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“Death’s End” by Cixin Liu

I have no idea if Cixin Liu has ever seen an episode of “Star Trek,” but his “Death’s End” is quite the rebuttal of some basic philosophical premises of the show.

The physics premise of his novel is that the explanation for dark matter is that the reasons for the shortage of matter in the universe are the results of continuous interstellar warfare. This warfare has been so lethal on an evolutionary scale that species in the know keep the locations of their home worlds secret. Now there is warfare in “Star Trek,” but everyone knows where Earth, Vulcan, Romulus, etc., are, and in the end the premises of reason and peace allow the Federation to expand.

In “Death’s End,” there is no reasoning with the enemy, no quarter given, for everyone has weapons that make the Death Star look like amateur hour. The heroine, Cheng Xin, would be very comfortable on Picard’s “Enterprise,” but every time she makes a decision based upon peace or compassion the story proves her wrong. Love in her world is a beautiful mistake, while ambition and will to power are the stars to steer by.

Another difference between these two universes has to do with gender. In the “Trek” world, economic liberation has led to sexual liberation and women have become as strong as men, willing to die for the safety of Earth and honor of the Federation. In the “Death’s End” universe, the same technological prosperity has led to men becoming more effeminate, and when danger lurks people complain about the shortage of “real men” to defend humanity. Now I grant that Star Fleet might not be representative of humanity, since we meet very few Federation civilians in the shows, but I can only interpret the works in front of me.

In “Star Trek,” the truth usually wins out. Revealing the truth of any given matter usually leads to a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of conflicts. In “Death’s End,” major decisions are made without all the information, which is often not available until it is too late, and while there is truth available to the readers, the people in the book usually interpret events through the distorting lens of their emotional needs.

“Death’s End” plot is stretched out by Cixin Liu’s loyalty to physics. Since there is no faster than light travel, for Xin to remain our point of view character, she keeps going in and out of hibernation to see later stages in this warlike future history for which she is so emotionally unsuited. I shared her unease with the story’s events, but for different reasons. I suspect that the universe would be even more peaceful than “Star Trek,” since any civilization advanced enough for interstellar warfare wouldn’t need to go to war and that cooperation is as powerful an evolutionary engine as conflict. But it would be hard to create SF drama in a world with fewer problems than we have instead of more.


Ode to A1C

by Paulliver

Chatting at a party
I have to pass on the brie
Because my A1C
Warns my blood is too sugary.

I’m staring at a menu
Passing on anything with bread.
I’m learning to like fish
Thanks to my A1C.

I sweat it out at the gym
So I don’t have to starve.
Carbs are worse than calories
So says my A1C.

I’m in the kitchen
Measuring out pasta
By the 1/3 cups
Thanks to my A1C.

Stores never offer coupons
For the food I should eat.
Thank God fruit
Is still guilt free.

I drink so much water
That I always have to pee.
But at least I’m finally taking care of me
Thanks to my A1C.


Two for the Road

Last night I saw “Two for the Road,” one of the most interesting Aubrey Hepburn movies. It shows primarily four road trips across France by two people: the one in which they met, the one they took as newlyweds, the one they took with another middle class couple, and one they took as a rich couple. Cutting up, transposing, and alternating clips of the different trips allowed the director to show the ironies of how their relationship evolved in attitudes, economics, and desires. They have a rocky marriage, of course, or it wouldn’t be a dramatic movie, but the other marriages in the movie have issues of their own. The man is generally but not always a jerk and the woman is generally but not always sensible, but he did warn her that he would be a hard man to live with and she didn’t listen.


Clinton v Trump Round Three

A remarkably civilized debate, during which I kept wondering, why do dissatisfied Republicans think Trump is a catalyst for change? The more he “stays on message” the more he sounds like an ordinary Republican politician. Same economic policies, same gun policies, same anti-feminist policies, same law and order policies. He leans towards isolationism concerning immigration and foreign policy, but lots of conservatives have. He only sounds different to liberals when he’s running off at the mouth with foul comments. So during most of the debate, Clinton defended standard liberal positions and Trump defended standard conservative positions, but I have a few points I’d like to make.

In the very first question, the moderator asked if we should treat the Constitution as a living document that changes or just accept what it says. I would have said, “Yes,” because I believe the writers of the Constitution did mean it to be a living document. The means of changing the Constitution are in the Constitution itself. The Ninth Amendment specifically says that there are more human rights that should be defended constitutionally than are listed in the Bill of Rights. The letters of the Founding Fathers show that they expected slavery to be democratically eliminated. Thus I deny the validity of the moderator’s question.

I agree with Trump that we don’t have the money to remain the world’s police without help from our allies, but Trump’s ideas sound too reckless. I am something of a fatalist on this issue. As long as American corporations are investing in China and American consumers are buying Chinese products, there is going to be a slow shifting of economic and thus political power from Washington to Beijing, just as there was from London to New York in the 19th Century. I don’t think we have the political will to do much other than soft land into a new balance of power in the Pacific, and it will take more diplomacy than Trump has shown. Of course, Beijing has problems of its own, with its pollution and corruption a growing drag on its own economy. Like my uncle has said, sometimes the winner is the person who makes the fewest mistakes.

Trump claims that tax cuts on the rich will lead to more jobs and more tax revenues. It was wrong when Reagan tried it and it was wrong when Bush tried it. This is because when the rich get a tax cut, there are lots of things they can do with it. They could buy bonds, loaning the money they didn’t pay in taxes back to the government for a profit. They could invest in foreign countries. They could invest in labor saving machines or invest in high tech industries that don’t employ very many people. All of these are, from their point of view, rational decisions to make, but they also mean “voodoo economics” doesn’t work.

I do think Trump was right that the big winner in Iraq is going to be Iran, but that was a risk the Bush Administration took throwing out Saddam’s secular dictatorship. The majority of Iraqis are in the same branch of Islam as Iran, so a democratic Iraq would be more sympathetic to Iran than they would be to the Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia. The Bush Administration wanted a “pro-American democracy,” but that desire has been a contradiction in American foreign policy for decades. A democracy’s duty is to its own people, so an Iraqi democracy is going to be pro-Iraqi. Ironically, our best chance for a friendly Iraq is to be more supportive of the democratic side of the equation, because then we will be earning their trust.

I think the funniest moment was when Trump said he would run America like our businesses, and I instantly thought of the 3500 lawsuits against him for shoddy business practices. He also accused the media of being dishonest but mostly what they do is just play his words and show video of him, which is damning enough.

Clinton’s best moment was comparing her last thirty years to Trump’s. Trump’s best punch was talking about money from Saudi Arabia, which probably has the worst human rights record of our allies.


“The Magnificent Seven” Remake

My Dad and I saw the remake and I should warn you there are odd spoilers in this review.

I feel that I watched two movies. The first half of the movie was a remake of “The Magnificent Seven” and we get to watch our hero recruit down on their luck fighters to a noble cause. The changes to the characters kept it more interesting than other sequels to the original, even if the villain’s tactical decisions made less sense in the second movie than the first. A rich guy who hires out his killing wouldn’t have let himself get into gun range never mind close enough to face off against the hero, while a bandit whose authority is dependent upon his skill and courage would. And since when would it be necessary to teach American pioneers to hit a target with a rifle?

The other movie remake wedged into this movie was “Way of the Warrior,” a surrealistic movie about a Western town tormented by bandits and a wandering, generic Asian assassin/swordsman who came to America to hide a baby from an entire clan of assassins. As I watched the bandits in “Magnificent Seven” ride down on the town, I instantly recalled that scene from “Way of the Warrior” and knew how the battle was going to go. In both movies the dynamite explosion broke their lines and caused enough confusion and smoke for the heroes to fight against superior numbers. In both movies there’s a Gatling gun, in both movies the red headed woman gets her revenge, and in both movies there’s a sniper with emotional problems to be addressed. Except in the “Way of the Warrior,” the assassin clan chasing the hero and the bandits tormenting the town show up for the final battle at the same time, a bandit panics and shoots, and there is a lot of stylistic ninjas v cowboys fighting while the main characters sort out their destiny.

So it was a fun and well done movie even if it could have been a little shorter.


Clinton v Trump Round Two

Well, the first half hour made me wish that I lived in the alternative universe where Jeb Bush and Bernie Sanders were running for President, but then sometimes I also wish we lived in the universe where we set a manned mission to Jupiter fifteen years ago. Alas, it is not to be, for not only do we live in the universe where military spending hobbled space exploration, we also live in the universe where the GOP is breaking under the weight of its lies and hypocrisies and the Democratic Party is a machine clogged up by Clinton cronies. Just as worrisome, Congress is becoming the little engine that can’t, and the imperial presidency continues growing into the vacuum regardless of which party is in the White House.

Aside from the trash talk, which Trump is obviously better at, Trump made big, sweeping promises supported by very little in the way of actual policy or proof, while Clinton talked policy. Most of the policies they suggested were standard issue liberal v conservative answers, so I’m not going to rehash my preference for the government helping people v voodoo economics.

When Trump was asked what he would do about Islamophobia, he proved by his answer that he’d do nothing about it. I was rather surprised when he briefly took a swipe at the person asking the question.

Their answers to questions about Syria only proved just how messed up the whole situation is. If we attack ISIS, it strengthens Assad and Russia. If we want to weaken Assad, it strengthens ISIS. Do we arm the Kurds if it means annoying the Turks?
ISIS is Sunni and Iran is Shia, making them natural enemies; fighting one helps the other.
From a humanitarian position, Obama doesn’t want to invade but the GOP doesn’t want refugees. There is no way Congress would approve the amount of foreign aid I think it would take to start solving problems over there.

Trump wants to reignite the nuclear arms race because he apparently doesn’t being able to destroy the world ten times is enough to scare Putin. If Putin wants to bury what is left of Russia’s economy with military spending, it’s to our long term advantage. It never ceases to amaze me how the GOP never learns that you can’t build the military, cut taxes, and balance the budget at the same time.

Clinton’s best moments were her two reviews of what she has accomplished since she was a young woman, even if she didn’t get everything done that she wanted.


Tim Kaine v Mike Pence

1: Harkening back to my debate days, I thought Kaine won on my flow sheet where I’d keep track of facts and arguments while Pence won on speaker points for keeping his cool and looking presidential (the morning after the debate there was already talk about Pence taking on Cruz in 2020 for the nomination). I might have even thought Pence was a cool guy if I didn’t know about his anti-gay rights and anti-feminist positions, but I digress. It isn’t a digression to point out that he lied several times when denying that Trump had said things accessible on youtube. When are politicians going to learn that youtube is our new magic mirror?

2: I don’t recall them answering half the questions. It seemed like they had their bullet points to get across and they only answered the moderator’s questions if they had time left over, which really makes a mockery of the whole thing and is disrespectful to Elaine Quijano. Kaine set a bad start by interrupting Pence virtually from the beginning.

3: Kaine’s best line was that if you don’t know the difference between dictatorship and leadership you should go back to fifth grade civics class. Pence’s best line was that a people are judged on how they treat their most vulnerable members; perhaps I liked it because I think that ideal supports a lot more liberal positions than conservative ones.

4: Pence argued that we shouldn’t use national tragedy to score political points. He has a point, but it is during national tragedies that the people are actually paying attention to whatever issue is highlighted by the event. That’s why both political parties still do it, but Pence is right that it feels tacky, which is why both parties score points by criticizing the other party for doing it.

5: Pence talked about other countries “flouting American power,” perhaps unaware that other nations have a right to self-determination. While I grant we should reassure weaker nations that they will be safe from stronger nations, we shouldn’t be doing it just because we want them within our sphere of influence instead of the other guy’s. If our foreign policies benefit other nations, they will be not just our allies but our friends.

6: Pence brought up the deplorables comment to say that Clinton’s campaign is more negative than Trump’s. My first reaction to that is to say that Clinton saying something once does not a campaign make (or break) while Trump says something like that every week. My mom’s first reaction was that calling half of Trump supporters deplorables doesn’t insult as many people as Trump’s comments about women, which are half the world’s population.


Clinton v Trump Round One

I know it’s unfashionable to wait and sleep on one’s comments before posting them, but I have and so be it. I’m sure all of you know I prefer HRC, and I did think she was more articulate, specific, and knowledgeable in the debate, but first I’ll start with what I agreed with Trump about.

I agreed that China should do more about North Korea, but I have no idea how to get China to deal with that roguish little kingdom. I think it is interesting that both candidates showed willingness to tell the NRA that the Second Amendment is not absolute. The third point I agree upon is that our allies should pay more for our mutual defense. One of the reasons Europe has socialized medicine is that we’ve subsidized their safety. I also agree that one of our big economic problems is the investment drain into China.

But Trump’s solutions to our economic problems is the same old GOP voodoo economics that is a cure worse than the disease. Trump said our infrastructure is like that of the Third World. That is an exaggeration but while I agree it should be improved that would mean raising taxes and he’s promised to cut them. The GOP has been blocking as much of Obama’s efforts as they could so I don’t think just because Trump has taken over the party life will get any better. He also said he was going to raise taxes on goods American companies make overseas and import to the US, yet he’s going to decrease taxes on the owners of those companies? That sounds like a sales tax, a way of punishing the people who buy them, not the people who make them.

Trump said he wants “law and order” but I would be more convinced if the law was equally applied. Everyone wants “law and order” but the politicians who shout about it the loudest want those laws applied to specific groups, not to people like themselves.

He also says he can make better deals, but I think he fails to understand the limitations upon even the best negotiators. The world has a structure that has to be worked within. One of his examples was military spending; he says he would get better defense contracts. But he doesn’t realize that every “next generation” of technology is ten times more expensive than the previous one. Adam Smith was complaining about it in his “Wealth of Nations” back in 1776, saying that the increasing expense of superior weaponry would be a drag on the British Empire. The Pentagon has also spread out military contracts to so many Congressional districts that cuts in military spending is politically difficult.

I thought it was funny when Trump said he had been audited every year for the last fifteen years. I wonder why? I also thought it was funny when he accused Clinton of not playing nice and running false ads when most of her ads are playing his own words in his own voice.

I was pleased with Clinton’s performance. She kept her cool, she said a lot of stuff I liked about the economy, and she defended Obama’s legacy, reminding people that what Trump didn’t like about Iraq was mostly Bush’s fault. Meanwhile Trump was a man of fewer words and worse words, but at least he avoided his ruder words.


Okoboji Day Six

I went back to the nature preserve with a camera. I took pictures of a bunny, a deer, a bridge, and lots of flowers and trees.

An agent is willing to read my entire novel “Liberty.” I’m more nervous now than before I sent it. I felt the same way after turning in term papers. One of my term papers for Exeter was 75% of the grade for the class (Critical Theory) and after I turned it in I was halfway back to the dorm when I had a panic attack and thought I might hyperventilate. There was no way I wanted to tell my Dad I’d need $20,000 to say in England another semester because I flubbed one paper (as it turns out, I “passed with merit” which is the English version of a B). You can imagine how nervous my Chinese friends could be, since studying abroad for them is a more significant economic investment. I don’t feel that nutty right now, but it will be preying on my mind for a while.

Day Seven
In the realm of being careful what you wish for, the temperature dropped so far overnight I woke up with a sore throat and had to go in search of a blanket. However, if you don’t include poems I wrote for my novels, I have written 43 poems since returning from Vietnam. I’m a little surprised by myself, but it’s only ten poems a month. When I lived in Portland hanging out with poets, I wrote 25 poems a month, but they weren’t as good. In the six months I lived in Vietnam, I only wrote eleven poems, but I was pretty distracted by novels and teaching. They absorb a lot of brain power.

Since it’s raining outside, the Internet is slow, and the TV sucks, today promises to be an exercise in resisting boredom. Thus a running tab of my writing seems in order.

Before breakfast: 1000
After breakfast: 800
Before lunch: 900

I finished reading “The New American Philosophers” by Andrew Reck which I’ve been reading on and off for a month or so. It was published in 1968 so “new” isn’t quite true anymore, but if you are looking to read an American philosopher or theologian this book is a nice guide to whose books you might want to read.

The dust in this cabin is getting to me. Dust in the comfy chairs, dust in the curtains, and now dust in my nose so I’m blowing it very quarter hour.

After lunch: 500
Did the dishes
After dishes: 600
Goofed off with family. Haven’t played Candyland in years, but my nephews like it. It was a short game due to kids’ “rules.”
Before dinner: 1400
As much as I like my parents, it is nice to have the house to myself for awhile. They are at a tea leaf convention hanging out with people who are also interested in antiques. So for a week I don't have to listen to the shrill, televised opinion page that is MSNBC's Morning Joe or anything at all about Donald Trump. Mika Brzezinski is a limo driver stuck driving a clown car. Without her, "Morning Joe" would be a bunch of guys shooting the breeze and joking around; they might as well film the show in a cafe.

I finished writing a short story about the lines between dreams and illusions. It's already 17,000 words and the only changes I can think of would make it even longer. Sometimes I think I have the writer's version of a death wish: the drive to write stories no one wants without being good enough to make them want it anyway.



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