The Unthinkable

I am convinced that life in general and politics in particular are like chaos theory.  Anything you can think of is possible.  That is scary to believe, but I know it to be true.


There have been two world wars, but not one for six decades.  That’s because of the invention of nuclear weapons, something so terrifying that even despots have declined to use them.  We did came close in 1962.  But we have had smaller wars of course and the results have been poor to awful.  Korea at least saved the South but Vietnam was a complete failure.  The second Iraq war was also.  Even Afghanistan became a continuing black hole for blood and treasure despite attaining the goal of killing Osama bin Laden.  Why do we keep doing this?

Some people think that JFK would have withdrawn from Vietnam, but we will never know.  He did start the thing by sending 16,000 combat troops there.  George H. W. Bush showed restraint in the first Iraq war, only to see his son decline to do so thereafter, disastrously.  President Obama, to his credit, has actually reduced our involvement in war. He withdrew from Iraq and reduced involvement in Afghanistan to a mostly-advisory role.

History proves that the temptation to use military force is almost irresistible. I think it is so because war-fighting is the one option available to a president which shows decisiveness and gets quick action.  Very satisfying at first. Everything else creates controversy and rebuttal. The danger is made even greater by the refusal of every Congress for six decades to uphold its obligation to declare war before engaging.

In view of this history, we should all reflect in this context, I submit, whether we want to elect an amateur or a professional, experienced politician as commander in chief. Especially since the amateur has zero experience in both government and military service. Zero.  Could Donald Trump actually win the presidency?  The polls say he very well could.  Even more persuasively, one professional observer gives five reasons why he probably will win.

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An Independence Day “What If?”

the_united_states_of_colombia_by_steampoweredwolf-d8knysyWhile visiting another blog, the topic of the legal right of states to secede arose. I was prompted to visit a number of articles on it, including the one in Wikipedia which I think is remarkably good and comprehensive of the others. What surprises me is the legal controversy of the matter. A good case can be made, I think, for either side but it is the precedent of the Civil War that towers above all other arguments, including those about what the founders really thought and what the Articles of Confederation implied.  Such matters can turn either way on the opinions of 8 or 9 mere mortals, thus pointing to a prime importance of the upcoming election.

On this Independence Day I find myself musing about what history might have looked like had the South successfully seceded or if Lincoln had lost the nomination or the election? Either could have easily happened through faddish public sentiment.  Would either nation have participated in the Spanish-American war or World War I? Would Hawaii have even become a state? Would the South have also declared war after Pearl Harbor? Perhaps the Japanese might not have attacked at all, a divided America being less of a threat to its ambitions. (My concern for how easily events can overtake mere arguable law were heightened by having just finished season 4 of House of Cards.)

Would Europe now be part of the Third Reich? I think it not only possible, but likely. WW II was a close thing and it all hung on a knife edge on June 6, 1944, even with the combined strength of a United American military.

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I LOVE this Woman

There’s nothing I can add to what Elizabeth’s great video here – she says it all.


I have written many posts about my heros.  Political heroes like Adlai Stevenson and RFK.  People who have spoken up and made a difference.  But my current, live version of a hero is Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusets.

Run Donald run.  And I don’t mean for office.  I mean head for the hills.  I imagine there is some real estate for sale somewhere they allow misogynous white has-beens.

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O Finally Weighs In: “The Values That Unite Us As Democrats”

In recent days, one of my fellow bloggers (who happens to be Canadian, actually) criticized president Obama as boring, unexciting. He is probably unimpressed that he is now endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. So before you view the video clip posted by my friendl, the Erstwhile Conservative, let me tell you reprise my reaction to the criticism of Big O:

I usually agree with your posts, (name deleted), but not this one. To be more specific, it is the cynicism that I disagree with, not the fact that his presidency has been rather boring. I guess it has.

Or, at least that’s true relative to war. Dubyah had his shock and awe, and that was really exciting. All Obama has done is to diminish war fighting, and shucks, knocking off al Qaeda and Taliban chiefs with drones is the opposite of drama. Bang, right out of the blue, they’re dead. Yawn. Of course, there was the raid that got Osama. (Can you imagine the excitement if that one had failed?) Another opportunity for excitement lost.

And then there was the time when Barry got into office and inherited an economy in free fall. His esteemed opponents desperately warned against the “financial cliff” and demanded sharp budget cutbacks that would have sent us back into a Greek-llike near depression. Hell, they even shut the whole government down for two weeks trying to do it. That would have been exciting. But no, not Barry’s style. Instead we had, thanks to him, a steady climb back to 5% unemployment and new market highs. Booooring.

Now Donald Trump just might be the solution. I can only imagine the excitement to come!

The Erstwhile Conservative: A Blog of Repentance

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A Mostly Untold Story

This article is only the latest on the Party of No. The GOP leaders seem to have no constructive ideas at all and have spent their time on such negativities as privatizing Social Security to make it Social Insecurity (the stock market) and neutering the EPA. (Lead in the water? What lead?) Anyway, if you need one more reason to vote Democrat, here it is.

The Erstwhile Conservative: A Blog of Repentance

As Drumpf spends his face time on TV racially attacking a federal judge appointed by Barack Obama, we get almost no information about the larger problem with the judicial nomination process. From Democratic Underground:

Header and subheader of the Daily Beast article on which the above graphic is based:

It’s Not Just Merrick Garland: Republicans Are Blocking So Many Nominees It’s Caused a Judicial Emergency

The judicial confirmation rate under the Republican-controlled Senate is less than half of what it was when Democrats held power under George W. Bush. There are so few judges that it’s hurting the country.

Finally, an important paragraph from the article showing how conservatives in the Senate still think our first African-American president is only three-fifths of a man:

And it’s not just judges. The Congressional Research Service found that President Obama has had the fewest presidential nominees confirmed in decades: 198, compared with 345 for…

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Good Writing

The Most Prolific Writer of Fiction? Isaac Asimov credit:

The Most Prolific Writer of Fiction? Isaac Asimov

As an example of good writing I offer the following short essay by a favorite author, Lee Child. Titled Telling Tales, it is from the New Yorker magazine’s online newsletter and it struck me as a little masterpiece. Its candor is immediately attention-getting and, like all good writing, it is information-dense. There are no boring parts, no unnecessary words. And there is profundity, an insight on the place of fiction in human endeavors, even though I do not necessarily agree with his conclusion. It is grist for thought, and perhaps, if you are so inclined dear reader, for discussion. I love discussion.

The other day I saw my father, who is ninety-two years old, and in very poor health. Physically, he’s a wreck, and mentally he’s not much better. At his peak, he was a capable and intelligent man, by nature rational to the point of coldness. But the other day he was full of childlike fear of the darkness that lay ahead. He’s religious, in an austere way. So I knew what he meant. “Don’t be afraid,” I said. “You’re a good man, and you lived a good life.” In fact, neither thing was true. But what else could I say? I’m sure he said the same to his own father, for the same reasons, and with the same reservations. Don’t we all?

Ten thousand fathers ago, we would have said nothing, because we didn’t yet have language. We didn’t yet have much of anything. A passing U.F.O. would have written us off as a certain dead end. Our contemporary competitors, the Neanderthals, would have got the nod. We were weak and slender, and often sickly, and shabby toolmakers. Then we developed language, and everything changed. We had grammar and syntax, which turned out to be the best tools of all. Now we could plan, and discuss, and theorize, and speculate. We could coördinate ahead of time, with a plan B and a plan C already in place. A coöperative pack of early humans was suddenly the most powerful animal on Earth. So that if the U.F.O. came back today it would have to admit that its first impressions were wrong.

But along the way something extraordinary happened. At first, we prospered by planning and speculating based on what we knew to be true, or could reasonably and responsibly infer to be true. In other words, we lived in a nonfiction world. We still do, in every practical way. My wife might tell me that her phone says it’s going to rain, so I should take my umbrella, and every step of that transaction would be meaningless without the fundamental assumption of truth. Most of life is like that. It’s a great strategy. Ten thousand generations ago, our bones were piled high in hyenas’ dens. Now Voyager has left the solar system. Or not, depending on how you—reasonably and responsibly—interpret the Oort Cloud. These are the things we talk about, and this is how we talk about them.

At some point, though, we invented a parallel option. We invented fiction. We started talking about things that hadn’t happened to people who didn’t exist. Why? Not for entertainment during our leisure time. We were still deep in prehistory. We had no leisure time. Everything was a desperate struggle for survival. We did nothing unless it had a chance of keeping us alive until morning. Fiction evolved for a purpose. Warnings and cautionary tales could be sourced from the grim nonfiction world. A sabre-toothed tiger will kill you. O.K., got it. Fiction pushed the pendulum the other way. It inspired, and empowered, and emboldened. It said, No, actually, there was a guy, a friend of a friend, who came face to face with a sabre-toothed tiger, a huge one, and he turned and outran it, all the way back to the cave, safe as can be. So don’t panic. It doesn’t always turn out bad. Then, perhaps a hundred generations later, the story evolved, and the friend of the friend killed the tiger. The action hero was born. Strength and courage would save us. And it worked. Fiction in its various forms proved just as powerful to our survival as any other factor. Some would say more powerful. Some would name us not Homo sapiens but Pan narrans: the storytelling ape. Would Voyager be leaving the solar system if we hadn’t long ago formalized and mythologized our inchoate desire to wander?

But the bad things would not be happening, either. Every bad thing depends on the same two components as every good thing: people prepared to lie, and other people prepared to believe them. The habit of credulity, bred into us, albeit inspiring and empowering and emboldening, has led to some very bad outcomes throughout what we know of our history. From small things, like a father believing a son, to much larger things, like a billion miserable and terrified dead. All balanced against the good things. Is it fifty-fifty? Or worse than that? And what about babies and bathwater? Could we give up the stunning joy that the good side of storytelling brings in order to erase the appalling horrors of the bad side? Where does the balance lie?

It’s ironic, given my profession, but the more I learn the more I would uninvent fiction.

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Make America What Again?



Prime among the apparent reasons for the political ascent of the phenomenon of Donald Trump is his theme of “Make America Great Again.” This has captured a populist revulsion for the ethnic and cultural changes that have been trending for decades now, most prominently the increase in Hispanics and Muslims. Pat Buchanan, not surprisingly waxing nostalgic for a White America, joins with Trump in advocating immigration control as a solution.  A large part of the country is buying into this, at least on the “conservative side”. In an interview,  (thanks to Bud Morgan for the link) Buchanan says,

Anybody that believes that a country can be maintained that has no ethnic core to it or no linguistic core to it, I believe is naive in the extreme.

This idea is certainly arguable. America is of course a melting pot of diverse ethnicity, and, as Buchanan asserts, of language as well. But is the solution immigration control? A wall? Isolationism? Personally, I think that is even more extreme, not to mention impractical.  People seem clueless about the immense lowering of the cost of goods that the global economy has brought about.  If Trump is successful in overturning international trade policies, it’s is going to hit the economy like a hammer.

What is it that makes a country? What is the glue that holds it together, that gives it political and cultural identity if not language and ethnicity? Is it the Constitution? Well, the Constitution provides the political structure that makes the country successful, but that’s facilitation, not impetus. Most American citizens would be hard-pressed to write down the Bill of Rights, except of course for the Second Amendment, and maybe the First.

Are we bound together because we all got schooled in history the same way? I don’t think so. Native American history differs from that that which has long been fed to us Anglo’s. Because we are all fans of American sports? Sounds absurd, but there’s a lot of commonality in that. Seventy-five years ago, we were forced by war and the necessity of conscription into a common national identity and political cooperation, but now wars are fought much differently and common sacrifice is no longer part of the glue. (This may, ironically, be a big part of the current political problem.) No. Personally, I think language is the main cultural glue we have left.

I have long been an advocate of making English the national language, although I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of change if we did. English is the natural default already. Second languages? No problem there with me. So, I understand Trump’s appeal on this issue, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for him. As I heard someone say yesterday, his opinions and pronouncements have a shelf-life of about 24 hours.

So, what’s the solution? Maybe, just maybe, it’s that we need to buckle up and do the long, hard slog of public education better. Any other ideas?

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