This Is Not A Drill

Alert:  a policy missile of the Trump Administration is heading your way.  Seek shelter immediately.  This is not a drill.

Within the next few weeks, ICE officials will conduct a massive sweep of neighborhoods and workplaces in San Francisco and other Northern California cities to strike against sanctuary laws that aim to protect undocumented immigrants.  They plan to arrest and deport more than 1500  people, which will unavoidably destroy families, disrupt essential services such as healthcare, and instill fear in communities of color.

The federal government faces a shutdown this weekend if our Chaos President and Congress can’t resolve the DACA issue, which is entangled with the Great Wall of Mexico, and now funding for children’s healthcare as well.  The GOP’s holding CHIP hostage in order to get money for the Wall truly demonstrates the cynical nature of political football:  option plays, end runs, mis-directions, flea-flickers, razzle-dazzle.  Just win, baby.

On a different battlefront, the Trump Administration has unveiled a sweeping proposal to open nearly all US waters, including the long-protected California coast, to offshore drilling for oil and gas.  Florida, which has a Republican governor and Mar-a-Lago (not necessarily in that order), has been exempted from a proposed policy which would endanger coastal economies and the environment.  Not to mention ruining the view from Trump’s golf course, hence the Florida exemption.  California has been ravaged by a series of devastating fires and floods, natural disasters which can be linked to global climate change, while Trump shuns the Paris Accord and blithely (or perhaps corruptly) continues to promote fossil fuels. To me, the image of millions of acres and a thousand homes going up in flames, then many others swept away by the ensuing mudslides, is as alarming as an incoming nuclear warhead.

Trump continues daily to launch missiles of misogyny and rockets of racism; it seems almost an intentional distraction, when he flashes xenophobia, support for white nationalists, vulgar references to Haiti and Africa, attacks on the press, threats to the nation’s health coverage, and on and on.  The delayed-action bomb of tax “reform” has already hit its target.  While our attention is drawn to yet another outrage, he pushes the allegedly big nuclear button, risking the lives and well-being of millions of immigrants, Dreamers, sick children, coastal dwellers and, in the case of global warming, merely all future generations of humankind!

In Hawaii and Japan recently, nuclear alerts turned out to be false alarms.  This is not a false alarm; for many, it is a matter of life and death.  It’s hugely ironic to me that, when Trump passed his physical last week and was declared not to be (officially) demented or insane, I actually took that as bad news:  in other words, he is doing all of this on purpose, with intentional malice.  If Trump is “like, really smart” and a “stable genius,” he is also an evil one.

So seek shelter.  Or better yet:  on Saturday January 20th, the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, seek the protest nearest you.  Protest for racial equality, demonstrate for women’s rights, march for science and the environment, protect the Dreamers and other immigrants, reach out to one another and, as I’ve been urging all year, VOTE in this year’s midterm elections.


Most Likely to Secede

In the late 1970’s, my college friends in Connecticut sometimes teased me about coming from California:  a huge earthquake, they said, would one day split the state from the rest of the country, depositing it into the Pacific Ocean; better buy some oceanfront property in Nevada!  Perhaps they were thinking metaphorically of the degree to which California remained separate, in terms of its liberal politics, mindset, laid-back lifestyle, tolerance, diversity,  weather, inventiveness etc.  People here love to point out that, if ranked alongside all the nations of the world, California’s economy would be No. 6.  We have economic engines such as the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, famous Wine Country, Central Valley agriculture, biotech and space industries, superb universities, electric cars, Google, Facebook, Twitter, touristic natural beauty, great Mexican food and, well OK, Hollywood too.  Talk of seceding from the Union has always been a distant background noise, and not always originating from our own state:  didn’t someone in the Utah state legislature, about two years ago, propose that California ought to be cut off?

Our Chaos President’s negative attitude toward California seems to be– surprise!– making things worse.  He has moved to vastly expand offshore drilling along the California coastline, threatening coastal ecology and economies, as well as public health.  His tax “reform” will increase the federal tax burden for Californians, prompting the state Senate to come up with a creative counter-proposal.  He has undertaken punitive measures against sanctuary cities which are being challenged in the courts.  His FCC has overturned net neutrality rules, and the fight to restore a free and open Internet has moved from Washington DC to Sacramento.  He has withdrawn from the Paris Accord on climate change, so that Governor Jerry Brown now attends the international climate meetings and commits California to surpassing the terms to which the US previously agreed.  While Trump wants to prop up coal and oil, California is fast building up solar and other renewable energy.  Trump’s first move as president was to cancel the Trans-Pacific Pact, leaving the US on the sidelines while China expands its influence in Asia and Europe; California has prudently continued to negotiate its own, separate trade deals on the world stage.  Now North and South Korea have begun talks, encouraged by China and Russia– again leaving the US to worry from the sidelines, largely because of Trump’s bellicose schoolyard tweets about Kim Jong-Un.

Since California is within range and directly threatened by North Korea’s nuclear weapons, shouldn’t Jerry Brown be attending those talks?  But California doesn’t possess a nuclear arsenal– or do we?  What about the decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the threat to withdraw support for Palestinian refugees unless they toe the line?  Should Jerry clear some time on his schedule?  It was a dramatic moment when all but a handful of nations in the UN voted to condemn the Jerusalem decision:  isolating the US from former friends and allies in the Middle East, Asia and Europe must be the guiding principle of this Administration.  By so diminishing the international stature of the United States, Trump has increased the leadership role of California.

Should California secede from the Union, aside from the dubious legality of such a move?  The actions of the Trump Administration make it look as though the Union is seceding from California (as it is from the rest of the world)!  But despite that, I would argue against secession.  Spoiler alert:  Even in science fiction, forming a separate nation is fraught with unforeseen consequences.  In Fourth World Nation, the second book in the Fourth World Series, the Martian colonies declare their independence from Earth.  Here’s an excerpt:

When the applause finally stopped, Ran began by addressing Khalmed Salman.  “Superintendent Salman, you represent the Pan-World Electorate in this historic transition.  Do you have anything to say?”

Salman’s tone was stoic but contained something chilling, like a sharp blade buried just beneath the sand.  “Yes, perhaps historic to you, but not to the PWE.  By taking control of the colonies,” he said, his dark gaze sweeping the room, “you imagine that you have defeated us, but quite the opposite is true.  We will withdraw all of our personnel and resources to Earth, and in our absence, the consequences of your actions will become painfully clear:  the  law and order you have taken for granted will disappear; your Resistance movement will break up into factions pitted against one another; the material supplies necessary to maintain function in the cities will run out.  All remaining PWE ships will transport troops as well as any civilians who wish to depart for Earth.  Within four weeks, however, you can expect that a new fleet of fully-manned warships will arrive to retake the colonies.”

Or at least retake Congress in the mid-term elections.  On that optimistic note, I wish all my readers a happy 2018!



Let’s Go Giants!

The San Francisco Giants have just announced a trade of Denard Span (getting on in age, less athletic with every passing year), Christian Arroyo (came in with a big splash last year, then his batting flattened out) and two minor league pitchers in exchange for slugger and infielder Evan Longoria plus cash, from the Tampa Bay Rays.  They needed a big hitter badly, and Longoria is also a great infielder, but I hope he helps to revive the old magic in the Giants’ dugout.  In winning three World Series in five years, they seemed to outperform any expectations based on the sheer talents of individual players; it was always the combination of players, the team chemistry as a whole, that led to their surprising victories over teams which often seemed stronger, at least on paper.

Baseball provided me with a metaphor for the homecoming theme in Fourth World and has played a major part in both of my novels.  Now as I write, I’m trying to think of a role for baseball in the third book of the trilogy.  To tide you over, here’s an excerpt from Fourth World Nation:

“Suppressing his excitement, he nodded at Hank, picked up a bat and stepped up onto the field.  A thousand hostile baseball fanatics, many wearing black PWE uniforms, glared at him.  A metallic voice announced the substitution, to a chorus of catcalls and booing.  Even the programs clutched in the fans’ hands—supposedly there to provide objective analysis of the game—reacted poorly.  The crowd rained scorn on Benn as he stood at home plate, their expletives addressing everything from his Asian ethnicity to the “gouging” water rates set by Hydra.  Benn, however, focused his thoughts and heard none of the noise; to his ears, the diamond was still and quiet.  Behind him, the mobile QI umpire adjusted his mask.  The catcher shifted stealthily to the outer half of the plate, his shoes grinding into the red clay.  The pitcher Helmut rolled the ball deep in his glove, his fingers seeking its seams.  To Benn’s eyes, events unfolded as if in slow motion:  he anticipated the limited wind-up; the delivery from a low release point; the seams spinning centrifugally; the appearance of a red dot at the center of the ball.  It was a slider, unhurried in its journey toward home plate, where Benn waited patiently.  He flexed his knees, shifted his front foot forward, then planted his lower body firmly.   As the ball curved low and away, Benn extended his arms and kept his body balanced.  On impact, the bat exploded into a hundred shards.”

SF Giants fans, having winced at the loss of prospects Stanton and Ohtani, will now turn to Longoria and pin their hopes on him (and Posey, Crawford et al), that the dream of another World Series will not meet the same fate as Benn’s bat.  Come on, Giants, let’s go!

It’s That Time of Year

Christmas isn’t just a time for shopping!  In his thoughtful Christmas 2017 newsletter, a dear friend, A.D., reflects on moral foundations:  “There is still great danger in certainty, whether it is embodied by an ideology like Communism or in a fundamentalist faith… what we now hold as fundamental values and attitudes may look pretty silly in 200 years… even ‘Foundational’ beliefs change over time.”

Roy Moore’s senatorial candidacy in Alabama shows that the passage of 200 years is not required for things to start looking crazy.  Since the election of Donald Trump (heavens, only a year ago!), the moral foundations of the Republican party have morphed such that a credibly-accused pedophile, an Islamophobic racist who feels that America was last “great” during times of slavery, enjoys the full support of the Republican National Committee.  And, of course, Moore has the strong support of our Chaos President, himself a compulsive liar, misogynist, racist, xenophobic, white nationalist bully.  What in the world has happened to the Party of Lincoln?  The self-hypnosis and extreme moral rationalization necessary in order to sacrifice its traditional values for the sake of political expediency has the GOP either sleepwalking or tied in knots.

I’ve been reading Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live, or a Life of Montaigne (highly recommended).  Michel de Montaigne, a 16th-century writer whose influence remains powerful today, adopted several Hellenistic philosophies, particularly Skepticism.  He addressed life problems by saying, essentially, “I withhold judgment,” which freed him from having to find an answer to anything, including the endless unanswerable questions that plague us every day.  The Skeptics accepted everything provisionally, rather than try to confront a “real world” with absolute truths which could be known, categorized and arranged in an orderly fashion.  To be so supremely unassuming, as they saw it, was the path to relaxation, joy and ultimately the flourishing of humanity.

Montaigne’s essays were initially embraced by the Catholic Church as exemplary arguments in support of faith, and then, within a century, denounced as subtle works of the Devil.  The Essays remained on a list of banned books until their eventual rehabilitation in the eyes of the Church.  Back and forth went the interpretation:  even the Church, a purported source of moral “foundations” could not claim a firm grip on bedrock.  Bakewell suggests that Zen Buddhism, with its perplexing koans, may have been a better approach to the imponderables of Montaigne’s universe.

A.D. does not “affiliate with a particular catechism,” but nevertheless writes, “I may not be someone swayed by revealed truth, prophecy or miracles but I recognize that, in my attempt to live some sort of a ‘virtuous’ life, I function in a web of religious history and culture... without it, I would probably be paralyzed by a sense of relativity and by a cosmic complexity that is way beyond  my puny reasoning capacities.”  A.D. is being rightfully unassuming:  the only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know anything for sure, says the Skeptic, the Montaigne, in all of us.  Thankfully, faith of a more general (not necessarily religious) type and hope in goodness save us from living in a bleak, unknowable world.  I might also look into Zen…

Not a bad newsletter to get for Christmas!  With apologies to our friend A.D., even Fourth World Nation, the just-released second novel in my sci-fi trilogy, takes a stand.  Here’s a brief excerpt:

“They had so readily mistaken mindless mob behavior for unity, just as they were doing now, thought Benn.  And, according to Marc, the fact that their intolerance would only be assuaged by a tangible demonstration—such as a prophecy or a miracle—was the opposite of faith.  Benn could easily provide such a demonstration, but even then, he would either be seen as a messiah or a witch.”

On that cheerful but skeptical note, Happy Holidays to all those who follow this blog!


Sanity Clause II

Remember when the truth was important?  In a previous post (11/8/17), I bemoaned the fact that the country has been sliding into a collective delusional state, where there is a “new normal” and alternative facts can turn everything upside-down.  The truth becomes fluid (or is simply dismissed as inconsequential, as Sarah Huckabee Sanders has done); anything becomes possible; and history can be rewritten before it has even happened.  I had hoped that the Sanity Clause in our social contract would set things straight, but that appears increasingly to be a big pie in the sky.

Michelle Goldberg writes in her Opinion column today, “There is a debate over whether Trump is unaware of reality or merely indifferent to it.  He might be delusional, or he might simply be asserting the power to blithely override truth, which is the ultimate privilege of a despot.”  Hmm– delusional or overriding truth:  which is worse?

Arguing for the former, Dr. Bandy Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at Yale Medical School, represents thousands of mental health professionals when he writes:  “We are currently witnessing more than his usual state of instability– in fact a pattern of decompensation:  increasing loss of touch with reality, marked signs of volatility and unpredictable behavior, and an attraction to violence as a means of coping.  These characteristics place our country and the world at extreme risk of danger.”

Timothy Egan, in the NY Times, points out that our Chaos President still questions Barrack Obama’s birth certificate; does not believe his own words on the infamous “Access Hollywood” sexual assault videotape; still thinks (without any evidence) that three million fraudulent votes caused him to lose the popular vote; endorsed a website that says the Pope uses magic to mastermind world events; and “gave a thumbs up to a media outlet that claims NASA runs a child labor colony on Mars.”

No kidding.  For those unfamiliar with Alex Jones’s Infowars channel, he’s the apoplectic guy who claims that the Sandy Hook massacre of schoolchildren and teachers was a staged hoax.  A guest on his show claimed that NASA has secretly kidnapped children and is keeping them as sex slaves on Mars, forcing a NASA spokesperson to deny the existence of such a colony.  It’s just incredible, the kind of insanity that passes for conspiracy theory (already a very low bar)!

Here’s some Fake News from my sci-fi novel Fourth World:

“When had Tharsis One and Two dropped off the map?  Shortly after the Great War of Unification.  Mr. Otis Walker, Benn’s second-grade teacher, had explained it many times- often in heatedly emotional terms- to his young, impressionable students.  From the Martian (that is, Tharsis) viewpoint, the centralization of Earth’s government in 2096 marked the beginning of the end:  birth of the Pan-World Electorate.  What was it like, his teacher wondered, receiving the news that your home government no longer existed; that your country had been all but destroyed in a cataclysmic global war?  That NASA, an agency of the former United States of America and your lifeline to Earth, had suddenly vanished?”

What, no NASA?  It must have been brutal, hearing that there would no longer be any kidnapped sex slaves…





Trickle-down Ecology

On the same day that the House passed their version of tax “reform,” it was announced that the Trump administration is lifting an Obama-era ban on the  importation of ivory and other elephant body parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia.  The ban was meant to eliminate demand and thereby help to protect this threatened species.  Who wouldn’t want that, right?  The rationale for declaring hunting season for elephants open again, according to US Fish & Wildlife, is that allowing wealthy trophy hunters to pay for killing elephants will raise more money for conservation programs.  So killing more elephants will generate money to protect elephants (assuming those hunting fees actually end up in conservation efforts and not the pockets of corrupt officials)!  I’m sure all the dead elephants will appreciate that their sacrifice was not in vain.

This way of thinking is a metaphor, although imperfect, for the GOP tax plan.  Higher taxes for working families and ultimately for the middle class (after a temporary modest reduction) in order to benefit the wealthy— including huge permanent tax cuts for corporations— is supposed to generate more growth for the economy.  According to an already-disproven theory, the accumulation of wealth in the top 1% will trickle down to help everyone else.   It hasn’t happened before, and even prospectively, corporations are not planning on spending more capital to “grow the economy.”  These tax cuts will not pay for themselves, as the GOP claims.  The plan also explodes the federal debt, placing entitlement programs such as Medicare in danger, along with tax breaks for having children, for tuition, for mortgage interest, for state and local taxes, university endowments— all for a plan which will “pay for itself.”  And while the Senate is at it, why not launch yet another torpedo at the Affordable Care Act?  The zombie rises again (see my previous “Kill Bill” posts), and when they tacked elimination of the individual health coverage mandate onto the bill (which would remove health coverage from 13 million people and raise premiums for everyone else), I thought that would be the death knell for this tax proposal; after all, Repeal and Replace in its various guises had failed so many times before.  But now, because of shrewd maneuvering in Congress, I’m not so sure.

In my mind is the image of a vast elephant graveyard, abandoned by wealthy conservation programs.   More money, it turns out, does not help the dead elephants.  Nor does it help those who will bear the tax burden and feel the pain under this GOP bill, in order to make the rich even richer.  The elephant graveyard, in that case, might well be Congress, in the aftermath of the 2018 midterm elections.

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Sanity Clause

Ha-ha-ha!  You can’t fool-a me, there ain’t no Sanity Clause!

    — Chico Marx, A Night at the Opera


Like so much of Marxism, Chico’s remark to Groucho as they examine a (social?) contract has been proven wrong.  Ralph Northam has just defeated Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s race, giving us a glimmer of hope that sanity may yet make a major comeback in this country.  The election was widely viewed as a referendum on Trumpism or Bannonism, with Gillespie stirring up white racial hostility by appealing to the racially resentful Republican base in that state.  If he had won, the GOP would have taken a step closer to being Steve Bannon’s party, and candidates in other states would have feared the white nationalist vote as well.

Northam’s victory comes as a huge relief, providing perspective to those of us struggling to maintain a sense of what is normal.  In our society, the level of willful ignorance, incivility, racism, sexism, intolerance, misogyny and just plain hatred has climbed alarmingly since Trump’s election last year.  We have become so inured to the daily White House lies, recklessness, misdirection, coarseness of communication, nepotism, conflicts of interest and blatant corruption that we’re tired of protesting these things.  Congress is so strongly influenced by money that the coal industry and the NRA remain untouched despite ample evidence that their activities can cause harm.  Denial of science and history have allowed, in too many minds, the possibility of an alternate universe, an alt-society ruled by alt-facts.  Up can be down, neo-Nazis can be “very fine people,” and the air can be “too clean” for our own good.  Sounds like science fiction to me.

In this alt-society, there is a “new normal” compared to one year ago, a gross distortion of what we view as acceptable, and even what is real– never mind any vision for the future of America.  From overexposure and fatigue, we’ve slid into a collective delusional state, which by definition endangers our collective sanity.   But only to a certain degree, it turns out.  Tonight’s good news from Virginia shows that we’re not locked into an irreversible slide toward group insanity, but rather that we can, and should, continue to resist.  In the nick of time, Virginia has invoked the Sanity Clause!

Immediately after yet another tragic mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX two days ago, our Chaos President tweeted that this was not a gun issue, but rather a problem with mental health “at the highest level.”

If he’s referring to his Administration, we have reached a rare agreement:  there is indeed a mental health problem at the highest level, and the 25th Amendment may be the Sanity Clause we now need.