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

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Notes from the Untergang

Last September, TOF reprinted the following observation by Dr. Boli:
In debating his opponents, Mr. Trump uses a particular style of argument that is enormously effective on the third-grade demographic:
OPPONENT. I believe you are mistaken in your inference.
TRUMP. You’re ugly.
OPPONENT. What I mean is that there is overwhelming scientific evidence to support my assertion that vaccines do not cause autism.
TRUMP. I mean, seriously, who puts a face like that on network TV?
Because it is not usually encountered outside the playground, this rhetorical figure does not have a common name. Dr. Boli will therefore give it one, and call it the argumentum ad vultum, the argument against the face or countenance. 
And added a reminiscence of the Marge:
Some years ago, when the Incomparable Marge took our daughter to see The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, she found herself two rows behind the Donald and his then-wife. They spent the performance necking and smooching and engaging in serious PDsA, pretty much ignoring the dancing on-stage until his daughter came out with the other children. 
You know what that means?

That's right, sports fans, it's Political Season once again! For those who supposed it had always been political season, 24/7/365, well, now it's Prime Time. OK, Primary Time. TOF will now share some random thoughts of golden wisdom, some of them his own, and some of which (not necessarily his own) he may agree with.

1. Candidates should hold debates. They hasn't done so since 1960.
No, really. Remember debate club in high school or college and how debates were carried out? Position, rebuttal, and all that? What we have now are joint press conferences, with reporters holding the whip. But as regards reporters, remember the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, as enunciated by Michael Crichton:
"You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know."
Republican debate
These maestros specialize in asking questions designed to create drama, because the news paradigm of an election is the horse race. Or a boxing match. (Or in this year, a Battle Royale Cage Match.) 
2. The media's purpose is to sell beer and shampoo, and that means eyeballs in front of the tube, and that means scandal and drama.
So don't expect them to show many moments of candidates making cogent policy points or proposing important positions. Don't believe it? When was the last time they featured remarks by John Kasich on the news? They always led with Trump for the same reason your local news always leads with a fire or a car wreck. Sooner or later, candidates looking for all-important tube-time give in and give the media what they want. The Democrats are more arch with their internecine put-downs, but they too are out to entertain the media.
3. Trump is popular because he takes on the media and political correctness.
People are sick and tired of being hectored, chastised, and condescended to by special snowflakes and all the rest. Trump does not back down and go all apologetic when called out. Hooray. Finally someone is talking back! Of course, Chris Christie was like that, too; but he was not a rich, coiffed Manhattanite cocktail partier. The problem is that political correctness is like Trump's Wall. In an effort to keep out the drug smugglers and terrorists that might mix in with the immigrants and refugees, Trump seeks to bar the everyone. And in an effort to bar genuinely hateful speech, political correctness tries to ban even the hint of a possibility that anyone might take offense.
4. Exit polls of Democrats on Stupor Tuesday revealed that the most frequently named characteristic looked for in a candidate was "caring." We are apparently electing an emo-in-chief. Among the uncaring Republicans, it was "competence."
TOF believes it should also matter what a candidate cares about and what he is competent at. The top Republican contender at the present time is a real estate wheeler dealer who, except for the real estate deals, has not been notably successful in his business ventures, so the definition of competent may be fluid. And what does it mean to "care" if the result of raising the minimum wage to $15/hr is that inexperienced youth will be unemployed from higher paying jobs?
Newlyweds Donald Trump Sr. and Melania Trump with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Clinton at their reception held at The Mar-a-Lago Club in January 22, 2005 in Palm Beach, Fla. At the time, Trump was a Democrat and supported Clinton over Bush. In 2008 he would write that Hilary Clinton would make a great president. (Maring Photography/Getty Images/Contour by Getty Images)

5. Beware of politicians who want to be Leaders.
For that to happen everyone else must become Followers. Besides, we tried Leaders in the 30s and 40s and that did not work out very well.The idea that the Man will come and kiss our boo-boos and they will all go away is crazy. Yet in country after country, the answer to corruption or the perception of corruption has been the Man on Horseback in one way or they other. Remember when "This is the moment when the oceans stopped rising"?
6. The Tea Party and the Occupy This movement are the same movement.
They both object that powerful money interests control the government. The answer of the Occupy movement is to give the government more power. The answer of the Tea Party movement seems to be electing the money interest to be the government.
Off topic: What is the difference between occupying Wall Street and occupying an Oregon bird sanctuary during the off-season? Ans. In the former case a woman gets raped; in the latter case, an occupier gets shot dead.
7. Donald Trump claiming not to know who David Duke is was ludicrous in the extreme. That the media did not know that Donald Trump had denounced David Duke a decade and a half ago is not ludicrous only because a) the media is pretty much ignorant of anything that happened more than a week ago and b) it does not fit the narrative into which they want to shove Trump.
In 2000, Trump stated that he was leaving the Reform Party because of the involvement of "David Duke, Pat Buchanan and Lenora Fulani. That is not company I wish to keep." ("What I Saw at the Revolution," The New York Times OpEd, February 19, 2000), as per Wikipedia.
8. Trump is not part of the Republican Establishment.
True dat. According to Wikipedia, he was a Democrat until 1987; then he was a Republican from 1987 to 1999. He then switched to the Reform Party from 1999 to 2001. After a presidential exploratory campaign with the Reform Party, he quit because of the involvement of David Duke and others. From 2001 to 2009 he was a Democrat again; he switched to the Republican Party again from 2009 to 2011. An independent from 2011 to 2012, he returned to the Republican Party in 2012. Asked to name the best president of recent years in 2015, Trump picked Bill Clinton; and in 2008 he said that Hilary Clinton would make a good president or vice-president. 
So he is definitely not part of the Republican Establishment. But he is one of the Forbes 500 and definitely part of the Northeast Establishment.
9. Heard elsewhere: 'A frustrated public agrees that this election “absolutely calls for a really futile and stupid gesture to be made on somebody’s part. And we’re just the guys to do it.”'
Yes, it's the Animal House election!
10. Also heard elsewhere: 'Trump's entire campaign is “let’s get even with Obama and make America great again”. Many followers seem only interested in the first part. Of course, that's how we got Obama—hatred of Bush.'
In other words, this is about more hope and change.
11. Also heard elsewhere: 'Trump’s signature issue–and the only one he really needs to get Normal-Americans on-board–is “BUILD THE WALL.”'
The French built a wall, too. They called it the Maginot Line. How'd that work out for them? He says he will get Mexico to pay for the wall. Really? If Mexico could afford to pay for a wall, she could afford to pay her workers enough to employ them at home. In problem-solving, we teach managers to address the root causes, not the symptoms; but Trump is not a very good manager.
One way to help Mexicans stay at home and build their own country is to stifle American demand for drugs that go to enrich the gangs that terrorize Mexicans into fleeing. We're looking at you Wall Street and Hollywood. 
BTW, ya like that hyphenate 'Normal-Americans'? TOF remembers when True Americans were trying to keep the Irish refugees out.
12. What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun! Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!” has already existed in the ages that preceded us. (Eccl. 1:9-10)
In the 1800 election, Jefferson's supporters described President Adams as a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." In return, Adams' men called Vice President Jefferson "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward. When TOF was researching his family tree, he had cause to read the Washington (NJ) Star of sometime in 1864 whose front page was headlined WE SUPPORT MCCLELLAN AND THE ENTIRE DEMOCRATIC SLATE and referred in the body of the "article" to "Abe the Ape, King of the N*****s." Only they did not use asterisks. In case you think the media today is biased.
 13. Heard elsewhere: "There’s no use charging Trump with 'populism.' Direct election of the president is by definition populism.
Is it coincidence that Trump's major attacks have been on conservative news organs and he has boycotted conservative forums and been disparaged by conservative magazines and papers? Something is going on, and those who persist in thinking in terms of 'liberal' and 'conservative' may be missing an important realignment taking place. In the FIRESTAR series, TOF postulated two new parties: American and Liberty (the former nationalist/populist; the latter, libertarian) at right angles to the Democrats and Republicans and originally comprised of members of both.
14. Mass rallies of screaming fans are more appropriate for rock concerts than for politics.
But it is the tenor of the times. Cf. the audiences on the Tonight show compared to those of Carson's day; or the audiences on the plaza of the Today show. They are cheering and screaming for themselves and that they are being televised. Self-adulation is carrying over to these political rallies. A certain amount of rally behavior is supposed, but one should recall the rallies in Weimar Germany and proceed with caution.
15. Bernie Sanders has the peculiar superpower of actually enunciating policy positions through the media news blender.
Of course these positions are a caution. He wants to nationalize health care so that health care can flourish the way education and marriage have flourished since government has taken those in hand. He also favors the $15 minimum wage, which would effectively price low-skill workers out of the market. There is a difference between ideas that sound good and those that do good. 
16. Hillary still doesn't get it.
The question behind the email server is not whether sensitive material was leaked. It's wh  the heck was she taking her work home at all? That's just basic good judgment. 
17. Who knows but that the best candidates may not have dropped out?
Martin O'Malley on the Democrat side; Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie on the Republican. All of these had experience actually governing a state. Of those presidents that history has judged best, most had previously been governors or generals; or those judged worst, most have been senators or representatives. There are exceptions to every rule -- Zachary Taylor was not so hot; LBJ was very effective -- but the presidency is an executive job, not a collegial one and the skill set required to make one a successful senator may not work too well in the executive chair.


  1. "Sanders", not "Saunders". Apparently they're two spellings of the same name ("McNeil" vs. "MacNeill"), but only one of the spellings in question refers to a current presidential candidate.

  2. The Maginot Line worked perfectly fine. It forced the Germans to attack through Belgium, where the French planned to fight them on a restricted front. The problem for the French was that they figured the Germans couldn't move their armor through the Ardennes, and that proved to be very wrong.

    1. There was a bit more to it than that.

      Another problem for the French was that they figured armour was only effective in an infantry support role, and did not begin forming armoured divisions until the war had already begun.

      Another was that they encouraged the civil population to believe that the Maginot Line would keep the Germans out entirely, and that it would never be necessary to fight another war against the Boche.

      Another was that their top general was a career staff officer who was over the legal retirement age and was suffering from mental lapses consistent with a diagnosis of neurosyphilis. Nine days into the battle, they sacked him and replaced him with a still older general who opposed the entire republican form of government and immediately began looking for a chance to surrender.

      Another was that they refused to commit their whole air force to the battle, allowing the Germans to enjoy nearly undisputed control of the air. The French Air Force actually ended the battle with more front-line aeroplanes than it had at the outset.

      As for forcing the Germans to attack through Belgium, that had been the Germans’ preferred invasion route since ancient times. There was no Maginot line in 1914. In effect, the French spent billions of francs to brick up the kitchen window, but left the front door wide open. The Maginot Line ‘worked perfectly fine’ against a threat that did not exist.


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