A wonderful offer

I just got an email from a regular convention customer, who notes that he always buys something from me at Arisia, and that in better times, that would be this coming weekend. He writes “since I don’t want you or your authors to lose out because we’re not conventioning in person, can I purchase some books directly from you?” I’m very touched to receive this loving offer. As I told him, I’ve been running the company at the bare minimum this year, not growing as it should, but operating cautiously enough that we’ll emerge from the pandemic in as good a shape as we entered it, having missed out only on the growth. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful offer which I told him I’m willing to accept, only so long as it doesn’t present any hardship for him.

Wow, Fantastic Books has THE BEST customer-friends.

I’m not blaming the Capitol Police

u.s._capitol_building_402xHearing all the blame being heaped on the Capitol Police, I’m starting to think they weren’t so terrible on Wednesday. Yes, they let a mob break in to the building and vandalize it (mind you, it’s a building with more than 500 rooms, and who knows how many different entrances). On the other hand, no member of Congress was injured. Was it a conscious decision to let the building go and focus on the people? Had they stood up to keep the rioters out of the building, it is almost certain there would have been far more deaths, because they would have had to use force, quite probably deadly force, to keep them out.

Was the day a clusterfuck? Definitely. But are the Capitol Police villains? No, I don’t think so. I think they were overwhelmed with insufficient support which should have been called in far in advance. For instance, if the Executive Branch of the government had not exhorted those animals to go take the Congress, perhaps it wouldn’t have happened. And if the Executive Branch had authorized the presence of the National Guard to backstop the Capitol Police, those animals would not have been able to breach the bicycle rack-barricades.

The building can be repaired and cleaned; the dead cannot be brought back.

Invoking the 25th

It’s a shame that it took the horrors of yesterday to wake so many of our leaders to the need to invoke the fourth clause of the 25th Amendment. I called for it last summer, but my voice is not so loud. Today, however, the 25th is everywhere, so here’s a brief discussion of what it is, where it came from, and what it can do and has done.

Up until 1967, the Constitution provided a means of filling a vacancy in the presidency—the vice president would succeed to the office—but no way to fill a vacancy in the vice presidency. If the vice president died in office, or succeeded to the presidency, there would be no vice president until the next election chose one and he was inaugurated the following March (the date of inauguration was changed to January by the 20th Amendment, starting in 1937).

32roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

But in the 1960s, after Franklin Roosevelt’s death in office in 1945, and John Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, there was enough public will to find a way to fill that role. This was especially true after Kennedy’s death, because the next two in line—the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate—were both considered to be less than completely healthy.

35kennedy
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The 25th Amendment was written to enable a vice presidential vacancy to be filled (that’s the second section: “Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”).

At the same time, there was recognition of the fact that a president might not be dead, but still unable to execute the duties of his office. This was brought to light when Dwight Eisenhower suffered a serious heart attack that put him out of commission for a while. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon had an agreement that Nixon would take over if necessary, but that agreement wasn’t enshrined in law.

28wilson
Woodrow Wilson

And we’re pretty sure now that earlier, in 1919, Woodrow Wilson’s stroke left him completely unable to do the job. But nothing was done, except that his wife was most probably the acting president for about six months.

Thus, the third section was written, enabling the President to say “Hey, I’m having trouble doing the job. I’m going to step aside temporarily and let the Vice President act in my stead.”

The fourth section is the other side of that coin: if the President is unable to make that determination (for instance, if he’s in a coma), the Vice President—acting in concert with a majority of the Cabinet—can say “The President is unable to do the job. For the good of the country, the Vice President will serve as acting President until the President is once again able.”

The third section has been invoked several times in recent decades, but not in any terribly dramatic fashion:

DA-SC-90-03096
Ronald W. Reagan

On July 12, 1985, President Ronald Reagan underwent a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He elected to have the lesion removed immediately. On July 13, Reagan signed a letter before going under general anesthesia, and Vice President George H.W. Bush was acting president from 11:28 a.m. until 7:22 p.m., when Reagan transmitted a followup letter declaring himself able to resume his duties.

41bush
George H.W. Bush

On June 29, 2002, President George W. Bush invoked Section 3 and temporarily transferred his powers to Vice President Dick Cheney before undergoing a colonoscopy, which began at 7:09 a.m. Bush awoke about forty minutes later but did not resume his presidential powers until 9:24 a.m., to ensure any aftereffects had cleared.

43bush
George W. Bush

On July 21, 2007, Bush again invoked Section 3 before another colonoscopy. Cheney was acting president from 7:16 a.m. to 9:21 a.m.

46cheney
Dick Cheney

In all three cases, the acting President didn’t do anything other than carry out his usual duties.

Perhaps the clearest instance when section 4 should have been invoked was on March 30, 1981, when Reagan was shot and rushed into emergency surgery without time to sign a letter under section 3. Vice President Bush did not assume the presidential powers and duties as acting president because he was rushed back to Washington via airplane, and Reagan was out of surgery by the time Bush landed in Washington.

Sections 3 and 4 get far more play in fiction. They were notable in a two-episode arc of The West Wing, and as a poorly executed subplot in the movie Air Force One.

By the way, there’s also the first section of the Amendment, which clarifies something that had been less-than-clear

Clause Six of Article II of the Constitution says that if the President dies or is unable “to discharge the powers and duties” of the presidency, “the same shall devolve on the Vice President.” That left open the question of whether a succeeding Vice President became the President, or was merely acting as President. John Tyler, the first Vice President to be faced with that situation, insisted that he was the President, and through force of will, made that determination stick. But still, it wasn’t entirely clear until the 25th Amendment was adopted. The first section reads “In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.”

Section 3: Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4: Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

The 25th Amendment was adopted by the 89th Congress in 1965, submitted to the states on July 6 of that year, and was adopted (ratified by 38 states) on February 10, 1967. To date, it has been ratified by 47 states (all but Georgia, North Dakota, and South Carolina).

Thanks for reading. Tips gratefully accepted at www.paypal.me/ianrandalstrock

Donald Trump’s legacy

The only up-side to Donald Trump’s presidency is that, if the country survives, it will show that our Constitution, our system of government, our very idea of the United States of America is strong and vibrant enough to survive even someone like him as president for four years.

Links for my “Eating the Fantastic” interview

Yesterday, before the Trump Party tried to destroy our country, I had intended to put together and post this, but then I wound up staring at the television all day.

What I’d intended was to say that on Tuesday, I was finally able to listen to this entire two-hour conversation Scott Edelman and I had for his “Eating the Fantastic” podcast series (actually, 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 54 seconds). Other than the discomfort of listening to a recording of myself for two hours, it was a pretty good conversation, but I can’t imagine anyone else will want to sit through two hours of it. (You are, of course, very welcome to prove me wrong in this.)

And, as has become my wont when doing an interview like this, I’m offering a list of the people, books, and so forth that I mentioned with links for you to find out more about them.

The gingerbread cookie and fruit pie recipes I used are at the end of this file.

Central New Jersey Mensa’s Snowball Regional Gathering: http://www.cnj.us.mensa.org/snowball.html

At Snowball, I gave a talk about Isaac Asimov, because it was his centennial. I don’t have a recording of that talk, but two months previous, I gave a very similar talk as Greater New York Mensa’s monthly speaker. That talk is available (in three parts) on YouTube. Here’s a link to the first part: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAeIvR4RvuA

The Edge: https://www.edgenyc.com/en

Mensa: https://www.us.mensa.org/

The Bastard by John Jakes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bastard_(novel)

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lord_of_the_Rings

The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern; the good-parts version by William Goldman: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Princess_Bride_(novel)

Lunacon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunacon

The Daily Free Press: https://dailyfreepress.com/

Gray Rabbit Publications, LLC, and Fantastic Books: http://fantasticbooks.biz/

Artemis Magazine: https://ianrandalstrock.com/home/artemis-magazine/

Isaac Asimov’s autobiography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autobiographies_of_Isaac_Asimov

Boston University: http://www.bu.edu/

Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine: https://www.asimovs.com/

Analog Science Fiction and Fact: https://www.analogsf.com/

Chanin Building: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chanin_Building

“Fermat’s Legacy,” a short story I wrote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWz0mJY9_Go&feature=youtu.be

“Living it is the Best Revenge,” a short story I wrote: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07B2GKF24/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1519615545&sr=8-5&keywords=ian+strock

The Artemis Project / The Moon Society: http://www.moonsociety.org/

SFScope: https://www.sfscope.com/

Fantastic Texas by Lou Antonelli: http://fantasticbooks.biz/fantasticbooks/sf/1604599111.html

The Presidential Book of Lists: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/174803/the-presidential-book-of-lists-by-ian-randal-strock/

Ranking the First Ladies: https://ianrandalstrock.com/home/writer/books/

Ranking the Vice Presidents: https://ianrandalstrock.com/home/writer/books/

So You Want to Get Rich as a Writer: https://www.amazon.com/Writer-Randal-Strock-Bubble-Chance/dp/1515423700/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1609992758&sr=8-2

Through Five Administrations: http://fantasticbooks.biz/fantasticbooks/grayrabbit/1515410145.html

The Complete Book of Presidential Inaugural Speeches: http://fantasticbooks.biz/fantasticbooks/grayrabbit/1515410234.html

“Shall Not Perish from the Earth,” a short story I wrote in the anthology Altered States of the Union: https://www.amazon.com/Altered-States-Union-Peter-David/dp/1939888379/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475789356&sr=8-1&keywords=1939888379&_encoding=UTF8&tag=artemismagazine&linkCode=ur2&linkId=71c14285eb6f4203711e58dde8dd61ea&camp=1789&creative=9325

My blog: https://ianrandalstrock.com/blog/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/IanRandalStrock

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ianrandalstrock/

***

Gingerbread cookie recipe:

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (instead, I used 1/8 tsp cinnamon, 1/16 tsp nutmeg, 1/16 tsp cloves)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter cut into 1-inch pieces, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 large egg

1. Whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, allspice, nutmeg, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl until well blended.

2. Beat together the butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer starting on low and increasing speed until pale and fluffy, about three minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl down as needed. Beat in the molasses until combined, then the egg. Turn to low speed and beat in the flour mixture a little at a time until the mixture comes together, then increase speed and beat until all of the ingredients are well incorporated and you have a sticky dough. Divide the dough in half, flatten into two disks and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least two hours and up to overnight.

3. Position two racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Keeping the other disk refrigerated, roll one disk to an 1/8-inch thickness on a well-floured surface, sprinkling flour on and under the dough as needed and sliding a spatula underneath every so often to prevent sticking. If the dough looks crackly or breaks apart, press it back together from the outside edge in. Cut cookies (original recipe called for a gingerbread man cookie cutter; I just used a round glass). Pull away the extra dough around each shape and use a small spatula to transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets about one inch apart. Gather together the scraps, leaving behind the excess flour, and knead them a few times to form a smooth dough again. Reroll them in the same way. Freeze the cookies to firm them, about 15 minutes.

4. Bake the cookies in the center of the oven racks, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and also turning them 180 degrees around halfway through baking, until they are slightly firm to the touch but not brown, about 12 minutes. Repeat the process with the remaining dough.

5. Cool the cookies 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

***

Pie:

Crust Ingredients:
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
ice water

Directions:
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Add the shortening and work it through with your hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and work it in with your hands until you have a smooth ball of dough. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a lightly floured surface. This recipe will make two pie crusts.

Roll out the dough on the floured surface into a circle about 14 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick. Gently fold the circles of dough in half and then in half again so that you can lift it without tearing it, and unfold into a 9-inch pie pan.

Filling:
3 pounds of apples and pears
1 cup raisins
2/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Peel and core apples and pears, then slice 1/4 inch thick. Toss apples and pears with raisins, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt until evenly coated.

Put pie crust in bottom of pie plate. Fill with fruit mixture, cover with other pie crust. Crimp edges, then cut vents in top crust.

Bake at 450 degrees F on hot baking sheet 20 minutes. Reduce oven to 375 degrees F and bake 40 minutes more. Cool two to three hours, then refrigerate. Pie tastes best the after overnight in the refrigerator.

James Gunn (1923-2020)

I’ve just learned of the death of James Gunn (that is, the original James Gunn) at the age of 97. I’ve known him since I got into the science fiction field, and was thrilled to be able to republish several of his earlier books as some of the first titles published by Fantastic Books. It was a regular occurrence at science fiction conventions, at the Fantastic Books table in the dealers’ room, people would browse, and then turn to me to ask, “is this THE James Gunn?” Of course I said yes, the science fiction grand master himself. It was only after six months or a year of that that I realized they were talking about some johnny-come-lately film maker using the same name.

The James Gunn, our James Gunn, was born July 12, 1923, in Kansas City, Missouri, into a publishing family (printers, pressmen, editors). He served in the Navy during World War II, then earned his college degrees and worked as an editor.

His writing career also began in the 1940s, with a play produced in 1947, and his first science fiction published in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1949. We was a professor emeritus of English, and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, at the University of Kansas. He served as the president of the Science Fiction Writers of America (1971-72), and received SFWA’s Grand Master Award in 2007.

Is Donald Trump working for Russia?

Apparently everyone who knows—including, surprisingly, the Secretary of State—says that Russia has perpetrated (and is continuing to do so) a massive intrusion into the computer systems of multiple departments of the US government. (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “…we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”)

Finally, President Donald Trump chose to tweet about it just a few hours ago. He wrote “The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA.”

Why?

After four years of his presidency, this is not Trump’s first attempt to deflect American attention from bad actions perpetrated by Russia.

Why?

Donald Trump never released his tax returns, never provided any financial information, either as a candidate or president.

Why?

The questions I am now asking are:

1. How much money did Donald Trump owe to Russia or Russian entities when he was elected president?

2. How much has he paid on those debts during his term as president?

3. How much money does he currently owe on those debts?

4. Do those numbers show that the amount he owes has decreased more than the amount he has paid?

A postal problem

Yesterday, I emailed the following letter to my Representative and Senators. If you agree, more voices could only help.

Several times, I’ve tried raising this issue directly with the United States Postal Service, but not only can I not find anyone there who can help, I can’t even find someone who can direct me to someone who might have a clue. So perhaps you, as a member of Congress, can access the upper echelons of postal management, to suggest that this is a small piece of standard procedure that really needs to be changed.

The issue is the touch screen at each clerk’s window. Every time I go to the window to mail a package, the clerk asks “is there anything liquid, fragile, hazardous, etc., in this package?” But they can not accept me responding to them; I have to touch the screen to say “no.” The same screen that the previous customer was drooling on, and the customer before sneezed at, and I have no idea when last the screen was washed.

Everything else in the post office recognizes the current pandemic: the clerks wear masks and gloves, there are decals on the floor marking six-foot distances between customers, there’s a sign on the door saying “no more than 10 people in the lobby at one time; if you’re #11, please wait outside.” But there’s this touch screen that they insist—for no good reason except that the system requires it—every single customer must touch. Touching the screen to say “no,” and then again to say “yes, give me a printed receipt,” adds nothing to the postal experience. It doesn’t make anything more secure, doesn’t make anything more efficient, but it surely does help spread germs and virus.

Can you please look into having the USPS change this useless, and potentially dangerous, customer experience?

When did inflation become good?

Are there any other financial geeks out there with long memories?

I was watching Fed Chairman Jay Powell’s press conference today (after the release of the Fed statement), and kept experiencing cognitive dissonance each time he said something like “we want to get inflation up to two percent or a bit more.”

I think (think) I understand the need for inflation, but one of my earliest political/economic memories is Gerald Ford’s WIN campaign. It wasn’t about electoral victory; it stood for “Whip Inflation Now.” All through those years, the constant struggle was to get inflation down. That it was way too high.

And I guess, without consciously thinking about it, I subconsciously assumed that inflation is bad, and straight-line value, year to year, is good.

Now, listening to the Fed, I’m assuming the need for a little inflation is to justify annual salary raises, to justify low-level price increases, to justify paying interest, and so on. If a dollar today was worth precisely what a dollar was worth ten years ago, any company paying its employees raises would be losing money every year.

At least, that’s my assumption. Anyone else out there have a better explanation for why the Fed thinks we need to have some low level of inflation?

Help inflate my economic knowledge. Donations accepted at paypal.me/IanRandalStrock .