They Just Don’t Get It

  • by Gitabushi

I took a quiz I stumbled onto from Twitter last night.  I can’t find the link now, but it was something about 8 Political Traits. You took a quiz regarding your reactions to several political statements, and from that, it judged your position on 4 different paired-trait spectra.  Like, Authoritarian/Libertarian, Economic Freedom/Control, etc.

One thing I was struck with was that it got Conservatives/Traditionalists completely wrong.  Of course, Progressives usually get Conservatives wrong…it has been shown over and over that those on the Right understand the Left much better than the reverse.  Charles Krauthammer’s formulation is the Left thinks the Right is Evil, and the Right thinks the Left is Stupid.  Which makes sense, of course: the Right thinks the Left is stupid because they understand the Left’s viewpoints and find them immature or unworkable; the Left thinks the Right is Evil because they can’t understand how anyone can oppose the compassion of a $15 minimum wage and free birth-control for women.

Anyway, what bothered me was they characterized Progressives as believing that the human race can and should progress toward enlightenment.  The implication is that the past is always ignorant, and as we learn things, we can improve.  What is the opposite of that?  Why, that some people think that we should cling to the past because that’s how we’ve always done it!  Meaning, the quiz assumed that conservatives are conservative out of fear or reflexive adherence to tradition out of belief that Tradition is simply a Good.

That’s not my view at all.  Maybe I’m projecting to the rest of the Right and/or conservatives, but I think I’m not alone in this.  I’m convinced conservatives are Thinkers, and spend time questioning and trying to understand everything.

In my opinion, Conservatives conserve Tradition because Tradition arises out of What Works.  Humans are humans: we are biologically programmed (whether by God or Evolution) to exploit/game any system to its extinction, but also to require systems to reach our individual and social goals.  We are biologically programmed (whether by God or Evolution) so that in our interactions with the opposite sex, any/all errors of judgment result in pregnancy, because *anything* that results in reproduction is a successful reproduction strategy, and those traits of selfishness, sloppiness, pettiness, dishonesty, manipulation, etc, that assist in reproduction will be passed on.

As such, I support Traditions because those are time-tested ways to avoid pain, disaster, chaos, poverty, loneliness, heartlessness, death, despair, depression and Justin Bieber.

That doesn’t mean Traditions are immutable.  We can learn as a society, and do.  We can rise above our selfishness and pettinesses, and do.

But you have to make the case. You can’t just insist that there is an end goal of perfect equality between all people and all preferences, and anyone who obstructs that progress is wrong.  You have to explain how the direction of progress you want is helpful to everyone involved.  You have to make the case for overturning Tradition.  You have to move slowly when you do make changes, so that we have time to adjust to changes, and to reverse if it proves to be more harmful than helpful.

And most of all, you have to insightfully analyze and clearly identify and explain who pays the price and who benefits.  Assertions are not acceptable as proof.

If something benefits 1% of the nation and makes things worse for 60% of the population, it should not be done.  More time should be taken to ensure that the benefit is worth the cost, and to minimize the cost as much as possible.

So in the quiz, seeing that they characterized Conservatives as preferring Tradition simply because it was Tradition, it lost any/all credibility with me.

Closely related: Chesterton’s Fence.

They Just Don’t Get It

Good Books, Good Writing

  • by Gitabushi

Lately it seems like every time PC Bushi mentions a book, I have to respond I didn’t like it very much, or at all.

That made me ask, what do I like?

Here’s a partial list:

I like 50s Heinlein, but not 60s.
I like 60s, 70s, and 80s Larry Niven SF, but not his fantasy (mostly).
I like 80s and 90s Cherryh, but to the best of my knowledge based on a brief research attempt, not her 70s and by the ’10s, start feeling meh
I liked Bujold until recently
I liked Brust’s early works, but the later his work, the less I like it.
I used to like Hambly, but she wasn’t re-readable.
I like Saberhagen, but sometimes he just kept digging in played-out mines

To be honest, I guess, I’ve read a lot that was worth reading, but not worth re-reading or recommending.

As such, there are probably more books and authors I have complaints about than I enjoy.  That’s the nature of the beast, I guess. Most things fall along a bell curve, and truly excellent books are one or more standard deviations above the mean, and the mean of all SFF novels/stories ever written includes some poor writing.

The rest of this post includes some musing on elements that make a good story. It is also intended to be a continuation of thoughts from this post, and inspired by the very excellent posts by my good friend and consummate gentleman, PC Bushi, found here and here.

I like conflict. I’d like to say all readers do, but maybe all I can actually insist is that all readers should. It can be internal conflict, or opposed action, but I want there to be some doubt about how things are going to turn out.

Yes, yes, the hero is going to win.  That’s the point of reading a book, I guess. The good guy losing most of the time is called “life”. We consume fiction because it provides the comforting illusion that there is some overall, overarching narrative to the vicissitudes of life.

For me, the interesting thing is how is the hero going to win?

The very first thing to do, then, is make me care about the character.  If I don’t care about the character, how he wins isn’t going to interest me.

There are many different ways that you, as an author, can make me care about a character:

  • make me see the issues he struggles with are the same ones I do
  • make me see him wanting reasonable things/goals, but being thwarted…particularly unfairly thwarted
  • make me see him really committed to success, perhaps well beyond what I would do (that way I can be inspired to persist in difficulties myself)

Next, give him conflict.  They type of story you are writing dictates the type of conflict they have.  Or, alternatively, the type of conflict they encounter dictates what kind of book it is:

If he is going through an unfamiliar world or society, then the conflict is the hero trying to return to the normal world, and his efforts to escape let you show me the world/society you thought up.   Alternatively, the hero might need to explore to figure out aspects of this new world/society to find happiness or even just survive.  Either way, it should show the reader some subtle truth about the world we live in, in contrast.  The struggle is in dealing with new and unexpected aspects in each new encounter.  This is a Milieu story.

If he is dealing with a disrupting occurrence, then the conflict is obviously trying to deal with the disruption.  It can be personally disruptive or disruptive to society, or even existence of humanity.  An asteroid strike, or perhaps an earthquake or zombie apocalypse are good examples of this.  Alternatively, the hero could be the disruptive force, trying to impose his will on the world, like in a caper movie like Ocean’s 11 or Kelly’s Heroes.  Either way, the conflict comes from the obstacles the hero encounters in trying to resolve the issue or impose his will on the universe.  This is an Event story.

You, as the author, might also want to explore a concept, like: what if teleportation were reality?  How would it work? In this sort of story, the conflict is in dealing with unexpected or non-obvious impacts of the concept. This is where Hard SF really shines.  Poor examples of this are when someone sets up the world, then lets the Hero “discover” all the exploits.  This was handled really poorly in the “Golden Age of the Solar Clipper” series (first book: Quarter Share by Nathan Lowell).  The hero “exploits” a labor system that apparently was used by idiots for at least a generation.  He succeeds at everything he tries, the things he “figures out” that impress everyone else are sophomoric in insight, and there isn’t even an antagonist.  The best conflict is when the antagonist is exploiting the idea to the protagonist’s detriment, and the protagonist has to figure out how to stop it…preferably without just using another exploit…at the very least, the exploit should not be obvious.  This is an Idea story.  I think many “serial killer” stories are Idea stories: “What if someone developed a way to exploit society to murder/rape/assault people without being caught/stopped?”

The final type of story depends on conflict internal to the character.  The protagonist needs to change, and it has only recently become obvious.  The process of changing, of figuring out what to change into, and the normal human resistance to changing oneself are the conflict that drives the story.  This is a Character story.

Obviously, these four concepts can arc beyond just one book.  The Jhereg series is someone what of a character concept, although individual books seem to be more Event stories.  The whole series is, of course, a milieu, and the milieu being explored is not just geographic (Dragaera) but societal/racial, as each book explores some inherent aspect of a Dragaerean house.

But this is all science fiction.

I also really like the Jack Reacher series.

Jack Reacher’s character really doesn’t change over the stories.  The milieu he’s exploring is modern-day United States, so it isn’t a milieu story.  There is a “What if?” concept of, “what if there were a sort-of modern-day Super Hero who went around the nation solving problems that the law couldn’t solve?”  But it seems to me to be, at its core, an event story.  Something happens, and Reacher tries to figure out what is happening, then once he figures out the mystery, he acts (often very violently) to impose his will and stop the bad guys from doing bad guy stuff.

Good stories often combine the elements.  There are Milieu, Idea, and Character concepts included in the Event Story movie Die Hard.  There are Milieu concepts in Titanic.  I think Cameron wanted it to be a Character story, but in my opinion, it failed at that, but succeeded by being so strong as an Event story.

Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series is really good, too.

matt helm
Not this Matt Helm. The movies are crap

They are all Event stories.  Like Reacher, either the protagonist starts ignorant, or what the protagonist thinks is the original premise often turns out to be false.  The conflict comes in the protagonist collecting clues about reality, then responding to those clues, then acting. And much of the conflict also involves not knowing how the problem will be solved, as initial plans go wrong and the protagonist deals with the unexpected. You know the hero isn’t going to die, of course, but there is often a cost the protagonist pays to succeed: damage, or a supporting character important to the protagonist is killed.

DHSilencers3
The books are where the good stuff is found. Try and find one, I think you won’t be disappointed.

The Matt Helm series is interesting in that the protagonist’s character doesn’t really change over time, but still is a character story in that Helm seems to have normal human emotions and desires, yet is forced to do some fairly brutal things to accomplish the mission.  The reader (or, at least, the continuing reader) doesn’t lose sympathy for Helm not just because Helm’s character trait of Commitment to Duty is shown as being incredibly strong, and not just because that commitment to duty is shown as necessary to preventing catastrophe, but because the author shows us the emotional price Helm pays for that commitment.

In contrast, in ERB novels Princess of Mars, the Land that Time Forgot, and the People that Time Forgot, there never is any character conflict. They do the right thing because it is the right thing, with hardly a thought.  It ends up leaving the impression that because the hero does it, it therefore is the right thing.

I’m not saying a protagonist must have a desire to be a cad to be sympathetic, but humans are selfish, and shortsighted, and petty, and often ignorant of the implications of their decisions. A good book with good conflict acknowledges those issues.

It doesn’t mean that I favor character over plot.

It does mean that the reasons people do things are important to whether a character is likeable or not, and believable or not, and these reasons often provide motive force to the plot.  Why does a character want to do things?  Absent any internal conflict, authors too often rely on plot devices to keep the action going.  “I saved Tarkus’ life, so Tarkus will save my life” seems more like a plot device.  The author knew he would need Tarkus to save John Carter’s life to resolve some conflict and needed plausible motivation for Tarkus to do so, so had Carter save his.  It seems too obvious, like it happened because the author needed it to. In contrast, in Jhereg, Vlad wants to avoid taking an action that would cause Morollan to break his oath. Placing a friend’s value system above your own life is an admirable loyalty that drives the plot and increases the reader’s commitment to the protagonist and the story (although wanting to find a way to preserve both is still expected, normal, and included).  It is a character element, sure, but it not “characterization over plot,” but rather an effective plot rather than just a plot device.

It means that a story with weak characterization is also going to suffer in plotting.

It means that among the five elements of character, plot, pacing, dialogue, description (some people identify different elements), a novel can be saved by excellence in just one element, but it can also be killed by incompetence in just one element. Most likely, a story that does one or two elements very well will make the other elements more effective.  Good dialogue helps in making character and pacing better.  Better pacing helps plot.  Good description helps everything.  And yes, good character helps make plot development  more intuitive.

There is room for a difference of opinion over what is “plausible”, and consequently, what is an effective plot vs what is a clumsy plot device.

This probably needs editing for coherence, but I’m not going to do it.  For good or ill, this is my stream-of-consciousness, non-exhaustive explanation of why I like some books and don’t like other books.

Good Books, Good Writing

“No Real Plot” in ERB/REH Books

  • by gitabushi

Spoiler: Okay, that was too strong, and I withdraw the charge.  Sort of.

Don’t you love it when a writer starts off the story in the middle of the action, so you are immediately caught up in laser blasts and flying hand-axes?

So here’s the background.

There is a Pulp Resurgence going on.  As a hopeful writer who is hopefully on the verge of being able to complete my first novel, I noticed the trend and thought it might be something worth paying attention to. As in, maybe I might want to write a pulp story.

So I tried to re-read some pulp SFF I liked when I was in my teens.  And didn’t like it anymore.

The stereotype of pulp is that it is simplistic, juvenile, and immature.  Its fans disagree. And they have a point: the writings of Dashiell Hammett are considered by some to be literature worth studying.

hammett
Dashiell Hammett

I personally enjoy reading Louis L’Amour, and while he is definitely a pulp Western writer, he has some interesting characters, occasional fascinating character growth, and some fairly intricate plotting at times.

the-sackett-brand_LRG
…and boy, did L’Amour milk this brand!

But when it comes to SFF, I have to agree with the stereotype: it is immature writing that has been so surpassed by the state of the art that it doesn’t seem worth reading anymore.

So, of course, I had to say this on twitter, because that’s the Proper Location for Virtue Signalling.

Full disclosure: Twitter has changed me. It has helped me to mature and not be bothered by responses and attitudes that would have infuriated me not long ago.  On the other hand, I’ve gotten to enjoy mild trolling, so I’m not always as careful with precise critiques as I would have been in the past.

And PC Bushi and I have a long-running mild disagreement…we both love SFF, but our tastes seem to be diametrically opposed. What he loves, I dislike.  The only thing I love that I know he’s read is the Chronicles of Amber, but that’s enough to know that the reverse isn’t necessarily true. More data is needed.

Anyway, some people had been ripping on some authors PC Bushi liked, and we had a twitter conversation about it, as PC Bushi details here.

That led to me getting called out by a commenter here:

I am sorry but it just reads like nathan hasn’t read anything and is just using other people’s talking points. Couldn’t you describe Brust’s Taltos series as a guy just wandering around killing black elves?

(He later corrects himself note “black elves” is Cherryh’s construction, not Brust’s, but the Dragaereans are called elves, so his point is not undermined by the mistake)

Here is my response, in full:

Okay, I spent a little time thinking about plot, so your challenge actually did some good.

Maybe “no plot” is the wrong way to put it.
What is plot?
According to wikipedia, Plot is: the sequence of events inside a story which affect other events through the principle of cause and effect.

So from that point of view, yes, everything REH and ERB wrote have plots.

But I still don’t think they are very good ones.

Let’s take the first story in “The Coming of Conan”. (I have read most of the original REH Conan novels, but 30 years ago, so we’ll just look at this short story).

What is the plot? A man wants to be king, so plots against the king, who is Conan. He arranges for an assassination squad. Conan has a dream where a God gives him a magic weapon. Conan defeats the assassination squad, except the last one is read to kill him before a demon appears, then Conan kills it with the magic weapon.

So, yeah, there’s a plot, but it’s not a very good one.

Why do we care about Conan? Is he a good king? We don’t know.
Where is the conflict?
Does anything bad happen if Conan is replaced as king? Sure, he’d be killed, but we know nothing about the country, or the people. Why should we care?
Does he do anything difficult to stop the assassination? No, a demon appears.
Does he do anything difficult or special to stop the demon? No, a god gave him a magic sword.

There was *one* bit of interesting development: Conan is nearly killed because he was shocked at the minstrel’s betrayal, and human emotion keeps him from striking the minstrel down immediately.

If anything, the most interesting person, the person who chooses and changes the most, is Thoth-Amon. He had power, lost it when a thief took his ring. He had to flee or be killed from the enemies he made when he had power. In disguise, he’s nearly killed by bandits, but his life is spared when he pledges to serve as a slave. Then his ring comes within his reach again…how does he react to the loss of power vs restoration of his power? That could be a fascinating glimpse into human nature. But he’s the bad guy, so we can’t care about him.

Now compare to Brust’s Jhereg (spoilers!):

Jhereg
An assassin is seduced by greed and ego to take a difficult job. He finds out the job isn’t as straightforward as he thought. If he doesn’t do the job, he’ll be killed. Then he finds out there’s a reason to hurry. If he doesn’t hurry, he’ll be killed. But if he hurries, he might be unprepared, and killed by the target. Then he discovers the target wants to die, but only a certain way. He finds out that if he does his job, his friend will be dishonored. Now, you may not care about the friend and his prized honor, but you can understand and sympathize with the assassin not wanting to force his friend to lose something important to him. Then we find out that the target is trying to destroy 3 of the 17 Houses of the Draegaera. Which the assassin would LOVE to have happen. Now isn’t that some some intriguing, major conflict to be resolved? The assassin has multiple reasons to want to stop the target’s plot, but also has multiple reasons to want the target’s plot to succeed. So he develops a plan, the one thing that could resolve all these conflicts safely. Then the plan goes wrong.

There is escalation of stakes throughout, which makes it a good plot.

Brust lets us get to know the characters, gives us some reason to care about the characters and what they want, makes even the target somewhat sympathetic, and then lets the struggles play out.

Now, to be fair, we’ve compared a short story to a novel. A novel will naturally be more complex, having more length.

So let’s bring in ERB’s The Land That Time Forgot.

The_Land_That_Time_Forgot

What’s the plot? A man is going to war. His boat is sank, he captures the submarine that did it. No way to run a submarine, unless you just happen to have experience piloting one…He just happens to make submarines for a living! He tries to get home, but gets lost. There is some conflict because there is a hidden traitor. He finds an unknown continent. No way to get in, unless you have a submarine. He just happens to have one! He gets inside, and there are dinosaurs inside. They are dangerous, and randomly grab someone. It just happens to not be the hero! Now they have food and water, but no fuel for the sub. Hey, they just happen to find oil! They still haven’t resolved the issue with the Germans, oh, hey, the Germans run off with the sub!

Oh, I forgot, there’s a girl. He loves her because she is beautiful. How do we know she’s beautiful? The author told us. She loves the hero, he loves her. He doesn’t trust her for a while. Oh, wait, he was wrong. She forgives him.

To be sure, there are some minor conflicts: the hidden traitor, the problem about the trust between the girl and the hero, how to deal with hostile prisoners.

But at no point is there much doubt about the outcome of any conflict. The hero is the leader because of course he is. He can command the sub because of course he can. When he needs to kill a dinosaur, of course he can. He can overcome the German commander one on one because of course he can.

Back to wikipedia:
A plot device is a means of advancing the plot in a story. It is often used to motivate characters, create urgency, or resolve a difficulty. This can be contrasted with moving a story forward with dramatic technique; that is, by making things happen because characters take action for well-developed reasons. An example of a plot device would be when the cavalry shows up at the last moment and saves the day in a battle. In contrast, an adversarial character who has been struggling with himself and saves the day due to a change of heart would be considered dramatic technique.

If I had to characterize The Land that Time Forgot, it would be that it is just a series of plot devices, rather than a plot. Or to the extent that it has a plot, it isn’t very good.

And it doesn’t get any better in the sequel, The People That Time Forgot. I set the book down when I got busy, and had zero desire to pick it back up again.

In its favor, there is a great What If aspect to the trilogy: What if there were a lost continent that had dinosaurs and primitive humans? Then what if the inhabitants recapitulated evolution as a personal development process?
Okay, the 2nd is way out there, and I don’t really see the reason for it, but at least there is a What If to explore.
These are milieu books: set up a world, then let the character explore the world, letting us see it through his eyes. The interest is in seeing how this world compares to ours, how the changes in the world cause changes in the humans, or in human society.

Except it really doesn’t. ERB gives us a series of snapshots, but the world never really becomes 3D.

Compare to Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky, where the question is “What if a bunch of young adults were stranded on a strange planet and had to create their own civilization?” Definitely a milieu story, but not *just* a milieu story. There is character growth and exploration of human nature and the nature of civilization.
Or compare to Larry Niven’s milieu stories, Destiny’s Road (what if people lived on a planet that lacked any natural source of a vital mineral?), the Smoke Ring duology (what if a society evolved in a weightless environment?). He tells a story with a plot, character that have goals and issues we care about, while *still* exploring a strange world. One of the interesting things about Niven is he wrote several novels about societies based on an Elite enslaving the Common People via monopoly over a scarce vital resource. He explores that theme over and over, in the two stories above, plus The Gift From Earth (human organs), World Out of Time (immortality), and probably more I can’t think of yet.

the-smoke-ring
Woah. Doesn’t this look like a world you want to see a writer explain, describe, and explore?  Hard SF for the win, baby.

Both you and I cited Cherryh.

To be fair, Cherryh has some books without any real plot. Her Fortress series is just a self-licking ice cream cone. As is the Rusalka series. Both do provide some insight into human nature, the nature of fear and love, and how those are exploited…but after finishing each of those, I felt like I do reading ERB and REH: why did I just read that? What was the *point* of the story? In REH and ERB, it’s because I don’t care much about the outcome because there wasn’t much escalation of stakes, too many plot devices, and the characters don’t earn my care. In those two Cherryh series, it’s because after all those words describing so much action, nothing really changes in the world. I guess you could say that in Rusalka there was finally a restoration of normality, but I just didn’t care that much.

In contrast, Cyteen drags you into the lives of a brilliant-but-evil woman who is cloned, and how her clone reacts to the attempts to recreate the evil woman’s brilliant skills by pushing her personality towards evil, in connection with interactions with the young, sympathetic man the evil old woman deliberately abused…this is conflict, in that the man wants nothing to do with the clone because of his memories of the old women, but the clone is fascinated by the young man and has the power to force his proximity. Lots of personal conflict, tough decisions, changing character, people under pressure, sacrificial decisions, etc. A fascinating exploration how conflict, struggle, and pain are the challenges that stimulate growth, and the ethics of using those tools deliberately to try to bring about that growth in others.

Let’s make this even more complex, and bring in ERB’s John Carter. It’s been a while since I’ve read any. I enjoyed them okay when I was 15. I tried re-reading Princess of Mars 5 years ago, and got bored before I finished.

I won’t run through all the things I consider plot inadequacies, but I’ll hit a few points:
– Yes, there’s loyalty, in that Carter saves Tarkas’ life, and Tarkas returns the favor…but to me, that pales in comparison to Vlad Taltos’ considering it better to let himself be killed rather than force his friend to go back on his promise that guests are safe. Of course, Vlad figures out how to resolve that conflict, but Vlad’s loyalty is more poignant to me than the “You save my life, so I save yours” exchange.
– Yes, there’s romance, but just like in the Land that Time Forgot, we are told that Dejah Thoris is the most beautiful woman ever, so John Carter loves her and is blessed to earn her love. Yay. I don’t find it convincing or compelling.

index
…for all we know, Dejah Thoris could look exactly like this.

There are some things in the Barsoom series favor:
– It is based somewhat on the science available at the time (canals!)
– If you want a hero with superhuman strength, it makes sense that it would be an alien that grew up on another planet with 3x the gravity. This is good What If science fiction.

But consider this: how much more poignant, how much more depth, how much more interesting would the whole Barsoom cycle be if John Carter had been torn away from a wife and child, or (worse!) a young, pregnant wife on Earth?

That would make his attraction to Thoris a conflict. That would make his return to earth after asphyxiation a mixed blessing. That would add emotion to his every success on Mars: it all came at the expense of an innocent woman and child back on Earth…and yet, it wasn’t of his own choosing, he is powerless to go back (so why shouldn’t he make their loss mean something good for Barsoom?)…and since his complete disappearance means she is also moving on with her life back on Earth…?

That one change would deeply alter the Barsoom series, making it a truly sublime exploration of the nature of love, and purpose, and dealing with loss.

 

“No Real Plot” in ERB/REH Books

My Reaction to GOP’s Health Care Reform Proposal (UPDATED)

  • by Gitabushi

Bottom Line Up Front: It isn’t good. But it isn’t as bad as many people are saying. Reforming health care is harder than anyone is admitting.

So is the GOP Congress saying this is the final version of their health care goals? Or is it a transitory law to tide over until final law?

Because while I do, of course, want more market-based reforms, not sure we can get there in one single jump.

There is so much wrong with our current health care system.  It really is just Pre-Paid Health Maintenance Plans. This separates price from cost, which makes things more expensive. Moreover, it punishes those who are cautious with their health, and reward those who are reckless and consume more health care.  Imagine how much it would cost if vehicle fuel were sold under and “insurance” plan where you paid a monthly fee and could use as much as you wanted.  The person who commutes 5 miles a day in a Mazda Miata would be subsidizing the person who drives a Hummer 90 miles every day, takes long trips every weekend, and is a leadfoot.

So the first order of business is to wean the nation away from the current Pre-Paid Health Maintenance plans referred to as “insurance.”  But that’s only the beginning. We need:

  • insurance to pretty much be only catastrophic.
  • retail clinics where RNs triage for need to be seen by PA, who then triages for need for specialist. Basic check an illness isn’t serious for out-of-pocket money.
  • hospitals and doctors to publish prices and full fees for all treatment.
  • a system to allow people to be guinea pigs for new treatments *if they want*, i.e., the rich and the terminal, w/o lawsuit threat.
  • a total reform pharma laws so there aren’t perverse incentives in development, especially patent rules.
  • effort to get bulk of medical care shifted to out-of-pocket, to reduce paperwork overhead, increase competition, and increase choice.
  • plan resolve exploitation of “free” medical care to illegal aliens. At the very least, that means new, robust collection laws. Could also mean ensuring all illegal aliens leave. Can’t reform healthcare w/o it.
  • A cap to end-of-life costs. The tricky part is if you heal the problem, it won’t be the end of life. But when people pay for insurance (even catastrophic), they don’t want to be told a cost restriction prevented them (or their loved one) from getting treatment. We need to get people used to the idea that there is a reasonable amount that others will be willing/able to pay to save a life, but beyond that, the costs should be borne by the family and friends that love them most. Because as in most things in life, there are few easy choices, and with each choice comes drawbacks and other unpleasant consequences.  Part of being an adult is deciding which unpleasant consequence is the easiest for you to accept.

It takes time to get massive, cumbersome health care system to shift to the free market-based solutions. This can’t be done in just a few weeks.  Particularly since there are powerful lobbies that want to prevent market based-solutions from taking away their golden parachutes.

Even worse, the public itself is a huge part of the problem.  We are never going to improve health care until we get people to grasp Medicaid doesn’t improve health outcomes. Of course, this also needs to be understood by people who have enough money to never be on Medicare. We need everyone to understand that just having medical coverage is not health. Health insurance is an illusionary security blanket that people want, and will give up rights and money to the government to get it. That illusion is part of what is making it so politically difficult to repeal Obamacare & reform healthcare system.

Imagine they repealed Obamacare completely yesterday.  The first thing that would happen is the news organizations would be screaming about all the people who are no longer covered. They would be doing their best to stir up panic.  Repealing Obamacare wholesale would push most of the population to consider (and perhaps embrace) Single Payer, just to have that illusion of security.  It would be a political disaster.

The most likely outcome is Democrats would take back Congress in 2018. I do not have confidence that President Trump would veto Single Payer with such an obvious mandate; he doesn’t have any history of commitment to free market principles, and pretty clearly seems to want to be remembered as a President that served his people. Giving them Single Payer when they seem to want it would satisfy his ego.

So we can’t just throw 10s of millions of citizens into a free market system. That would be a political disaster that would most likely lead to Single Payer.

What if we go back to the previous system?

Was anyone happy with the previous system?  It was still a Pre-Paid Health Maintenance system. We still had spiraling costs because price and cost were not obviously linked. Democrats would demagogue the crap out of it.  It seems like it would end up in the same place as no plan at all: Democrats take Congress, and we get Single Payer.

So I’m okay with some incremental changes for now, or a transition plan. But yeah: I’m not happy at all if this is their final plan.

The Good Points:

Right now, I think there is no personal mandate. The mandate is to insurance companies to provide to anyone. They had to keep a penalty in so that people wouldn’t wait until sick before buying insurance (which destroys the benefit of risk pools). But the penalty is from the insurance company for letting your insurance lapse, not from the federal government for not buying insurance.  That’s slightly better.

Still, I agree with Ben Shapiro’s conclusion: “you’ve actually created a gradual cementing of key elements of Obamacare.”  They just made Obamacare into GOPCare. But how do we *get* to market-based health care system with *real* reform w/o losing Congress and getting Single Payer?

My best suggestion is to spend the next three years in preparation: write legislation that encourages Retail Clinics.  Pass Tort Reform.  Deport enough illegal aliens that the rest self-deport, lowering the stress to the ER system and the cost to the hospital system.  Pass laws requiring hospitals to post prices, so competition can begin.  Then right after the 2020, then drop the big law that gets rid of any health insurance except catastrophic, caps heroic efforts, establishes tax-free health savings accounts, and pushes all the previous preparatory market-based reforms to 11.

Then sit back and demagogue to the hilt all the successes and improved health & cost outcomes.  This is one area the GOP always fails: they seem to not have a plan to sidestep the Democrats’ ally in the mainstream news media industry.  Trump has shown them how to use social media to get directly to the people; the GOP Congress needs to spend the next three years before they drop the big Reform Law preparing their PR blitz.

One other thing: Perhaps grandfather in anyone over 50?  It is easier to wean the young from government health care, since they are mostly healthy, by and large.

Side Note:

I had little confidence in Ryan since the Omnibus last year. I had little confidence in him. He’s like meh to accidentally good. And yet, he’s *still* better than Boehner, and Boehner was *still* better than Pelosi.

I think this stinky turd of a reform bill is more due to the House than the Senate.  So we need to focus on finding ways to express our displeasure to the House. The best way is to get them out of office.  But we need to primary them with strong GOP candidates. NOT give Congress to the Democrats.

Final thought:

I maybe skipped over too many steps. What I’m trying to do is figure out how to make free market solution politically viable.  I don’t see how to get there from here, right now. And I’m willing to give the GOP more time to prep the battlespace to make it easier to pass a successful (and thus, lasting) free market solution to our health care system.

 

My Reaction to GOP’s Health Care Reform Proposal (UPDATED)

Untitled Novel, Teaser

  • by Gitabushi

The McCoy’s Story, Chapter 1: Beverly

Beverly woke, feeling groggy, not sure where she was for a moment.  Her bleary eyes blinked the world into focus.  Metal, glass, tile.  People hurrying past.  Voices over an intercom: “Flight 262 to Washington Dulles International, now boarding Zone 3.”

Beverly pressed the palms of her hands against her eyes.  Zone 3?  That was her boarding group.  She stretched, picked up her backpack and purse, stifled a yawn and stood up.  She shuffled over to the line, then fished her boarding pass out of her purse.  Another yawn rose, and this one would not be denied.  She covered her mouth, but despite her best efforts, this one was audible.

The man in front of him turned around at the sound.  “Tired, huh?  Well, you’ll get some sleep on this red-eye, as long as there are no infants near you.”

“Yeah, I just flew in from China.  I’ve already been traveling for 22 hours.  I couldn’t sleep on the plane earlier, but I just caught a nap there in the waiting area.  I think it made me feel worse.”  The line moved forward a step.

“Wow, long trip!  Where are you headed?”

“DC is my last stop.  Good thing.  I feel like a zombie or something.”  A few more steps forward.

“You’re not sick, are you?”  The man looked like he wanted to sidle away.

“No, I loaded up on vitamin C before the trip.  I’m just tired.”

They reached the flight attendant, and the conversation died.  As he was looking at Beverly’s boarding pass, she heard some yelling down the foyer, maybe 10 Gates away.  The flight attendant glanced past her shoulder, a puzzled look on his face.  The sound of commotion increased, and Beverly turned to look.  She couldn’t see anything at this angle, and she wasn’t willing to step out of line to see better.  The attendant motioned her to go on, and she smiled faintly at him as she walked past.  Just as she entered the jetwalk, she heard what sounded like a scream, and a loud report like a firecracker.

A gunshot?

No way.  Beverly shook her head.  Guns aren’t allowed in airports.

20 minutes later they were in the air, and Beverly was fast asleep.

***

She woke again as they were making the final approach into Dulles, then dozed until they pulled up to the gate.  Lack of sleep and disruptions to all the normal biological cycles made her feel groggy even after she gathered her purse (no carry-on, for the win!) and staggered off the plane and up the walkway.

Her luggage would be arriving at the very last turnstile.  Before walking down there, she stopped off in the Ladies Restroom.  She sat in the stall, staring at nothing, trying to will herself fully awake.

She heard someone stagger in, then stumble over and push at her door.

“Taken!  Try the next one.”

More pushing at the door.  The groans sounded a little urgent.

“Hey!  Taken!”

Whoever it was seemed to take the message, and stumbled into the stall next to hers.  She could see the woman’s feet, rather large in tennis shoes, in the 12-inch gap.  She saw a hand reach through and paw in her direction.

“Out of toilet paper?  Okay, hold on a second.”  Beverly unwound a big wad, reached down and held it out.  The other person knocked it from her hand.  Fine, I don’t care, Beverly thought.  Some people just have no gratitude.

She closed her eyes and put her head in her hands, took several deep breaths.  She pulled out her cellphone and held the button until it began to turn on.  She stood up and had just gotten the door open when she felt her foot grabbed.  She looked down in time to see a man’s head stuck through the gap between the floor and the stall divider, and saw him sink his teeth into her ankle.

blinding pain–

“SON OF A BITCH!” Beverly yelled, and dropped her phone as she yanked her foot free.  She aimed a kick directly at the side of his face, heard his head bounce off the base of the toilet.  She opened the door and ran out with her purse.  She heard the man struggling to get out of the stall behind her.

Out of the restroom, she picked out a security guard a few dozen yards away.  She ran up to him.

“A man just assaulted me in the ladies restroom!”  She pointed back the way she had come.  She had to repeat it again before he understood.  He looked grim and began to walk in that direction, lifting his radio to his mouth as he went.

Beverly hesitated a moment.  She didn’t really want to wait around and see the guy.  Just thinking of him gave her the creeps.  There was something funny about his eyes.

She also didn’t want to wait around to repeat her story a dozen times to the police.  She knew that she should do her part to get a jerk like that off the streets…but she was exhausted, and just wanted to go home.  At least she could pick up her luggage first.  That would also give her more distance from the bathroom.

She walked another couple hundred yards to the luggage turnstile, which was already turning with a few pieces forlornly waiting for owners.  Hers was already there, too.  She grabbed her suitcase, then heard a scream and turned to look back at the bathroom entrance.

A struggle was ensuing between two security guards and the guy.  It looked like one of the security guards was down with the guy on top of him, and the second security guard trying to pull him off.  As she watched, the second guard pulled the assailant off of his buddy.  The guard on the floor wasn’t moving at all.  The creep turned in the second guard’s grasp.  It was hard to tell from the distance, but it looked like the guy was winning!

Beverly felt a bolt of terror in her heart.  She turned and hurried toward the exit.  She looked back as she reached the door, saw the guard fall to the ground and saw the man stagger in her direction.  She pushed out the doors as fast as she could, scrambled out onto the sidewalk.

She looked for the economy parking lot bus stop.  There!  And her lot color was already there.  As she ran toward it, dragging her suitcase, it started to pull away.

Then the driver must have seen her, because it stopped and the doors opened.  She clambered on board, yelled, “Go!” and collapsed into a chair.  She looked back at the baggage claim door but didn’t see her assailant emerge.

Her ankle throbbed.  She pulled her foot up to the seat, looked her ankle over.  She winced as she pressed and explored the bite area.  Was the skin broken?  No blood, at least.  That seemed impossible with as bad as the bite hurt, but maybe her jeans got in the way?  The way it hurt, she was going to have one hell of a bruise.

When the bus reached her stop, Beverly raced to her car, jumped in, and locked all the doors. She sat, shivering with reaction, for about 15 minutes.  She transitioned directly from panic to exhaustion, however, and woke herself when her head lolled forward.
She shook her head to clear it, glanced at her watch, and estimated she had lost only about 20 minutes dozing.
“Better I get back home as soon as possible and crawl into bed for some good sleep,” she said out loud, trying to wake herself up.  “I just hope I don’t nod off on the road home.”
Not many cars were on the road.

At one point, she saw someone walking across the freeway ahead of her.  She slowed slightly, until she saw that he would pass safely across before she reached him.

Within about 40 minutes, she was turning the key of her Eckington neighborhood townhome.  Three levels, 4 bedrooms, all hers.  Well, after another 27 or so years of mortgage payments, as she liked to say to friends.

She stripped her clothes and showered as rapidly as she could.  She checked out her ankle, rubbed some soap on it, but no sting of an open would.  Sure enough, though, it was already turning purple. The sky was just beginning to lighten as she stumbled into her bedroom and slipped into bed.  And then out of bed again to close the heavier curtains, to make sure sunlight drifting in between the slats of the blinds after daybreak didn’t wake her.

She set the alarm for a little over 6 hours later, pulled the covers up to her chin, and waited to fall asleep immediately.

35 minutes later (as confirmed by the bedside clock), she was still waiting.  She started the self-hypnosis technique she had learned back in college, and before the second set (backwards from fifty), felt that curious falling sensation that accompanied entering sleep when completely exhausted.

***

Untitled Novel, Teaser

Overwrought Think-Piece O’ the Day

  • by Gitabushi

Progressive ideology. Political power shifts. Societal pendulums. Global Warming. Defeating Evil.

What do these things have in common, besides the letter “l”?

All these different issues cannot be discussed rationally without accurately identifying and applying feedback loops.

For instance, in the case of Global Warming Climate Change, the theory is that the increase in carbon dioxide from human activity is driving the Earth’s temperature spiraling upward. However, the only way this can be true is if factors influencing or controlling the earth’s temperature are, in total, a positive feedback loop. Meaning, the various elements snowball, so the more carbon gets into the atmosphere, the easier it is for carbon to get into the atmosphere in the future.

However, to make this argument, one has to be aware of several negative feedback loops, such as the logarithmic nature of carbon’s impact (the more carbon is in the atmosphere, the smaller effect any given unit of carbon has) and the likelihood that increased carbon in the atmosphere encourages plant growth that has a cooling effect.  Meaning, there are certainly elements that tend to resist change, that absorb changes into a cycle that brings temperature back to equilibrium.  The fact that the world has had both extreme temperatures during different ages, yet keeps within a relatively small, stable range, indicates that negative feedback loops are more powerful than the positive feedback loops in our global climate system.

Regarding defeating evil, the one thing I remember from the 1st Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever is that evil can never be fully defeated. Individual incarnations of evil can be defeated, but since some measure of evil exists in every single human being, evil will always return.

lrdflsbncc1978

Setting aside the notion of evil, that’s why it is so difficult for there to be a permanent one-party rule in the United States.  One significant negative feedback loop is the election interests of individual politicians.  If one party succeeded in complete domination of the political scene, the powerless party would dissolve and the in-power party would split in order for individual politicians to seek power by championing the interests of a minority.  Party overreach usually means that it never even gets to that point.  The Democrats were hailing their permanent majority just 8 years ago.  Now they almost lack the power to stop Constitutional Amendments.

Progressive Ideology assumes a social Positive Feedback Loop, in which human society inevitably progresses toward their assumed and preferred utopia of human enlightenment.

As a fan of science fiction, I have imagined what an Individual Rights Society might look like (call it Conservative, or Libertarian, if you with…neither seem to be fully appropriate terms), but even in my imagination, it is impossible to sustain.  Human nature is too obvious: there will always be people who see their advantage in claiming group rights over individual rights, and there will always be people eager to dictate groups rights to the exclusion of individual rights.

But is the reverse true?

Consider this tweet:

I think she’s 100% correct. However, the problem is that even after the precedent is set, it isn’t a precedent the GOP can use in retaliation against the Democrats.  This is because there simply is no GOP-leaning senior bureaucrat population.  The federal bureaucracy mostly embraces the Progressive mindset.  Where it doesn’t, it correctly sees the Democrat Party as more supportive of the unelected bureaucracy’s power.

As a result, where there should be a negative feedback loop that acts as a check on Progressive overreach, I fear that Democrats (and/or Progressives, and/or Leftists…there’s a huge overlap, but not complete) have metastasized in government to the point that they can enforce a positive feedback loop for their preferred policies.

Maybe not.  The Deep State’s attack on the US Constitution is out in the open now, and the GOP does have an unprecedented advantageous position to begin dismantling it, just like Walker is doing in Wisconsin.

However, let me clarify what I mean by the Left enforcing a positive feedback loop.

Normally, overreach results in the pendulum swinging back, as individuals exercise their political and social rights to disagree and oppose.  But the nature of Leftist ideology is to embrace and empower group rights, not individual rights.  They control education, so they can teach you the history and values they want you to have.  They control entertainment, so they can craft narratives in which the Progressive ideology always turns out to be correct. They control the news, so they can make it seem like the GOP following Democrat precedents is an outrageous, unprecedented scandal.  They control the federal bureaucracy, so they can pick and choose which of the millions of pages of regulations to enforce to punish individuals for opposing their agenda.  They can make the process be the punishment so that you can’t even fight back against things like EPA overreach without bankrupting yourself.  They control the judiciary (mostly), so they can re-legislate and nullify laws they don’t like (up to and including declaring a Constitutional Amendment to be Unconstitutional).  They can allow non-citizens to flood the nation to outnumber citizens and get representation and federal funding based on illegal aliens.  They can channel taxpayer money to Progressive organizations like Planned Parenthood, and get money back from Planned Parenthood to fund Democrat politicians.  And they can use all these various institutions to move the Overton Window to make it impossible to even talk about alternatives to their vision.

If Hillary Clinton had been elected, there would have been significant erosion of 1A and 2A rights.  So we dodged a bullet there.

But even with Donald Trump duly winning the election, even with the GOP controlling Congress, controlling approximately 2/3 of the governorships, controlling a majority of state legislatures, and conservatives about to control the Supreme Court, we find ourselves on the defense from the Deep State attempting to sabotage the Trump Administration.

The battle is in the open now, but despite it being open, I’m not at all certain the GOP can win.  Too many people would rather be right about Trump than protect the normal order of Constitutional governance.

If we lose this, we won’t lose our rights immediately.  But it will be a slow erosion.  Some negative feedback elements do still exist to slow, and sometimes even turn back, the growth of the Leviathan State.  But if the Deep State wins, expect to see more and more of the negative feedback loop mechanisms dismantled.

My bottom line: sure, a Trump administration is going to be a shit-show. It will be clumsy. It will make mistakes. But the more conservatives pile on, the easier it will be for the Deep State to win in their battle against the POTUS, and we’ll all be the worse off for it.

The Deep State has declared war on the rightfully-elected President of the United States.  By choosing to go to war against the President of the United States, the Deep State has declared war on the US Constitution.  You have to choose a side. There’s gotta be away you can defend the Office of the Presidency without defending Trump the man himself. Find it.

 

Overwrought Think-Piece O’ the Day

Intelligence

  • by Gitabushi

If you think about the spread of intelligence in society, or among your classmates/co-workers, you probably imagine something like this:

joy-selak-chart

And I suppose that’s okay.

But lately, it seems like everyone has gotten stupid.

In high school, I don’t remember being all that much smarter than everyone around me.  We had great talks, stimulating ideas, everything.  I was smart, of course, but I could converse easily with everyone around me.

But now, it seems like finding people that can keep up is difficult.  I eat lunch every day with a bunch of Chinese linguists, and it is wonderful!  It seems like almost everyone is capable of quirky, weird, funny, and insightful contributions.

But then there is my friend from high school.  He was 88th percentile in the nation on standardized testing, so he wasn’t stupid by any means.  But now, 30 years later, his ideas are adolescent, he speaks in slogans, he can’t seem to think things through.

Now, everyone slows down eventually.  My dad was brilliant, but at age 84, he needs more time to figure things out, and isn’t quite as sharp as he used to be.

But it didn’t happen to him until he was in his 80s, whereas my mom’s mental functioning and practical intelligence started noticeably dropping in her late 60s.

So I’d like to propose a new way of visualizing intelligence.  The ballistic vector:

mplwp_ballistic_trajectories_velocities-svg

In this model, you can see that early in the flight path (early in life), you are all on virtually the same path.  People of all intelligences are roughly equal, because education gives us all pretty much the same information mass to assimilate, and all ideas are new.  Sure, the intelligent might learn it a little quicker, but you are all working with pretty much the same material.

But as you get older, the intelligent people continue to learn, continue to seek out new mental challenges, continue to synthesize existing information into new understandings. And as such, the more intelligent people fly higher, see further due to their higher reach, and retain that knowledge height for a much longer time.

Side note that sort of supports this paradigm, but also muddies it:

About 10 years ago, a researcher nearly bankrupted the tofu industry in Hawaii by saying that soy products aged the brain.  He later pointed out the difference was small, less than that of the difference between a high school-educated brain and a college-educated brain.

Now, does that mean that what I’m really noticing isn’t an intelligence disparity, but a self-education, continual-learning disparity?  Or is it just that the individuals with high intelligence find it easier to continue learning because they have the higher intelligence capacity to assimilate knew knowledge?

Or is my line of thinking wrong to begin with?

What are your thoughts?

Intelligence