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

Monday, June 17, 2019

A Blast from the Past

A post from Sunday, March 6, 2016, still has some timely elements. Of course, back then the Republicans had a massive primary field of 16 candidates, some of whom were competent. That is not so this time. The last time we had a herd of candidates, we got Trump.The comments below deal with the 2016 election. Perceptive Reader may judge which are timeless.

Notes from the Untergang

Dr. Boli gave us the following observation by
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. 
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 dancers. 
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 haven'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 lead 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 unregulated 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 on one horse or the 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 controlled 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 are 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. Nowadays, they cheer the monologue, more than they laugh at it. 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. See Venezuela for details.
16. Hillary still doesn't get it.
The question behind the email server is not whether sensitive material was leaked. It's why  the heck was she taking her work home at all? That's just basic poor 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 while 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. Held up fairly well, honestly; I voted for Trump because a cup that said "poison" but had it crossed out was a better choice than a pistol where I could SEE it was fully loaded-- and not only was I shocked he won, but I was shocked that he seems to be doing his best to actually live up to the spirit of what he's been hired for.

    It's like the used van we bought; the salesman wasn't lying! Not perfect, no, but not actually LYING.

  2. Good to keep a lot of these thoughts front of mind. It's too easy to forget in these crazy times.

  3. Even more than the Maginot Line, the Ming Dynasty's walls didn't even slow down the Manchurians (who would go on to found the Qing Dynasty, either the most murderous regime prior to communism, or second only to Mughal India).

  4. Incidentally, the walls do work. Not perfectly, but they are a vital tactical element. If they didn't work, the cities on the Mexican side of the border wouldn't be so pissed about 'em.

    According to our neighbor in El Paso, things got a LOT better when they put the wall in there-- walls weren't needed to keep your stuff from growing legs, almost nobody disappeared on the Texas side of the border anymore-- and according to the ladies in my homeschool group, the kinds of numbers that are needed to bypass it when it's in good condition are big enough to be hard to hide.

    Problems come in when there are things like some agencies actually chaining gates open, or guys on the Mexican side using gov't authority to bypass it, or stupid political tricks mean that it's in such bad repair that a pickup full of illegals can ram through it and not ruin the pickup. (Actual event there, too-- they got caught.)

    Incidentally, the Ming dynasty's wall worked fine. They didn't fall until after a huge series of disasters happened and their soldiers were roving around trying to get food instead of defending. (There was smallpox and a famine, too.)

    1. You may be right. They discourage casual civilians. They do not keep out the barbarians, like drug smugglers, who simply use boats or other techniquues.

    2. My husband's work down there was in support of border patrol. Nothing I'm going to say is anything but public knowledge, but it means I had someone to run stuff by to find out how screwed up news stories managed to get.

      It makes things much harder for the cartels-- in no small part because you don't go anywhere without paying the local cartel, or your body if it's found will be a warning to others.
      A very popular smuggling method is to charge the civilians for crossing, then the cost for "helping" the cross the border is that they pack your drugs. The Border Patrol Museum in El Paso has one of the pot packs for kids-- it's serious hiker sized. You get caught, then you owe the cartel for the drugs, too.

      Boats aren't very popular because it's hard to hide; on the other hand, they did catch a sub down in South America. More popular is smugglers pipes-- it's like a smuggler tunnel, but smaller.
      They did try tunnels, but they're too easy to find. Both are very expensive in time and effort, which puts stress on the cartels and makes them vulnerable to other cartels, cuts down their power.

      I forgot, walls also make it harder to get back to Mexico, which is really nice when they steal your car or something.

    3. Some pictures:

      (Really great little museum, nice folks.)

    4. I lived in El Paso for several years, and the older neighborhoods often had house with bars on all the windows and cages around the doors due to the problem of Mexicans coming over and breaking into residences. By the time I moved in the crime rate had plummeted due to the wall and the massive BP presence.

  5. The reason the ladies in my group know what kind of numbers are involved is because one of those attempts that was successful resulted in a guy jumping her back fence and trying to get in to the house.

  6. As a New Jerseyan, I supported Christie and can assure you that the reason he lost my support was not because he was not a rich Manhattanite but because he ended up being an incredibly disappointing and unbelievably corrupt trainwreck whose greatest virtue is that he is not our current governor.

    He was also all talk and no substance at all.

    Trump is much, much, much, much better.

  7. I disagree with only one point: There are managers and managers. Most of what we generally think of as management is stuff Trump would hire somebody to do, and fire them at the drop of a hat if he was displeased. Put out fires, execute routine plans, get good people, keep them focused. Most good governors do nothing more than that.

    But there's also managing to an overriding goal, which requires, most essentially, trimming away the nonessentials and prioritizing. But most especially, it requires very high clarity on what the goal is. It might be wishful thinking on my part, but Trump seems to have that skill set, which is the skill set one needs to build the kind of empire he built.

    I don't exactly trust Trump, but I've long speculated that one, if not the major, goal of his is to humiliate those who said he couldn't do it. To do that, he needs to undo Obama, remake the courts in a less liberal activist mode, rein in federal agencies, and, preferably, help some people who ought to be in jail get thrown in jail. These are mostly things I'm down with, so, so far, so good, in a white-knuckle sort of way.

    He also manages to make me suspect, despite my natural reluctance, that he really is a lot smarter, in the sense of more cunning, and patient than he seems on first glance. If his goal is to humiliate his enemies - and taking power is what, to Trump, humiliation means - he might very well, for example, allow the border situation to drag on right up until the election, as the visuals hurt his opponents more than they hurt him. Open borders is an insane idea - and the visuals prove it. If he had instead merely had the army build the wall starting day 1, then the news would be all about what a tyrant he is - without the endless pictures of hordes of people stampeding across the borders to keep the problem fresh in the minds of the so called independent voter. Similarly, his low-key focus on judicial appointments and some rumored work among the lower, less treasonous levels of the FBI, etc., suggest he's playing a longer game: can't go after the perps if the courts will throw out the cases or federal law enforcement simply refuses to make them in the first case.

    Simply speculating, I just don't know. In the meantime, Trump mostly makes the right heads explode, which makes the rest of it much easier to endure.

  8. In re: Quote 1.2:
    "Middle" always a subtle pejorative -- implies the thing so named can't be better identified except as being between two name-deserving things.  Among those who come to praise the Middle Ages, not to bury them, what better name than "Middle Ages" do they propose to designate the era?  Early Eurowest?  Insula Europa? (hemmed in on all sides til 1492ish)  Maybe Hothouse Europe or Pressure-Cooker Europe would serve to set the stage for the succeeding outgrowth/explosion.

       -- Occasional Correspondent

  9. I think the Maginot Line gets a bum rap. The French always knew that a German attack could come through Belgium, because they were planning on it. The point of the line was to allow the French to concentrate their forces in a set piece battle in Belgium. The real French failure was in believing that the Germans couldn't penetrate the Ardennes as quickly as they ultimately did.

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