Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Life Will Go On ... But It Will Be Different

In the wake of Hillary Clinton's devastating loss in the presidential election yesterday, I have decided to disconnect from social media indefinitely.  I've deactivated my Facebook account, and I've removed Twitter and Instagram from my phone so that I won't access them.  I changed my Twitter profile picture to a black box (for anyone who happens to see my profile while I'm offline) and then discovered today in a USA Today article that this is now a trend on Twitter.  Obviously a bunch of other people had the same thought as me.  Black is a perfect analogy for how this feels.  Hopeless and helpless.

For the sake of my daughters, I had looked forward to the prospect of America's first female president.  For the sake of my own political perspectives, I had looked forward to another Democrat in the White House, although it would have admittedly been four more years of constant criticism, scandal-mongering, and refusal to govern by the Republican opposition.

Instead, the Republicans have gained control of every branch of government.  They retained control of both the House and Senate, they gained the presidency, and they will soon have the Supreme Court back, once Trump nominates someone to fill the current vacancy.  Republicans also hold the governor's office in 31 of the 50 states, and control 68 of the 98 state legislatures.

Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, a liberal or conservative, this should concern you.  When a single party controls every level of government, it is a significant blow to the checks and balances built into our constitution.  It's important to remember that when the constitution was written, there were no political parties.  The Founding Fathers didn't envision a single party controlling all three institutions.  They imaged each institution being independent of the other.  For a long time in American history, this problem was avoided because there were many parties that came and went, and presidents and Supreme Court justices tended to be independently-minded and kept themselves above a lot of the political fray.  This was particularly true of presidents prior to the Civil War.  Since the start of the 20th century, this has been less true - particularly of presidents - but checks and balances still worked because both parties were reasonably moderate compared to today and often times whichever party won the presidency would lose either the House or Senate or both.

This is the second time in 16 years that we have had an election which has ushered in Republican control of all three branches of the federal government.  The first time was from 2000 to 2006.  That ultimately ended in the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression and two costly and ineffective wars.

This year's election is akin to the Visigothic sack of Rome in 410 AD.  The barbarians have taken control.  Nationalism is replacing internationalism.  Fear and cowardice are replacing courage. Backward-looking is replacing forward-thinking.

If you voted for Trump, you are to blame.  If you didn't vote, or if you voted for a third party, you are also to blame. This was a time when the best of America needed to stand up to fear, to hatred, and to narrow-mindedness, and instead we crumpled to our knees in apathy and got obsessed with email servers and made-up scandals.

The Republican party has spent years - literally since the Reagan era - openly courting the right wing vote. Now, the monster they created is consuming them and, by extension, everyone else.

I sure hope that my dire and dark prognostications are wrong.  I hope in a couple of years I can look back on this post and determine I was overreacting. But then again, you don't have to make this stuff up. Unlike the right wing monsters who created Trump, I don't have to make up paranoid lies about what Trump might do (see the whole "Clinton is going to outlaw guns and force everyone to get an abortion" nonsense).  I only have to listen to what he's said he's going to do, right from his own mouth.

Donald Trump is a monster.  He represents the worst in humanity: greed, paranoia, self-aggrandizement, aggression, vengeance, grudge-holding, hate, and pettiness.  He is, in short, the model of a paranoid dictator. Psychologically-speaking, he has all the same qualities and characteristics of any mad dictator who has ever graced the national stage.  The only thing separating Trump from those people is a vulnerable society, culture, and governmental institution.  One has to hope that our country's culture is strong enough to keep Trump in check.  But if tragedy happens - a major recession, a major terror attack, a pandemic, or so on - we could be in serious trouble.  Hitler happened because a well-meaning, but poorly-informed Christian public gave in to fear and nationalism.  It CAN happen here.  And we are now one major national tragedy away from being vulnerable to the rise of a dictator.  I know rabid Obama haters have said the same thing about him, but - like everything else they say - it's all bullshit because Obama has none of the hallmark characteristics of a dictator.  Neither does any other president who has ever served.  Trump is the first.

In February, I predicted that if Trump and Clinton won their primaries, the campaign would be a circus.  That was easy to predict of course.  I also predicted, however, that Trump wouldn't win.  I had earlier (last fall) predicted he wouldn't win the nomination.  All my predictions about Trump have been wrong because I believed too strongly in America's strength and goodness.  I underestimated how many hateful monsters there are out there, and how many naive enablers there are to go with them.  I believe the naive enablers are the larger of the two categories, and they are more to blame than the monsters because you can't blame a monster for doing monster-y things.  But you can blame otherwise good and well-meaning people for poisoning their own future through stupidity and through trusting that God will magically take care of everything.  Tell that to 6 million dead Jews.  

In May, I said I was bowing out of following the campaign and talking about it because the whole thing caused me too much anxiety.  That lasted for several months, but by September I was back in it again.  But back in May, I said this: 

"My final public commentary on this year's election is this: keep everything in perspective.  No matter who wins, they will neither save the world nor destroy it.  Life will go on."    

Hopefully that's the one thing I predicted during this campaign that will actually come true.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Trump's Comments About "Second Amendment People"

Back on May 1st, I opted out of the discussion of this year's presidential race.  Not because I don't have plenty of opinions, but because I care too much and felt that following and being involved in the discussion of this year's race was simply causing too much stress in my life.  

I still stick by my decision to bow out, but I simply could not keep quiet about the latest, and perhaps most egregious, sound bite to come from Donald Trump.  

In case you're clueless, at a campaign stop in North Carolina, Trump said that "Second Amendment people" could "do something" to stop Hillary Clinton from appointing anti-gun justices to the Supreme Court.  

My first reaction, when I heard about what he had said, was to assume liberals were blowing out of proportion something stupid that Trump had said.  That happens, after all, on a weekly basis.  Not that I don't think Trump is capable of literally saying anything, but advocating the assassination of an opponent is a bit much.  After reading more about it, I went back and forth about whether he was genuinely talking about assassination, or if he was - as he and his PR people have claimed - talking about how Second Amendment people are really good at uniting and can therefore stop Hillary at the polls.

I decided the only way to honestly evaluate it was to watch the whole clip, in context.  So I did that. If you want to watch it yourself, find it here, starting at about 56:45 (start at about 56:00 if you want to see the whole thing in context).  

The bigger context was Trump listing off bullet points (no pun intended) of things (he says) Hillary wants to do as president, and contrasting them with things he will do as president instead. The fourth item on his list was: "Hillary wants to essentially abolish the Second Amendment." After stating this, he notes that Hillary, as president, will be able to pick whatever (anti-gun) justices she wants for the Supreme Court, and there will be "nothing you can do" about it.  As people in the audience begin to boo and catcall, he says: "Although the Second Amendment people ... maybe there is, I don't know."  

When you watch the entire thing in context, it does seem pretty overwhelmingly clear that Trump was making an assassination joke, and not talking about Second Amendment supporters uniting to stop her at the polls.  He wasn't talking about electing Hillary Clinton.  He was talking about Hillary Clinton - as president - appointing anti-gun justices to the Supreme Court, which would help her (in Trump's view, anyway) to "essentially abolish" the Second Amendment.  No way to stop that once she's president, he says - except maybe if the "Second Amendment people" do something.  In context, the implication is very, very clear.  He even goes on to note that it "would be a horrible day" if she were able to appoint justices to the Supreme Court.  

If he were talking about stopping Hillary on election day, why would he say there was "nothing you can do" about it, except "maybe" the Second Amendment people? That would be Donald Trump suggesting he can't beat Hillary Clinton, and unless you live under a rock, you know that Trump would never, ever openly suggest that he can't beat Hillary.    

Aside from the context, there are a few other important clues to his meaning as well.  First, his tone of voice.  You have to watch the video to hear it, but his tone of voice when he makes the comment - sort of as a joke out of the side of his mouth - makes it clear that he's joking about assassination and not making a serious statement about the uniting power of Second Amendment supporters.  His tone, alone, makes that argument ridiculous.  

Second, and perhaps most importantly, is the crowd reaction.  Clearly people in the crowd thought he was joking about assassination.  After he makes the statement, you can hear tittering laughter, and you can see it on the faces of a number of people in the audience behind Trump. For instance, if you watch the video, you'll see an older, bearded man on the right turn to his wife and say "Woaaah!" before they both break into laughter.  

It is abundantly clear from watching and listening to the audience's reaction that they took his comment as a joke about Second Amendment people taking Hillary out. 

So what now? Trump made an assassination joke about his opponent. There's no question it WAS a joke - that much is obvious from his tone and demeanor and the audience's reaction.  He wasn't actually calling for someone to shoot Hillary.  And certainly nothing Trump says will stop his most ardent supporters from supporting him (this is a guy who openly mocked a handicapped person on stage, accused a female reporter of being on her period because she asked tough questions, and made a joke about his dick size during a presidential primary debate, after all). But there can be no doubt that this latest remark by Trump simply adds to what is already the most outrageous and dangerous candidacy by a major party candidate in the history of the United States.  

And I don't say that lightly. I have studied and even written a book (an Amazon bestseller!) about the history of American political parties, so I know what politics in America is like and what it's been like.  There have been some nasty campaigns in the past and some really devious and dangerous candidates.  But there has never been a candidate for a major party who represents such a serious threat to the stability and integrity of the Executive branch of the U.S. government.  Statements like the one he made in North Carolina - even jokes - are evidence of that.  


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ark Encounters, the Creation Museum, and Answers in Genesis

A few facts about Answers in Genesis and the properties they own and operate in northern Kentucky: 

* Answers in Genesis rejects key scientific facts as established by archaeology, cosmology, geology, linguistics, paleontology and evolutionary biology and argues that the universe, the Earth and life originated about 6,000 years ago.
* After his visit to Ark Encounters, owned and operated by Answers in Genesis, Bill Nye the Science Guy described his experience as "much more troubling or disturbing than I thought it would be" and stated that "every single science exhibit [at the Ark] is absolutely wrong."

* A. A. Gill, a British writer and critic, described the Creation Museum as "battling science and reason since 2007", writing: "This place doesn't just take on evolution—it squares off with geology, anthropology, paleontology, history, chemistry, astronomy, zoology, biology, and good taste. It directly and boldly contradicts most -onomies and all -ologies, including most theology."

* Scientific and scholarly organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, Paleontological Society, Geological Society of America, Australian Academy of Science, and the Royal Society of Canada have issued statements against the teaching of creationism. The National Center for Science Education, a science advocacy group, criticize Answers in Genesis's promotion of non-science.

* Astronomer Hugh Ross's organization Reasons To Believe, a progressive creationist organization, is a critic of Answers in Genesis. The BioLogos Foundation, which promotes evolutionary creationism, has stated that the views of Answers in Genesis have "force[d] many thoughtful Christians to lose 
their faith," while The Biologos Foundation "protect[s the Christian] faith."

* On May 31, 2007, Creation Ministries International filed a lawsuit in Supreme Court of Queensland against Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis seeking damages and accusing him of "unbiblical/unethical/unlawful behaviour" in his dealings with the Australian organization.

* Geologist Greg Neyman, founder of Old Earth Ministries (a traditional creationism organization) wrote that "The non-Christians will see the museum, and recognize its faulty science, and will be turned away from the church." Catholic theologian John Haught, a theistic evolutionist, said, "It's theologically problematic to me, as well as scientifically problematic", and that the museum would cause an "impoverishment" of religion. Theistic evolutionist Michael Patrick Leahy, editor of the online magazine Christian Faith and Reason, said that the museum "undermines the credibility of all Christians".


Not only are these people anti-science ideologues, they are even pariahs among other creationist groups.

The fact that their museums are geared towards children only makes it even worse. And it's not an accident. It's not as if there aren't plenty of adults who believe in creationism. The reason the museums are geared towards children is because children are easier to manipulate. They believe that if the seeds are planted at a young age, they can influence future generations towards their insidious belief systems.  They also know that by appealing to families, they stand to make more money - so that they can, in turn, spread their message even farther and wider.

And these belief systems ARE insidious. If this was just a group of wacko fundamentalists who believe the earth is 6,000 years old, it wouldn't be any big deal.  But they are actively trying to convert people to their way of thinking, and they are part of a larger network of similar groups with similar goals.

And why is it a problem if they convert susceptible people to their way of thinking? Because then they can begin to influence national conversations and public policy. After all, if you can convince people that science is wrong about everything, you can easily convince them that things like climate change are wrong.  Why do you suppose there is such weeping and gnashing of teeth in this country over climate science, when it's totally non-controversial in every other corner of the developed world? Because there are already so many Americans - spurred on by groups like Answers in Genesis - who are skeptical of the claims of "scientists," whom they equate with "liberals" and "atheists" and other "bad" people.

"But Scott, it's just a fun time for kids and they don't really understand the politics/theology behind it unless you're teaching that to them."

That may be true to some extent, but by taking your children to this place, you are allowing seeds to be planted and, perhaps more importantly, you are financially supporting a group whose goal is to manipulate people with pseudo-science and lies.  If you aren't able to understand why that's such a big deal, maybe you just don't see the big picture, which I've tried to give a glimpse of above in regards to climate science.

And it's the big picture that really matters.  You go and vote on election day, not because your one measly vote makes any difference at all, but because in the big picture, it's important for people to vote.  The same is true with something like this - you don't support people like Answers in Genesis, not because your ticket price makes any difference, or even because your kids might turn into little young earth creationists, but because in the big picture, groups like this should not be financially supported by otherwise intelligent, well-meaning citizens living in the 21st century.

Despite the direct efforts of Answers in Genesis to label their critics as "liberals," this has nothing to do with conservatives or liberals.  This has to do with the importance you - and, by extension, your society - places on science and reality against a ridiculous fantasy world that doesn't even represent good theology, much less good science.

How would you feel about a theme park that sought to tell about the wonders of atheism and its history, and which presented atheism in the best possible light, geared for mass appeal to children? Would you take your kids there to see all the fun exhibits?  Would you write critics off as overreacting or being silly and missing the point?  Of course not.  You wouldn't take your kid within a hundred miles of the place - unless you happened to be an atheist. The same is true of the Creation Museum or Ark Encounters - unless you're a young earth creationist, you shouldn't take your kids to these places.

The Creation Museum and Ark Encounters are both anti-science indoctrination centers bent on convincing people - especially those who aren't that savvy or well-educated or who, like children, are impressionable - that the earth is 6,000 years old and that practically every scientific discipline known to humankind is flawed and misguided.  No matter how you spin it, those are the facts, and they should be enough to convince you that this isn't a place you want to support.  

Friday, May 27, 2016

Exit ... Stage Left

I've come to the decision to sit out the rest of this campaign season. I know this will come as a great disappointment to all my readers who have come to rely on my insight in determining who they should vote for (lol).

Every four years, I get heavily invested in presidential elections.  Going back to 2000, when I was 25, I have always stayed up to the minute on campaign news, followed the poll aggregates, and had plenty to talk and argue about with friends, coworkers, and the occasional online stranger. Nowadays, with social media, it's even easier to stay in the know with all the latest news.

The problem is this: I care too much. It matters too much to me who wins and who loses. I form very strong opinions and become heavily invested in those opinions.

This always causes me to basically spend all year during election years talking, reading, and - especially - thinking about the election. And this naturally leads me to continually feeling riled up and "concerned" about how things are going to turn out.

In short, I spend all year releasing a bunch of stress hormones into my system.

The difference this year is that this is the first presidential election since my heart attack. And I don't need another six months of stress over something I ultimately can't control.

So I've decided, from here forward, to sit this one out. No more reading articles, no more tweets, no more news and constant updates. Also, no blog posts, retweets, instagram posts, or discussions/debates with people.

I'm simply bowing out of the discussion.

I do intend to continue following and analyzing the polls, because I enjoy doing that sort of thing.  I still have a very deep and abiding interest in who wins and who loses. But I'm not following, or talking about, the campaign anymore.  I feel like this is the best choice I can make for my body and mind at this point.  Sorry to anyone who might be disappointed.

My final public commentary on this year's election is this: keep everything in perspective.  No matter who wins, they will neither save the world nor destroy it.  Life will go on.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Transgender People and Their Bathroom Habits

Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario 1: Your 9-year-old daughter enters a public women's bathroom in the mall somewhere in the southern United States.  As she walks in, she sees a person at the sink who, from all outward appearances, is a woman.  The woman has long hair, is wearing make-up, has on a pretty dress and shoes, has visible breasts, and has a purse on her shoulder.  She's a little tall, and maybe she's not all that pretty (depending, of course, on your personal tastes), but she's a woman.  In fact, if you could peek up her skirt, you'd find that most female of all structures, a vagina.  The only difference between this woman and all other women is that she was born male. 

Would you rather your 9-year-old daughter use the same restroom as this person, or....

Scenario 2:  Your 9-year-old daughter enters a public women's bathroom in the mall somewhere in the southern United States.  As she walks in, she sees a person at the sink who, from all outward appearances, is a man.  The man has short hair in a buzz cut, has on cargo jeans and work boots and a flannel shirt rolled up at the sleeves, has facial hair and dark hair on his arms, and his chest is flat and broad.  He's a little short, maybe a little dumpier than most men, but he's a man.  In fact, if you could peek into the stall while he was relieving himself, you'd find that most male of all structures, a penis.  The only difference between this man and all other men is that he was born female. 

THIS person???

Now, given that you MUST choose between one scenario and the other, which scenario would you rather have for your 9-year-old daughter in a public restroom?  

In some places in the south these days, scenario number 2 is the choice the local governments have given you.  North Carolina and Mississippi have both passed laws requiring transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender at birth in public buildings - that's scenario number 2 above.  The dude with the beard.  

They have also overturned local ordinances permitting trans people to use whatever bathroom they choose.  These laws don't affect the bathroom policies of private businesses, but they do permit private businesses to disallow trans people to use the bathroom of their choice. 

Additionally, in Oxford, Alabama, a town of about 21,000, they have just passed a law criminalizing scenario number 1 above, and requiring scenario number 2 on pain of arrest and up to six months in jail.  Yes, in Oxford, Alabama, if you are a man with a penis, but you were born a woman, you are required to use a female restroom on pain of being jailed.  The dude with the beard above MUST use the women's restroom anywhere in Oxford, Alabama.    

Let me ask you: does this make ANY sense whatsoever?  No matter what your opinion of transgender people, they exist and they are going to continue existing and they have all the same rights and privileges as you do, including the right to use public restrooms.  Does it make any sense at all to require anatomically-correct men to use a women's restroom?  Or someone with a vagina to use a men's room?  

I know I'd much rather my two daughters not share a bathroom with anyone with a penis or a beard, no matter what genitals they had at birth.  

Seriously, has their ever, in our lifetimes at least, been a series of laws enacted in this country with less forethought?  I mean, did they give this any thought at all, in terms of the logical consequences, or did they just act on pure fear and misguided instinct?  

I welcome your thoughts.  

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Notes from the Cave

My computer hasn't actually been in "the Cave" since before Christmas.  I've had it parked in the dining room because it's just too damn cold in the basement during the winter.  If April hadn't dawned with continued cold temperatures, I'd have probably moved back to the Cave by now.

In any case...

The latest news is that I'm going to see Guns n' Roses in Cincinnati in July.  I grew up on GnR but never would have dreamed of seeing them in high school, for fear of getting a contact high and getting my ass kicked.  I knew a few people who DID go to see them in Dayton in early 1992 when I was in my junior year at Lakota, and my one memory of it is a guy showing up at school that following morning with eyes bloodshot as hell, telling us how they hadn't gone on stage until after midnight and it had been past 4 am when he got home.

25 years later, I'm finally going to see them.  After breaking up in the mid-1990s, and the members swearing for years a reunion would never happen - at least not between Axl Rose and Slash - they finally announced a reunion tour early this year.  They're playing all football stadiums, so it will undoubtedly be an enormous production.  I got tickets in the nosebleed section of Paul Brown Stadium, although they were still $82 bucks apiece.  Tickets in the floor section were $250 apiece.  What a crock.  But it's okay.  I figure the upper decks will be a little less crazy and the sound will in all likelihood be better.  By pure providence, they are playing in Cincinnati during a week I had already taken off from work.  God clearly wants me to see them.

After several weeks of delays, the house my parents are building in Hebron has finally been completed.  Syd and I did the walk-through with them on Monday.  They hope to close sometime next week.

We'd originally expected it to be done in mid-March, so the last few weeks have been frustrating as they kept pushing back the closing date.  Considering the mild winter we had, they really didn't have an excuse, but home builders know they have you by the balls when you put money down on a property, so what do they really care?  In any case, they're hoping to be moving in by next weekend.  I still can't quite get my mind wrapped around my parents living walking distance away from me.  They've been 1000 miles away for literally my entire adulthood - since the year I turned 18.

Back in February I went down to western Kentucky to spend a few days with my aunt and uncle while my parents were staying with them there.  We did some graveyard hopping and I was able to see the gravestones of all four of my grandparents as well as some of my great grandparents.  We didn't have time to go to all of the cemeteries, and one of my great grandparents - who died in a car accident in 1938 - doesn't even have a gravestone in the place where he's buried - but it was still neat to see the ones we had time to get to.  We even walked through an old family cemetery (the Lile family, which is my maternal grandmother's family) that is on private property and has burials going back to the mid-1800s.

My paternal grandmother's parents.  I discovered through that Ora Elizabeth, who died when I was 10, was actually a bastard.  Memaw never told us that!  Granison is the only member of my family, besides me, who had a heart attack.  He died in 1953. 

My paternal grandfather's parents.  Their picture is below.  Notice Mandy Christmas died on Christmas day.

Though you can't read anything on this tombstone, I know from a family genealogy page that this is the tombstone of my maternal great-great grandmother.  She died in 1953 and was the last person buried in the old Lile family cemetery.  She was born pre-Civil War in 1854.  Her son, my great grandfather, died at the age of 98 on my 3rd birthday.

I know all of you were just dying (no pun intended) to read all about my family history.

Anyway, I had some really great posts to make about politics last month, but I accidentally deleted the text message I had sent myself with my ideas about what to say.  So those thoughts have now moved off into the ether.  However, since energy cannot be created or destroyed, they're still out there somewhere.  If you breathe deeply enough, maybe you'll catch them.

I promise I'm not high.

To sum up: Donald Trump pretends to be a crazy right-winger.  Ted Cruz actually IS a crazy right-winger.  The Republicans have screwed themselves in this election.  Welcome to the White House President Clinton.

Spring Break is next week for my kids and wife, and they are going to the lake.  Unfortunately, next week is my "bad week" at work, and I have to work all week.  So I'll have to miss out on the lake.  However, we are going to Florida with Mel's family this summer, so we're all looking forward to that.  I also have a week off in May and that other week off in July during the GnR concert, so I'm not complaining.

I'm working on my next novel, which will be published in two parts.  It's called The Fourth Sign of the Falcon.  I'm almost done with the first major edit of part 1, so I hope to have it published in the next few months.  I'll keep you updated :)

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The 2016 Election

With the results of the Iowa Caucuses in, I figured it was time for me to chip in with my thoughts and predictions on this year's election cycle.  (If you don't want to read all this, you can skip to the "TO SUM UP" section below.)

It will come as no surprise to those who know me that I've been thinking a lot about this since the campaign began in earnest last year.  This is definitely shaping up to be an election unlike any we've seen in a long time, and I'm not just saying that because it happens to be the election we're in right now.  Most of you know I dabble in history, and have even written a book about the history of American political parties, so I know my stuff here.  2016 is unique in a lot of ways.

Two things are pretty clear in this election cycle, and have been written about a lot, so I'll just mention them here.  1) The GOP is fractured and being dominated by its anti-establishment right wing.  2) Both parties are tired of politics-as-usual and are therefore seeing a lot of success from non-traditional candidates.

So how is all this going to play out?

Glad you asked.  I'll tell you.

First of all, I wrote about Donald Trump once already - all the way back in July of last year, in a post entitled Why Donald is So Popular and So Totally Not Going to Win His Party's Nomination.

In that post, not only did I say that by the time the campaign started in earnest Trump would be a footnote, but I also said that we were going to have a Bush-Clinton race to the White House.

Most everything I said in that blog post has proven wrong.

Like I said, this is a unique election and past trends have been trampled upon.  What I failed to remember when writing that post is an old adage that I ALWAYS live by: Never underestimate what the right wing is capable of. 

At this point, only three candidates in the GOP primary really have a shot at winning the nomination: Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.

All three are fairly far to the right of the political spectrum, though Rubio is more polished and sophisticated than the other two.  To use a religious analogy, Trump and Cruz are hell-fire and damnation bible-beating fundamentalists, while Rubio is well-educated and has an air of respectability, but still basically believes all the same stuff.

I'd be mortified with my options if I were a Republican.  The moderate Republicans have been shunted completely out of the picture in this election cycle.  They're literally just a side-show.

It's not a whole lot different on the Democratic side.  Bernie Sanders - who openly admits to being a Democratic Socialist - in other words, a true liberal - has performed much better than I expected him to, virtually tying the more moderate Hillary Clinton in Iowa.

Don't be fooled, however, by those hypothetical polls that show Bernie Sanders doing better in head-to-head match-ups with Trump, Cruz, et al., than Clinton.  Those kinds of hypothetical polls are virtually useless for predicting anything, and when regular voters, who don't pay attention to primaries, figure out the kinds of things Bernie Sanders stands for, they will flock away from him like gazelles fleeing a lion.

I plan on voting for Bernie in the Kentucky primary, if he's still in the race then, but I don't believe he can legitimately beat any of the Republican candidates.  I'm not saying it's impossible, I just wouldn't bet on it.

Again - never underestimate what the right wing is capable of, and I believe they would make an absolute art-form out of dismantling his socialist policies and convincing people he was a threat to American capitalist values.

America may be ready for a black president, a Latino president, or a woman president, but we're not ready for a European-style Democratic Socialist president.  Also, if you think he could pass even 1% of the legislation he says he's going to pass, you're crazy.  Short of a Democratic sweep of Congress (which isn't going to happen), a President Sanders would get nothing of value accomplished, although it would be interesting to see if he could work better with a hostile Congress than Obama has.  Somehow I doubt it, because Congress, like the GOP as a whole, is being dominated by the right wing, and right wingers don't compromise, even within their own party, much less with a socialist.

If Hillary Clinton gets the nomination - and I believe she will - then I believe the only Republican who can beat her is Marco Rubio.  The GOP will be making a big mistake if they nominate either Trump or Cruz to run against Clinton.  I think Clinton will not only win, but win easily.  A Clinton-Rubio match-up, however, would be a toss-up and would ultimately come down to whoever campaigned better.

I'm going to make two predictions for the outcome of the primaries, which may seem like stacking the deck, but my caveat is the old adage I repeated above: never underestimate what the right wing is capable of.

My gut feeling (which is based on Republican voters being sensible) is that we will end up with a Clinton-Rubio general campaign.  Certainly, in any election year prior to 2016, this would be the obvious prediction at this point in time.

My second prediction, however, takes my adage into account.  With the knowledge that right-wingers are capable of anything, then I think it's entirely possible we could end up with a Trump-Clinton general campaign.  I never would have thought that was possible, but I do believe now that it could happen.  I don't believe Ted Cruz will win the GOP nomination.  He's too unlikable, even among significant numbers of Republicans.  I think his win in Iowa is simply a reflection of the power of that state's evangelical establishment - the same evangelical establishment that gave victories to Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum in 2008 and 2012.  We saw how much good those victories did for them.  It won't do any better for Ted Cruz.

If Rubio and Clinton win, expect a typical general campaign, with Rubio pandering to right wingers and Hillary playing her game of identity politics.

If Trump and Clinton win, however, expect a circus.  I predict that, if Trump wins, you will see at least one, and maybe more than one, major third party candidate enter the fray.  Think of someone like Rand Paul or Chris Christie or Ben Carson or, possibly, even Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.  Despite recent rumblings from former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg about an independent run, I don't think he will do it if Clinton wins the nomination.  But I do think you might see one or more of the losing GOP nominees running for president as an independent.  And that could cause all kinds of problems, although mostly just for Donald Trump.  This is one of the reasons I don't think Trump has a prayer against Hillary.  Even without a third party run by someone, I don't think Trump can beat Hillary, but with a third party candidate to siphon even more votes away from him, Trump loses and loses big.

If there are no major runs by third party candidates in a Trump-Clinton scenario, then expect voter turn-out to be low, and expect traditional third parties (Libertarian, Green, etc) to get higher than average vote totals.  Also, expect your first woman president.  

In my opinion, if Trump wins the nomination, the GOP has only one chance for winning the general election - and that's to get as many third party candidates as possible into the fray.  Obviously, the party will openly support Trump if he wins the nomination, but that doesn't mean Republican operatives behind the scenes can't be encouraging the likes of Paul and Rubio and others to enter the race.  If several candidates run in the general election, they could potentially garner enough electoral votes to keep Hillary from being able to get a majority.  If that happened, a run-off would be held in the House of Representatives, which, of course, is held by Republicans.  They could then vote for their candidate of choice (such as Rubio or Paul, or whatever third party guy they liked best).  That would be the best way for the establishment to get around a Trump victory in the primaries.

It certainly wouldn't be the first time a political party has tried to win a presidency like that, although it's never worked in the past.  There was one election that was sent to the House of Representatives (1824), but that was before the days of well-established, well-financed political parties.  There were simply several guys who all ran and all won electoral votes and nobody got a majority.  The Whigs attempted to stack the deck in 1836 by running three candidates against the Democrat, and the Democrats and their allies did it again in 1860 by running three against the Republican, but both efforts failed and the other party won a clear majority of electoral votes.


Bernie can't win in the general election.  Neither can Cruz or Trump.  Neither Bernie nor Cruz are going to win their party's nomination.  A Rubio-Clinton match-up would return this insane campaign to normalcy, while a Trump-Clinton match-up would almost certainly ratchet the insanity up by bringing in third party candidates.  Clinton wins a Trump-Clinton match-up, while a Rubio-Clinton match-up will require further analysis down the road.  

Check with me again this fall and we'll see if I'm right.  


Monday, January 11, 2016

2015 Reading List

Guess what?  It's time.  Yes, yes, time for another in-depth look at my personal reading list for the previous year.  What more could you want out of life?  Just try to hold on to your seats as we set off on this epic voyage of literature and self-growth. 

I read 28.5 books this year (more on the half-book below), down from 31 books last year.  One thing of note is that I only finished one book - a non-fiction piece - after November 7.  That was because I began a very, very long novel after that, which took me until the 4th day of January to finish, so that's part of the reason why my numbers were a bit down this year.  The book I just finished on January 4 was three or four novels in length alone.  


As usual, at the end of the list, I will choose a Serene Musings Book of the Year, which will then be added to the gallery at the bottom of the main page.  This is a highly coveted award, and this year's competition has been fierce.

So let's get to it.  Italicized titles are non-fiction books.  Books with an asterisk (*) are nominees for Book of the Year.   


Summer of Night* – Dan Simmons

Like most of Dan Simmons' books, this one was probably longer than it needed to be and displayed his unbelievable ability to write twice as many words as is strictly necessary to get his point across. But despite his inevitable long-windedness, I enjoyed this book about a group of boys facing an ancient evil inside their small Illinois town in the 1960s.  It was nostalgic with an underlying sense of dread that is frequently the hallmark of writers like Stephen King.   

The River of Souls – Robert McCammon

This was the fifth book in the Matthew Corbett series of historical mysteries set in colonial America at the turn of the 18th century.  It wasn't quite up to par with the previous books in the series, but it was still enjoyable.  I recommend the series to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, but would definitely start at the beginning.    The first book in the series - Speaks the Nightbird - won the Serene Musings Book of the Year Award in 2012.

The Fire Seekers – Richard Farr

This was a genre-blending novel that I got for free as a Kindle owner and Amazon Prime member.  It had a great premise that mixes archaeological adventure/intrigue with a bit of science fiction, but the author didn't really pull it off all that well.  It plodded along.  

Miramont’s Ghost – Elizabeth Hall

Another free book from Amazon.  A Victorian ghost story.  It was just okay.  

Guardians of the Night – Alan Russell

Free book from Amazon.  Gritty detective story set in L.A.  Better than the previous two but a bit weird as well (it involved the death of what appeared to be an angel...yeah). 

Blue Labyrinth – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Another quality book in the long-running Agent Pendergast series.  

Desert God – Wilbur Smith

My favorite author is over 80 now, and he's started pulling a trick I absolutely despise - allowing no-name authors to write books for him, which he then approves and puts his name on.  I absolutely refuse to read any of those books, but Wilbur wrote this one himself, and while his ability has definitely waned in his old age, this one was better than the last two or three.  It's a return to his Ancient Egyptian series, starring the eunuch and sage Taita.  

A Morbid Taste for Bones – Ellis Peters

This is the first book in a series of historical mysteries set in 12th century England and starring a monk who likes to solve mysteries on the side.  They were written starting in the 1970s and going up through, I think, the 1990s.  The writing style is very, very British, but if you like that sort of writing, these make for good cozy mysteries with an authentic medieval setting.      

The Third Gate – Lincoln Child

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

Few hugely popular books actually live up to the hype (Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code are a few exceptions), and this one was no different.  Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed the book.  I just am not quite sure why it broke out to take the fiction world by storm last year.  

The One That Got Away – Simon Wood

Another freebie from Amazon.  A thriller about a woman who is being stalked by someone who already almost killed her once.  It was decent.  

Savor – Thich Nhat Hanh & Lilian Cheung

As you may have noticed, I didn't read much non-fiction this year.  This was one co-written by one of my spiritual heroes, Thich Nhat Hanh, about mindful eating.  

The Last Kingdom – Bernard Cornwell

This is the first book in a long series set during the Viking Age in England - the late 800s - and centering on the reign of Alfred the Great.  It's narrated by one of Alfred's fictional warriors, Uhtred, who, despite being English, grew up with Vikings before returning to his ethnic roots and fighting for Alfred.  I first read this book when it was first published around 2005, but decided to re-read the entire series this summer in order to re-familiarize myself with the stories in preparation for reading the newest novels in the series.  

This is one of the problems with long-standing series books that have an ongoing plot arc. They go on for so many years that you forget what happened in previous books.  

The series has recently been made into a television series running, I think, on BBC America.  

The Pale Horseman – Bernard Cornwell

Lords of the North – Bernard Cornwell

Sword Song – Bernard Cornwell

The Burning Land – Bernard Cornwell

Death of Kings – Bernard Cornwell

The Pagan Lord – Bernard Cornwell

The Empty Throne – Bernard Cornwell

One thing I discovered after reading all these books, back-to-back, is that Cornwell is really just writing the same book over and over.  It's actually kind of annoying.  I wish he'd go ahead and close it out, instead of stretching it on endlessly in an effort to make more money.  This is actually one of the realities of modern publishing (why write a standalone novel when you can write a 10-book series?) that I despise.  Everything these days has to be a series.  I miss the standalone novel, or, at best, the classic trilogy.  

There are still two books left in this series that I haven't read yet; all the preceding were books I've already read in years past.  And as far as I know, the series is still ongoing.  But rather than go straight to the new books after I finished this re-read, I decided to read something else because I was, basically, burned out on Vikings and 9th century warfare.  

The Devil in the White City* – Erik Larson

This is the highly-touted account by popular historian Erik Larson of America's first serial killer, H. H. Holmes, who operated during the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.  It was brilliant.  I loved it.  The author goes back and forth between describing the fair and its creation, and describing the serial killer who was plotting his dark deeds in the shadow of the fairgrounds.  It's supposed to be made into a movie soon starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  

The Dead Key – D.M. Pulley

Yet another Amazon freebie.  This was probably the best book of all the freebies I read this year, although it did bog down a bit towards the end.  It's about a structural engineer, surveying an abandoned bank, who discoveries a 30-year-old mystery while snooping around in the old underground vault.  Great premise, and mostly great delivery.

The House of Silk* – Anthony Horowitz

One of the few Sherlock Holmes stories to be officially sanctioned by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate. If you like Holmes stories, this is an absolute must-read.  I've read most of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, and the narrative voice is dead. on.  It could easily have been a real Conan Doyle composition.  The plot devices and narrative flow are all very authentic too.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  

Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz    

A follow-up to the House of Silk, this makes a twist on things by actually involving Watson, but not Holmes.  It supposedly takes place during the period of time (in the late 1890s) when Holmes was presumably dead and living incognito in Europe.  It wasn't as good as The House of Silk, but it wasn't bad.  

The House on the Borderland – William Hope Hodgson

A very weird horror novel from the early 20th century that's a bit like taking an acid trip.  If you like creepy old literature, read it.  Otherwise, don't.  

Outlander – Diana Gabaldon (only half the book)

Someone first suggested the Outlander series to me several years ago, and after investigating it, I thought it sounded excellent, and went ahead and bought the first two books in the series (they were both on sale for, I think $1.99 when I got them, which is the only thing that makes me feel a little bit better about how things ultimately turned out). 

In a word, I hated it.  I have literally not quit a novel in the middle since I was in college and quit Stephen King's Needful Things because it was making me anxious and depressed.  But I just couldn't keep on with this book. (Some of my more savvy readers might recall a "half book" that I had a few years ago, but that was a non-fiction book.) 

It has a mix of genres that include romance and historical fiction and science fiction, and it's basically about a British nurse in the 1940s who travels back in time to the 1700s in Scotland and gets caught up with a group of Highlanders who are Jacobites - supporters of the Scottish claimant to the British throne.  The premise was wonderful; the reality of the story was awful.  It's horribly violent, the dialogue is written in annoying 18th century Scottish dialect, there's way too much sex, the pacing is terrible, and the love story is absurd.

I just. couldn't. even. 

So I quit.  

Unprotected Texts – Jennifer Wright Knust

This was an enlightening book about sex in the Bible and how misconceptions inform our common views about sex and religion.  The subtitle was "The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire."  Written by a Boston University biblical scholar.

The Einstein Prophecy – Robert Masello

Not to sound repetitive, but this was another freebie.  It was decent.  A thriller set at Princeton University in the 1940s and including Einstein as a side character.  

Why You Drink: And How To Stop – Veronica Valli

I started feeling towards the end of last year like I was drinking too often, so I decided to read a book to give me some advice.  This was written by a British therapist and while much of it didn't apply to me directly (I'm not an alcoholic), there were a lot of good tidbits that helped give me a different perspective on drinking and what drives people to drink.  I've been doing significantly better since reading it.  


So, you might have noticed that there weren't that many nominees for Book of the Year this year. Honestly, it was kind of an off-year for me.  I spent too much time re-reading old books and reading free books from Amazon that I would never have bought on my own.  

The nominees were: 

Summer of Night
The Devil in the White City 
The House of Silk 

And the winner is...

With such little competition, this was really a no-brainer this year.  Devil in the White City was the only book I read this year that I really loved.  This marks the first year since 2010 that a non-fiction book has won this coveted award, and it's the first time ever that a non-fiction book dealing with something other than religion has won the award.  So a big congratulations to Erik Larson.  I just KNOW he appreciates this accolade.