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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Guns for Writers: Part 45

Our old friend Czja asks one of those sorts of questions that by itself could be the subject of an entire blog.
Question: [in my story], my men are about to rescue a woman being held captive as a sex slave. The place is rural Wisconsin on a 450-acre compound, with four armed posts, three guards at each post. There are four men on the rescue raid. One is a retired cop from Chicago, so he has a .22 and a .45. The others are average joes, but they have a decent amount of disposable income. The time is January 1973.

They are going to strike at around 3 A.M. and the raid will be over by dawn's early light. They are going to have to get through some steel-reinforced locked doors. They have snowshoes and a couple of snowmobiles at their disposal.

What kind of guns and supplies should they be carrying?
I have some ideas, but before I get to them, I want to direct your attention to a really cool website: the U.S. Naval Observatory ( In particular, I'm fond of this little web tool on the USNO site, which enables you to calculate the moon phase and local sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset for pretty much any date and pretty much any location on the face of the Earth. Want to know what the phase of the moon was when Washington crossed the Delaware? With this site, you can find out. (Of course, what this site won't tell you is that it was raining in Trenton that night, so Washington couldn't see that the Moon was just one day past full.)

And with that said, the topic is now open for discussion. What should Czja's rescue party be packing?

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Parable of the Chainsaws

Whoa. This whole thing is taking much longer and going much further afield than I'd originally planned, and I feel like I still haven't gotten around to answering Nathan's original question. Ergo, in the interests of wrapping this up and getting back to the ostensible topic of this blog, here's a sort of a summary.

First off, I'd like to direct your attention to a piece I wrote back in July 2005, It Takes a Village (of Lumberjacks), which pretty much gets my personal political philosophy in an acorn shell.

The same philosophy applies within political movements, as well. Liberals seem to think that "Conservatism" is some monolithic and coherent edifice — and truth to tell, I have been known to tweak my liberal friends from time to time, by saying things like, "Thanks for the invitation, but I can't make it; I've got my Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy meeting that night, and we're supposed to hear a report from the Special Subcommittee on the Oppression and Degradation of Women, but those silly girls can never stop shopping long enough to get anything finished" — but in my assessment, there are at least four main threads that make up the chaotic thing known as modern conservatism. These are:

Cultural Conservatism, which dates back to Hobbes and Locke but was really defined by Burke, in reaction to the French Revolution. Cultural conservatism amounts to one long expression of the idea, "Slow down. I know you're excited and enthusiastic, but let's think about what we're doing before we throw out the old way we did things." William F. Buckley is a cultural conservative.

Economic Conservatism, which traces its roots back to Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations but really came to life in reaction to John Maynard Keynes. For most of human history, economies have run on a pretty straightforward capitalistic supply & demand basis, which, as Locke pointed out, over time tends to produce either plutocracy or oligarchy, and much discontent amongst those who are neither plutocrats nor oligarchs. Keynes's revolutionary idea was that unregulated capitalism had failed and government spending was now the single most important driver in the economy. Further, Keynes said that it was possible for a government to create prosperity for everyone by regulating, redistributing (via taxing and spending), and inflating the money supply, and in the 1930s, the U.S. government adopted Keynesianism with a vengeance. In this light, Friedman, von Hayek, the Austrian School, the Chicago School, and all the rest of the lower taxes, smaller government crowd can be viewed as being one long expression of the idea, "Keynesianism doesn't work. Let's stop doing it." Barry Goldwater was an economic conservative.

Political Conservatism, which began life as anti-socialism — I suppose "anti-Marxism" sounds better, doesn't it? — developed as anti-Progressivism — which again, sounds bad, until you realize that in America, "Progressive" was simply the happy marketing label adopted by the Fabian Socialists — and really came to life after World War II, when people began to wake up to the realities of the Soviet Union. In this light, political conservatism can be viewed as one long expression of the idea, "Hey, the Communists are serious about this one-world communist revolution thing. Let's stop them." Richard Nixon was a political conservative.

And finally, Moral Conservatism, which dates back to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Moral conservatism has always simmered just under the surface in America, but it really came to a boil with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal throughout the United States. Prior to Roe v. Wade abortion was only legal in Sodomite strongholds like New York, and had that remained the case, the moral conservatives would probably have been content to roll over and go back to sleep. Roe v. Wade is the single most important thing that galvanized the moral conservatives and got them into politics. The reaction to this court decision, combined with the complete failure of Keynesian economics during the Carter administration and the apparent successes of the Soviets in Africa and South American and the Islamists in the Mideast, is what briefly united the moral, political, economic, and cultural conservatives and put Ronald Reagan in the White House.

The above categories provide an extremely simplified and sketchy outline, of course. There are no doubt other threads in the conservative tapesty that I am blind to, and while labels are simple, people are complex. Goldwater, for example, was an economic and political conservative, but by today's standards quite liberal on some social issues. Nixon was a staunch anti-communist and more strongly a social and moral conservative than people remember, but he was also an environmentalist, and economically, he was firmly Keynesian. The neocons, as far as I can tell, are actually Lockeian classical liberals who got fed up with the Democratic Party and decided the Republicans gave them better opportunity to transform their visions into policies, and as for the Libertarians — ah, never mind.

As Yoda might say, "Ever in motion, the political landscape is." And speaking of motion, I've got to get moving, so I'd like to leave you with a few more titles on the recommended reading list:

Larry Elder, The Ten Things You Can't Say in America: Among other things, a devastating indictment of Lyndon Johnson's Keynesian socialist experiment, "The Great Society," and what it's done to black families.

Jean-François Revel, Anti-Americanism: Strongly recommended by my neighbor, Hubert, as testimony to how the French really feel about America — at least, as Hubert says, "ze real French people, like moi, and not zose eentellectual eediots down in Pareese."

Oriana Fallaci, The Rage and The Pride: Funny, innit, that the most passionate and coherent defense of Christianity and western civilization should be written an Italian atheist and communist?

And with all that said, as of Monday, we're back to writing!


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Outline of Conservative History

TBR makes an interesting, if unintentional point: this is taking too long. Given that I have a limited amount of free time to devote to writing for this blog, I really can't develop this idea of the secret history of conservatism in the way I'd like. Ergo, in the interests of picking up the pace a bit, I will skip today's intended topic (which was an incisive critique of Libertarianism) and instead toss out the General Outline of Conservative History.

If we get to some of these topics in future blogbits, that will be swell. If not, at least you've got some ideas of where to look for further reading.
  1. The Ancient Gods

    1. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan: The Social contract theory. Argues that the state of man in nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," and that the highest human necessity is protection from violent death. Therefore, humans form social groups and surrender personal freedoms for common defense. In Hobbes' view, all human actions and interactions are based on greed, fear, and self-interest.

    2. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government: Expanded on and disagreed with Hobbes; argued that humans are innately reasonable and tolerant; that man has natural rights to life, liberty, and property; and that only government by the consent of the governed was legitimate. Was the first philosopher to define the self through the concept of "consciousness" and hypothesize that the mind is a "tabula rasa," devoid of innate knowledge of good and evil; probably hugged trees, too. Developed early theory of supply & demand economics; also came up with the labor theory of value, dammit, with which later generations of socialists wrought much havoc. Argued for both the fundamental importance of the right to be secure in owning property, while at the same time arguing that the government needed to do something to prevent the unlimited accumulation of property and promote the more nearly equal distribution of wealth. Enormously influential on Voltaire, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, etc., and a great champion of human rights and freedom, while also a major investor in the Royal Africa Company, which dealt in slaves. Proof, I guess, that consistency truly is the hobgoblin of small minds.

    3. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France: "The father of Anglo-American conservatism," or as his fellow MPs called him, "The Dinner Bell," because when he rose to speak, it was possible to slip out, enjoy a nice dinner, and get back to the House of Commons before he'd finished speaking. Burke championed constitutional limits on the monarchy, honest and ethical dealings with India, a peaceful solution to the American problem, and equal rights for Catholics, at a time when the latter position was unpopular enough to cost him his seat in Parliament. His enduring work is a critique of the French revolution which quite accurately predicted that it would lead to terror, tyranny, and eventually military dictatorship. This really P.O.'d Jefferson and Thomas Paine, among others, who called Burke a "reactionary," and who were even more P.O.'d when it turned out Burke was right. Honestly, I can't recommend reading Reflections, as it is nearly unreadable, but his critique of radical revolutionary movements remains valid today.

      Favorite quote (which also illustrates why Burke is hard to read now): "Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed amongst the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate a madman, who has escaped from the protecting restraint and wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty?"

  2. The Turbulent 19th Century

    1. The Magnificent Trifecta. An argument for American exceptionalism, exploring the unbelievably unique natures of the American Revolution, the American frontier, and the American Civil War in the context of history.

    2. The Steam-Driven Drone. Locke's "Labour Theory of Value" rises from its crypt, with an assist from James Watt.

    3. Eccentric Experiments. The Amanas, the Communards, the Shakers, the incredibly weird story of the Millerites, and more.

    4. The Bay View Massacre. Why I am no fan of laissez-faire capitalism.

    5. Meet the Fabians! The fateful day when Marxism cross-pollinated with British intellectualism and Roman history.

  3. The Ascendancy of the American Left

    1. The Promise of American Life. The story of Herbert David Croly and the Progressive Manifesto, or how Fabianism developed an American mask.

    2. The Roaring Twenties and The Great Depression. What really caused the Great Depression? Did FDR actually make it worse?

    3. The Cult of Keynesiansim. John Maynard Keynes writes the definitive smug treatise on the virtues of planned economies, and launches a half-century of economic chaos.

    4. The Futurians. A bunch of young idiot sci-fi writers embrace Fabianism and make careers of pimping for it. You already know their names.

    5. Father Coughlin: Roosevelt's Arch-Enemy. Why on-air radio personalities have to have FCC licenses, and why it took 50 years to do away with the so-called "Fairness Doctrine." (As someone who once had an FCC license and was an AM and FM on-air personality, this is a topic very near and dear to my heart.)

    6. Man, Revision 2.0. The Eugenics movement, The New Soviet Man, Reeducation Camps, and the War against the 21st chromosome. It isn't over yet.

  4. The Conservative Counter-Revolution

    1. VENONA. What our friends in the Soviet Union were really up to all those years.

    2. Milton Friedman, Hero of the Counter-Revolution. Emperor Keynes not only has no clothes, with this inflation, he'll never be able to afford to buy any.

    3. William F. Buckley, God and Man at Yale. Laying the intellectual foundation of the Reagan Revolution.

    4. Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative. Laying the political foundation of the Reagan Revolution.

    5. So Close. Richard Nixon almost gets it right.

    6. Roe v. Wade. The sleeping giant wakes. Laying the religious and moral foundation of the Reagan Revolution.

    7. The Carter Malaise. Keynesianism finally implodes. Remember 24% home mortgage interest rates?

    8. Ronaldus Magnus. It finally comes together. Camelot for Conservatives.

    9. Mission Accomplished. The collapse of the Soviet Union.

  5. The Inescapable Effects of Entropy

    1. What the heck happened? Why the end of history wasn't, why the Reagan Revolution didn't last, and why a kinder, gentler conservatism is indistinguishable from liberalism.

    2. The Parable of the Chainsaws. Credo: what I believe.

There, that looks like a jolly little syllabus, or maybe a rough outline for a book. Yoohoo! Anyone from Regnery out there?

Tomorrow — just for you, Tom — I'll tackle the subject of Father Coughlin and the FCC Fairness Doctrine. Until then,

Nil desperandum,

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Socialism: A Second Opinion

On the subject of communism, Marxism, and Bolshevism, our Romanian correspondent, Alexandru Lovin, has a considerable amount of first-hand insight to offer. The following is edited together from a lengthy series of email messages he's sent over the last few days; I've made some edits to clarify points and fix punctuation and translation anomalies, and spliced in the clarifications that Alexandru himself sent later. I apologize in advance if I have introduced any errors or misstated his points — and with that said, I'll turn the microphone over to Alexandru.

"First, our professor of political doctrines said, "Marx (presumably with Engels?) made a Party that had a very interesting evolution, until the Bolsheviks showed up."

"However, I entirely agree with your educated and well-informed opinion. You get a guy [Marx] who appears to be a really old frat-boy (how many kids did he have?) and who can't do anything besides blabbering without any kind of use all day. And he has a Philosophiae Doctor title in that. Then, you get a rich spoiled brat [Engels] who, as many spoiled brats do, got bored. This is where all hell breaks loose. You know what PORSCHE stands for? You have to. Proof Of Rich Spoiled Children Having Everything. It's these guys that nowadays get so bored they try all the possible and impossible drugs, and get drunk and get laid all day long. This is (in my opinion) how they get that woooonderful Rapid Cortical Inhibition...

"I've been talking to a Russian guy for a while. His opinion is that Lenin lied to people. Hmmm. "In the name of the people, I shall obtain power for feeding my frustrations and/or hunger for authority, frustrations created not long ago in my life," perhaps?

"This video is by a very good friend of mine:

"[Of this video,] Another very clever friend said, "99% correct opinions, extremely good English." His amendments were as follows:

"The mothers who were given medals for more than 4 kids — that wasn't a cover-up of famine (you know, 2 breads per family per day, like he said), that was some birdie in Ceausescu's head — increasing the populace. [...] No abortions allowed — well, theoretically; you slipped the good doc a little something, and voila, just like things generally worked back then, and still do to a degree — getting better, though.

"The food limit was a way of decreasing external debts. The guy forcefully industrialized Romania. There were quite a few headaches [after the revolution against Ceausescu] with the huge factories and such, they had to become private and nobody wanted them; they had a much larger number of employees than needed because everyone had to have a job, earn money, and generally work — the working class, the glorious communist society, blah, blah — and firing the excess would mean a huge unemployment rate. [Under Ceausescu,] If the police (militia, as it was called, and still is in today's Russia) caught you on the street without a job, you got 6 months in prison.

"After industrializing, the bills started to show up, around the 1980s. That's when Romania cut contacts with mostly everybody, and that's when people started recycling the music from the 1970s, which is why most of them still think it was the best decade in music. Anyway, he (Ceausescu) had the feeling the bills needed to be paid yesterday, so he did his best to squeeze every nickel out of the country. I heard he paid 11 billion dollars worth of debts, while the populace was sold chicken beaks and claws in the stores. They were sold in plastic bags. I just hope I will be able to come up with a perfect translation; a possible one would be "chicken dishes" "bird dishes."

"The visit to North Korea — he was in a stadium, my sources tell me, and he was impressed by the choreography (lots of people spelling crap with boards, you know) and that's when he got the idea he could control people to the last detail. That's when he transformed himself into a pharaoh; an absolute, godlike monarch, and he's obsessed with paying debts. Also add a self-defeating system, encouraging laziness and theft — everyone had to be employed, but nobody wanted to be, so everyone was getting better and better at simulating work and getting as much credit as possible. The employees of the year/month were probably never the most meritorious. Rationing of things was on a "scientific basis" that never really existed: rationed food, living habits, heat, etc. You weren't allowed on the street after 10 in the evening. Stores closed at 6 in the evening, the bars a little later, [but] you weren't allowed to buy or consume alcohol after 10 in the evening. I'm paying the electric bill, there is no principle that says I should be in total blackout 2-4 hours daily, I remember the interior of apartment blocks usually had candles at the side of the [stairs], for when the power goes out. The candles were placed there by the people, almost as a reflex, a thing you had to do.

"[So the] Birth rate drops; Ceausescu offers incentives to mothers, among which there's a medal [for having more than 4 kids]. Increasing the population was one of the things Ceausescu always wanted to do. Maybe he thought he would take over the world the Chinese way or something."

"All three of us — the guy from the film, who also has a sister; the guy who amended all the info; and myself [Alexandru] — were among the luckier ones. Our parents (in my case, my mother's parents, who raised me, worked hard, earned money, and still provide; they had their 50th wedding anniversary in October) managed to mingle and provide decent conditions for us, but many others couldn't. That's why we're now super-techno "knowers" — well, the amender isn't much of one, he's a goddamn copywriter! I should send his last TV ad, only I need to translate the punchlines at the end; let me know if you want that. But others can't wait to fake work for a bigger check and generally tend to do absolutely nothing at all while getting all the merits than can muster.

"In a few days I'll have the video in NTSC DivX format for everybody to have (I'll also enlarge it to NTSC DVD full size). Already ripped it off YouTube. I'll post it on and you'll be able to get it and offer it to your blog guests, if there's a big interest."

Update 2/21/07: From Alexandru—

"This is the video. Encoded with Divx 6.5.1."


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Scaling Socialism

One of the more frequent and fatuous arguments made in defense of socialism is that "it's never been tried in its pure form." As someone who was born and raised in the only major American city ever run by the Socialist Party, I believe that that assertion is demonstrably untrue. Whatever socialism's pure form may be (Marxism? Bolshevism? Trotskyism? Marxist-Leninism? Maoism?), it has been tried and retried again and again, and always with the same result: in the end, the people vote with their feet. Even at extreme risk to their very lives (and I speak now as someone with living relatives in the former East Germany), once people get to experience the true joys of life under socialism, they usually run from it, often while screaming. Why?

I think the answer here is that socialism does not scale. Getting technical for a moment, scaling problems are something we run into often in the supercomputer trade. Sometimes a scaling issue means that a program which works brilliantly with a small and carefully selected data subset fails miserably when used with the larger real-world data set. More recently, it's come to mean that a parallel process that works well with a small processor population actually gets less efficient as you increase the processor count. This is not really that uncommon; with the exception of very special code written to solve very specific cases, as you add processors, most parallel programs eventually find a natural limit beyond which adding processors only increases overhead and power consumption without actually accomplishing more work. In some extreme cases, though, performance can take a sudden and dramatic plunge when you cross some previously unsuspected threshhold.

I believe socialism suffers from the same problem. People easily and readily form small ad hoc groups that operate along socialistic principles, with individuals willingly sacrificing their egoistic interests for the good of the group. But when you attempt to extrapolate from these small and carefully selected data sets and scale socialism up to govern large populations, you run headlong into The Tragedy of the Commons — or as Aristotle put it, the principle that "That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it."

"The Tragedy of the Commons" is an idea most often encountered in an ecological sense: if something is owned by everyone, it's owned by no one, and the question of maintaining it becomes S.E.P.1 You can see this at work in small scale in every city park, bus shelter, or vacant urban lot, and in large scale in, say, the way we treat the oceans. But the principle also applies to factories, cities, cultures; pretty much any human endeavor. It's easy to feel a mutual responsibility to and dependence on people you know, interact with, and are related to. Those feelings taper off with amazing rapidity when the lines of relationship are expanded in either the X, Y, or Z dimensions, to include people you don't know, have never met, and know that you never will meet. Companies with geographically distributed operations wrestle with this all the time — it's darned difficult to make a worker in Chicago feel responsible to a manager in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania — and the problem is only amplified when you tell the workers that they "own" the company.

Try to actually implement the idea of "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs," then, and you'll quickly find that a sizable proportion of your fellow proles have decided their ability to show up for work on the Yugo asembly line sober on any given day is only about 50%, while their needs approach infinite.

The issue of scaling extends into the fourth dimension, as well. For example, just this week I learned about a program that could be expected to run reliably for around eight days, and then hit a hidden duration-based barrier and slow to a crawl. In a wonderful demonstration of both the 4th-dimensional scaling problem and the S.E.P. principle at work, rather than try to figure out what was wrong and actually solve the problem, the programmers responsible simply wrote a script to deliberately checkpoint, crash, and restart the code once a week. (Sort of like Trotsky's "perpetual revolution," eh?)

But as Hilary is no doubt asking by now, what does all this have to do with writing? Well, all will become clear when we Meet the Fabians!

1 Someone Else's Problem. As the late Douglas Adams pointed out, the S.E.P. effect is incredibly powerful. You can make entire mountains disappear simply by declaring them S.E.P.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Deconstructing Marxism

Sorry for not getting started on the secret history of conservatism quite as planned. For one thing, my life took another turn into complicated territory over the weekend, and for another, the scope of the whole project continues to grow like some strange mutant tropical vine.

For example, conservatives are often slagged as being reactionaries. But in keeping with my principle that the value of a hero is measured by the nature of the evil he opposes, I decided that in order to explain conservatism properly, it was necessary for me to refresh my understanding of what it is that conservatives are reacting to. Which means that, among other things, I re-read The Communist Manifesto over the weekend.

Good Lord, I don't know why I thought that wretched load of dingo's kidneys was brilliant when I was 19. I must have been smoking something.

One of the advantages of being an overeducated quasi-literary snot is that I'm now equipped with all sorts of nifty analytical tools: for example, deconstructionism, which holds that the message a work conveys is not in the actual words the author has written, but rather in a sort of subtly embedded code hidden inside the superficial text, which can only be decrypted via a thorough understanding the author's life, history, position in society, socio-sexual norms, gender relation issues, and breakfast preferences. And so, once it occurred to me to apply deconstructionist lit-crit techniques to The Communist Manifesto, co-written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels —

Whee doggies, I'm having way too much fun!

Look, Marx was a loser. At the time he and Engels wrote the manifesto, he was living in Brussels, having taken a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Berlin and then getting himself kicked out of both Berlin and Paris. He was 30 years old, married, and unemployed, with three kids under five years old in the house and fourth one on the way; while Engels was 28 and the son of wealthy textile manufacturer. When I try to envision Marx and Engels writing the manifesto, at times I think of Vroomfondle and Majikthise, sitting in a tavern, drinking in philosophy by the pint. ("Y'know what our problem is, Vroomfondle? We are just too intelligent and too highly educated.")

At other times, I envision Karl & Fred's Excellent Adventure, with Marx and Engels sitting in some squalid attic flat somewhere, surrounded by screaming kids. Karl is bloviating at length about the sheer injustice of a world in which men with PhDs in philosophy are expected to — gasp! — work to support themselves and their families, while Friedrich is saying, "You are so brilliant, dude," and reloading the bong. Meanwhile, Jenny Marx is back in the kitchen, maneuvering her pregnant belly around the hot stove and shrieking, "Karl, will you for God's sake at least pretend to look for a job?"

Marx was a loser. Engels was a rich brat who obviously had some severe problems dealing with his wealthy factory-owning father. After Brussels, Marx got himself declared persona non grata in Berlin and Paris again, and finally wound up living in the slums of Soho, London, where he spent the rest of his life living on the charity of Engels and the occasional article sale.

Some guys to start a cult, huh?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Nixon Returns

I woke up this morning -- say, did you ever notice that that's how almost all old blues songs begin?
Woke up this mornin'
and the ChemLawn truck was late.
Said I woke up this mornin'
and the ChemLawn truck was late.
My front yard's looked like crap
since 1988.
"Edina Blues"
by Willie "Big Johnson" Johnson
From the album, Songs of South Minneapolis
Folkway Records, 2003

Which begs the question: do old bluesmen ever really die? The answer, of course, is no: they just don't wake up one mornin'.

(Rimshot, cymbal crash.) Riiiiight. Anyway --

I woke up early, this morning. We get the most spectacular arctic dawns at this time of year; the skies are startlingly blue and crystal clear, and as the first long rays of the rising sun stream over the horizon they cast brilliantly golden beams of light across the frozen tundra, to fall precisely through the one gap in the bedroom curtains and smack me right in the face.

Not having much choice in the matter, then, I got up. My wife was still asleep. The Kid was still asleep. Even Pyro Puppy was still asleep, so I got into my bathrobe and mocassins, shuffled in the kitchen, started the coffee pot, checked the thermometer outside the kitchen window — minus 5º F, BRRR! — shuffled into the dining room —

Nixon was sitting there, reading Peggy Noonan's column in this morning's Wall Street Journal.

"I thought you could only appear at night," I said.

He tossed off a nod towards the frost on the inside of the patio door. "It's a cold day in Hell, too."

I pulled out a chair and sat down. "So. What's on your mind? Or is this just a social visit?"

Nixon carefully folded the newspaper and set it aside. "The election," he said.

"Oh? Are you going to explain why the Republicans botched the last one so badly?" In the kitchen, the coffeepot finally started wheezing, hissing, and groaning through its morning routine. Nixon jumped.

"Sorry," he said sheepishly. "I'm used to percolators. These newfangled drip-coffee makers sometimes sound just like — never mind." He took a moment to regain his composure, and then started again. "I'm talking about 2008. And I'm going to explain why the Republicans are going to make an even worse botch of this one."

He had my full attention now. "Really? So what happens with Pelosi and — "

He waved that off. "Never mind that. I told you, that was just a possible future. No, what I'm talking about now is a probable future." He pursed his lips, took in a deep breath, slowly let it out, and then held his silence for a long pause, while his eyes were focused on something I couldn't see.

In the kitchen, the coffee maker wheezed and dribbled.

"I can't talk about Hillary Clinton," Nixon said at last. "Not now; not without turning the air blue with swearing. But if you want to know what I might have to say about her, read Hell to Pay, by Barbara Olson. Especially chapter six." He frowned, and shook his head. "No, the Democrats are going to nominate Hillary. Foregone conclusion. No power on Earth can stop that now.

"But what scares me," he said forcefully, "is the idea that the Republicans will nominate Giuliani, or worse, put together some kind of grand compromise ticket of Giuliani and McCain. The last time we came up with a compromise this brilliant was in 1877, and you know how that one turned out." I nodded. The Great Compromise of 1877, which put Rutherford B. Hayes in office, was definitely not one of our shining moments.

"What's so bad about Giuliani?" I asked.

"On a personal level, not that much," Nixon said. "But think about this: a Clinton - Giuliani race. Never mind that she was mopping the floor with him during their race for the New York Senate seat, before he dropped out. What we're looking at here is a presidential election in which the whole country is forced to choose between New Yorker 'A' and New Yorker 'B'. Tweedledee and Tweedledum. It'll be like a Jets - Giants Superbowl. The Yankees versus the Mets in the World Series." He stopped waving his hands around, and sighed.

"Oh, the media will go crazy over this one," he said. "But the rest of the country will tune out early and go into the polling booth on election day begging God for a 'None of the Above' option."

I shrugged. "Don't we always?"

"It's all about demographics and turnout, Bruce. Thirty-five percent of the electorate would vote for a yellow dog, if it was a Democrat. Fifty-five percent of the voters will vote by reflex for any woman on the ballot, because it makes them feel all warm, fuzzy, and progressive. Seventy-five percent of female voters will vote for any candidate with a uterus and ovaries, out of pure female chauvanism.

"There's considerable overlap between these constituencies, that's true. But throw those kinds of numbers up against a Giuliani — a man who will make Southern conservatives sit this one out by the millions — and we have the makings of a landslide. It'll be like 1968 all over again, only this time with the southern strategy cutting the other way. You vaguely remember George Wallace; go back and look at what he actually did to Humphrey and the Democratic Party. If the South spews up some kind of regional third-party candidate again — "

He shook his head. "And Lord knows, it will; it's the South —

"Then we are looking at not just an overwhelming victory for the Democrats in every federal, state, and county seat on the ballot; we are talking about a 40-years-in-the-wildnerness level defeat for the Republican Party. I don't know if it can survive."

I shrugged again. "Consider it evolution at work. Maybe it shouldn't."

The coffee maker finished its brew cycle and let out a final loud hiss of steam. Nixon's head snapped up sharply and he looked me straight in the eye, but instead of the glare I expected, I caught a bemused twinkle.

"You can say that now," he said, with a decidedly unsettling smile, "but when I think about the prospect of living in a United States that's under the control of that woman —" He silently turned into a cloud of swirling smoke and began to drift away.

"Thanks, but I'll feel a whole lot safer in Hell."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Odds & Ends

And we have a winner!

Tidying up some odds and ends at the end of the week. First off, it occurs to me that I never announced a winner for the last Friday Challenge — or for that matter, for last fall's October Surprise contest — so without further ado, the winners are:
October Surprise
1st Place: Larry Who
Runner-up: Boz

Friday Challenge
1st Place: Nathan
Runner-up: ajw308

Winners: please email me your snail mail address so that I can get your prizes out to you! The rest of you: thanks for playing and please try again!

Recommended Missing

Next, I'd like to call your attention to this direct-to-video stinker:

Normally I wouldn't bother, but The Kid picked this one out at Blockbuster last weekend and it took me three days to air out the house afterwards. This movie is quite possibly the most chaotic load of crap I've seen since — well, actually, I can't think of a worse one, and I've seen 'em all. It starts out as an extremely low-budget rip-off of Aliens — but wait, then they're fighting zombies — no, I'm sorry, its cyborgs — and a werewolf! — oh no, wait, I was wrong again, now they're besieged by a bunch of Road Warrior rejects, who are assisted by a pair of pudgy killer androids in black spandex and wraparound shades — and where the Hell did that three-headed dinosaur come from? — oh, never mind, wherever it came from, it went back there, because it's dropped out of the story again for no apparent reason —

You get the idea. The script was poured out of a blender; the CGI graphics would look bad on a Super Nintendo; the acting gives a bad name to "amateurish;" and on the whole, it looks like a bunch of fans from some second-rate con put on their hall costumes and got together at an abandoned factory with their friend who owns a HD-DV camera, and spent a weekend shooting random bits of action-movie improv, which they later spliced together on a Macintosh and called a movie. If this were a student project I'd say, "Nice try, and I'd like to see your next one," but since they actually wanted money for watching this, I can only feel vaguely threatened by the closing credit, which promises that a sequel is in the works.

Coming Monday: A Conspiracy of Cats

Well, the response to the idea was positive enough, so I'm probably going to regret it, but I'm going to start my series on the secret history of conservatism beginning Monday. Until then, have a great weekend, stay warm, and ciao!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ripped from the Headlines!

Okay, the Friday Challenge arrived on Thursday this week. (Actually, it arrived on Tuesday, but this is the first chance I've had to post about it.) As you've probably been unable to escape knowing, NASA astronaut and Navy captain Lisa Nowak was arrested in Florida this week, and charged with attempting to abduct and murder Capt. Colleen Shipman, who apparently was Nowak's rival for the romantic attentions of fellow NASA astronaut and Navy commander William Oefelein.

Yeah, sure. That's the official story.

But c'mon, people, these are astronauts we're talking about! They've flown on the space shuttle! They've spent time on the international space station! There must be some much-better sci-fi explanation for this whole weird and pathetic turn of events!

So that's today's challenge: look at this news story, and ask yourself, What Would Philip K. Dick Do? Was Nowak actually possessed by a malevolent alien energy life entity? Not even really Nowak, but an evil clone, and the real Nowak is still being held prisoner on the alien mothership? Or is Nowak actually the hero of this piece, who stumbled onto the awful truth about the alien who is posing as Oefelein, and was she trying to capture Shipman unharmed in order to make her spill the beans and unravel the whole sinister conspiracy?

Or — waitaminnit. Astronauts? Space Station? Searing wave of mysterious solar radiation? Could it be? Is she actually — gasp!Depression Girl?!?!

The apparent truth is so lame. Let's have some fun with this one, folks.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

It's so cold in Minnesota...

We're having an extended subzero cold snap now, and while that's nothing remarkable for Minnesota, it does once again bring some things to my attention. This is the time of year when, instead of whipping into the parking lot at work, people very carefully back their cars into the parking stalls, so that they'll be easier to jump-start later if the need arises. Along with that, this is the time of year when no one wants to be the last to leave in the evening, for fear of needing a jump start and being unable to find one. (In Minnesota, you haven't officially taught your teenager how to drive until they're able to hook up jumper cables correctly.)

Or here's a lowbrow science experiment you *can* do at home. 1.) Bring water to a boil. 2.) Pour some boiling water in a cup. 3.) Take it outside. 4.) Fling the water in the air. (Taking care to hang onto the cup and fling the water *away* from anyone's face.) 5.) Watch it turn into a cloud of snow before it hits the ground!

Sunday night, we also rediscovered the principle that if you put the beer out on the deck to cool it down, you'd better keep an eye on it, because bottles turn to beersicles very quickly. More entertainingly, it seems the pressure keeps the beer liquid, and when you crack the cap and relieve the pressure, what appeared to be a bottle of liquid instantly becomes a bottle of ice.

How about you? Got a favorite cold-weather story?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Blame it all on Jim Morrison

Nathan poses an interesting dilemma:
Since I wasn't alive when Nixon was president, it was interesting to read something from a perspective that isn't the standard liberal one. I'd like to know more about what conservatism was before 1980, or just that it existed.
That's one of those weird things about the Internet. Intellectually, I know that all manner of people occasionally read this blog, but emotionally, I keep making the assumption that everyone out there is about my age, has about my educational background, and shares a roughly similar experience base.

This really hit home yesterday afternoon as I was cleaning up the family room, with an old Doors CD cranked on the stereo, when the lyrics of a particular song suddenly stuck in my craw. It really doesn't register now, does it, how serious certain elements of American society were about fomenting violent leftist revolution, in America, in the 1960s?

I got tired of self-absorbed Baby Boomer nattering about the '60s ages ago, and I know I've taken a vow never to discuss politics on this blog. But is it now time to if not break that rule, at least bend it a little? To understand the perfect storm that was the Reagan Revolution, you have to understand the historic forces that briefly brought together the three major strains of American conservatism — economic, political, and social — and this is a discussion that doesn't seem to be taking place anywhere else. It's been almost 50 years since "The Sixties," and more than 25 years since Reagan was elected. Is it time for a little history lesson?

Your thoughts, s'il vous plait?

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Nixon Interview: Post-mortem

Well, that was an interesting exercise. There is something to be said for posting a work-in-progress in daily chunks: the imperative to get the next bit of rough draft ready for release now does stimulate the literary glands. I produced 5,500 words of fiction in five working days (excluding two days right in the middle that were consumed by a personal issue and thereby made unfit for writing), meaning I hit my goal of 1,000 words daily with room to spare. And, by the way, I produced those 1,000 words daily in roughly 90 minutes of working time daily, split into two approximately 45-minute chunks of time, one first thing in the morning and the other last thing in the evening.

I'm also fascinated by the way this piece changed and evolved in completely unexpected directions during the process of transitioning from my original hand-scribbled notes to the daily postings. For example, that whole "Ghost of Elections Yet To Be" shtick was completely unplanned, yet popped out of my imagination nearly whole during the writing of that final chunk. And I never did get around to addressing the one thing in the President's State of the Union address that really triggered my Inner Dick in the first place.

I'm not entirely satisfied with the ending. If I were writing this for publication, I'd take at least one more stab at re-writing the ending — but since I think this has about as much chance of being published as I have of throwing the game-winning pass in Sunday's Super Bowl, I'll probably leave it as-is for now.

Er, I'm not sure if this needs to be said, but, "The Nixon Interview" is a work of fiction. It's history-based fiction, but fiction nonetheless. For example, the real Nixon apparently had a very poor relationship with Eisenhower. The real Eisenhower was a quintessential RINO, who didn't even join a political party until after he'd already decided to run for president, and then chose Republican because he liked their tax policies slightly better (even though he ended up governing like Harry Truman lite). For his part, Eisenhower apparently considered Nixon a despicable REMF and mere politician, while Nixon apparently was deeply disappointed that Ike used the Republican party machinery to get elected but in return did very little to help other Republicans. Still, when your daughter marries his grandson, it's probably best to keep those kinds of disputes in the family.

It's also perhaps necessary to point out that my Nixon is not an entirely trustworthy eyewitness. I don't much believe in the myth of objectivity; all narrative voices have subjective viewpoints, it's just a question of whether or not they recognize their own subjectivity. This Nixon may be dead, but he still has axes to grind and self-interests to serve. What he says is based in history, but history as viewed through his lens.

I continue to find Richard Nixon a fascinating character. He's a spectacular example of the truism that history is written by the winners — in this case, by his enemies — and yet a powerfully intelligent man, with a distinctive voice that survives now because of his extensive writings after he left office. If you want to understand foreign policy, far better you should track down a remaindered copy of Nixon's Real Peace or 1999: Victory Without War than read any tripe the intellectually inadequate Jimmy Carter may have happened to spew out lately.

As for me: in the final analysis, I'm decently happy with the way this piece turned out, and it was nice to see Richard Nixon back in action one more time. I have a feeling that he may visit again.

P.S. And for all of you who wrote to ask: sure and if "Saint Jack" isn't our very own blessed martyr John F. Kennedy, don't you know.