I consider myself a philosopher. Meaning, somewhere along the line, I realized that I was making my way through life (interacting with others in the world) according to a paradigm, and if I was unhappy with the results, I needed to improve my paradigm.
So I’ve done that many times in my life. And I’m pretty happy.
This sort of came up in a conversation this morning, and I was reminded of a book I received from my best friend’s Mom for Junior High graduation: The University of Hard Knocks.
I read the book, and thought the lessons were a little too obvious to write a book about. And yet, I found myself thinking back to it in my early 20s, and remembering its lessons more and more. I think this is partially where I got the idea of swapping out paradigms. It taught me about the occasional need to change the way I think about things.
But there was another book that helped me to understand and improve how I think: The Depression Book. I don’t care if your depression is diagnosed as chemical, you still need to read this book to help conquer your depression…because anti-depressants eventually stop working, but if you can use the respite they provide to reprogram how you think, you might be able to improve your brain chemistry by establishing a different internal dialogue.
But now I think it might be worthwhile for everyone to read it. Mostly because everyone gets depressed at times, and this book can help you to minimize both those moments, and the damage of those moments. The book was really helpful to me in understanding how to change the way I think about things.
So now I’m thinking about other helpful books that are Must Reads for increasing your chance to have a successful and happy life.
I’ve heard great recommendations for Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I’ve never read it, but the things people say about it make me think I discovered many of the same lessons on my own from other sources. Let’s add it to the Must Read list.
I’m going to put in a conditional recommendation for Charles Givens’ “Wealth Without Risk.” I own it. I’ve never read entirely through it. I found a few ideas in it that I like…I guess the best thing that I can say about it is it definitely contributed to my understanding of how money works, and how we earn money through smart decisions.
I’m not sure how mandatory it is to having a good life, but I’d like to make a recommendation for James Q. Wilson’s Bureaucracy. I mean, most people end up working in a bureaucracy, and most certainly end up at the mercy of one at some point. It seems like it might be helpful to know what you are up against. Or what policies to push your politicians to vote for in light of how bureaucracies work. Or don’t work. Or barely work.
I can’t really think of any other book that provided me useful knowledge I didn’t already pick up from school, life, job training, etc., but there might be some I’m not remembering.
What books do you recommend for a happy, successful life?
For the most, it was worth what I paid for it. Many of the points it made were obvious to anyone who has done any reading at all, much less writing. Several other points were among the first, and most basic, techniques any writing book will mention.
Since it was free, I didn’t expect much from the book. Even if free, there is still a time cost, and I invested that cost to get some additional insight into how to effectively plot a novel.
One point it made changed my viewpoint, and I think will have a deep and profound impact on my writing.
The book pointed out that while a novel is more complex that a short story, both should follow the Three Act format. In this format, the First Act is setting up all the pieces. The Third Act is resolving all the conflicts and returning all the pieces to their resting places.
The book says the Second Act: *that’s* what makes or breaks a story.
What makes a story good is what obstacles have been placed in the path of the protagonist, and how the protagonist resolves them. These obstacles make a memorable story. This is where most of the action occurs. This is where the protagonist’s character is honed or revealed.
The book when on to explain that, in fact, it is the Second Act that defines your characters. You want to put them through hell to make an interesting story, but they need a *reason* to go through the hell instead of just giving up. They need a *reason* to be in the position to go through that hell.
As such, deciding on the conflict first can make it clear who your character should be. And deciding the conflict first makes it more obvious how to make the resolution more dramatic and effective.
Okay, maybe I’m reaching with this by embracing the book’s suggestion. Maybe it won’t work for you to write the conflict first. Maybe it won’t end up working for me to write the conflict first.
But too many of my stories have foundered when they reached the conflict stage. I had a great beginning. I had a decent ending. I couldn’t get through the middle. Too often, the conflict didn’t match the motivations I established at the beginning. Or the method of overcoming obstacles didn’t match the character I established at the beginning.
You could say that this just because I write poorly, and I’d have a hard time arguing that. On the other hand, I think of a character and a starting point, and think I have a story idea. Perhaps, instead, I should think of the conflict a character is going to go through, and think I have a story idea.
Looking at this from a different direction: I love twisty, complex plotting. I have a “story idea” right now that I want to turn into a twisty, complex plot. So I’ve come up with all my main characters, the universe, the starting motivations, and now I want to add complexity. I can’t really get started on it. I can’t figure out how to put these characters into seemingly no-win situations where they have to dismantle the Destruction Engine piece by piece to avoid their destruction and win the story.
My plan was to start writing and add complexity.
I now think a better idea is to start with a complex, seemingly no-win situation and write backwards, figuring out how the protagonist got into this situation.
For example, I’ve been watching a few Chinese Spy/Suspense television serials.
In one, Protagonist 1 is drawn into the spy world to work for the Chinese Nationalists (who are resisting the Japanese occupation), and from there, gets drawn into being a Communist spy inside the Nationalist organization…because of the temporary partnership to resist the Chinese. His older brother (Protagonist 2) is a collaborator working with the Japanese government…but is actually a Nationalist spy working to undermine the Japanese, and is Protagonist 1’s superior in the National spy organization. At one point, Protagonist 1 is given the order to assassinate his older brother, Protagonist 2, for being too effective as a collaborator. He didn’t know at that point that not only his older brother a Nationalist spy, but the order itself came *from* his older brother (who, having ordered it, knows how to avoid it, but it helps him gain additional credibility with the Japanese). When it is all over, however, Protagonist 1 learns that his older brother is actually his superior in the *Communist* spy ring that’s inside the Nationalist spy ring that’s resisting the Japanese. He’s been acting according to his training and character, but he’s been moved around like a chess piece, based on his older brother knowing him, and being his superior two layers deep.
I don’t think you can build in that sort of complexity as you go. I think you have to start with that incredible situation, and then work backwards, adding layers to the complexity as you move earlier in the story.
In another, the protagonist is just a normal Nationalist officer in what seems to be a National Guard/Reservist unit.. They are getting ready to go to the front line to fight the Japanese. His unit’s commander is out of action while recovering from surgery, and the 2nd-in-command is leading a cabal of the top few officers to surrender and collaborate with the Japanese. The traitor has one week to do it, before the Commander recovers and returns to duty. A junior officer (not the protagonist) discovered this, and formed a group of officers and NCOs to resist (the Iron Fists). The protagonist joins, making 30 in all, and they are set to meet at 9pm on a certain date.
At 8:30pm on that day, the protagonist is getting ready to leave for the meeting when the 2nd-in-command traitor locks the HQ down. He then orders the protagonist to lead the arrest of the 30 cadre members who are mutinying. Meanwhile, the Iron Fist group, lacking two members, decides to start the meeting with the 28 who are present.
The protagonist arrives on the scene, and tries to make noise to alert the Iron Fists inside. It doesn’t work. With no other choice, he leads the charge. But the first thing he does is shoot out the light. With the lights out, he trips a few of the capturing force, throws a bench out the window to help the Iron Fists escape, etc. But it is all for naught, all 28 are captured.
The traitor officer knows two people didn’t arrive, and knows the protagonist did some weird stuff. Plus, there’s another officer who isn’t in his cabal. So he sets the 2nd officer to torture a confession out of the protagonist. The 2nd officer is, of course, the 30th Iron Fist (who was also locked up in the HQ building and couldn’t go to the meeting, and so was spared). He finds out that the protagonist was Iron Fist #29, and vows to help him.
But the issue facing them both is, “Who betrayed the Iron Fists?” All 28 in captivity are executed within a day (to silence them), so Iron Fist #30 begins to suspect the protagonist, despite the protagonist being Iron First #29.
The Traitor officer has two military representatives in custody, one Nationalist and one Communist. He finally decides (for a couple of reasons not worth explaining now) that *they* are the two missing Iron Fists, and so stops worrying about the protagonist and the other officer. Except these two officers aren’t part of his cabal, so he doesn’t completely trust them.
To strengthen his position, he decides to get a hostage: the Commander’s mother. So he sends a team to escort her from her home (a day away) to his location. He puts the protagonist in charge, sets the 2nd officer to watch him, sends one of his cabal officers along to watch them both, and sends along the two military representatives as hostages. They will go near a Japanese stronghold, and the cabal officer will give the Japanese the two military representative hostages to seal the deal that allows the traitor cabal to deliver the entire unit to the Japanese.
So along the way, the protagonist is trying to help the two military representatives escape without letting the other officers know he is doing it. At the same time, Iron Fist #30 officer is trying to help them escape, but not letting the other officers know he is doing it, and doesn’t see the protagonist doing anything to help, which deepens his suspicion that the protagonist betrayed the Iron Fists.
Everything that happens puts the protagonist in a no-win situation. If he does anything to help get the word out, the cabal officer will kill him as a traitor. If he works too hard to follow his orders, the unit will be handed over the Japanese, and he betrays his fellow Iron Fists. But when he helps the military representatives escape, he can only help by throwing some things through the window to them, and pre-positioning some escape aids, which they attribute to Iron Fist #30 who was actually able to make contact with them and tell them he was going to help them escape.
I hope that’s clear. It’s pretty twisty to watch, and hard to explain. Basically, because the protagonist is trying to remain undercover, all his very risky attempts to help get attributed to other officer, so he is still considered a traitor by the people he supports, yet if he is any more overt, the cabal officer will kill him.
Again, I don’t think you could add in this complexity as you go. The best way to write this (I think) is to start with a no-win situation: your protagonist is in a situation where if he acts overtly, he is killed; if he doesn’t act overtly, he betrays his principles. What does he do? He tries to act *covertly*, right? So how can we make those efforts not help? Add in another person who gets credit for it, *and* that person suspects him. Okay, what kind of person would have the freedom to act *and* be in a position to matter in this sort of betrayal drama? A young officer who is the Commander’s favorite, highly principled and motivated.
Then you just add in misunderstandings from there, working backward.
Well, time to see if it works. I’ll report back in a later post, either way.
…Here I come.
Walking down the street
I give the craziest takes to
Everyone one I meet!
PC is putting his SF&F thoughts on a new blog, for branding reasons. I originally tried to leave this response over there, but my browser was choking on the wordpress log-in. What the heck, yanno? Let’s have dueling posts on this topic.
Okay, we’ve had this discussion before, but I’m going to disagree again, even if means retrenching the battle lines we’ve fought so many times. I actually think you have some new points, but I have some new counterpoints, too.
I think David Brin has a point. Not as much of one as he thinks, but a point.
I think SF&F doesn’t and shouldn’t really matter to the reader. But I think it does and should matter to the writer.
You have to know what you’re writing, and why.
Sure, there are some space operas like Star Wars that can be re-written as fantasies, and probably vice versa, but they wouldn’t satisfy the audience.
Because when I think of all the fantasies and all the science fiction stories I’ve read, I have noted that science fiction is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and fantasy is about extraordinary people…who sometimes are just dealing with ordinary things, like revenge, and rejection from parents and/or being orphaned, or things like that.
Speculative Fiction is really about exploring what it means to be human. Science Fiction tends to be things like, how much can we distort Person and still be human. Fantasy tends to be things like, how much can we distort Reality/Environment and still remain human, and/or how much does power distort humanity versus merely amplifying the baser instincts.
Sure, there are exceptions. Frodo is really just an ordinary person who does great things, as Bilbo was, really. But every non-hobbit in that story was a singular example of something 10 standard deviations above the mean.
Star Wars was both good *and* clearly science fiction when it was just an average farm boy who helps destroy an enemy aircraft carrier with an atomic bomb capability. (Force isn’t magic, it’s *psionics*. #Duh). But it got worse, disappointed many of its audience, and became fantasy when it became a mundane estranged family relationship story. Not that “becoming fantasy” means “gets worse”, but it started as SF, and so got worse the farther it got away from SF and more into mysticism and fate and seeing the future and stuff.
Okay, that explains they difference.
But why does it *matter*?
Because if you are a writer, think of your story. Should it be SF or Fantasy? It depends on who the main character is, what you want him to do, how you want him to change. If you want him to be just an ordinary kid with some exceptional abilities that he can use under duress to save a bunch of people, then you should write a Heinlein juvie fiction SF&F story. If you wan to write about someone who seems normal, but is *really* the heir to some huge power, or huge wealth, or huge kingdom, and he’ll spend his time dealing with office politics, then you are probably better off writing a fantasy.
If you want to write about a humanoid race that thinks differently than human, but just as well, you’re probably going to write science fiction. If you want to write about a humanoid race that is pretty much fully human in intent, motivation, love hate, etc., just go ahead and write a fantasy.
If you want everyone to have the same tools and powers and opportunities, and just one person has the drive, insight, or persistence to benefit from it, you’ll probably use a SF setting. If you want someone to have access to special tools, powers, or opportunities that aren’t available for general use, then you’ll probably write a fantasy.
Yeah, Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Well, Arthur C. Clarke was wrong, and if he’d thought it through just a *little* bit more, he’d have realized it. And if he disagrees, he can come here and post his disagreement.
…okay, that was supposed to be for humorous effect.
The thing is, I think Orson Scott Card nailed it when he said that if you include magic, for it to be interesting, there must *always* be a price to using it. Or else, it’s just unlimited power and that’s boring.
But with technology, there is no price. The price was paid in the development, or in the working out of how to use it without destroying society.
Going back to Star Wars, the Force was fine when it was psionics and there was no price. It became magic when the price was having to struggle with the dark side, maybe cut yourself off from human affections, etc.
There is no price to learning to play guitar except that time it takes to work on muscle memory. But if you sell your soul to the devil to get good…
…that’s the difference between science fiction and fantasy. The reader just wants a good story. But if you want to write a good story, you need to know which you are writing, and stick to it.
This weekend, I took my kid back to college in Huntsville, Alabama. While there, we stumbled across the Rocket City Arcade, where they offer a host of classic arcade games that you can play all day for just $10.
It had been a long day of driving, and so we only played for about an hour. But it felt like even that hour was well worth the money spent.
One precondition was they had to have Joust, and they did.
It took me a little time to get the game skills back, but by the fourth game, I got 64k points and set the high score for the game. I’m really not sure why no one plays it, because 64k points wasn’t that tough to get. I think in my heyday I must have broken 100k points, because 64k points included making it past just one survival wave and one egg wave, and I think i can remember making it to at least 3 egg waves previously.
The thing I love about Joust is there are no patterns to learn at all. No way to memorize a method or route that lets you beat the AI, or even puts you in a good position, like you can with games like Pac Man or Super Mario Brothers. Your flapping works against gravity based on your rate of taps, and it is impossible to hold a perfectly rock-steady altitude. Left and right are possible, but it often takes some finesse to zero out your lateral motion.
There are some places where you can hang out that make it more likely to kill the bad guys, but holding position there is tough, and if you camp there, they’ll get you.
Great game. Highly recommended. Probably my favorite game of all time, although Karate Champ is also very good.
The arcade also had a great old Star Wars game, where you shot tie fighters before making a trench run. As the game got tougher and faster, with more defending fire directed at you, the trick was to use your blasters to hit the defending fire and stay alive; shooting the enemy was only a secondary goal.
I got to try Donkey Kong, and made it to the 3rd level pretty easily. Got to do a few driving games, which are always fun. One game I loved, but only saw once, was a stunt driving game. You did jumps, loops, etc., and the game had some feedback that helped you feel you were actually driving the car doing the stunts. I’d pay good money for an original game in good condition to have the chance to play that and get good at it, but that is apparently not my fate. It might have been Atari’s “Hard Drivin'”, now that I’ve taken a moment to search. I thought I remembered green vector graphics, rather than the CRT graphics of “Hard Drivin'”…but the description of showing a replay of your crash sounds familiar, and the gameplay sure seems familiar, too. Memory is a funny thing.
But that wasn’t one of the games they had. They did have, however, The Simpsons, and Crystal Castles (boring) and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Several shooting games, but those weren’t as fun. I usually died in seconds, and only got anywhere by hitting “continue”. My kid and I had some bonding/fun on one of those for about 10 minutes.
They had a modern update to Rampage, which sucked. Different versions of Street Fighter, which was always best in the original Street Fighter 2 edition, before all the special moves just got stupidly complex and powerful. They had some Galaga types. They had Commando, and I died too quickly to want to try to get back any of that game’s muscle memory skills.
All in all, it was a fun trip down memory lane for me, and a chance for my kid to understand what gaming used to be like.
Doing a quick search, I’m seeing that several places combine retro games with bars. I didn’t look deeply enough to see if you still have to pay for the games. If you pay bar/pub prices for drinks, plus a quarter per game, it doesn’t seem worth it to me. There’s one in the DC area; I might try it.
But playing the game has convinced me that I will probably will purchase an Arcade1UP Rampage machine, as it includes Joust and Gauntlet. Rampage is okay. Gauntlet is actually kind of fun. I’ve played a pretty good Gauntlet emulation with my kid on the PS2, and the ability to just hit “continue”, with the loss of limitation of needing to drop a quarter in, makes the game much less fun. “Red Warrior Needs Food, Badly” is a sentence that sends chills down your spine if you have already given the machine your last quarter.
The system also has Defender, which is perhaps the most masochistic game Williams ever invented. But that is a game that might be enhanced by eliminating the necessity of quarters: it might actually now be feasible to practice to the point of actually getting good at it.
What classic arcade game was your favorite? Which do you miss? If you missed out on the era, which do you wish you’d gotten to try?
“This is unacceptable,” said Demcorat Nancy Pelosi, who has used her political position to amass a fortune of over $29,000,000 off of an annual salary of just over $100k.
“I can’t believe he would do such a thing,” said Democrat Mark Warner, who used used his knowledge of federal telecommunication law and policies and industry connections gained while staffing for Democrat Chris Dodd to make a fortune of more than $90,000,000 by brokering mobile phone franchise licenses.
The FBI went on to say, “If he’d chosen to caucus with Democrats, we wouldn’t have batted an eyelash, like the fact that Diane Black only non-government employment was as a registered nurse for a handful of years, yet still ended up with just short of $46,000,000 in personal net worth. But getting rich while in office as a Republican? That’s not allowed.”
Tom Delay called in to say, “I really wish then when I was House Majority Leader, I had gotten a bill passed that would have ended the general immunity Democrats have to any/all laws on the books, but hindsight is 20/20.”
I was a little excited when I saw this article by NeoNeoCon. Finally! Someone would talk about the shenanigans that go on when arguing about Presidents, debating who is to blame and who gets credit for economic developments, etc. When I read the article, I was disappointed. She hit some good points, but her approach was vastly different from what I was thinking. So I guess I have to do it myself.
First of all, I hate the phrase “on his watch.” It’s lazy analysis. “Bush is to blame because it happened on his watch.” “Russian occurred on Obama’s watch.” No. I mean, yes, that’s a factual statement, but it implies a causation that is not necessarily there. Equally as bad is arguing that a President “inherited” some aspect, good or bad. Yes, there are some lagging indicators, and a President’s actions do carry on beyond their term. But most people use it to deny giving credit to someone they dislike, or avoid giving blame to someone they admire.
Furthermore, I dislike the trend of blaming or crediting a President for everything that happens. Sure, it’s easy to just blame/credit the President, and I think that’s why people like doing it: it’s easy. The reality is we are governed by a government split into three branches. The President only heads one branch, and the bureaucracy is so large and unwieldy, the reality is a President’s control is tenuous at best, and we should treat it as a fourth branch of government. Even with the formal branches, a President has extremely limited input to the Judicial Branch, and is given an often passive role when it comes to interacting with Congress.
On the other hand, a President has a few advantages:
the single government office that the entire nation elects. The President has a mandate that even a Senator from California doesn’t have. This is balanced somewhat by the House of Representatives, which provides more fidelity on the Will of the People via smaller districts and elections every two years. The balance of these two expressions of the Will of the People mean that a POTUS should have a huge mandate in their first two years, but following Congressional elections add nuance and chip away at the edges of a President’s mandate.
the Bully Pulpit. Being a singular head of a Branch means that a President doesn’t have to compromise with anyone to promote his views or his policies, can criticize the other branches, or even social developments, from a single person’s perspective. As the most visible, singular, and sole nationally-elected official, citizens care more about what a President says, promotes, discourages, etc., than any other single official…and the news media follows suit. There is an incredible potential to push an agenda without creating one word of policy vested in the Office of the President
However, that doesn’t mean a President is all-powerful. We credit a President too much for many things that happen in the United States. A President doesn’t control the economy, and certainly cannot prevent normal economic cycles. The President doesn’t set spending levels, or taxation levels. The President can *propose* his preferred policy, and can use his Bully Pulpit to put pressure on Congress to pass it, but he doesn’t control legislation.
So let’s take a look at how people poorly and/or deceptively evaluate Presidents.
George H. W. Bush was POTUS from 1988 to 1992. In the early 90s, the US economy contracted. This was blamed on Bush, which, in my opinion, was unfair. Sure, it happened on his watch. Moreover, it was likely triggered by Bush agreeing to sign a bill into law that raised taxes. So, yes, he did it. However, the recession itself was inevitable, sooner or later. If the tax hike hadn’t triggered it, something else would have. Moreover, raising taxes is a *Democrat* policy, and it was passed by a Congress controlled by Democrats. Even worse, the economy had recovered before the end of Bush’s term, but because there is a great deal of fuzziness and arbitrariness about when a recession begins or ends, the news media was able to falsely claim we were still in a recession, and that it was fully Bush’s fault, right up until that dishonesty helped Bill Clinton defeat Bush.
Continuing on, Clinton is not only erroneously credited with fixing the Bush Recession, he is also somewhat inaccurately credited with reducing the number of people on welfare and with an extremely hot economy (sometimes called the dotcom economy or the dotcom bubble). Yes, both those things happened on his watch. Yes, he even signed the welfare changes into law, and it was the result of his deliberate triangulation on the issue, to deal with the mandate the Congressional Republicans had earned by winning a majority.
But the obvious success and benefit to the US in these policies are used to credit Bill Clinton himself, and in his status as a Democrat President. The argument is, Bill Clinton presided over the economic recovery, got people off of welfare, and led the nation into the internet age. Since his term, every good economy and period of low unemployment is compared to Bill Clinton’s dotcom economy, and rightfully so: they were excellent numbers. The argument continues that Bill Clinton was/is a Democrat, so if you want a great economy, low unemployment, and people off of welfare, you must vote for Democrats.
There is nothing magical about Democrats or Republicans. What matters is the *policy*, regardless of who enacted it.
Welfare Reform is, at heart, a Conservative policy, not a Progressive one. Progressives throw money at problems, Conservatives set up consequences and demand individual effort to obtain benefits. Forcing people to actually and earnestly seek work to continue to receive welfare ended up with more people in the workforce because the policy prevented the “discouraged job seeker” phenomenon, and prevented recipients from living comfortably on the dole. The dotcom bubble was also a Conservative event: it took over our economy because there were no taxes for items purchased on the internet: a tax moratorium is now proven to stimulate economic growth and increase employment. But Conservatives want lower or eliminated taxes; Progressive policy is to raise taxes whenever/wherever you can get away with it. If Democrats had free reign, they would have imposed taxes on the internet from the beginning.
The lesson from this is, if you want to grow Space Commerce, do you announce that you will fund exploration and development with a fairly high corporate tax rate on all space activities? Or do you announce a moratorium regarding any/all taxes on revenue derived from space commerce? Obviously, the latter. And just as obviously, that is a conservative policy, and runs counter to Progressive policies.
So let’s look at President George W Bush. What does he get blamed for, and get credit for, in my view?
Well, 9/11 occurred before he had his security team fully in place. Moreover, the US Govt was hampered in its ability to detect the terrorist plot due to “walls” preventing information flow between different federal government agencies, and those “walls” were put into place by President Clinton, on the advice of his prominent advisor Jamie Gorelick. Maybe you can’t blame Clinton, but you clearly can’t blame W, either. Reports that “he was warned” are silly: the “warnings” were vague, and no action could have been taken without severe violations of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution. Sometimes bad things happen because of chance. Other times, bad things happen because an enemy has a successful plan that exploits weaknesses. That’s what happened with 9/11.
Bush should be credited, however, for the improvement of the economy following 9/11. From 2003 to 2006, the US economy was pretty much the equivalent of Clinton’s dotcom economy. And it came about due to Bush pushing for tax cuts back in 2002. But if you want to credit Congress instead, I won’t argue with you. The important thing is that the Conservative policy of tax cuts stimulated the economy. As such, we shouldn’t elect a President because a Democrat or Republican President is better for the economy, we should vote for and elect a President who promises to cut taxes wherever possible, and finds ways to cut other stealth taxes (like federal govt regulation, and fees, etc.), because reducing the costs of doing business improves the economy.
But at the same time, Congress was spending like a drunken sailor. Porkbusters emerged to try to fight back against GOP Congress-led pork barrel earmarks. You can blame the GOP Congress for doing this, and you can blame W for signing the spending bills that included the pork barrel spending, but you can’t use that as an argument to vote for Democrats, because increased spending is, at worst, a *Progressive* policy…and at best, a bipartisan one. Democrats who campaign on Republicans running up the deficit never cut spending…they find new things to spend on, arguing that fed govt spending improves the economy, and then they raise taxes to close the deficit, which kills the economy and makes things worse. Republicans who campaign on Democrats running up the deficit will cut some spending, and make abortive attempts to cut other spending, but apparently will not cut spending, over the protests of the Freedom Caucus and Tea Partiers in the GOP, and with the RINOs gleefully joining with Democrat Congressional minorities who chortle about getting what they want with the GOP taking the blame.
This really needs to get fixed, but that’s an argument for another day. The point is that the spending doesn’t stay high because of the President, and sometimes it stays high due to GOP defections joining with Democrats to make a virtual Democrat majority. And there are plenty of times the GOP just plain embraces spending. But it is worth noting: the GOP has a vocal minority against the excessive spending, and that vocal minority has been growing over the last decade. There is no minority among Democrats, vocal or otherwise, that is willing to consider spending cuts at all. In an even more stark disparity, GOP voters get fed up with spending to the point that someone like Dave Brat can surprisingly defeat a leading GOP Representative based purely on spending issues. Not only does that never happen to Democrats, the opposite does: a prominent Democrat Representative gets defeated in the primary by someone who advocates the nearly-unlimited spending of Socialism: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
So when it comes to the deficit, ignoring parties and personalities, the lesson is clear: tax cuts grow the economy, excessive spending causes deficits, and while you might struggle to force the GOP to cut spending, Democrats will always push to raise both spending and taxes.
Continuing on, W gets blamed for the 2006-2017 recession. But I think if you look closer, you see a few things: First, Democrats took over Congress in 2006. They won by pushing an end to the failed war in Iraq. However, by the time they took office, W’s “Surge” had actually won that war, and Iraq was relatively peaceful. So Democrats began talking down the economy and increased spending and regulation. That primed things for a downturn. The trigger for the crash, however, was clearly caused by encouraging banks to lend money to riskier borrowers. W was to blame for not vetoing the Democrats bills that weakened the economy. But he actually pushed back against the devastating lending encouragement; in fact, Democrats called anyone racist who opposed that social justice policy. Thus, the crash was caused by Progressive policy. If you think I’m being too vague, it’s to keep this shorter. I could write 4-5 pages just on how Democrats caused the crash.
W is also to blame for signing TARP. But please be clear: it wasn’t Bush’s policy, and it *certainly* wasn’t a Fiscal Conservative’s policy. It was, from start to finish, a Progressive policy. It made things worse.
I agree that Obama can’t be blamed for the job losses that occurred “on his watch.” However, I think he also cannot blame W for the economy he inherited, because he voted for the policies that crashed the economy as a Senator in 2006.
Moreover, Democrats blame W for the deficit because the deficit started to climb under W. Again, you have to look at who controlled Congress and the nature of the contributing policies. The deficit reduced every year under W after 9/11. The economic hit of 9/11 make those deficits understandable. The deficit reduction continued even after Bush’s tax cuts (indeed, I think it was *because of*) and despite the spending in Iraq. The deficits didn’t start to grow again until Democrats took control of Congress and started passing policy that damages the economy. So W can be blamed for not vetoing, but that should make it clear: the blame lies with *Progressive* policy, not the party of who was POTUS at the time.
Even worse, Democrats wanted lots of new spending, because their ideology, against all available evidence, still erroneously believes govt spending helps the economy. So Congress refused to give Bush the 2009 budget to sign. This was because it was so stuffed with pork, even W might have vetoed it. Plus, they believed it was usher in an era of prosperity, and didn’t want W to get credit. So they delayed delivering the bill until Obama was POTUS. Once that huge spending increase was set as the baseline, Democrats dropped the regular budgeting order and just forced Continuing Resolutions so they would never again have to face voters with votes for their ruinous levels of spending. And after deliberately arranging for Obama to be the one to get credit, when it didn’t work out as they hoped, they churlishly give W the blame for the increased spending…I guess depending on ignorance of when the 2009 spending bill was actually passed, and who signed it.
Okay, that’s a bunch of paragraphs of narrative, but it is all to set up this explanation: I also think you have to credit/blame a POTUS for what they promise and predict.
For instance, Obama campaigned on the notion that he knew what was wrong with the economy, and would fix it immediately.
Okay, we can allow for campaign exaggeration. But after being elected President, he predicted recovery the first summer. When it didn’t happen, he blamed Bush for the economy he inherited.
No. If you claim to know what the problem is, predict you can fix it, and get the policy you want, you now get the blame. He spent his entire two terms blaming Bush for anything that didn’t work out like he wanted.
This is wrong.
Likewise, Obama and his sycophants predicted all sorts of disaster under Trump. Some said the stock market would *never* recover. Obama himself mocked Trump by asking Trump if he had a magic want to magically make the jobs come back. When Obama’s anemic economy never broke 3% growth, Obama and his sycophants said this was the new normal, and the US would never see growth above 3% again.
As such, no one should be allowed to claim Obama gets the credit for the economy under Trump. It is stupid.
If your predictions for the economy are completely wrong, then you lose all credibility to blame or credit at all.
Again: Trump enacted *Conservative* policy: he reduced all sorts of federal govt regulation, reducing the cost to doing business. He also clearly telegraphed that he wouldn’t add unexpected, onerous new regulation, so businesses could plan for growth without worrying about painting themselves into a corner. This was one thing Obama clearly did wrong: Obamacare was a whole bundle of uncertainty. Businesses had no idea how much costs would increase from year to year. And to keep the health system from catastrophic failure cause by Obamacare, Obama unilaterally (and probably in violation of the US Constitution) delayed implementation of many of its aspects. But all that really did was increase the uncertainty of the business climate. Then when Obama started pushing diversity/identity issues, it frightened companies about the possibility of arbitrary increased costs at any moment.
As a result, Obama didn’t just preside over the worst recovery in the history of the US, he arguably caused it.
The argument that W ruined the economy so badly that it caused the slow recovery is ridiculous. In the history of the US and economics in general, the worse the economic downturn, the quicker the recovery. Economic cycles are *always* long/slow/mild or quick/short/deep. Obama’s economy was not. The decline was rapid and deep, and then stunningly anemic in recovery. And it was due to uncertainty in the business climate from policy advocated and/or enacted by Obama.
The penultimate point I want to make is that Trump promised he would create an environment that would boost employment for blacks in specific and minorities in general. Okay, okay he claimed he would create jobs for blacks. But as you hopefully realize by now, Presidents don’t create jobs. They merely help create an environment conducive or adverse to economic growth. But with the reduction of taxes, reduction of fed govt regulation, and attempt to reduce spending, Trump has encouraged a business climate that has significantly increased manufacturing jobs, energy sector jobs, and pushed unemployment for blacks and Hispanics to record lows. Since this is what he predicted he’d do, he gets full credit for it.
The final point is a word about gas prices. Again, a POTUS doesn’t have direct control over gas prices. It’s a complex pricing system, with inputs coming from OPEC, US domestic production reacting to barrel prices, barrel prices reacting to expectations of future surplus or future shortage, summer driving demands on gas, refinery availability (impacted by flooding and hurricanes), and fuel mixes that change based on season and geography.
But, just like how a POTUS can impact the business climate to encourage or discourage expansion and hiring, a POTUS can impact whether the speculators think there will be surplus or shortage in the future. One of the ways is by signalling a willingness to tap the strategic oil reserve. Another way is by pushing to lower the federal gas tax. Another is by signalling willingness to approve additional drilling locations.
In every case, Obama signalled that he didn’t care about low prices, and wanted so badly to reduce CO2 emissions and boost “green” energy, that he was unwilling to do anything that made fossil fuels more available. This caused higher prices. In contrast, W signalled willingness to allow drilling and tap the strategic oil reserve. Prices remained high due to uncertainty worldwide about how terrorism and war in the middle east might impact oil availability.
Add to this, China’s economic growth has stimulated a sharp increase in their demand for petroleum, which increases global demand, which increases prices.
I’m not going to go so far as say we should blame Obama for high gas prices on his watch but give Bush a pass. There is more that Bush could have done. There were many things that were out of Obama’s control.
But I do think the differing attitude, policy, and revealed intent should indicate whether each should get credit, blame, or tolerance.
And this is how I evaluate Presidents, and how I think everyone should evaluate Presidents. Some tribalism will always be a part of the evaluation, based on your preferred policies. But rather than making arguments based on the party you like, you should analyze the policies that brought about the results you like, and then advocate for the candidate/POTUS you prefer based on your preferred outcomes. This should result in a lower level of tribalism.
It’s been a while since I talked guitars. That is mostly because I finally (almost) satisfied my guitar lust, and moved on to buying and learning to play drums.
One of the guitars that cycled through my hands was a Yamaha SE 612. They were plentiful and cheap on eBay and Reverb for a while, and I bought and sold several. I’d find one in good condition for cheap, buy it, find another guitar I wanted to get, and sell it to either reduce the inventory (make room) or build up funds.
Then the supply dried up.
It became impossible to find Yamaha SE guitars…or if you saw one, they were overpriced.
So, of course, I wanted one again.
And last week, an SE-603 came up on eBay and I grabbed it, which inspired this post.
See, like almost all Yamahas, the SE-612 and its variants are great guitars. One theory I’ve heard is that you should always try out guitars unplugged, that a guitar that sounds great unplugged will always sound great amplified, but one that doesn’t sound great unplugged may sound okay amplified, but you’ll find weaknesses in its sound. This kind of makes sense: you can put a good pickup on a plank taken from a pallet, amp it up, and make it sound good with enough distortion and maybe a good pedal or two. Similarly, you can put enough frosting on a piece of stale bread that someone can enjoy eating it, but if the cake is really good just plain, it will taste even better when you put a tasteful amount of frosting on it.
I defy you to find another guitar that sounds better than an SE-6xx guitar unplugged.
Okay, I realize that I need to talk a little bit about Yamaha numbering.
In the mid-80s, when they started the SE line, they numbered everything in 50s: SE 100, SE 150, SE 200, SE 250, SE 300, SE 350.
Numbering wasn’t consistent, but it seemed like the ones ending in 00 had traditional, 6-hole screw trems (exception: the SE 200 had a fixed bridge), and the x50s all had locking trems (exception: the SE 150 (sometimes?) had a traditional non-locking trem). The higher the number, the better quality guitar. At the same time, they also had an SE-700, which was a monster guitar, with ebony fretboard, extremely stable trem, great tone, and possibly-stainless steel frets. That may be a future Guitar Lust entry.
Perhaps at the same time, they also had SE 112, SE 211, and SE 312 models. These numbers seemed to indicate a pickguard (exception: the SE 200 also had a pickguard). And this is the first time (that I know of) that Yamaha used the numbers to indicate pickup configuration. The first number is the level of the guitar. The second is the number of humbuckers, the third is the number of single coils. They kept this numbering system in later SE lines, and then on into the Pacifica line.
My SE-603 is a second generation SE guitar. That’s when they moved to a newer system of numbering, where 1xx is entry line, 2xx is slightly better and nearly giggable as is, 3xx is a decent intermediate guitar, 4xx adds some bling, 5xx is perhaps a low-level professional guitar, and 6xx is a full-on professional guitar with minimal bling. There is also a 12xx, which is a high-end professional guitar with top notch components. In between there are some guitars that often weren’t sold in the US. The 7xx and 9xx seemed to have pickguards and non-locking trems. The 8xx is usually the same as a 6xx, but with additional cosmetic improvements.
In the 6xx line, you have my 603, which means 3 single coils. 612 means one humbucker (in the bridge) and two single coils. You’ll see two humbuckers represented by 620. To the best of my knowledge, there are no 621 guitars in the Yamaha line…it indicates a HSH configuration, and is usually found on 7xx and higher guitars.
Oh, boy, I could get into this for paragraphs and paragraphs. I’ll save more thoughts about the numbering system of other guitars later.
In the SE 6xx line, you will also see M. That stands for a Maple fretboard. You’ll also see A, which indicated Active pickups.
Interesting note: Active pickups are usually associated with strong output but low noise. I bought a few, cranked up the knobs to full, and they all sounded muddy and lousy. It wasn’t until I purchased my 3rd one that I realized: the tone knob has a center spot, where you get normal EQ. The more you turn it up, the warmer/darker (muddier) it gets. The farther down you turn it, the brighter/sharper it gets. I still sold the guitar in all my churn, but I may end up getting another one at some point, if an SE 1212 A shows up for cheap.
But there are other things I like about the SE-6xx series. One is the trem. You will never find a better trem than the RM-Pro II on this era of guitars. It is smooth. It doesn’t have knife edges on posts, so there’s nothing to wear out. It has a pitch rise adjustment, so you can set the amount of float (fully floating, or dive only, or limited pull up). The saddle locks hold it firm, and I haven’t seen a corroded example of one yet. There is one problem: the saddle lockplate screws can strip if you aren’t careful, and it is impossible to find replacements without cannibalizing another guitar.
Another great thing about those guitars is the paint job. Like the finish on the trem, the paint seems to be incredibly durable. I’ve seen a few with scratches or other damage, but I haven’t seen an SE 6xx guitar for sale that didn’t still shine. And for their age (they are all 30-ish years old), they are often remarkably free of damage. I’ve owned at least 5, and one had a scratch, and one SE-620 had all sorts of dings (shipped with horribly poor packaging), but the rest have all been near-flawless. Including the one I just got.
And another nice aspect of the SE 6xx and SE 12xx line is that inset input jack location. That configuration makes it easier to put the cord through your guitar strap and go into the guitar without stressing the cord, and making it harder to pull out by accident. It’s a great innovation.
Finally, the pickups on these guitars really rock. In the mid-/late- 80s, hair metal was running hot and popular, with a bunch of bands trying to capture the same big brown sound EVH got, and Yamaha tuned their pickups to help people get that. Even their single coils have a great overwound-ish sound for good SRV/Hendrix tones. And the humbucker guitars (the 612, with a humbucker in the bridge, and the 620, with two humbuckers) all had push-push coil taps so you could get single coil sounds that sounded like good single coils. The push-push knobs are incredibly robust; one guitar-maker told me he wouldn’t install push-push switches on a guitar unless they got one from an old Yamaha, because those just keep working and working. Full disclosure: I have encountered some that have worn out, but mostly on old 2xx models. In any case, from the view of versatility, I would have been better off with an SE-612, but you can only work with what’s available.
The Yamaha SE-6xx guitars are monster guitars. You could do far worse than picking up an SE-6xx for approximately $200. It would probably be the best $200-ish guitar you own, beating out almost any new guitar costing hundreds more.