New Books Available

1515424200The newest edition of my ongoing series, The Complete Book of Presidential Inaugural Speeches, is now available. The book contains the texts of all 60 inauguration day speeches given by the presidents, going back to George Washington’s first, in 1789. In addition, each speech is supplemented by my notes on the election that brought that president to office, and commentary on the day of the speech itself. The book is available in both trade paperback and case laminate (hardcover) versions.

This year, for the first time, I’m also offering an oddball special edition of the book. Owing to a perceived public demand, a separate, “Trump-less Edition” is available. This book, for those who’d rather do their best to forget the 2017–2021 presidential term, contains 59 inaugural speeches and notes, and purposely omits reference to the 45th presidential administration.

1515424227As with all books issued through Gray Rabbit Publications and Fantastic Books, these are distributed by Ingram, and are available from all the major online retailers, or via special order from any physical bookstore.

Cannibalistic Democrats

The Democratic Party is twice again looking like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. They spent the last four years seething about President Trump, trying to get together to put themselves back into a position of power. Now that they have control of the White House and the Senate, they are again trying to do to themselves what the Republican Party wants to do to them.

The “progressives” are threatening their party’s fragile majority because they can’t get everything they want right this minute in this one bill (the $15 an hour minimum wage doesn’t fit in the Covid relief bill). They have a majority of ten of votes in the House, and absolutely no majority in the Senate. But it seems they’d rather let the minority Republicans rule the roost than compromise amongst themselves to enact legislation that we need right now.

And on a smaller level, they’re already calling for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign because he’s been accused of sexual impropriety. Not convicted, not even investigated, just accused. But leading Democrats are already lining up to get him out right now (see, for example, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).

[Edited four hours later to note that de Blasio and Ocasio-Cortez may have spoken against him, but apparently Representative Kathleen Rice (a Democrat) is the first to formally call for Cuomo’s resignation.]

The Trump Party demands total fealty to their chosen god-figure, but the Democrats demand absolute political purity. The Trumps may run alternate candidates in primary fights to punish those party members who don’t kowtow properly, but then they’ll support whichever candidate gets the Republican label. The Democrats, on the other hand, are quite willing to throw out a current office-holder who might not measure up to absolutely every mark on the list. They appear to be willing to derail Covid relief and all of President Biden’s agenda if they don’t get their way right this very instant.

Earlier, I wrote about the need for the parties to be stronger. The Republicans have shown they are unable to control rampaging lunatics within their ranks. The Democrats, on the other hand, are so focused on destroying of any of their own members who aren’t absolutely pure to the cause (even those who are good, effective leaders, like Cuomo today and Al Franken three years ago), that they’re willing to do the Republicans’ dirty work for them.

Somebody is going to have to teach these baby progressives that government, and politics in general, is not “give me what I want or I’m going to hold my breath until I turn blue.” Governing and politics is negotiation: it’s staking out a position of what you want, while knowing you’re not going to get it all, and then trying to come up with the best possible deal while recognizing that the person on the other side of the table wants something and has to get something, too. Sure, the Republicans haven’t been very good at negotiating either (see Mitch McConnell’s “leadership” over the last five years), but none of his Republicans ever said “give me what I want or I’m going to side with the Democrats.”

In an ideal world, everyone would be angels and bear not even a hint of besmirchment. In the real world, we sometimes have to accept that people have flaws. We have to seek the best possible results, even if it means getting our feet dirty on the way there. Instead, we’re dealing with Democrats who seem to care more for clean feet today than the long-term good they could be doing.

Thanks for reading. Writerly payments gratefully accepted: paypal.me/IanRandalStrock .

Parties Need to be Strengthened

Fareed Zakaria has an interesting take on the Republican Party (which in my mind also covers the Democrats), and its seeming inability to “control its extremists.” I just heard him on his weekly CNN program, but you can see a recording of it here: https://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2021/02/21/exp-gps-0221-fareeds-take.cnn .

My take-away from it is that the political parties in the US have gotten too weak. They’ve lost the ability to purge radical voices from their ranks, which in turn gives those radical voices a place to enact their insane desires to tear down the civility of the country, to destroy our ability to work together for the betterment of all.

I don’t know if there’s an easy solution to this problem. It seems to be a side-effect of the information age. Political parties, way back when, had all the power, because they chose the candidates, and in most cases (other than local elections), voters knew nothing about the candidates on the ballot except for their party affiliation. Thus, the party was supremely important in determining who a voter would support, and in a candidate getting elected.

But in the era in which anyone interested in running for office can reach out to millions of potential voters without even choosing a political label, and when such a candidate can then run rampant over the party loyalists (a result of the move from nominating conventions to open primaries), the only check on a whack-job’s candidacy is if the other candidates can whip up an even larger, more fervid base. That’s good for a laissez-faire attitude, but bad for anyone hoping for any accountability or high-mindedness in their candidates.

So why do we need party labels at all, if these random non-party nuts can hijack the parties? We need them because our two major parties have spent the last two centuries ensuring that they maintain dominance. If you want to be on a ballot, you have to collect a lot of signatures in a very precise fashion in a limited window of time, and you have to do it in each state in which you want to run. Or you can just get the nomination of one of the major parties, and you’re automatically on the ballot nationwide.

To bring this back to Fareed’s and my original point, I think the parties need to grow back their moral backbones. They need to be able to say “No, we don’t care if you show up with this rabid horde of extremists. We don’t care if you can raise a ton of money from those eager to prove they are more radical then anyone. We as a party stand for certain ideals, including good, inclusive government, and your extremist rhetoric is not welcome here.” I’m not really sure how we can do that. All I know is that letting those at the extreme edges of the parties gain more and more control is not the path to a good future.

When I was in college, Professor Levin talked about the American system of government. Of how, in a two-party system, the way to win (or so we all thought) was to get as close as possible to the middle of the political spectrum. The theory was that those at the outer edges are going to vote for their party regardless of who the candidate is, because they don’t want the other party (which is even farther from their views) to win. So the purpose of a campaign is to convince the undecided middle to vote for you, rather than the other party.

But we seem to have overturned that political theory in the last several elections. I don’t know if it’s the rise of money in politics, or if it’s a result of the unrelenting narrative that the government can’t or won’t do anything (an attempt to dishearten the center from voting, so that the outer edges can wield greater power). We find ourselves in a country where, if you’re not with me, you’re my enemy, rather than simply a neighbor with a different opinion. And we need to say “no, that’s wrong. We can both want the best for all and have well-reasoned opinions, and still disagree with each other. And even when we disagree, we can still hang out together and enjoy each other’s company.”

I started this piece quoting Fareed Zakaria talking about the Republican Party, but I don’t think that’s correct anymore. I think the insurrectionists, the loudest voices, those threatening the stability of the government, should properly be labeled the Trumpian Party. I think the Republican Party has all but disappeared into the Trumpian. Which is not to say that the Democratic Party is blameless and healthy. It, too, is suffering from the rise of its own extremists. But their demands for political purity (the reason Senator Al Franken was forced to resign, for example) mean that their radicalization will take longer to wreak its own brand of havoc.

It’s galling for me to say this, because I’ve always been passionately anti-party. In part, that was because none of the major parties completely echo my own views, but in part, it was due to my own form of idealism. I liked to think that allowing all candidates equal ballot access would give we the voters the greatest selection of choice, and that we would then choose the best people. But as we’ve seen recently, reality doesn’t always mesh with my ideal world. And people, by and large, are more venal and selfish than altruistic and high-minded. I’m still a rational anarchist, but that particular political philosophy does not seem to work well with human beings as we are currently constituted.

Want to help me form a party to marginalize all the extremists? paypal.me/ianrandalstrock

Guilty but acquitted

The US Senate voted 57–43 in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. 57 votes to convict, short of the two-thirds necessary. I’m disappointed that I’m not surprised.

I had been harboring a hope, a pipe-dream, that the Republican Party (as represented by those 50 Senators) would choose to repudiate the growing Trump Party within its ranks, and return to its role as a mature party representing rational conservative points of view. Sadly, 43 Senators said “No, we really are the Trump Party, not the Republican Party.”

The other disappointing-but-not-surprising facet of the proceedings was that so few Senators (if any) actually sat as impartial jurors, judging the trial solely on the cases presented to them (I watched it all; I found the argument for conviction to be convincing).

But after the vote, after the impeachment trial adjourned, Senator Chuck Schumer spoke (saying very little of surprise), and then Senator Mitch McConnell spoke. His speech was a surprise. McConnell spoke for probably fifteen minutes, and his words (in my mind) boil down to “Donald Trump was guilty of the crime imputed to him, but the Senate couldn’t convict because impeachment is accuse-try-convict-remove from office, and since he’s a former President, we couldn’t remove him from office. But some other court should definitely try him.” Those words resonate with me.

But Mitch McConnell has lost all credibility with me. Starting with his February 2016 statement that the Senate could not consider a Supreme Court nominee during an election year, and then completely reversing himself with his October 2020 rush to confirm a Supreme Court nominee days before an election, he has proven himself to be nothing more than a political opportunist, blowing whichever way the wind takes him. And let’s not forget, it was McConnell himself who determined the Senate could not be in session to receive the impeachment article from the House before the end of President Trump’s term. The trial lasted five days. The article of impeachment was adopted by the House on January 13. Had McConnell chosen to receive it, and held the trial in a timely manner, it would have concluded before the end of Donald Trump’s term. So McConnell “had” to vote to acquit based on a technicality, but it’s a technicality he himself caused.

So I want to believe what he said, but because he said it, I can’t. But it certainly does seem that there is emphatic evidence of Donald Trump’s guilt in inciting an insurrection.

Sometimes you don’t want to be chosen

A press release from Fantastic Books:

1515424170He is the chosen one.

Chosen for what?

No one will tell him.

Chosen by whom?

No one knows.

Chosen for a good reason?

Even that is open to debate.

When you’re a young bard on the road, and an 847-year-old prophecy hurls these slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at you, life is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

1515424189Terin Ostler was living a happily anonymous life when two squires grabbed out of a tavern and brought before the Duke of Ashbury. Told that he was the object of a prophecy—but that no one would tell him what the prophecy says—he is forced onto a quest in which his life will be threatened by the enemies of the Duke, and by the Duke’s allies. His quest is to save the world from an apocalyptic war, which started nine centuries ago, and seems to be on pause. Terin Ostler is a man on the run… if only he could figure out where he’s going.

Author Michael A. Ventrella was one of the creators of live action roleplaying, and after creating the world of Fortannis, started writing stories set within that realm. In 2008, his comic epic fantasy novel Arch Enemies was published. In 2020, he was able to rewrite it, improve it, and turn it into the two books Fantastic Books is now thrilled to be publishing: Terin Ostler and the Arch Enemies, and Terin Ostler and the War of the Words.

Terin Ostler and the Arch Enemies, Book 1 of the Tales of Fortannis
$13.99, trade paperback, 160 pages, ISBN 978-1-5154-2417-8
$5.99 ebook

Terin Ostler and the War of the Words, Book 2 of the Tales of Fortannis
$13.99, trade paperback, 186 pages, ISBN 978-1-5154-2418-5
$5.99 ebook

The Tales of Fortannis—and all Fantastic Books publications—are distributed through Ingram, and available through all major online retailers and specialty sf shops via direct order from the publisher.

Mitch McConnell can, but maybe we don’t want to convict Donald Trump. Not guilty by reason of…

A lot of the talking heads on my television news programs are handicapping the upcoming impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The prevailing comments seem to be that the Republican Senators are going to try to avoid taking any position because they fear what Trump and the Trump Party may do to them. They’re expressing incredulity that seventeen Republican Senators could possibly vote to convict.

But what seems to be missing in these analyses are, first, that this is (or at least ought to be) a trial in which the Senators, sitting as jurors, really ought to be deciding on their vote (verdict) based on the evidence which will be presented at the trial (I was pleased to hear Senator Toomey say just that today on CNN). We didn’t get a lot of that in the last three presidential impeachment trials, and we probably won’t see much of it this time around, but just think how refreshing it would be.

The other thing that is missing is the potential for Mitch McConnell to grow a backbone. McConnell is a smart politician, who has ruled his faction in the Senate for quite a while. He appears to be the leader of the entire Republican party today (except for Trump and his insanity). The time appears to be ripe for him to wrest control of the Republican name back, and to marginalize the aberration that is the Trump Party. By convicting former President Trump of inciting an insurrection, and by barring him from ever holding office again, the Republicans in the Senate would be clearly telling their party members that the insanity is done; that it is time to go back to being members of a government, rather than a bullying, rampaging mob of divisive haters.

Donald Trump managed to grab the White House, and drew out of the woodwork a gang of passionate thugs, but even Mitch McConnell, in his more lucid moments, must realize that Donald Trump’s Presidency was bad for the country. Now, McConnell has a few days to spread the word among his forty-nine Senate colleagues that they can retake the party, that they can once again look like mature adults in the government.

Of course, it wouldn’t be so simple as casting the vote (and convincing a few other Senators to do the same). If McConnell and other rational Republicans really want to regain control of the runaway train the Trump has turned their party into, it’s going to take effort. They’re going to have to speak about what they’re doing and why. They’re going to have to educate their party members, pointing out the lies and misdirection Trump spews as naturally as breathing. In short, they’re going to have to work to get there, and it won’t be easy. But nothing worth doing ever is easy.

Mind you, while I’m expressing hope that Mitch McConnell can work for the good of the country, I really don’t repose that much trust in him. Especially not after watching his actions of the last few years. In 2016, he said the Senate could not consider a Supreme Court nominee during an election year. In 2020, he said it was fine to do so, since the same party controlled the Senate and the White House. He has shown himself to be completely untrustworthy (so I am continually amazed that anyone is willing to negotiate with him). He is apparently not a Senator serving the nation, but a political opportunist seeking out any avenue to accumulate more power for himself and his cronies. In other words, I don’t hold out much hope that he will lead his party to convict Trump and blossom as a high-minded collection of political leaders. But I can continue to hope.

I wrote the above a few days ago, but then let it sit before posting it. I still think it’s valid reasoning, and that if they want to remain relevant, the Republican Party will have to repudiate the Trump Party and Donald Trump. But I’ve also started wondering if conviction in the Senate is necessary for that, or if it even is the best possible outcome.

Consider this alternative: what if the United States Senate, sitting as the jury in the impeachment trial of now-former-President Donald Trump, determines he is not guilty by reason of mental defect or diminished capacity (or some other such synonym)? Indeed, that may be why the House managers asked him to testify. If they can get Donald Trump on the stand to publicly state that he still believes he won the election, despite all evidence to the contrary, it becomes easier to find that he is out of touch with reality. Casting his actions in that light puts the onus on Congress to strengthen the 25th Amendment, and on future Cabinets to keep a better watch on their Presidents. It gives the Republican Senators—fearful of fringe party nut-jobs—an out of not voting to convict. And it means that, even without a separate finding that Donald Trump is ineligible to hold office in the future, he’s done.

Don’t get me wrong: I think the evidence is overwhelming that he did incite a mob to insurrection that resulted in damage, death, and the disruption of the normal functioning of the United States government. The impeachment was completely warranted, because he was the President when it was voted. But now we need to temper our need for vengeance with our need to try to bring his followers back into the fold of decent human beings. Convicting Donald Trump, at this point, will not change any minds, will not convince the rest of the Trump Party that he is wrong. But recognizing his diminished capacities might be a step toward allowing them an out from their own descents into madness.

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How big is small?

I’ve been watching the stock market, and specifically what’s going on with the Gamestop stock (GME). The media keeps saying “small retail investors” are driving the meteoric price change. I looked through WallStreetBets, the reddit feed where those “small retail investors” came together to plan and execute this action. Several participants post screen-shots of their stock positions, and I’m seeing cost bases/initial investments of $31,000, $94,000, and $142,000. Sure, there are many small fry with a few shares, but it seems the bulk of these “small retail investors” have pumped tens of thousands of dollars each into this stock. Should we be thinking of them as “the small guy,” or are they are just individual stock manipulators?

How do you ask a question?

I think I have to learn how to talk with people. That’s “with,” not “to.” “To” I’ve got down pat. I love being on stage, I can tell stories, share information, explain, describe, comment at length… But I’m wondering about the “with”.

Today, I went to the store (had to stock up on perishables before the impending storm), and wound up talking to the fellow behind me in the line to check out. He asked one or two leading questions, and I was off. I mentioned science fiction, he expressed an interest, so I said I’m a writer and publisher. He asked if I’d written anything he’d recognize, and then I asked who he liked to read. He mentioned Asimov, and that was it. I told him stories about knowing Isaac, and he only had to make a few “mm hmm”s here and there, while I held forth for probably fifteen minutes (it felt kind of like those days in the office way back when, when Isaac would talk for an hour, and I just listened).

I talked, he seemed interested, we checked out, and as I was getting into the car, I thought “Gee, that guy learned a lot about me, and listened to my stories, and I know almost nothing about him.” It can’t be because he didn’t want to talk about himself. It’s just that he asked a question or two that got me talking.

I’ve had similar sensations in the past, but they were fleeting. Writing this, however, I’m realizing it’s a common occurrence with me. I’m terrible at starting conversations, and I have trouble meeting people in crowds. But once someone asks me a good leading question, I can talk forever, and come away thinking we had a good conversation, when in fact we didn’t. I have never learned the art of asking a good leading question, of sharing that conversational spotlight. Perhaps that’s part of why I didn’t enjoy being a reporter nearly so much as being a columnist.

Now that I’ve become conscious of this failing, I’m going to try to learn from it and correct it, but I fear it won’t be easy, especially during the pandemic. But once we’ve defeated this virus, or learned to live with safely with it, and when we go back to seeing each other in person, I hope you’ll be able to help me with this. Thinking back on conversations, I know how they go: I get a question that requires more than a one-word answer, and I give it, and I keep talking. But I’m not sure how often, at the end of what turns into a monologue, I can return the favor with an equally interesting leading question. It’s not an inability to listen: I can listen as well as I talk, and take it in. It’s just being the encouraging, enthusiastic listener who asks the question to get that monologue back, that’s where the problem lies.

Want to contribute to the “teach Ian to ask questions” fund? Much appreciated, at paypal.me/ianrandalstrock

Apple’s making me grumpy, and I can’t call you

Having a bad day.

Short form: if we speak on the phone, or communicate via text message, I no longer have your phone number. However, I also don’t yet have a replacement cell phone (with, I assume, the same phone number). So I’ll need you to contact me in a few days to reconnect.

A couple days ago, my four-year-old iPhone SE stopped working. I didn’t drop it, didn’t get it wet, didn’t abuse it, didn’t damage or mistreat it. But the power button just stopped working. So I called Apple, and the guy on the phone couldn’t help me, but he was able to set up an appointment for me at a nearby Apple store. That appointment was for 4:50pm today.

I got to the store at 4:40 (trying to be on time or a little early), and stood outside in the line for half an hour. When I finally got inside and to someone to help me, he seemed surprised at the quaint notion of an appointment with a time.

He played with the phone, agreed with me that the power button was not working, and said I ought to leave it with him for two hours, so I did. I came home, ate dinner, found an email saying they had news and I ought to call the store. I called the store, and learned that, even though they had completely erased the phone, they were unable to do anything to fix it, and I would have to buy a new one. “You can have the same phone for $269, but it’s four years old, or for $399, you can get a brand new version of it. The dimensions are slightly different, but it’s otherwise the same.”

I trekked back to the store, got to a clerk, and asked “will I need a new charging cable, or a different adapter to use my Square with the phone? I know that engineers love to change things. And I think I heard they’d removed the headphone jack on some models.” She said “No, this is the same as the phone you have, just newer, so it has a better camera, things like that.”

I took it home, took it out of the box, and discovered that “slightly different” dimensions are actually completely different, to the point that the case I have for the old phone does not fit the new phone. The buttons are in different places. And there is indeed no headphone jack for the Square credit card reader to use. I also discovered a little metal clamp of some sort in the box (attached to a form-fitting card, so apparently it’s supposed to be here) with absolutely no idea what it’s for, since Apple has decided users don’t need manuals.

I’d grumble about bait-and-switch, but I think it’s much closer to “what do you mean you don’t know everything about our nifty, cool products?” For me, a cell phone is a tool I use, not a status symbol or a technological toy. Apparently, that makes me a customer the company really doesn’t care about.

So, now I have an iPhone which I have no idea how to use. No manual to tell me how to transfer the sim card from the old to the new (I gather I have to go searching online for a manual for this phone—guess I’m really lucky I have a computer, too), and none of the extras that go with a phone that I need, because all the pieces I have work just fine… just not with this phone.

Yeah, I’m not terribly happy.

And since I’m grumpy, let me share the rest of the grumpiness-causers I ran into:

While I was waiting outside of the store for half an hour, I realized why 418,000 Americans have died during this pandemic. Ten months we’ve been at it. I would think that after ten months, my fellow Americans would have learned something about queuing up (and not breathing down the neck of the person standing in front of them). I would think they would have learned something about wearing a mask (like, you don’t breathe through your chin). Heck, I’d think they’d try to do as I have, and avoid unnecessary contact with people (like, don’t go out if you don’t have to: the repair tech who told me to come back in two hours suggested I hang out in the whole foods store around the corner). No wonder we’re dying in droves, and sick, and the rest of the world wonders what kind of morons we are: we are morons.

#apple #iphone

Presidential Longevity: Jimmy Carter

jimmyandrosalynncarter
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter in 2016.

As of today, Jimmy Carter has been a retired President of the United States for 40 years. His post-presidency is longer than any other (the previous record holder was Herbert Hoover, who died in 1964, 31 years after leaving the office). New president Joe Biden did say he’d spoken with Carter last night, but today’s was the first inauguration Carter has missed since Richard Nixon’s in 1972. Carter was inaugurated in 1976, and attended every one thereafter.

Carter is truly a man from another era, so long retired from the presidency that he is a part of history.

There is only one serving Senator who was in office when Carter was president: Vermont’s Patrick Leahy took his seat in the Senate on January 3, 1975, when he was 34 years old. Two current members of the Senate were born during Jimmy Carter’s administration, and one—Jon Ossoff of Georgia, who was sworn in today—was born six years after Carter left office.

There is also only one serving Representative who was in office when Carter was president: Alaska’s Don Young, who joined the House on March 6, 1973. The 87-year-old Young is the oldest and longest-serving member of Congress, though he is nine years younger than Carter. Thirty-one members of the House of Representatives were born after Carter left office.

The senior member of the Supreme Court is Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, who joined the Court on October 23, 1991, more than ten years after Carter retired. (Carter is the only president to serve a full term without making an appointment to the Court.)

Of the 20 people who served in Carter’s Cabinet, he has outlived 13 of them. Those still surviving include W. Michael Blumenthal (Secretary of the Treasury, 1977-79), Benjamin Civiletti (Attorney General, 1979-81), Ray Marshall (Labor, 1977-81), Joseph A. Califano, Jr. (HEW, 1977-79), Maurice Landrieu (HUD, 1979-81), Neil Goldschmidt (Transportation, 1979-81), and Charles Duncan, Jr. (Energy, 1979-81).

Born October 1, 1924, Jimmy Carter is the longest-lived President (he eclipsed George H.W. Bush’s record in March 2019). His wife, Rosalynn, was born August 18, 1927, and #3 on the list of longest-lived First Ladies (Bess Truman lived 97 years 247 days; Lady Bird Johnson was 94 years 201 days old when she died).

Jimmy and Rosalynn married on July 7, 1946, so they are the longest-married Presidential couple (they eclipsed the record set by George and Barbara Bush, which was 73 years 101 days).

Help keep the trivia flowing by dropping something in the virtual tip jar at: paypal.me/ianrandalstrock . And thank you!