Tolkien, and simply formed an opinion on the genre based on the trailers for the Hobbit movies. But that’s not even the worst of it. We are using the concept of “Time’s Arrow” as a metaphor for the idea of “Progress.” Really? I know quite a few libertarians that would probably equate ideas about historical materialism with societal entropy, but I doubt that was the author’s intent.

Needless to say, the view of science fiction is also insanely reductive.

Science fiction, that is proper science fiction according to this 100 percent not original definition, has its arrow firmly pointed toward progress. Yes, things may be worse than they once were due to war, famine, or alien invasion, but it’s perfectly possible for our spunky audience surrogates to match and exceed previous achievements. You can build that spaceship, plant that flag, go where no one has gone before without regard to pedantic protectors of infinitives. Star Trek is science fiction not only because it imagines a future world where things are better than today, but because that world is firmly anchored in the idea that things can be better still. Transporters will transport over greater distances. Warp drives will be warpier. And both captains and crew expect to end their lives in a world that is measurably better than the one they were born into.

So Science Fiction is defined, pretty explicitly, as “that fiction that buttresses the stupid argument I’m making here.” Forget H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine. Orwell’s 1984. Most of Phillip K. Dick’s oeuvre.

Lord of the Rings is fantasy because everything of import originated Long, Long Ago. Our characters move against a backdrop of awe-inspiring ruins toting swords, armor, and rings embued with power by people that Knew Stuff. Stuff the likes of us are unlikely to ever cipher.

Thus, so is every single space opera that uses the trope of the ancient progenitors.

From that solemnly pronounced idiocy, the author devolves into the real argument he is attempting to make.

But there’s a problem with our politics. Somehow, for reasons that are not at all clear, we doubt the existence of progress.

Too often we treat an 18th century quote as if it’s the final card in an argument. Too often we look at yellowing documents as if they came not from politicians as venal and self-important as anyone on the stage today, but from marble demigods. Too often we weigh the best possible data available today, discover the best possible course of action available today, then say to ourselves, “Now how would a guy in a powdered wig have handled this?”

Oh, progress happens. There’s a sweet relationship between Time’s Arrow and the Arc of the Moral Universe. Greater knowledge has brought not only increased acceptance, but increased freedom. Only the arc isn’t just long, it’s much, much longer than it need be. A big part of that all too often we live in fantasy democracy … Fantocracy.

How do you know you’re in Fantocracy? If you’ve ever cited Adam Smith or Benjamin Franklin as an authority in an economic debate, you’ve put a foot in Fantocracy. If you believe no politician today can match the erudition and political brilliance of Thomas Jefferson, you’re in at least knee-deep. If your philosophy of good governance is based on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or even a Roosevelt to be named later, you’re fully in Fantocracy. If your argument for the Second Amendment is based on anything said by Noah Webster, James Madison, or anyone else who died before the invention of the rifled slug … well, Mr. Bilbo, let me see if I can rustle up some taters.

And there you go. The inane literary argument exists solely to reach a preordained conclusion.  To wit, if you reference prior philosophy in arguments about social policy then you politics wrong.

Not only do you have the arc of the moral universe’s descent into sweet sweet entropy, you have the ahistorical assumption that somehow continuing forward in time inevitably leads to more enlightened political thought. I mean, what the hell happened to the arc of the moral universe in Iran and Afghanistan between 1950 and now? The fact something is old or new has very little bearing on its worth. Especially since the “progressive” thought espoused herein is over a century old itself.

Really, this is just a case of whether you prefer 19th Century German political philosophers to 18th Century English ones.

Our knowledge is steadily increasing. That includes the knowledge in how to form and manage a stable government. That includes the knowledge in how to run an economy. That includes the knowledge of how to regulate business, how to manage the environment, how to provide the greatest freedom to the greatest number.

I got a book for you.

You. You. Yes, you. You can understand economics better than Adam Smith. You can grasp the relationship between church and state better than Washington, fathom the balance between legislative and executive branches better than Jefferson, and wrestle with a thousand, a million, ideas they never knew existed.

So, being able to Google stuff makes everyone smarter than those poor old white dudes that lived before iPhones. And someone who wrote an article as intellectually sloppy as this one understands the balance of powers better than the folks who designed the system.

Yeah.

I think this guy was the one in class who asked why Newton’s theory of motion still worked if Einstein disproved it all.