Finally, Noah Goats has a new novel out, called The Unpublishables. I’m only about 1/5 of the way into it, but I’m enjoying it immensely. I’m going to have lots more to say about it when I write my review, but for now, just know that it’s a book especially for indie authors. Read the description on Amazon, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s both a love letter to, and a gentle satire of, books and the people who write them.
People on Twitter have been praising the interviewer. I don’t see why. Too many of his questions are combative and uninformative. He repeatedly asks questions about what Ellis believes Trump’s motivations are, rather than asking Ellis about whatever it is Ellis believes.
Ellis is just as bad, if not worse, at being interviewed. He seems not to have read his own book, and when questioned. seemed not to care about the subject.
The number one problem in our political system is the inability to communicate–so I try to study the most extreme examples of bad communication, so as to avoid making the same mistakes that we see here.
A few noteworthy items. Most of this is old news if you follow me on Twitter.
Chris Avellone, my favorite game designer, posted this on Twitter today. It’s part of a larger thread about the game industry, but it’s also great advice for almost anybody working in a big organization:
Respect the company, but value those you work with first, and do not assume that “following the company line” will be rewarded – personal relationships and valued relationships are the true rewards. (4/#)
Maggie, AKA Thingy, has started blogging again after a long hiatus. I am beyond thrilled about this–I’d really missed her blog. You can find her here.
Mark Paxson and Noah Goats, two terrific authors, have both declared their candidacy for President. I’m really hoping for a grand coalition Paxson/Goats ticket. I’ve offered my help to both of them. I bring my experience as a volunteer for the Russ Sype 2016 campaign.
I can’t help myself; I have to write about this. I know there’s probably no point, but I am going to do it anyway just in case. Immediately after this, I’m going to post some Christmas videos to make up for it.
On Wednesday, President Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw troops from Syria. Immediately, hawks in both parties attacked the decision, arguing that it will allow ISIS to regain strength. Many of Trump’s usual allies argued for keeping the troops there longer, and urged him to reverse the decision so ISIS can be defeated.
Here’s my problem with this: the reason ISIS is a household name is because of U.S. military intervention in Iraq. When we installed the new Iraqi government in ’03-‘04, we threw all of Saddam Hussein’s underlings out of power. This was called “de-Ba’athification”, because they were all in Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party, but it might as well have been called “de-Sunnification” because they were all Sunnis.
As a result, we had a bunch of Sunnis who were exiled, armed, and extremely mad at us and at the heavily Shia government we installed.
Hey, Foreign Policy wonks! Can you guess what happened?
So now the military-industrial complexforeign policy experts say that we need to keep intervening militarily in a foreign nation to prevent atrocities being committed by a group that exists because we intervened militarily in a foreign nation to prevent atrocities.
Look: I’m all about preventing atrocities. I really am. If the most powerful military in the world can’t be used to protect innocent people from evil ones, then what’s it good for? It’s just that I want to hear one of the people currently urging a continued military action explain why this won’t end in a massive disaster like the last one did.
And no, Senator Rubio, I don’t want to hear that “the military advised President Trump not to withdraw.” Of course they did! They’re the military! When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and when all you have is the most powerful fighting force in history, everything looks like it needs to be occupied by it.
I don’t blame the military commanders for opposing withdrawal. But unless they can give a definitive timeline—“e.g. we will achieve victory in Syria in one year or you can fire all us generals”—they can’t be given the final say on this.
A lot of people will say Trump only did this because his policies mysteriously seem to align with Vladimir Putin’s on every issue. But you know what? “Trump-is-a-puppet” is not in itself a valid criticism. If he does the right thing for the wrong reasons, it’s still the right thing. So if you want to keep the troops in Syria, don’t tell me that a withdrawal benefits Putin. This isn’t a zero-sum game where every action that helps Russia is an automatic loss for the USA.
The folks in the upper-echelons of government still don’t seem to get that the reason so many people voted for Trump was that they were furious at the mistakes the government had made over the years—the mismanagement of the Iraq invasion being one of the biggest examples. If they want to win back their credibility as experts—and with it, the awesome and terrible power of commanding the United States military—they need to prove that they have learned from their mistakes.
One last note: I’ve seen a number of people complain that a U.S. withdrawal from Syria makes Israel less safe. In my opinion, this is a pretty glass half-empty way to look at it. Yes, it’s true that now Israel will have lost a big ally fighting Iran in the region. But I’m not sure that U.S. participation automatically makes things safer for them. Again, look at what happened with Iraq. Is Israel really safer now that there is a massive terrorist group inadvertently created by the U.S. intervention in Iraq running loose?
The U.S. government is a bloated bureaucracy, led by an ever-rotating cast of characters who change every two to four years, and constantly want to drastically shift policy direction, which is a bit like trying to race an 18-wheeler on a Formula Onetrack. Most of the people involved are well-intentioned, but the result tends to be that U.S. government intervention causes chaos rather than stability.
If we’re going to stay and fix the mess in Syria, we have to do it the right way: figure out who the enemy is, have Congress formally declare war on them, institute a draft, and use the full power of the military to defeat them. That was how the United States won its greatest victories, achieved superpower status, and made itself synonymous with Liberty across the globe. Unless we’re willing to do as much again, we will cause more problems than we solve.
This book gives a comprehensive and thorough history of the United States government’s plans for surviving a nuclear war. The book spans the Atomic Age, with detailed information from the Truman through Obama administrations, with occasional references to the comparatively primitive security measures under earlier presidents.
There are a number of interesting stories in the book, from the day that President Truman practically shut down Washington as he stepped out to go to the bank to the total chaos and confusion that reigned on 9/11, when the emergency procedures were implemented rather haphazardly.
For all the programs aimed at “continuity of government”, the ultimate conclusion of Presidents, generals, CEOs, and bureaucrats throughout the decades seems to invariably have been that in the event of a nuclear attack, the United States as we know it would cease to exist, and survivors—if any—would live under martial law at best for a considerable length of time.
And yet, the preparation proceeds anyway, as the government tries to figure out a way to survive the unsurvivable. In one memorable section, Graff discusses a secret bunker at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, complete with underground chambers for the House and Senate to convene, all maintained without the knowledge of even the CEO of the resort himself.
Throughout the book, I repeatedly thought of this exchange from the British political sitcom Yes, Minister:
Sir Humphrey: There has to be somewhere to carry on government, even if everything else stops.
Minister Hacker: Why?
Sir Humphrey: Well, government doesn’t stop just because the country’s been destroyed!
That really summarizes the absurdity of the whole enterprise. The book’s subtitle, “The story of the U.S. government’s secret plan to save itself–while the rest of us die” is a bit unnecessarily hysterical and sinister-sounding, (they can’t really be expected to save everyone, can they?) but it does underscore the inescapable problem of attempting to preserve a way of life that can’t exist in the unimaginably horrible new world that would be created after the bombs went off.
Graff did a lot of research for this book, but too often sacrificed readability in the interest of being thorough. There are plenty of paragraphs that bog down in the alphabet soup of government programs, plans and agency acronyms. (This is perhaps inevitable to some degree—the government loves acronyms.) Even more confusingly, information is sometimes poorly organized, and occasionally repeated in different sections. Once or twice this caused me to think I had accidentally gone back to a section I’d already read.
There’s also at least one flat-out error: on page 278 of the Kindle version, Graff asserts that “Reagan was the first president shot in nearly a century.” This is obviously not true, and probably the result of some kind of copy/paste error. That’s one that anybody would know is wrong, but it made me wonder what other, less-apparent-but-equally-serious errors the editors might have missed.
So, should you read it? Alot of the negative reviews say things like “I could have gotten all this from Wikipedia”. Which is true, but also raises the question, “Then why didn’t you?” A journalist like Graff isn’t required to discover new information—compiling and correlating existing information into one convenient book is also useful.
Unfortunately, Raven Rock isn’t as convenient as it could have been. A bit more editing and condensing would have improved the book a great deal. As it is, though, there’s a wealth of information for those willing to slog through and find out what secret projects the government has been spending our taxes on in the hopes of surviving Armageddon.
Johnathan found himself feeling rather down. It was the zeitgeist; for everywhere there was corruption and vice. Decency, civility, industriousness and all the other virtues had gone out of the world. Decadence and rot, from the upper echelons of society down to Johnathan’s own place of business, had worked their worst.
And so as he walked through the dingy back-alleys to his gloomy little apartment, his mood was understandably grim. As he approached the stained white door, the faded American flag next to it caught the breeze and hit him in the face. He cursed and, in the imprudent fury that occasionally possesses a frustrated person, tore the banner, pole and all, from its fixture beside the door.
Grumbling profanities, he opened the door and went inside the dark apartment, flag and pole tucked under his arm. He set down his briefcase and entered his kitchen to make himself a meager dinner. The kitchen was dark; barely illuminated by the dim light that filtered through the window by the stove. He fumbled for the light switch and finally found it. But on turning on the light, he found he was not alone.
Seated at his kitchen table was a tall, olive-skinned woman, dressed in a style that Johnathan would have described as “Victorian”, though in fact that was not the correct period. She wore a full-length red and white striped dress, with a shiny blue caraco, with golden epaulettes at the shoulder.
After dropping the flag and recoiling in surprise, Johnathan managed to blurt out, “Who are you? What are you doing? I’ll call the police!”
The woman smiled slightly. “No need for that, my friend,” she said coolly. “Although I request that you pick up that lovely flag you have rather unceremoniously left lying on the floor.”
“What, this?” said Johnathan stupidly. “It’s old and faded. I may as well pitch it.”
“Please don’t,” said the woman, in a tone of annoyance that told Johnathan he had better pick up the flag already. Having done so, he returned to his line of questioning: “What are you doing in my apartment, ma’am?” he asked, and then added, “I did not invite you. Please leave before I call the police.”
“I have not, and will not, steal any of your belongings, nor harm you in any way.” she said calmly. “I only want to talk to you.”
“About what?” Johnathan said, with ill-concealed irritation. “I don’t even know who you are!”
“Columbia is my name,” she answered. “And I want to talk to you about America.”
“You want… what?” he said in confusion. “Well, I don’t know why you want to talk about that, but if you want to know what I think: America’s going to hell in a handbasket. It’s a disaster. The government is nothing but criminals and liars, out to make a buck.”
“Ah, but that is politics,” she replied. “That is not America.”
“Well, call it whatever you want, but the bottom line is nobody has a clue what they’re doing. They can’t hold anyone accountable, they can’t do their own jobs right–it’s chaos everywhere; people are out of work, they can’t afford decent food or a decent place to live, and criminals are all over the place–killing people, stealing stuff, and, and–and breaking into people’s houses in the middle of the night!” (He concluded this speech by pointing towards Columbia.)
“Can you really think of nothing good about the country?” she queried.
“Oh, it used to be better, back in the old days. People weren’t perfect, but at least they tried,” he muttered. “It was a great country once, but it’s all ruined because people are too stupid or too afraid to try to fix things anymore.”
“And what was it that made it great?” she asked.
He shook his head, “I… I don’t know. Do you think if I knew that I would be here?”
She folded her hands. “Let me tell you something about America: it does not have as much history as other parts of the world do. People who come here are looking to build something new–without all the baggage of the old world weighing them down.”
“Well, what of it?” said Johnathan. He tried to sound as disinterested as possible, and yet he found himself sitting down to listen to her all the same. “It’s all failed now, anyway.”
She replied crisply: “I believe it’s not about ‘success’ or ‘failure’–those are things that only apply in a contest with a clearly defined end. The beauty of creating something new is that it is a risk. You do not know how it will turn out–but there is courage in trying.”
“That is what really matters, you see,’ she continued. “When anything–a life, a country, anything–begins, there is no guarantee of ‘success’. And yet, if no one were ever willing to run that risk…”
She trailed off, and Johnathan now found himself mesmerized by her speech. He stared at her for a few moments. Her brown eyes had a strange calming effect upon him, and he felt like he was becoming hypnotized as he studied her dark, angular face.
“But what’s the use of any of it now?” he asked, forcing himself back to reality. “There’s nothing new here–it’s old and rotten and falling apart!”
Columbia closed her eyes for a moment and smiled patiently, as though she had expected this from him. She opened her eyes, looked directly into his, and said: “And don’t you think that in the past, others have felt just as frustrated and lost as you do now?”
“Yes,” he admitted, after a pause.
“And what did they do?”
“They… created something new.” he answered quietly.
“That’s right,” she said with a satisfied nod. “They faced their challenges, assessed them, and overcame them through courage and ingenuity. That is America.”
The two of them sat in silence after that. Columbia leaned back in her chair and glanced around the room with an expression of mild interest. Johnathan simply stared at her, the strange feeling of hypnosis growing stronger all the time.
A loud bang from outside jolted him to his feet. For an instant, he thought it was a gunshot, but when he rushed to the window, he saw glittering white sparks in the air and realized it was a firework display.
“Look at that,” he said with a smile, as more bright showers of light exploded in the darkness overhead. “Columbia, come and see–”
He turned to beckon her to the window, but she was gone. The chair was empty. Johnathan looked around in confusion. He ran back through the kitchen and out the front door on to the porch, looking around for her as he went.
She was nowhere to be seen. Johnathan stood on the porch in a daze, listening to the crackle of the pyrotechnic display building to its climax.
He looked around and caught sight of the empty metal bracket beside the door. The flag and pole, he realized, were still under his arm. He hurriedly unfurled the flag and restored it to its place.
Before you do anything else, read this Andrew Sullivan column. It’s a few months old, but still incredibly relevant in many ways, and it’s worth your time to read the whole thing. Don’t worry; I’ll wait.
All done? Good.
The part I loved most was this:
“In America, as Charles Murray has shown in his extraordinary book, Coming Apart, the young and the smart and the talented — the people who would once have formed the core of these small towns — have long since fled to distant colleges and cities. They don’t come back. They would once have been the police chief or the town librarian or the school principal. They once helped make the town a well-run place with a clear identity, where the same families and networks lived together, died together, belonged together. These connections have attenuated … as economics supplants culture, as efficiency erases the individuality of inefficient places, as Amazon rips the heart out of shopping districts, as the smartphone removes us from physical space, and as many more immigrants and their culture alter the feel of a place in ways that disorient those with memories and loyalties.”
This is a highly significant point. On a superficial level it’s related to what I wrote about here–the fact that so many of America’s problems stem from the high concentration of young, talented, well-educated people in a few cities.
But there’s also a deeper significance to it–the Oswald Spengler quote I referenced here that “the landscape exercises a secret force upon the extinction of the old [culture] and the appearance of the new one,” applies.
Sorry to reference my own posts, but my point here is that Sullivan has very clearly articulated something I’ve subconsciously thought about but have never been able to express. It’s a fundamental change in the culture of the United States, and it’s something that needs to be understood to ensure a prosperous future for the nation.
We know that Russian Intelligence worked to increase Donald Trump’s election chances by spreading propaganda. And we now know that they also attempted to tamper with US voting systems. And we know that President Trump has long spoken approvingly of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And we know that Trump campaign personnel met with various Russian officials during the campaign.
All of this looks highly suspicious, and suggests that something was going on between Trump and Russia.
However, there is one thing about the “Russia colluded with the Trump campaign to steal the election” theory that doesn’t add up. Namely, if Russia was covertly influencing the election, why would they bother to tell the Trump campaign about it?
Think about it: there’s no reason for them to have any contact beyond perhaps an initial meeting to lay out the plan. Why keep having these meetings between Trump’s people and Russia’s people? All it did was increase the likelihood of the plot getting exposed.
This is actually the best argument the Trump people have in their favor, as far as I can see. If they were committing such a serious crime, why leave such incriminating evidence?
The “Trump’s campaign is innocent” scenario could be something like the following: sure, they met with Russian people, but it was nothing to do with election-hacking. Trump’s platform and Russia’s interests in promoting a new nationalistic world order just happened to align, and they were hashing out details of what they would do in the event that Trump won. Russia independently carried out their manipulation of the election without the knowledge of the Trump campaign.
Which would be the way to do it, if you were running a remotely competent espionage operation. You don’t tell people stuff they don’t need to know, and from Russia’s perspective, the Trump campaign wouldn’t have needed to know that Russia was attempting to influence the election.
But this leads to the question: why did the Russians meet with them at all? Presumably, Russian officials knew about the plan, even if the Trump people didn’t. And they would therefore know how bad the meetings would look if word of the Russian interference ever came out.
This points strongly to the conclusion that the Russians suckered Trump, or at least Trump’s people. They knew it would make them look bad when these meetings came to light, and so would undermine the American people’s faith in the entire government and the electoral process.
If this is the case, Trump and his personnel, rather than being willing pawns of a Russian plot, are actually naïve victims who fell into a Russian trap.
Personally, I find it hard to imagine the people working for Trump were that unbelievably easy to trick. But it’s hard to see any other explanation.