Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, December 2, 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Does This Sound a Tad Ominous?

“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
-- Marine Gen. James "Mad Dog" Mattis,
in a speech to his Marines when they arrived in Iraq in 2003

Trump to meet with Mattis on Saturday
-- headline, Politico, 11/18/16

This looks almost too easy...

h/t The Peoples Cube satirical website

Thursday, November 17, 2016

It's Never as Bad as Some People Think


Never believe your own propaganda. The opponent may not
be what you imagine her to be.
Never blame on malevolence what can be adequately explained by "the arrogance of complacent incompetence." One of the problems with having the media in the tank for you is that you never get the hardball questions and you come to accept the rosy picture of adulation and worshipful inevitability they present. Brandon Watson at the philosophy blog, Siris, tells us:
Let us be quite clear from the beginning: The Democratic Party deliberately nominated a candidate who was undergoing federal investigation for matters under national security law, and who was associated with a charity, the Clinton Foundation, that was also under federal investigation. The Clinton campaign actively worked to make sure that Donald Trump would get the Republican nomination and be on the ballot. Clinton then ran a campaign heavily governed by an algorithm. In the meantime, both the campaign and the party failed to make any serious attempt to re-integrate Sanders supporters, despite their vehement complaints about her tactics during the primary campaign. The campaign repeatedly assumed that it could turn out blacks and Latinos in the neighborhood of Obama's turnout while doing almost nothing specific to help local groups make it happen; and she passed over several Latinos to pick as her running mate the weak and barely helpful Tim Kaine. They did next to nothing shoring up the Democratic Party in Wisconsin despite the fact that it was known that the state party there was in disarray, and despite warnings that the entire Rust Belt was in imminent danger of being captured. One could make the list much, much longer. If one wishes to find something to blame for the rise of Donald Trump, one need not look beyond a campaign whose chief characteristic was the arrogance of complacent incompetence.
Both the winners and the losers in the recent presidential election have been talking as if there had been some enormous swing in the country; but the electorate was, by and large, the same electorate that had elected Barack Obama in two previous elections. They were not suddenly spirited away by the Flying Saucers and replaced by pod people.
Photograph circulated by Hilary Clinton staffers in early 2008.
Generally speaking, half the electorate prefers blueberries and half, strawberries; that is, half blue, half red, and has done so for a long time. In various elections, more of one faction turn out at the polls or more of the other; but it's been a coin toss for several election cycles now. No one is entitled to crow, "I won, you lost; deal with it," as B. Obama was said to have said.
Never believe your own propaganda. The opponent may not
be what you imagine him to be.
In the most recent election, 107,000 people in three states decided the election. Trump won the popular votes in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania by that combined amount, securing a collective 46 electoral votes. Had Clinton shifted this relative handful of voters, she would have sealed the presidency with 274 total electoral votes.

The Glass Ceiling

Everyone was expecting an historic breakthrough in elective the Nation's First Woman President. Because of this, many folks were looking past the election itself to the big party afterward. This is always a mistake. When you are driving down a highway, it is best to keep your eye on the road ahead and not think of all the fun you'll have when you get home.

But in the general caterwauling that ensued afterwards
or celebration

what was overlooked was that the glass ceiling had indeed been shattered. Never again will a serious woman candidate for president be overlooked or marginalized solely on the basis of her sex. Mrs. Clinton accomplished that, even if she did not win, and we ought to tip our hat to her for that.

The Electoral College

Naturally, in any election this close, the loser always calls for elimination of the Electoral College. It is, we are assured, an anachronism. But some years back, when it appeared as if George W. Bush would win the popular vote total but Al Gore would secure an electoral majority, Mr. Gore took to the waves to declare that the rules were set and we had to abide by them. In the end, so razor-thin was the election that it turned out that Gore had more popular votes and Bush more electoral votes. But Mr. Gore stuck to his principles and graciously conceded.

Ho, ho! TOF jests. Gore did a 180 so fast he could dispense with chiropractors for the next 25 years. Instead, he contested the election, fantasized about "butterfly" ballots, and brought suit demanding selective recounts in those FL counties where Democratic votes might yet be discovered behind potted plants or under the bed. Alas, with each recount, Bush's margin in the Sunshine State grew.

Abolishing the Electoral College is effectively a desire to be ruled by California.

In the popular vote, Mrs. Clinton received a nationwide margin of 1,341,642 votes, but in California, her margin was 3,168,486 votes. This means that in the rest of the country outside California, Trump had a majority of 1,826,844 popular votes. Similar, though not identical figures are here.

2016 Election map, adjusted for electoral vote
The increasing use of vote-by-mail, early voting, late voting, absentee voting, and so on, means a lot more paper ballots and so a lot less automatic tabulation.
As of November 11, according to the state’s updated “Estimated Unprocessed Ballots” report, more than one million ballots were as yet uncounted in Los Angeles County. Two days later, San Diego County reported that it has more than 600,000 ballots to count. 
The opportunities to discover previously unknown buckets of ballots are obvious. And a national popular vote would increase the incentives to do so. Presently, once a state is won, there is no benefit to be had from discovering new ballots under your hat or in the trunk of your car.

So the Electoral College is a way to force candidates to pay at least some attention to wider regions of the country rather than to concentrate only on areas of high population density.

Besides, how can you add up all the popular votes? Each state has its own rules for collecting and counting votes. Take felons. In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while incarcerated. In Florida, Iowa and Virginia, felons and ex-felons permanently lose their right to vote. Virginia and Florida have supplementary programs which facilitate gubernatorial pardons. In other states, ex-felons automatically gain the right to vote upon completion of their sentence, or they must wait for a certain period of time after the completion of their sentence before rights can be restored, and in some states, an ex-felon must apply to have voting rights restored. There are also differences based on 1st time vs. repeat offenders, nature of offense, etc. In Maryland, voting rights are restored automatically at completion of sentence, unless the conviction was for buying or selling votes, in which case voting rights can only be restored through executive pardon.

So the popular votes in these states cannot be added into a "national total" because they are not based on the same definition of "eligible voter." There are a number of other items like residency requirements, citizenship, and so on, some of which may vary also from state to state or may not be verified in some states.

In addition to defining an "eligible voter," there are also operational definitions regarding a "valid ballot." Does anyone remember the hanging chads? Counting paper ballots differs from machine tabulations, from computerized balloting, from punch-card readers, and so on. Each method has its own characteristic error rates, or "capability" and makes it problematical to compare or add the returns from different states.
"You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don't break it. Don't break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That's not being faithful to what this country's about."
-- Barack H. Obama

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Enemy Has Capitulated!


General Order General Headquarters, A. E. F.

No. 203 France, November 12, 1918

The enemy has capitulated. It is fitting that I address myself in thanks directly to the officers and soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces, who by their heroic efforts have made possible this glorious result.

Our Armies, hurriedly raised and hastily trained, met a veteran enemy, and by courage, discipline and skill always defeated him. Without complaint you have endured incessant toil, privation and danger. You have seen many of your comrades make the Supreme Sacrifice that freedom may live.

I thank you for your patience and courage with which you have endured. I congratulate you upon the splendid fruits of victory, which your heroism and the blood of our gallant dead are now presenting to our nation. Your deeds will live forever on the most glorious pages of America's history.

Those things you have done. There remains now a harder task which will test your soldierly qualities to the utmost. Success in this and little note will be taken and few praises sung; fail, and the light of your glorious achievements of the past will be sadly dimmed.

But you will not fail. Every natural tendency may urge towards relaxation in discipline, in conduct, in appearance, in everything that marks the soldier. Yet you will remember that each officer and EACH SOLDIER IS THE REPRESENTATIVE IN EUROPE OF HIS PEOPLE and that his brilliant deeds of yesterday permit no action of today to pass unnoticed by friend or foe.

You will meet this test as gallantly as you met the test of the battlefield. Sustained by your high ideals and inspired by the heroic part you have played, you will carry back to your people the proud consciousness of a new Americanism born of sacrifice.

Whether you stand on hostile territory or the friendly soil of France, you will bear yourself IN DISCIPLINE, APPEARANCE AND RESPECT FOR ALL CIVIL RIGHTS THAT YOU WILL CONFIRM FOR ALL TIME THE PRIDE AND LOVE WHICH EVERY AMERICAN FEELS FOR YOUR UNIFORM AND FOR YOU.

John J. Pershing,
General, Commander-in-Chief.

The Election Explained


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

Years ago, Pauline Kael, a TV critic, expressed amazement that R. Nixon had won the election by famously saying, "But no one I know voted for him!" A similar cri du coeur from the bubble was heard a few days ago from the punditry. The polls had all been solidly for Mrs. Clinton. How could this outcome have been possible? Everybody they talked to....

The dirty little secret of polling, as Zogby once called it, is non-response. The polls did not, indeed could not, take into account the preferences of people who refused to answer the questions. Nor could they account for those who lied. 

Perceptive Reader will note that the states in blue represent where the Pundits live or play. New York/DC, Chicago, and LA/SF plus their playgrounds in Maui, Taos and Vail. (MN is the stronghold of the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party.) So being immersed, so to speak, in the water of their own milieu, they became through confirmation bias oddly unable to perceive the amphibians around them.

The county-by-county results: 


which curiously resembles this map:
IOW, the most highly populated areas voted blue -- and these were about half the country.

The Economist writes: "American politics appear to be realigning along a cleavage between inward-looking countryfolk and urban globalists." (That is, between the farmers who sell their grain to Russia and the city dwellers who seldom venture far from their apartments?) They call Trump "a uniquely divisive candidate" as if Clinton were not also divisive. But they make a curious remark that reminds us that "only Nixon could go to China." They say that Trump, being himself an urban sophisticate who has aimed his appeal at country and small town people, "he is both perhaps the least likely politician in the country to build bridges across that gap and also the only one who has the capacity to do so."


The reason was not some imaginary swing toward Trump. The people in these states, by and large, are the same people who were living there four years ago when they elected Obama. They did not change suddenly from Enlightened to Deplorable. It was more like a swing away from Clinton. Both candidates were very unpopular, and the turnout this year was the lowest in twenty years. Only 57% of registered voters cast a ballot and in 14 states more did so for "down ballot" races than for president. But while Trump received only 1% more white votes than Romney, Clinton scored significantly less well than Obama among blacks and Hispanics. She swept Philadelphia like a tsunami, but not by as wide a margin as Obama had in the previous two elections. Trump did better among Hispanics than Romney had when all the theory in the world said he should have done zilch. This has already led to dark e-mutterings about the election being "stolen." (This, from people who had grumbled when Trump yanked their chain by being coy about accepting the results of the election.) And the riots and damage to property of innocent bystanders are being wrought by people who were predicting that very behavior from the Deplorables once Hillary had won her famous victory.

NYTimes exit polling.

Even among women, who were supposed to vote the strong, independent woman who is her Own Person set to Make History by Breaking the Ultimate Glass Ceiling, only 54% of women voting did so. And 42% voted for the Vile Lecher Trump. This is similar to the breakdown in previous elections: 55%-44% (Obama-Romney) 56%-43% (Obama-McCain). That is, Hillary received a smaller share of the women's vote than her predecessor.(Though, knowing how little a few percentage points mean in polling, this is probably a permanent blue-red split, independent of the candidates; and it might could be that women make voting decisions the same as men: based on issues and interests.

Were TOF Emperor of the World, he would issue a decree that no one can babble about mandates or political revolutions when all that has happened is that a few thousand votes have gone one way rather than the other. In a democracy, that's supposed to happen now and then. Governing is not an entitlement. Neither are the interests of a constituency necessarily best served by this policy rather than that policy. The margins in this election (as in others recently) was razor-thin and had a few more people come out to the polls here or there, it could easily have gone another way. Ninety million people did not vote this year, more than enough to swing the election either way.

So before we crow about "winning" this state or "losing" that, stop and ask, "By how much?" The last time I looked at New Hampshire on Election Night, the margin was 19 votes. Margins were correspondingly narrow (relative to population) in Minn., Wisc. Penna., and other states. Sure, in the end each wound up as Blue or Red. That's the purpose of the Electoral College system. But when Obama said eight years ago that because "We Won," he could freeze the Republicans out of the process of reforming the health care system [and thereby come up with the kludge that was implemented piecemeal so that its impact was not felt until just recently and thus cost Clinton the election] he was trying to pretend that his narrow margin of victory meant he had a Mandate. It did not. It meant the American people had hired him to manage the executive branch for the next four years, with an option for renewal.

TOF's Fearless Predictions. 

None of the hysterical imaginings giving people the vapors and driving them to clutch their pearls is going to materialize. It's always a mistake, Heinlein once said, to believe your own propaganda. That's even more foolish than believing your opponent's propaganda. The author of The Art of the Deal knows that you always start your negotiations from your most extreme position and then bargain toward something both sides can live with. There won't be any mass deportations, for example. The American people don't like illegal immigration, but it's the illegal part they don't like. When the process is unregulated bad stuff can happen. Obamacare won't be completely repealed, but those parts of the kludge that were necessary and useful will be kept. (Portability, for example; coverage of college-age children.) Other aspects will need closer inspection. (Coverage of pre-existing conditions is popular, but this is precisely what's driving the prices up, because young, healthy people are smart enough to pay the fine and only buy the policy when they do fall sick. Read Shaw's "The Vice of Gambling and the Virtue of Insurance" for insight on why insurance pools work.) Don't expect the Wall of Trump along the border; but expect that the existing walls will be improved and maintained. Maybe even enforcement of existing laws against employers. But a better and more open process for immigration is possible. Don't expect prohibitive tariffs on US companies importing goods they have manufactured in China or Bangladesh. Bringing manufacturing home is a good idea, but it will make products a great deal more expensive for Americans and almost impossible to sell overseas.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

TOF and the Ballot

Today was Election Day, when we celebrate puny particles with negative charges whizzing around in a cloud of quantum uncertainty about a nucleus of massive, positive particles bulked up with neutral particles of no charge, or bureaucrats. Unless they are waves.

No, wait. Elections, not Electrons. Sorry.

Heeding the old Chicago adage to Vote Early and Often, the sundry strongholds of Clan na Fhloinn struggled into action as Rosy-fingered Dawn diddled us this morning with the most remarkable choice since the Crook vs. the Naïf, back in 1972.
The American People want to know if their President is a Crook, the Crook once declared, and assured us the he was not with all the sincerity that a later president would assure us that he did not have sexual relations with that young woman. At least that later president had had the perspicacity not to discuss the matter on tape.
Speaking of which, this video refers to an earlier campaign that we would now like to think was more genteel.

Early this morning, Daughter of TOF (DOTOF) texted the Incomparable Marge saying that she might need a ride to work because the line at the polling place was longer than a TOFian reminiscence. Apparently Granddaughter of TOF (SAMBBITU) was still nursing a hurt over the Bern and his endorsement of the Wall Street toady vis a vis the Wall Street toad and intended to sit this one out. Who knows. She still has to EOB today to change her mind. There ought to be a ballot choice labeled "I abstain" to distinguish such voters from those who simply forgot or didn't care.

In any case, DOTOF got through the line faster than the Incomparable Marge got out the door, so that at least we were spared. But when we got to the South Side Neighborhood Center, the throbbing heart of democracy on the cliffs above the Lehigh, we found the parking lot parked up. (It was nice to see something knew what it was supposed to do.) And the streets around the Center, too.

The path from the parking lot was lined with campaign sign, which someone had taken the trouble to arrange with Democrats to the left and Republicans to the Right. TOF wondered if these signs have ever changed anyone's mind as he or she walked to the polling place. 

The path to the door in the rear of the Center, where the voting traditionally takes place, was newly paved and widened; and a good thing, too, since the line was out the door and along the path. Nor did it get any shorter. As people did their business and departed, others came to take their place.

A front loader rolled past and dumped a load of dirt onto a pile. TOF believed this to be a post-modern commentary on the entire election, perhaps an "installation" of "performance" "art."

There was a millennial fellow ahead of TOF who wore, backward in the approved style, a baseball hat admonishing America to get great again. Behind TOF, was a burly fellow with a gray-white Santa Claus beard wore a similar hat celebrating the 82nd Airborne. His jacket, from which both sleeves had been ripped, exposed a tattoo of the shoulder patch of the 82nd permanently etched just where it should have been. By this, TOF understood he took some pride in his service.

There were others in line or emerging from the building. A white guy in a mechanic's uniform and the logo of a trucking company; a black guy in similar garb. An Indian couple elegantly dressed in kurta and pyjama with a look of pride and satisfaction on their faces. An elderly black woman walking with the aid of a cane -- tottering, really -- was escorted past everyone else. When they reached the millennial in the Trump cap, he stepped back and graciously let her pass.

Inside the Center, the line snaked past the Books and zig-zagged to the booths. The procedure hereabouts is that you print your name on a slip of paper in the indicated boxes and present it to the first person. She records you in a registration book and writes a voter number on the slip. TOF was the 353rd voter in the ward to have entered today. The Judge of the Election mentioned to the waiting voters that the number so far entered exceeded the grand total of all voters who had showed up for the primaries earlier in the year. TOF suspects it exceeded the total in previous general elections, since the clerks of the Election commented that never had they seen so many voters, ever.

At the next book, the clerk checked the name against the voter registration list and TOF countersigned by his name. He noted that his aged father had already voted. One woman kept trying to show her driver's license but the clerk insisted she did not need to see it. But I have to show this to do just about anything else. Another woman was voting for the first time and was receiving instruction on how to use the 'touch screen' equipment. A third woman could not be found in the Register and had to pass over to another table. She, TOF overheard, was in the wrong place. Her ward, which had previously voted at the old junior high was now shifted to the elementary school. This had happened since the previous general election, two years ago. They made sure she knew where the elementary school was and she left.
This explains why the Incomparable Marge was assigned a lower number than TOF. Such names had been whited out in the numerical list, and they must leave no blanks. 
In addition to the clerk who was resetting the machines after each voter, there was a Pennsylvania Constable standing by and assisting. Neither city police, county deputies, nor state troopers, the Constables are a group perhaps unique to the Commonwealth: elected peace officers. Constables are charged by Pennsylvania statute with maintaining order at election polls and ensuring that no qualified elector is obstructed from voting.  Constables are the only peace officers permitted at the polls on Election Day.  In fact this duty is mandated upon constables; failure to protect the polls, or provide for their protection through appointed deputies, is punishable with a fine.  





As each voter left the booth, he or she was thanked by the Judge of the Election, by the Constable, or other official. There were stickers one could take and wear proclaiming I VOTED. (Back in colonial days, the county clerk would announce in a loud voice, "(NAME) HAS VOTED!" Voting was a communal activity hard to capture in vote-by-mail.)


All told, the degree of amiable and neighborly behavior was a marked contrast to the ugly behavior of those at the heads of the two main tickets. The American people, TOF is convinced, are better than their leaders.

In addition to the Harpy and the Narcissist, the ballot featured a few other candidates: the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution parties and Write-In. Colorado, by contrast, has 22 different candidates. The Libertarian, Gary Johnson, is delightfully clueless. When asked to name his favorite foreign leader, he drew a blank. But asking a libertarian to name his favorite foreign leader is like asking a vegan to name his favorite cut of steak. He also apparently failed to recognize Aleppo, perhaps because he regarded foreign entanglements as none of our business. Still, one ought at least recognize what's going down in the world.

Of the Green candidate, neither her hide nor her hair has been seen on the news. Perhaps there is fear that she might become the Ralph Nader of 2016 and pull votes away from the Media Fave.

There seems to be a significant chance that Utah's electoral votes may go to an Independent Candidate. Evan McMullen has been consistently outpolling Clinton and runs neck-and-neck with Trump.

Meanwhile, back in the Commonwealth.
In the 2012 election, the three Pennsylvanias are relatively clear. The Democrats own Philadelphia (the deep blue county in the lower right) and the Main Line. They also have a stronghold in Pittsburgh (the lighter blue on the left, center). The difference is that Philadelphia and the Main Line are socially liberal while Pittsburgh is old style blue-collar union people who are more interested in economic issues than in, say, social engineering. More often than not, they "cling to their guns and bibles," as Obama put it. The other blue outposts are former manufacturing centers like Erie, W/B-Scranton and the Lehigh Valley (who are more attuned with Pittsburgh) and University (Centre County, in the center) and Government (Dauphin County: Harrisburg, the State Capitol). These are more aligned with Philadelphia. Lately, the lighter blue areas have been experiencing a red shift.

Philadelphia is the key. It is a significant percentage of the total voting population and went for Obama 85-14%. Obama's vote in Philadelphia was 10% of all votes cast in PA that year; so the question is whether Ms Clinton can pull off the same kind of margin this year. The most recent string of polls show her leading, but by very small margins within the bounds of sampling error (assuming no effect from non-response and other non-random factors).

I see the media have already started declaring winners in a few states. Good thing we have them or we'd have to wait for someone to actually count the ballots. Good thing they would never shade their projections.