Friday, 17 March 2017

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Trump Administration

Trump has been in office for over a month now. A month dogged by scandals, outrageous allegations, and general inefficiency. Trump, in his one month in office, has been immensely insecure, whether it was about the size of his electoral victory, the size of his inauguration crowd, the stability of his own staff, scandal with Russia, and his great plans for the country. In less than a month continuing scandal surrounding Russia has emerged, his National Security Advisor Micheal Flynn was forced to resign, and nearly all of Trump's campaign staff are revealed to have had some form of contact with Russia, and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from handling any of those investigations as he "forgot" to mention meetings with the Russian Ambassador during the campaign. Now Sessions may be excused if he met with the Ambassador as part of his duties in the Senate, but the allegations cropping up around Micheal Flynn and other campaign and staff members, are inexcusable.

However, the unfolding damage against Trump regarding Russia is nowhere near as alarming as his continued attempts to obscure the problem behind a wall of paranoid conspiracy theories.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Russian Revolution

One hundred years ago today, perhaps the greatest revolution of the 20th century shook the foundations of Europe as it erupted across the vast expanse that was then the Russian Empire. The world was engulfed in the flames of the greatest war to ever rage across the planet up to that point. Millions had died, famines had engulfed nations, and borders were changing rapidly... on the Eastern front at least.

The Russian Empire, even mauled as it had been in 1914, had been clinging desperately to life come 1917, even making limited gains through military strength in the Brusilov Offensive of late 1916. However, it was becoming clear that Russia, for all intents and purposes, had shot its bolt.

By this point the Russian people were tiring of war. Despite an enormous outpouring of patriotism and national unity at the start of the conflict in 1914, by 1917 millions were dead or dying, and the Imperial armies were being forced back mile by mile. Worse, bureaucratic inefficiency and the poor state of the Russian internal railways meant supplies were not getting to the front, and supplies were not even making it to the cities where the war industries were churning out armaments to support the forces in the field. This was especially true of food.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

The 60 Million Dollar Couple

Recently this article popped up on Kindle author Christopher Nuttall's blog talking about this article which discusses Barrack and Michelle Obama signing a whopping 60 million dollar deal with Penguin Books. Now this is only a reported number, the exact number not being disclosed by any sources. If that number was true though, that would be the most expensive book deal of the century!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Cell by Stephen King

A while back now while browsing the book section at Costco I came across a novel simply title Cell. Due to its curious cover I picked up the book and began browsing. Needless to say I bought the book soon after. Little did I know this would be my first foray into the world of Stephen King.

Stephen King is of course the best selling author and horror writer who perhaps has defined horror in the last half century and thus needs no introduction.

As a note this contains mild spoilers regarding both the book and the film so consider yourself warned.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Inauguration Day 2017

Well ladies and gentlemen, the time has come. Time to do away with a popular president who is leaving the White House with a 60% approval rating, and making way for a man who is going into it with a 40% approval rating. Here goes a president who made his best effort to engage with the media, and here comes a president who calls major news agencies "fake news" for running a story about him he doesn't like. A mature and well spoken president leaves office, and in goes a childish, petty, and immature gentlemen who seems more concerned about his image than his constituents.

All in all it's a sad day for American politics I would say. The wealthiest cabinet ever will be taking office, and one which has already managed to generate more than a little controversy. It is perhaps going to be a time when the people running the nation are more disconnected from the average voter in terms of lifestyle than ever. Add to that a key member of a rabid right wing news rag being made a key White House staffer, well we're in for some interesting times as they say.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Sayonara 2016

Well what a year it has been! A year a laughter, a year of tears, and many other things besides. I think, in the interest of keeping my creative juices flowing, I should write an eloquent goodbye to a year that will hardly be missed.

First off let me say that 2016 has been a rather mixed year on a personal level. Many happy events and many turbulent ones. So that has rather distracted me from things which were going on in the larger world for a while.

In no way is this meant to be a comprehensive look at the last year. So much has happened and so much would need to be stated that it would be impossible to cover in a single blog post. Instead I will simply highlight my feelings on the past year and what a good, or bad, year it has been.

Well being honest this is one for the history books. The election that would never end was all over the news and there was a hulking gorilla hogging the air waves and the internet. Also, a gorilla was killed in a zoo and the internet went nuts for some reason. More seriously, 2016 saw a historic election take place, and no matter who won it was destined to be one for the history books. But, now we have our second choice in the White House, and President Twitter is ringing in the new year for a very interesting four years come January.

ISIS has shaken up things in the Middle East and Europe, bringing terror to the capitals of the European nations. However, in the Middle East itself a scrappy coalition is forming to try and drive them from Iraq, Russia has been busy rolling them back in Syria, and we may in a few years see the organizations demise from the face of the earth.

It's been a sad year for celebrities though, and although President Twitter was Times man of the year, I can think of a sort of better one:

Over 100 celebrities died in 2016. A sad year for popular culture.

Though we got Rogue One, so there's that.

The Winds of Winter hasn't come out yet, and Season 6 of Game of Thrones was alright. But the next Brandon Sanderson book is confirmed! Also, Neil Patrick Harris is playing Count Olaf in a Netflix series. So there's some good pop culture news at least. 

All in all 2016 is not a year I will look back fondly on. There were some good moments for sure, but all in all I'm glad to say sayanora.

Bring on 2017.

Happy New Years everyone.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Conservative Insurgency: The Struggle to Take American Back 2009-2041 and our own 2016

So yesterday, on November 9th 2016, I woke up to something a year ago I would have laughed off as impossible, and utterly unrealistic. However, much to my own shock, Donald J. Trump has won the American election with a surprising cascade of victories in key battle ground states. Some people are horrified by this news, others are elated, but one thing is certain, Trump's victory was divisive.

However, on the 8th I began reading a book I purchased on Kindle so many years ago on a lark. That novel was Conservative Insurgency: The Struggle to Take American Back 2009-2041 by right wing novelist Kurt Schlichter.

What originally attracted me to it I cannot recall other than it had a catchy cover and comparisons to World War Z's writing style. It has the writing style down pat, but hardly as compelling a story. In brief, it is, since its 2014 publish date, it is now a piece of alternate history wherein "constitutional conservatives" are launching a long campaign of taking back their country through a political and cultural campaign against the nebulous forces of 'progressives' and 'liberalism' and to re-institute "the conservative vision of the Founders" against progressive dominance as exemplified by a two term President Hillary Clinton.

During this re-read I was struck by the uncanny similarities between many of the ideas espoused by these fictional characters, and the real life supporters of Donald Trump. Such were the similarities that I could not get many of them out of my head. So I thought that one interesting way to comment upon the unexpected events of our own time was to look at the ideology and methods that let this happen through the fictional lens of a novel.

In the novel itself it discusses a "cultural war" being waged against the forces of liberalism, and many would say that this is true today from one side of the political aisle. Most of the view point characters in the novel themselves express that they are trying to win their country back from the forces of the unpatriotic liberals. In order to do that, they set out to detach themselves from an ineffective GOP, wage a cultural war to make 'constitutional conservatism' more palatable to the masses by showing them that it is the liberals who are the racists, the liberals who don't support women, and the liberals who support big government and spying on the American people. Make of these claims what you will of course, but the book is all about attempting to show that these ideas of small government conservatives are palatable to people because they encourage personal liberty and freedom versus the liberals who just hunger for power for powers sake. And that the "progressives" will just use slander and lies to discredit and dismiss conservatives as "racists" and "bigots" who can be safely ignored in public discourse.

Ironically the book manages to hit on a number of points which are rather pertinent both in understanding the outcome of the recent election, and in hopefully understanding the common ground that can be found to lessen the division brought about by the election.

For instance, in the novel it discusses the idea of banding together with 'pot culture' as a symbol of personal freedom which is a means of taking away a section of people who would vote Democrat by passing laws which allow the freedom of choice in the matter and remove the burden that smoking or growing pot on the justice system. This is heralded as a step forward in forging a consensus around 'conservative' values. In real life though, during this election California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada all passed legislation which would legalize marijuana, and so did the states of Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota. So there may be something in the idea that this can bridge gaps. Rather than the false equivalency supported by the novel that "Right leads to freedom, left leads to tyranny."[1]

The novel also manages to hit an interesting number of highlights on the campaign which propelled Trump to power. For instance it discussed that due to the new conservative presidency there was a "border wall" which stopped illegal immigration and prevented millions of unregistered voters from supporting the Democrats.[2] This rather succinctly foretells Trumps long term (and impractical) promise to construct a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, and his promise to deport millions of illegal immigrants. This was the mean and potatoes of Trumps speeches from near the beginning, and one which seems to have meshed nicely with the views of enough Americans to propel him to power.

There is also touched upon the ideological feeling that global warming is a hoax [3a,b]. This seems to be a popular position as well, one cultivated by Fox news, and one happily espoused by Donald Trump, who at one point called it a Chinese hoax. This has been something he has campaigned on getting off of, and most specifically to remove the United States from various global warming related treaties.

However, there are two important points which I think the novel addressed which were very important in explaining the rise of Trump to the White House.

The first is that the novel is constantly harping on the GOP as not standing for 'conservative values' or not standing for the voters. That is something I believe the novel had right then, and is most certainly something the United States electorate agreed on in elevating Donald Trump to the Republican front runner. A political outsider, he has floated the idea of running for president since at least 1988, and he has never had any political experience, and compared to the insiders like Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz he was a breath of fresh air. However, he and the novel made the point that the GOP itself is not speaking for its own constituents. There was a feeling of frustration with the GOP establishment and one which we have seen has been fed since the rise of the Tea Party in 2008. The frustration voters must have felt as they saw their jobs disappearing and infrastructure crumbling[4], all against the backdrop of both a party elite which did not care about them, and an opposition which routinely mocked, marginalized, and discarded them.

That dovetails into a second point that these people were by and large reacting to a culture which regularly abuses and disregards them. That is to say, this is a rural vs urban divide, as David Wong eloquently articulates in his own article. In the novel though, this is presented as a great media gap of the "liberals" disregarding anyone who is conservative as 'racist, bigoted, or stupid' and simply writing them off as a lost cause. In the novel, as in real life, this is something that frustrates and alienates. In real life of course this is a problem where media has merely worked to portray these rural, culturally conservative folk as backwards and bigoted people who are best consigned to the dust bin of history. Calling half of your opponents base 'bigoted deplorables' is hardly engineered to garner either sympathy for you, or your policies.

As outlined in the excellent Cracked podcast on the subject this pattern of alienating a dismissing the people who supported Donald Trump and his policies, both by targeting them indirectly, and their candidate, merely served to strengthen the movement that rallied behind him. This was a direct reaction to eight years of Democrats in the White House, a Republican Party which had become out of touch with its own base, and fear of an uncertain future. Yes, these people are afraid, and concerned about their future. 59 million Americans did not just out themselves as closet racists. Dismissing them as such is counterproductive, much like this novels attempt to dismiss all liberals as power hungry hypocrites who follow a morally bankrupt ideology all for the sake of enriching themselves. It's merely a recipe for creating a toxic environment in social and political discourse.

When one examines how close this election was, with Hillary winning roughly 47.7% of the popular vote to Trump's 47.5%[5] then we can see that creating a further gulf between the people on both sides of the aisle should probably be avoided.

Though allow me to address one thing here. Just because people who voted were Trump were not themselves bigots, does not mean Trump did not rise to power on a wave of bigotry and he was not bigoted. Because boy did he ever. Trump has legitimized some disgusting attitudes and prejudices (which we can already see having a negative impact) that give lie to the idea racism and sexism are not a problem, and ones that, in my humble opinion, make him unfit to govern in Washington in the 21st century. His supporters were willing to overlook this though (much like supporters of Bill Clinton overlooked his sex scandals, and like many have overlooked Obama's poor record with expanding the NSA and drone warfare) because he brought them hope that they finally had someone willing to listen to their concerns.

Though let me be clear, just because someone voted for Trump does not mean they're beliefs, concerns, and fears for the future are invalid. It means that they voted for someone who they felt would address their concerns with what they see as the slow collapse of their country. Simply labeling all these people as bigots and racists and shutting their voices out is so destructive to long term reconciliation that I think such an idea should be rejected out of hand. The future voters need to be building bridges and trying to bring each other together to accomplish more, much as the novel here describes doing (but not in the way the author would like of course) in order to accomplish things that will truly make the United States great again.

There is a reason why rather than professing doom and gloom, commentators who had savaged Trump were able to speak through their disappointment and push for reconciliation between the two divided sides. They don't want a country split into two armed camps. They want a nation which will be stronger. Even Trump himself was asking for unity in his acceptance speech. Hell as David Wong said, Don't Panic. There is no reason to fear Trump will usher in a fascist empire, and even if he wants to roll back the clock on civil rights, he has to go through the voters first. Even if he does, he can't stay in office forever, and everything awful he might accomplish (or try to accomplish) can be undone. It's a democracy, the voters can push back!

Now why am I, a Canadian, writing about this?

Being honest, I think Trump is unfit for the office he has been elected to hold. However, he is the elected president of the United States. Everything he does will effect my country and many of his campaign promises may be devastating in the short term, or even in the long run if you compare his health and tax plans.

He has promised to make American great again. So did another man:

The Reagan years left a legacy of voodoo economics, enormous government debt, and an AIDs epidemic. And he campaigned on similar emotional appeals to fears and hopes.

It is my hope that Trump will be a blip on the map, a last hurrah for ugly populist rhetoric in the United States. He may have though, broken the traditional way politics is carried out, upsetting the political apple cart and letting more diverse candidates into the system and forcing the parties to listen to their constituents needs, and not tell them what they need. This has positive effects in the long run as it may shake up the system and allow new blood in.

In conclusion however, I know many people are hurting, confused, and shocked. But remember, there is hope. My prayers are with my neighbors to the south and I encourage every one to hold on. We are in what the Chinese call, interesting times. Thankfully, times much less interesting than the ones portrayed in the novel mentioned above.


1] Schlichter, Kurt. Conservative Insurgency: The Struggle to Take America Back 2009 - 2041 (Kindle Location 1910). Post Hill Press. Kindle Edition.

2] "Of course, we’ve deported a fair number and with the border wall up there’s no more tidal wave coming north." Schlichter, ibid, (Kindle Locations 1131-1132).

3a]"The guy who was into global warming? Remember that scam? It’s freaking six degrees outside!”
Schlichter, Kurt. ibid, (Kindle Locations 2044-2045).

3b]"Al Gore made a fortune off the global warming swindle—" Schlichter, ibid, (Kindle Locations 556-557).

4] Yes, the article is rather nakedly partisan, but it has one of the most succinct descriptions of the total failings of the American infrastructure I could find.

5] Making this the 5th time this has happened in US history. As of time of writing these numbers are accurate.