Thursday, May 21, 2020

THE BOOK BURNERS

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”
--Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451


The local library is closed.  So are all the book stores.  You cant even get a magazine at the oil change joint or the doctor's office these days.  Essentially, books have been banned, unless you already owned them.  You can get e-books no problem, libraries will still loan them out.  You can still buy books off online sites and have them shipped to you, as if somehow they are sanitized by the mail, or something.

As an author who, while not exactly making a living at books, writes for money, this is deeply disturbing.  Over the years, books and reading have declined in popularity for a variety of reasons.  People are less interested in the time and concentration it takes to read for entertainment.  

Younger people especially suffer from a sort of illiteracy in which long-form text (such as what you're reading right now) is challenging.  They were raised on images and small, short bursts of printing.  Texting, social media, etc.  TL;DR -- too long, didn't read.  It takes skill and practice to become comfortable with reading longer form text.  Even older people are finding this to be true, the more they read short form text and the less they read anything else.

These two things combine painfully into a situation where people are just reading less and less.  Books don't sell nearly as well as they used to.  Some top sellers still are making big numbers but as I wrote about a while back, people aren't reading these books.  They're just buying them to own them, show them off, and be seen with them as part of a fashion package.

Designers in homes are packing shelves with books for the visual effect, but the latest trend is to turn them backward so the spine isn't facing out.  They aren't there to be read or identified, the paper is "neutral" in color and tone, so you don't have to worry about the colors and designs on the spine.  They are there to look interesting and seem literate, without actually reading any of them.

Even long, established, once-respected magazines such as Atlantic are struggling, firing many people.  There are a lot of reasons for this beyond literacy, but the end result is the same: people are simply not surrounded by print and reading the way they once were.  Their nose is in the phone all the time anyway.

The phone is instant, varied, entertaining, requires little effort or thought.  It feeds you what you want rather than having to tease it out or find it.  It gives you want you want immediately, with shiny colors and moving things.  You can be pretty immature and enjoy the phone, because it delivers things to you at a child's level of access.

That doesn't make the smartphone or any other of the devices we use and enjoy bad, everything is good in its place.  After all, when book printing became common and cheaper, people were worried that the art of telling stories by word of mouth and passing down information verbally would suffer and people were losing their ability to remember and hold to truths personally.  There's a drawback in everything. 

But it does make the new tech very compelling and while not exactly addictive, often the first thing people reach for and stay with all waking hours.  Putting that down to read means not picking it back up to look up a word.  Or check a social media account.  Or text someone.  Or answer that text (and boy do people get mad if you don't respond quickly).

In the end, this is very upsetting, frustrating, even frightening for me as an author.  This is like being a painter and watching people lock away paintings and stop buying them.  This isn't so much being replaced by a better technology as it is just being thrown into the trash for being too tough and time consuming to enjoy.

I fear for a future without books, or with books only enjoyed by a very small number of people.  Even introductory reading devices such as comic books are plummeting in sales and popularity.  This hits me very directly both in an economic sense and a personal one.  And its not good for any of us.  And at some level I fear that its deliberate.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

THE GREAT CIVIL RIGHTS DESERT

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Recent events with a Chinese virus spreading through the world have resulted in unprecedented, vigorous response from governments around the planet.  To deal with this pandemic, governments have ordered businesses to be closed, people to stay home, and shut down open spaces such as parks and golf courses.

In many countries, the government has the power and authority to issue these kind of declarations, and people are used to being ordered to do things.  Its a historical and traditional thing for most nations around the world.  In the United States, the opposite is true: government is specifically and directly forbidden from doing such a thing.  The US Constitution clearly states that people may not have their rights curtailed or blocked by the government, that governments have only very specific "enumerated" or specified powers that they can carry out and nothing beyond that.

In other words, there is no legal authority to carry out these restrictions.  They cannot order us to stay home, legally or constitutionally.  Such power does not exist, and the exercise of it is illegal and nullified by the US Constitution.

However, the USA still currently has directives from government to stay out of parks, stay home, not travel except when absolutely necessary, even wear masks in public.  This isn't universal, some states still do not have these orders in place.  But most do, and the federal government strongly recommends these steps be taken.

The thing that governments and citizens of the USA are very well served to remember is that people are going along with this not out of obedience or fear of the government.  American people are not obeying or bowing to their authorities.

We are choosing to go along with what is being said out of caution and concern for our families.  We are not being forced to do this, we have unalienable rights of association and commerce which the government not only may not but cannot revoke. It is impossible for the government to take away our rights, it is only possible to attempt to limit and stop our exercise of these rights.  That is, the rights themselves are an innate part of being human, and cannot be removed.  They can only be limited in their expression.  I still have the right to liberty, even while jailed.

Americans are choosing to, voluntarily, limit the expression of our rights for the time being as it seems wisest to do so -- as was done during WW2, for example.  We chose to limit our purchases, travel, and use of resources during WW2 in order to aid with the struggle against evil.  Not out of compliance or cowering to the government's power, but because we saw it as necessary, temporarily.

When the time comes that these restrictions and limitations are no longer wise and necessary, we as a people will refuse to go along with them.  And any government or authority which seeks to retain these restrictions or expand upon them at that point should seriously reconsider.

Things are already very volatile and stressed in the USA to begin with.  People are already on edge and frustrated, angry, and feeling extremely abused by those in power and the establishment (media, academia, etc) already.  Being cooped up and constantly bombarded with fear tactics to sell advertising and manipulate politics by the media is not setting well on people.  

Put simply: the governments of the USA and those in power are sitting on a powder keg and would be well advised to keep that in mind.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

FAKE HATE 2019

This year had perhaps the biggest and what may end up the most infamous fake hate crime of all time in it with Juicy Smolliet.  The case is still ongoing, to determine if the man will be prosecuted for filing a false police report.

Although its kind of faded from the news, there was a claim that "hate crimes" are on the rise, which might be the case, if you include attacks on Jews in New York City or anyone daring to admit they support Trump, but that's not what people typically mean.  In fact a Kentucky University professor did a study of hate crimes in North America and discovered that over two thirds of the claims are fake.

Fake Hate Crimes seem to be pretty usual in number for the last five years or so, after a peak in 2016 when things went really berserk.  The College Fix website has a rundown of the fifty fake hate crimes they covered 2012-2018 just on their site.

So here's the 2019 run down of alleged hate crimes that ended up being a hoax or a lie:
  • January: In late December last year, a 7 year old black girl was shot dead in Houston.  Eyewitnesses said they saw a white man running away, and the hate crime bigot Texan story spread.  Turns out it he was just running away from gunshots, and police have arrested two black men for the crime.
  • January: Kids who attended a rally from Covington High School were waiting for a bus when aggressive, hostile members of the "Black Hebrew Israelites" began berating them.  Then a Native American activist named Nathan Phillips began beating a drum and yelling at them.  The press somehow twisted this into the young men being racially aggressive and mocking, to the point where even some allegedly conservative outfits like the Wall Street Journal and National Review attacked the young men.
  • February: It took them two years, but police finally solved the case of the arson to homosexual activist Nikki Joly's home in the UK.  Turns out he burned it down himself, because there wasn't any discrimination for him to fight against in his life.
  • March: Jussie Smollett claims two white men in MAGA hats carrying bleach put a noose on his shoulder and threatened him with racist and anti-homosexual slurs.  The case falls to pieces immediately based on its ridiculous claims and setting, and it turns out he'd hired two African bodybuilders to fake the event.
  • March: Lamar, South Carolina mayor Darnell Byrd McPherson reported a hate crime against her: sticky yellow residue sprayed on her car.  Turns out it was pollen congealed by rainfall.
  • March: Portland, Oregon has had a rash of fake hate crimes recently, as Andy Ngo reports.  Andy, of course, was later attacked himself and beaten so badly he suffered brain damage.  Among the events he detailed were:
  • A girl who claims she was assaulted and threatened the police officer that "her people" would "get you" if she wasn't "treated right." Eyewitnesses and friends say she got drunk and fell hitting her head on the curb.
  • A "fat-queer activist" published a claim on social media about an attack on her and her partner, claiming that "two young white men" in a "maroon SUV" had lobbed a full beer can at her and called her a homophobic slur.  Police investigate and find no evidence whatsoever to support this claim nor was the alleged event reported to them as she claims.
  • May: A subway passenger claims he was assaulted by two men shouting anti-homosexual slurs and attacked by them.  The rest of the passengers in the car note that he was spitting on people, no one said any slurs, and he was subdued by other passengers.
  • May: A Jackson Mississippi church attended predominantly by black people was lit on fire and "Vote Trump" was spraypainted out front.  The SPLC used this event as proof that Trump supporters are racist white supremacists and that hate crimes are on the rise.  A black man later admits that he lit the church on fire. 
  • June: Oberlin College is finally answered by a jury in a case against a bakery which they claimed was racially profiling students.  The jury found for the baker and ordered the college to pay $11 million dollars in damages.
  • July: Seattle claims that hate crimes have risen in the city by "400%" since 2012.  A study done this month proves the claims nonsense, with the vast bulk of the claimed hate crimes either not actually crimes or not actually involving an element of "hate" as the law defines it.
  • July: Erica Thomas, a Georgia State Representative claims that she was told to "go back where she came from" in a supermarket line.  She was in a 10-items-or-less checkout lane with 15-20 items when the man behind her berated her for doing so.  No evidence or eyewitness supports her claim of being told to "go back" or any racial hate.
  • September: A University of Illinois student claims a noose was hanged outside their door room.  But a friend notes that the student made the noose and hung it themselves.
  • September: Ex-Tampa Bay football player Edawn Coughman came to work at his restaurant and found racial slurs, swastikas and 'MAGA' spray painted in the trashed business.  He was arrested for fraud and filing a fake report, trying to get insurance money and sell the undamaged appliances.
  • September: WWL DJ Seth Dunlap claims hateful and anti-homosexual tweets were sent to him, which are later discovered to have been sent by himself.
  • September: A 12 year old girl with dredlocks claims she was attacked by white boys and had her dreds cut.  Later it is revealed to have been a hoax, driven by her grandmother who runs a "natural hair" shop and is a vocal advocate of not straightening or having "white hair cuts".
  • October: A Muslim man posts a note by someone who says he shouldn't be teaching hockey because he's Muslim.  The tweet gets tons of retweets and commentary except when reporters dig into the story they find that he's not teaching hockey anywhere, and that he previously has claimed hate against him for being a Muslim from anonymous notes.
This is part of the Faux Hate series, an ongoing feature at Word Around the Net for 9 years.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

THE BIG PRESIDENTIAL POST


"Now if you were to point your pistol at a king, the majesty of royalty you see, your hand would start to shake and all throughts of death and killing would be wiped from your mind as you would stand there in awe.....but a President? Why not shoot a President?"
--English Bob, Unforgiven

Every four years in the USA there's a presidential election and every time the same kind of discussions and comparisons arise.  What chance does this guy have, how many of that person have been elected.  I usually dig up info each time to see for myself, then forget.  So I figured I'd collect it all into one post for future reference and to settle some things for myself, and maybe others.


One of the favorite games people play is to look at the past and try to predict the future based on existing patterns.  In my opinion with the election of President Obama, all previous patterns and systems of prediction were utterly destroyed and no longer serve with any value, but its a tough thing to break with humans.  We were created and designed to see and recognize patterns even where there aren't any (that cloud looks like a lion!  That hanger looks like an octopus!).

OVERVIEW
So here's a breakdown of the presidents we've had and where they came from.  Overall, the United States has had 42 different men serve as presidents.  Grover Cleveland served twice in two different times (1885-1889 and 1893-1897) as 22nd and 24th terms of the presidency.  Before the Constitution was signed, there were 8 men who served as presidents before there was a United States of America, but they don't really count.

In addition there is an outlier: David Rice Atchison served as acting president for one day while the system waited for Zachary Taylor to arrive and be sworn in as president.  Travel back then wasn't as fast and reliable as it is today.

There have been 57 total four-year terms of the presidency in the United States, starting with George Washington in 1789. The presidency of William Henry Harrison, who died 31 days after taking office in 1841, was the shortest in American history. Franklin D. Roosevelt served the longest, over twelve years, before dying early in his fourth term in 1945.  Most presidents served one term, with FDR serving most of four terms.  After FDR, congress passed the 22nd amendment in 1951, limiting presidential service to two four-year terms.

Four US presidents have died in office of natural causes (William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt), and four have been killed by assassins (Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy).

GETTING THE JOB
The main paths to become president are, in order of success:

Congress -  34
Governor - 17
Vice President - 14
Cabinet Office - 8
General - 9
Mayor - 3
Captain of Industry - 2


CONGRESSMEN
There have been a total of sixteen presidents who were Senators in their careers.  However only three have successfully gone from the Senate to the Presidency directly: Harding, Kennedy, and Obama.  Curiously two of them died in office, which if you believe in omens seemed like a bad one for President Obama.

The others served in other jobs or were out of office as Senator some years before successfully running for president.  Most of them are the little-known names like Pierce, Tyler, and Buchanan.  Five served more than one term, the rest were a single term or less (although Johnson served part of Kennedy's term and his own single term).

Andrew Johnson is the only president who then went back into congress, becoming a Senator after leaving office.  As the Senate nearly convicted him of abuse of power after he was impeached (for pardoning many confederates and how he controlled reconstruction by placing people into office in various southern states) I'm guessing that was an interesting reunion.

Eighteen men who had served in the House of Representatives have become president as well, including Abraham Lincoln.  Only one (James Garfield) moved directly from the House to the presidency (although Johnson became VP from the House then became president with Kennedy's death).

GOVERNORS
One man who was governor of a territory - Taft - (provisional governor of Cuba, and previously the Philippines after the Spanish-American War) has become president.  However, sixteen overall have become president after being governor: nine directly taking office of the presidency after being governor.  This is by far the most successful, direct path to the presidency in those terms.  The most recent governor to be president was George W Bush in 2000.

VICE PRESIDENTS
The first Vice President to assume the office of president due to the president leaving office prematurely was John Tyler in April of 1841 after the shortest term in office of any president.  Previous to that it was the law that the vice president became a sort of "caretaker" of the office until the election, but Tyler assumed full presidential duties and congress later made this law.

Overall, 14 different former vice presidents have become president of the United States.  However, only 2 took over that office immediately upon their president leaving office: Martin VanBuren in 1836 and George H W Bush in 1988.  All others either took office upon the premature end of a president's term, or after at least one other president served in office.  

Of those fourteen vice presidents who became president, five were due to a president leaving office prematurely, including Gerald Ford who took office when President Nixon resigned in 1974.  Of them, only two were successfully reelected: Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.  

That means that in reality, only eleven of the total forty-eight men who have served as vice president of the USA successfully turned the job into the presidency.  This isn't a very successful path to the job, over the years.

CABINET OFFICE
Overall, eight men served as Secretaries in various Cabinet offices under the president before themselves becoming President.  One was Secretary of War (Taft) and one was Secretary of Commerce (Hoover). Six of them were Secretaries of state, with three of them becoming president directly upon serving as Secretary of State (in a row: Madison, Monroe, and Adams).  However, the last president to have served as Secretary of State was James Buchanan in 1857 so its been a very long time since that was a step into office.  Hillary Clinton would have been the latest but she was defeated in 2016.

GENERAL
Nine men who were previously generals in the US military have become president: Washington, Jackson, Harrison, Taylor, Pierce, Grant, Hays, Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, and Eisenhower.  Three (Taylor, Grant, and Eisenhower) became a president immediately after serving as General in the military.  Overall twenty-two men who served in the US military have been president, a pretty large percentage of the overall total and the largest number in this list (the most common previous job is "Lawyer" with 26 examples, including men such as Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, and Lincoln).

CAPTAIN OF INDUSTRY
Two men who have become president qualify in this category although several others probably could have done it such as Rockefeller or Carnegie.  Hoover became president in 1929 although he'd had political experience under Wilson, Coolidge, and Harding in various high offices under the presidency.  

Hoover's previous experience was that of a mining magnate and became famous after leading a charitable effort to feed starving people in Europe due to the devastation of WWI.  He spent millions of his own money and raised millions more in the effort, which started him on the path to public service.  The second is now president: Donald Trump, who took office in 2017 after having no political experience whatsoever.

EDIT: Mayor.  I left off a category which I should have included, that of mayor.  There have been three presidents who formerly were mayors, but none who were mayors immediately before becoming president.  Andrew Johnson was the first (Greeneville, Tennessee), then Grover Cleveland (Buffalo, New York), and finally Calvin Coolidge (Northampton, Massachusetts).  Its been 97 years since a mayor was president.

So there you have it, a quick and dirty breakdown of the presidents of the United States.  Now you can be armed when the discussion comes up.