Whitehall’s Liability Insurance

29 May

I wasn’t planning any expository posts for Infinite Regress yet, but one of the early reviews raised the issue of liability insurance for Whitehall School <grin>.

The short answer is that there’s no such thing.

The long answer is a little more complicated.

The Allied Lands have a greater understanding of the truth that ‘shit happens’ than the Western World. Life is not a bed of roses, they believe; one is born into danger and never leaves it until one dies. From the merest slave to the highest nobility, they all know that death can come at any moment, that the wheel of fortune may roll over and crush them at any moment. Something modern medicine would laugh off, in our world, would be fatal to them. Even the most powerful magicians know are unable to safeguard themselves completely.

Our world has adopted a ‘compensation culture’ that is steadily stripping the joy from life. We believe that all possibilities can be accounted for – and, when something goes wrong, someone is at fault, someone can be made to pay. A person who suffers a relatively minor injury (or the relatives of someone who winds up dead) can, with the help of an unscrupulous lawyer, wind up independently wealthy for life. On one hand, this leads to schools banning childish games like tag; on the other, this leads to a reluctance to admit responsibility for anyone (or even that mistakes were made) for fear of being made to pay for it.

This is stupid because there is no way you can remove the risk from life. There’s no way you can educate everyone about every risk, no way you can allow for natural human stupidity and rebelliousness, no way you can cover for every possible accident. A person may do everything right and still wind up dead or injured. And sometimes there’s no one who can be fairly – justly – blamed.

Whitehall is, to some extent, a military academy in the middle of a war zone. And the subject it teaches is immensely dangerous – Emily came close to killing someone after a few short weeks of training. The staff and students accept that things can go badly wrong, that students can and do get hurt; the school is not going to be shut down because of a handful of deaths or injuries. Their perspective on such events has more in common with the schools of 1900 than it does with 2016. And parents, recognising this too, have never withdrawn their children in vast numbers from the school.

That’s not to say that there won’t be questions asked if a student – or several students – wind up dead. There would be an inquiry. Truth spells would be used to make sure the facts – all of the facts – were gathered. But there would be no punishment for honest mistakes – or random accidents. If a student decided to defy instructions and wound up dead, no one would demand his tutor’s head on a platter. Even the youngest students at Whitehall are of an age, in the Allied Lands, where they are expected to be responsible for themselves.

Whitehall did suffer from reduced enrolment in the wake of Shadye’s attack on the school and the Mimic’s rampage. No one would have cared – much – if Shadye had marched his army up to the gates of Whitehall, but a near-successful attack on the school concentrated a few minds. At the same time, like I said, risk is part of life. And the important detail, as far as many parents were concerned, was that the school survived and Shadye died.

And no one in the school – at least, no one still living – can reasonably (by their standards) be blamed for the problems it faced.

UP NOW – Infinite Regress (Schooled In Magic 9)

24 May

An all-new story arc begins here!

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Emily returns to Whitehall, only to discover that things have changed. The new Grandmaster doesn’t want her in his school – and is only willing to accept her as a probationary student. If she wishes to remain at Whitehall, she must work for Professor Locke as an assistant while managing her studies and her growing relationship with Caleb. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she is also expected to mentor a bunch of younger students. Her time is no longer her own.

But when Professor Locke starts opening the tunnels under the school, hunting for the lost secrets of Old Whitehall, he triggers off a series of catastrophes that threaten to tear the school apart. As the staff and students struggle to survive, Emily is forced to solve a disturbing mystery …

… And figure out what it has to do with her private research, before the entire school comes to a final catastrophic end.

Download a free sample, then purchase the book from the links on this page.

Reviews Welcome!

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The Light At The End of the Tunnel (is hopefully not an oncoming train.)

21 May

Good news first, such as it is.

I did the second set of edits for Infinite Regress – Schooled in Magic 9 – yesterday and returned it to the publisher, so it looks as though we are still on track for a launch date of 5th June. Annoyingly, I will be heading to Malaysia on that day so keep an eye on the Facebook page – the blog post may be delayed by a day or two.

Second, I’m currently 16 chapters into Past Tense – Schooled in Magic 10. I’m hoping to get the first draft finished prior to going to Malaysia, but … well, let’s just say that my life has run into problems.

Third, the audio edition of Vanguard is now available and the audio edition of The Barbarian Bride is up for pre-order.

Now for the bad news.

To summarize a long story, my wife and I arranged to purchase a house in Edinburgh, with the intention of moving at the start of the month. (The agents claimed the house would actually be ready in march, but it wasn’t.) My plan was to move after Chosen … was finished, allowing us four weeks to settle into the house before we went on holiday to Malaysia. One thing led to another and while we have access to the house, to get it ready, we are not yet able to move in. We’ve been promised a move-in date of 3 June. This leaves us with no leeway whatsoever.

So what I’ve been trying to do, over the past couple of weeks, is get as much of the packing and moving done as possible. It’s frustrating because while my vast collection of books can be boxed up easily – I miss them already – most of the other stuff we need can only be moved on the day we go, which leaves us no time to actually organise it properly. (That’s why I’ve been taking days out from writing … sigh.)

But it should be over soon.

Chris

The Need For Empathy

17 May

“To understand all is to forgive all.”

“Coming from a legal man I find that remark astonishing.”

Blott on the Landscape

So … a week ago I got unfriended on Facebook.

The basic sequence of events went like this.

1 – someone (who shall rename nameless) posted an article.

2 – I wrote, rather snippily I will admit, an observation that the article boiled down to ‘everyone who disagrees with me is an idiot.’

3 – Said nameless person posted a rather snippy reply of his own and then unfriended me.

This bothered me so much that I was completely inconsolable for …oh, around five nanoseconds.

The article in question – which I have managed to lose, because Facebook doesn’t seem to record notifications more than a week old – basically asserted that everyone who voted for Donald Trump was stupid because there are no good reasons to vote for Donald Trump. I read it in amused disbelief because the article writer suffered from what I tend to call ‘rampant intellectualism,’ the belief that one is so clever that one is never wrong and anyone who disagrees is wilfully wrong. It is not an attitude conductive to healthy political debate.

Intellectualism is, at base, the ability to think through will happen if … And it isn’t really a bad thing. But what can turn it into a bad thing is the willingness – to borrow a line from Sherlock Holmes – to start altering facts to fit theories, rather than altering theories to fit observed facts. Because most intellectuals – in my experience – surround themselves with people who agree with them, it is quite easy for the intellectual to find himself trapped in an echo chamber and lose touch with the real world. Eventually, an intellectual will find himself supporting socialism or communism (or another system that basically relies on human nature being inhuman) because everyone he knows will support it. And, because he has lost touch with the real world, he will be unable to comprehend that not everyone will agree with him.

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This, I suspect, is what leads to the twin fallacies of ‘diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism.’

If you happen to live in an echo chamber – and far too many intellectuals do – it is easy to convince yourself that everyone is the same. Why not? Everyone you meet sounds exactly like you. But the real world is a very different place. People can and do think differently and one man’s idea of a good place to live might be very different from someone else’s idea of a good place. Or one man may feel that extending tolerance is a good idea and another may think that another word for a tolerant man is ‘sucker.’

And if you happen to believe that your view of the world is correct, you may come to believe that anyone who disagrees is evil, that they are driven by racism, sexism, phobias of one kind or another, etc. It’s easier to believe that they are fundamentally irrational, fundamentally evil, than try to comprehend that they might have good reasons to feel the way they do.

The problem here is that far too many people believe that understanding something – and showing empathy – is exactly the same as condoning it. I disagree. I can understand why a gay couple would want to punish a bakery that refused to bake them a wedding cake – I can understand it, but not condone it. Equally so, I can understand why people might want to vote for Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump without wanting to support either of them myself.

I can understand – hah – why some people might feel differently. Everyone constructs a narrative that shows themselves as the good guys and everyone else as the bad guys. To accept that the other side has a narrative is a step towards accepting that narrative. But you do not have to accept that narrative to understand that they do accept it themselves. I can flatly refuse to accept that religious fanatics have the right to riot and kill without losing sight of the fundamental fact that they believe they do.

You can, if you wish, look down on Trump’s supporters. But do you really think that will change their minds? Why should they listen to someone who is not only sneering at them – and most of Trump’s detractors pour scorn on his supporters – but doesn’t have the slightest comprehension of why they feel the way they do? Why should they?

As Oliver Cromwell said, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

Consider, if you will, that a person who disagrees with you may not be evil. Evaluate what they have to say. And if it doesn’t stand up to examination, you can explain – calmly and rationally – why it doesn’t work. Who knows? You might make a convert. But if it does stand up to examination, then … maybe you’re the one in the wrong. Changing your mind is not actually a bad thing, if you know why you’re doing it. Political debate doesn’t have to be a cutthroat sport.

In olden days, kings (the bad kinds, at least) used to shoot the messengers. And when they did, they eventually ran out of mail. And then they got blindsided by something they didn’t see coming because no dared to tell them about it. Now, people get unfriended on Facebook instead …

… Which may be more civilised, but the long-term result is just the same.

Deconstructing Gwen

14 May

WARNING! There are spoilers here for all four Royal Sorceress novels, including Sons Of Liberty. Read at your own risk.

Looking at Disney’s Mulan, I was struck by just how well the movie represented the twin faces of oppression facing young girls, both in China and other time periods; Regency England, for example. On one hand, we have the menfolk automatically dismissing the womenfolk as little more than property; fathers married their daughters off to best advantage, rather than for love. And it was devoutly hoped that their daughters would bear sons. The birth of a boy to carry on the family name was celebrated; the birth of a girl, who would leave the household once she was old enough to marry, was hardly worth mentioning. This was open, overt sexism.

But there was another angle. The main enforcers of aristocratic gender roles were rarely husbands and fathers, but mothers and mothers-in-law. These were women who were winners, by the standard of the time; the ones who set the rules for everyone else, everything from what clothes were in fashion to how courtships should be carried out. Young women who were growing into adulthood were expected to be guided by their elders, who would react very badly against women who bucked the trend and sought their own paths. As always in such societies, control of female sexuality was important; women who had sex before marriage, or outside marriage, were ostracized, even though their male counterparts rarely received more than a slap on the wrist. Indeed, as in many other ‘honour cultures,’ female ‘misbehaviour’ had to be harshly punished. It was the only way to restore the family’s honour.

[This is why, in Pride and Prejudice, everyone is so relieved when Lydia marries Wickham, who she eloped with. It gave the whole affair a legitimate gloss, instead of disgracing the family so badly that Lydia’s sisters wouldn’t have a hope of finding suitors themselves. And yet, by our standards, this is appalling.]

Women were not expected to look after themselves, either. The idea of an aristocratic woman actually fighting was absurd. (Men generally believed that women needed to be protected from Bad Things, seemingly unaware that women were often the victims of said Bad Things.) Women in Regency England knew the rules – a slap would warn a man that he’d gone too far, a scream would bring other men to assist – but they also knew they weren’t meant to fight themselves. Defending their virtue was a task best left to the men. Is it any surprise that women in these societies were regarded as property? Indeed, unless the bridal agreement made specific provision for it, everything that came with a woman when she married became the property of her husband.

It was into this world, an alternate Regency England, that Lady Gwendolyn (Gwen) Crichton was born.

Gwen was the second child of Lord Rudolf Crichton, an aristocrat who made money in trade (not something he would necessarily have been applauded for) before becoming the Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Her mother, Lady Mary did her duty as an aristocratic woman by giving birth to two legitimate children – David Crichton and Gwen. It should be noted that there are actually eight years between David and Gwen – Lord Rudolf believed, originally, that there was little to be gained by trying for a second child. A prospective second son would not have inherited much until Lord Rudolf became quite successful in trade (among other things, building airships.) Much of the family’s wealth was quite thoroughly entailed and would go to the firstborn son.

Gwen’s early life was shaped, at least in part, by maids rather than her parents. Like most aristocrats, Rudolf and Mary had a number of servants living in their house and they were the ones who raised Gwen from babyhood to childhood. Mary did, of course, spend time with her daughter, but not as much as might be expected. (This was perfectly normal in the aristocracy; indeed, at this point, David would have been sent off to boarding school.) Gwen would have been groomed for eventual marriage to someone her parents chose, more for their benefit than for hers. Her introduction to the ton would have marked the start of her parents quest for a suitable husband.

Matters didn’t work out as her parents expected. Gwen manifested magic at a fairly young age, using it so blatantly that there was no hope of suppressing the scandal. Young women with magic were expected to refrain from using it, although it wasn’t uncommon for families to find ways to covertly use their talents. Gwen was marked out as something special, even though most people knew nothing about Master Magicians. Her magic made her unmarriageable. Young girls her age heard the rumours and were frightened of her. It was the start of a long period of isolation.

It is to Rudolf and Mary’s credit that they didn’t simply abandon or lock up their magician daughter. Gwen was home-schooled (like most young girls of her class) by a number of tutors, few of whom stayed very long. The servants were scared of her; even her parents, despite having given birth to Gwen, wanted little to do with their daughter. David was less scared of her, but because he was considerably older he couldn’t be the playmate she wanted.

This isolation, from both the accepted role of a young woman and the use of her magic, spurred a forceful personality. Gwen experimented with her magic despite her parents forbidding her to use it. She wanted – needed – to find a place for herself, so she thrilled to the stories of magicians in combat and prayed for a chance to join them. This was, of course, thoroughly unladylike by the standards of her time. Her magic ensured that she would never be considered truly respectable.

As an aside, the true nature of the original Irene Adler’s victory over Sherlock Holmes makes perfect sense in context. Irene didn’t just want to get the King of Bohemia off her back, although that was obviously necessary. Irene wanted to regain her respectability as a married woman. This may make little sense to us, but by the standards of the time an opera singer and a former king’s mistress would be far from respectable. Marrying Geoffrey Norton gave her respectability as well as creating a MAD-scenario that would ensure she, as well as the king, had something to lose if she talked.

But as she turned sixteen, Gwen found herself coming to grips with the fact she would probably never be truly independent, let alone meet the social expectations of her class. Her behaviour grew worse, she pushed against her tutors out of growing bitterness at the hand life had dealt her. She knew she was smart, she knew she was capable … and yet she was denied a chance to shine, denied even the traditional role of a women. By the time Lord Mycroft and Master Thomas made the decision to recruit her – they knew what she was, even if she didn’t – she was reaching the end of her tether.

Gwen leapt at the chance to train under Master Thomas. The frustration of her previous life wouldn’t have allowed her to do anything else. Her natural intelligence and genuine aptitude for magic pushed her forward. Given a chance to shine, she was damned if she was going to do anything else. She was not going to let any of the junior (male) magicians deter her from doing her very best, particularly as she knew she was unique. Gwen is unquestionably both brave and ambitious.

And yet, she was also naive and sheltered. Her introduction to the seedier side of London – both from Master Thomas and Jack – shocked her. She found herself uneasily sympathetic with the rebels (because she’d been mistreated herself) and yet reluctant to throw her lot in completely with Jack. Unlike most young girls of her class – and young men too – she regarded the working classes as human, yet she also had that insight about the high-ranking aristocracy. Caught between two extremes, she had the courage to stand up and propose a compromise that prevented greater bloodshed – it helped that Master Thomas had broken his oaths so spectacularly – and then succeed him as the Royal Sorceress.

It was her own experiences that prompted her to adopt Olivia. Gwen knew what it was like to be looked down upon, or be regarded with fear, because one possessed dangerous magic. She wasn’t blind to the dangers of allowing a necromancer to live, but she didn’t see possessing such magic as a good reason to kill a young girl. Adopting Olivia made it harder for her to be killed out of hand by the government. Gwen was less able to be friendly, though; her inexperience of being a mother (she had a poor role model, by our standards) made it harder for her to approach the younger girl.

It was not an easy role to assume. Gwen was both young and female; Master Thomas might have known where the bodies were buried, but she didn’t. Many of Master Thomas’s political enemies assumed that his death was a chance to take power for themselves, altering the balance of power that dominated the Royal Sorcerers Corps. It was hard for them to take a young girl seriously, even if she was a Master Magician. Gwen was driven forward by the urge to prove herself as well as secure her power base, perhaps pushing herself too hard. It actually weakened her, in some respects, as she kept uncovering more and more secrets.

The discovery that her mother had committed adultery – and then had an abortion, a far more hazardous exercise in those days – made Gwen angry, rather than shocked. Lady Mary had acted like a perfect aristocrat for so long, keeping Gwen firmly under control; the discovery that her mother was a hypocrite was infuriating. Her anger propelled her into Sir Charles’s arms, awakening her sexuality as they made out for the first time. This, unfortunately, was at least partly an attempt by Sir Charles to manipulate her. By showing that he was not scared of her – and not inclined to try to usurp her power – he wormed his way into her heart, but he was planning to betray her. Gwen was distracted long enough to miss the clues that he was the murderer she was searching for; luckily, she caught on before it was too late.

Her upbringing does give her some unusual strengths. She has little trouble in posing as a maid, despite having to cope with a barrage of orders from her ‘mistress.’ (And the ever-present risk of starvations, beatings or sexual assault.) And yet, the experience of being a maid gave her some eye-opening insights into their lives. Anything bad that happened to a maid would be considered their fault. (Sir Sidney claimed to have kissed Gwen, but Lady Standish still blamed it on her ‘maid’.) By the time Gwen returned to London, she was privately committed to social reform.

Gwen’s great weakness, alas, is one she can’t help. She is not just a woman in a male-dominated world, but a woman with power. Her position is odd; she cannot claim the status of a ruling queen (like Elizabeth), yet she can fight on her own. And this is not enough to keep men from trying to take decisions for her, decisions they think she would have made if she were not hampered by her sex. She has no doubt that she would be replaced, if another suitable magician appeared; this drives her to prove herself, which sometimes leads to foolish or dangerous behaviour.

And yet, in many ways, she is still the daughter of the aristocracy.

She wasn’t expecting to find herself making love to Bruce, when they met openly for the first time. That was at least partly the result of their powers interacting, something that had never happened before. (She was attracted to Jack, back in the first book, but they never had time to start a relationship.) She had no way to anticipate the surge of emotion, yet the aftermath forced her to come to terms with what they’d done. It was possible that she would become pregnant, presenting her with the same dilemma that had faced Lady Mary. Keep the child, knowing that it would make her a social pariah, or do something to get rid of it.

An upper-class girl becoming pregnant out of wedlock would be a major scandal in Gregorian England. While young men had considerable sexual licence – George III and William IV both had illegitimate children – there could be no doubt over the paternity of a wife’s child. (This is why female adultery was considered far more serious than male adultery.) Gwen dared not become pregnant without being married – but she had already gone too far to avoid the danger. She needed to come up with a way to marry Bruce, if necessary, that would ensure their child would have a legitimate father.

Her solution, by our standards, was cold-hearted. She had already laid the bones of an agreement between the Sons of Liberty and the British Government. Her proposal to Bruce would solidify it, ensuring there was a blood-tie binding the factions together. (And providing an excuse to marry quickly, if necessary.) It would also have the added benefit of linking a second Master Magician, who was desperately needed, to the Royal Sorcerers Corps. Bruce considered the advantages and disadvantages, then agreed.

She had the advantage, to be fair, that Bruce was not entirely aristocratic in outlook, despite his father. He was not inclined to be insistent on a tough marriage contract – one that would have made Gwen his property or given him rights over her possessions. And he was just as unwilling as her, for different reasons, to abandon an unborn child. (Bruce is descended from William Franklin, who was himself the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin.) His father agreed to the match quite quickly, once he got over the shock.

Being married is one thing all women of that era were expected to do. But for Gwen, it’s only part of her life. The remainder is very different.

The Force Awakens – Review

10 May

One problem with having a baby is that going to see a movie when it is new is impossible, so watching The Force Awakens had to wait until it came out on DVD. And it says a great deal about the movie that I watched it in three instalments, rather than sitting down and letting it play from start to finish.

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The Force Awakens has two major problems, both of which need to be acknowledged before we proceed. On one hand, it isn’t Heir to the Empire. The Expanded Universe had its problems, but the Thrawn Trilogy books were outstanding and, until recently, considered the Episodes VII-IX. The Force Awakens does not live up to them. And, on the other hand, The Force Awakens follows the plotline of A New Hope so closely that it’s tempting to accuse the scriptwriter of plagiarism. Even without the multitude of spoilers, there are few true surprises in this movie.

Heir to the Empire and its sequels built on the ending of Return of the Jedi. The Force Awakens effectively goes back to the start.

That said, there are a number of good moments in the movie. Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader, but in many ways that was a good choice. Vader could not be outdone, so the producers chose to go with a whiny little man-child than a abused, tormented and ultimately tragic character. Ren is, in fact, a stand-in for the problems we face today; students and other youngsters who literally don’t know how lucky they are to live in the modern world. There is no logical reason for Ren to embrace the dark side – unlike Darth Vader – and perhaps that is his ultimate tragady. If Darth Vader was a reflection of fears from the 70s – and Palpatine was a reflection of fears from the post-9/11 world – Ren is a reflection of the problems we face today.

Kylo Ren: Han Solo. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.

Han: Take off that mask. You don’t need it.

Kylo Ren: What do you think you’ll see if I do?

Han: The face of my son.

This actually leads to the best part of the movie, the final confrontation between Han Solo and his son.

I like to think that Han and Leia would be happy after Return of the Jedi – they certainly were throughout the Expanded Universe – but in The Force Awakens they are split-up and probably devoiced. Han goes back to being a smuggler … why? But I forgive that because the final meeting is perfect. Han knows he’s screwed up with his son – although it’s hard to understand why Ben turned out so poorly – and he’s prepared to risk his life to save Ben from himself. And even in death – a scene that bears more than a passing resemblance to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death – Han still loves his son.

Unfortunately, the weaknesses in The Force Awakens drag it down.

Of the three new characters – Poe, Finn and Rey – I find that I like Finn the best. Finn has come in for quite a bit of knocking online (just like Rey) but Finn as a character has room to grow. And he does grow over the course of the movie. Poe, by contrast, remains static throughout the movie.

And then we have Rey, Rey who is far too close to being a Mary Sue.

A Mary Sue is a character who is unreasonably good. Han, Luke and Leia are not Mary Sues; they grow and develop throughout the original trilogy. Han is the most capable of the three of them – which makes sense, because he’s definitely the most experienced character – but Rey has no reason to be so good. She’s a superb mechanic, a superb pilot and an excellent fighter (with blaster, staff and lightsaber); she shows more ability to use the force than Luke did (in all three movies) and fights Ren to a standstill despite never having used a lightsaber before. (Ren was wounded, after all, but still … he should have stomped her effortlessly (unless part of the point is that Ren isn’t anything like as good as he thinks)). And Rey has a tragic backstory …

The reason that Leia is not a Mary Sue is that while she is good, she is not unreasonably good. She is defiant when captured – perhaps hoping to gourd her captors into killing her before she breaks – but she doesn’t free herself. She can’t. And yet, once she’s free, she helps plot the escape from the Death Star, kills Jabba with the chains he put her in and helps destroy the shield generator on Endor. Leia grows and develops throughout the trilogy, like Luke.

Rey does not. Indeed, the only time she comes close to losing is when she is captured and taken to the enemy base. And she is very quick to free herself.

Leaving the characters aside, there are other problems. The plot mimics A New Hope far too closely. The Super Death Star – sorry, Starkiller Base – is awesome, but we’ve seen it before – twice! And does the First Order really have the resources of the Galactic Empire? This is not the time for investing vast amounts of money in a giant base, even if it is a terror weapon of great power. Surely, fighting a more conventional campaign would be a better idea. And then there’s the odd relationship between the Resistance and the New Republic. And surely destroying a single planet will not be enough to put the New Republic out of business permanently …

On its own, The Force Awakens isn’t a bad movie. Like I said, there are parts of it I enjoyed – unlike the reboot of Star Trek, which was awful.

But it doesn’t live up to Heir to the Empire.

Thrawn Trilogy

An Unpalatable Choice

7 May

This is the fourth in my series on the US Presidential Election.

Barring a fluke – Hilary Clinton getting indicted, Donald Trump being assassinated – America will go to the polls in 2016, faced with an unpalatable choice between a woman who is surrounded by scandal and a man who is very definitely a demagogue. Correctly predicting a Trump nomination – I don’t see how he can lose it now – gives me little pleasure, nor does watching the humiliation engulfing the RNC or the very different humiliation looming threateningly over the DNC.

I’ll say this now, right from the start. I blame the elites.

Donald Trump is not the cause of the problems besetting the Republican Party. He is a symptom, an antibody thrown up by the widening gulf between the RNC and the Republican Base. The RNC has consistently failed to defend the principles of conservatism, let alone take a stand against the endless series of disasters fostered on America by President Obama; indeed, it has taken a side against its own base. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the voters have rejected the establishment candidates and chosen a man who is very definitely not part of the system. The GOP’s failure lies in its refusal to recognise the growing anger and frustration faced by its voters and respond to it. Trump is precisely what they deserve.

Hilary Clinton, by contrast, is a major cause of the problems facing the DNC. The idea that a candidate can still run for President when she is beset with as many scandals as Hilary – ranging from the Clinton Foundation’s foreign donors to a FBI-led investigation into her email server – is absurd. Anyone lesser would have been in jail long ago, a point made time and again by her enemies. The DNC was dangerously unwise to allow Hilary to run with no competent opposition – Bernie is almost certainly unelectable – and its failure to provide an acceptable candidate is going to cost it badly.

But I will discuss these issues later. First, a look at the candidates.

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The problem facing Hilary Clinton is that she is both unlikable and untrustworthy. She has proven herself willing to shift her stance on everything from Wall Street to the Iraq War, constantly angling to maintain her electability. This may make political sense, but it creates the very strong impression of a woman who has no values at all. Where Bush stood his ground in Iraq, Hilary flip-flopped. She is surrounded by people of dubious repute, including at least one person with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Her reluctance to release the transcripts of her Wall Street speeches suggests, very strongly, that there is something in those speeches that will end her campaign overnight. And yet, not releasing them only enhances the aroma of scandal surrounding her.

By any reasonable standard, Hilary Clinton is unsuited to be President.

She has been part of the establishment well before she married Bill Clinton. Her supporters claim that this has given her a great deal of experience, but it cannot be denied that she has failed to learn from mistakes, both her own and others. She was, among other things, the prime mover pushing for intervention in Libya, yet it did not occur to her that the result of overthrowing the government would be chaos. When Bush invaded Iraq, he had an army on the ground – Clinton did not. The problems plaguing Libya and the Middle East now owe a great deal to Hilary Clinton.

This is not her only foreign policy disaster. Referring to the Falklands as a ‘colonial’ issue alienated the British Government and gave strength to Argentina factions who want to invade the islands, completely ignoring the will of the islanders themselves. It might have sounded good in America (did it?) but it caused no end of problems outside the United States.

Furthermore, what we know about her conduct in Benghazi is enough, on its own, to reject her for any position of power. I did not believe – and I was not alone in this – that the attack was a spontaneous response to a movie that hardly anyone had heard of. We now know that Hilary preferred to lie, to blame the attack on a movie rather than admit that the administration’s plans for Libya had gone off the rails. Hilary was prepared to create a ‘grievance’ narrative rather than remember that we are at war and our enemies see no reason to uphold the conventions of warfare.

But let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Hilary was actually telling the truth (or believed she was.) A more disturbing picture arises. Hilary was prepared to surrender the right of free speech – the right of free expression – to a bunch of terrorists. Muslims do not have the right to riot and kill ambassadors – or anyone – merely because they feel that their religion is being insulted. To concede that this is not the case, for whatever reason, is merely doing the bad guy’s work for them. Her conduct – both during the attack and afterwards – suggests a mentality that refuses to either accept blame or learn from experience.

The Clinton Foundation represents another major liability for Hilary. It is hard to be certain that the Foundation is really nothing more than a giant money-laundering operation, but there are good reasons for believing that that is indeed the case. Just who was giving the money to the Clintons, back when Hilary was Secretary of State, and what did they expect in return? I rather doubt that anyone was prepared to shell out millions of dollars just to hear Bill Clinton speak. There was a quid pro quo involved.

And, finally, we have the email server issue.

Hilary’s conduct in setting up a server to store emails – and classified documents – during her period as Secretary of State is utterly impossible to justify. People have been fired and jailed for breaking regulations on a far smaller scale. There is, quite simply, no way Hilary did not know that what she was doing was criminal. Given that the server was supposed to have been wiped, it is impossible to be certain just how many such documents might have been on the server, or who might have had access to them. Indeed, charges of high treason – that server was probably not secure – are not impossible.

The server itself, as has been noted online, is the smoking gun. Bernie Saunders might have been right when he asserted that the country was sick of hearing about Hilary’s emails, but I suspect that people were sick that she hadn’t been removed from the campaign and jailed. The server alone is proof of criminal activity – and a disregard for rules and regulations more suited to an absolute monarch than a presidential candidate. Hilary’s constant attempts to dismiss the entire issue are merely prolonging the agony.

Quite apart from those scandals, Hilary is simply out of touch with the average American. To assert that the Clintons were broke when they left the White House is thoroughly absurd. It was either a bald-faced lie or proof of gross financial incompetence. She has been part of the establishment for so long that she doesn’t know what it is like to have to struggle to put food on the table, or cope with a groaning government bureaucracy run by people who could pass for Dolores Umbridge.

Furthermore, there are far too many other unanswered questions. Her health is a matter of some concern – Hilary is 68 years old, while Obama entered the Oval Office at 46, George Bush at 55 and Bill Clinton at 47. (Donald Trump is 69, but I don’t believe similar questions have been raised.) There are plenty of suggestions online that her health simply isn’t up to the stress of the job, regardless of her other qualities. Being President puts a colossal strain on the incumbent. Obama, Bush and Clinton have all aged decades over their terms in office.

A secondary problem is that Hilary is the wife of a former President. Quite apart from the problems of tacitly accepting a political dynasty – Jeb Bush lost quickly, at least in part, because he was the third Bush to run for office – Bill Clinton will cast a long shadow over her campaign. He may do something that will undermine his wife – there are suggestions he did precisely that during the 2007-8 period. And even if she wins, quite a few of America’s enemies – and so-called allies like Saudi Arabia – will assume she’s nothing more than a mouthpiece for her husband. The misogyny that pervades Saudi Arabia will make it hard for them to believe that she is actually President in her own right – and that doesn’t even take into account the simple fact that such cultures look down on women.

This leads to another point. To argue that Hilary will be good for women is to ignore the simple fact that she not only stood by her husband when he was accused of having an affair with an intern (and lying under oath, which was the rather more serious issue behind it), but effectively served as her husband’s enforcer in trying to keep his other lady-friends out of the public eye.

And as for the suggestion that this is somehow her ‘turn,’ I can only roll my eyes. The President of America is the single most powerful person in the world. It is not a post that can be or should be handled out according to some arcane notion of ‘fairness.’

The possible outcomes for Hilary Clinton are not good.

· She may be indicted prior to the formal nomination or the election (or the Justice Department will refuse to bring charges, leading to resignations, leaks and a massive scandal). If that happens, I don’t see how she can continue to run for President. And if she did, Trump would make mincemeat out of her.

· Alternatively, Obama may pardon her for any or all of her actions. If so, Trump will brand it a colossal case of political corruption – and he will be right.

· She may win the election, if the investigation can be stalled indefinitely, only to find herself facing savage threats and attempted impeachments from the Republican-dominated Congress.

· She may win the election, only to find that she is a lame duck. Her credibility, already shot to hell, would take a nosedive. Putin (and other enemies) will have plenty of leverage to bring to bear on her, including threatening to accuse her of taking Russian money. (She may well have done, but even if she didn’t … who’s going to believe her?)

· Or she may lose, in which case her enemies will start trying to bring her down as she takes the blame for the defeat.

In short, I’m thrilled that a woman can run for President. But does it really have to be her?

And it says a great deal about Hilary that Donald Trump seems the stronger candidate.

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It is difficult to form any sort of coherent and accurate impression of Donald Trump.

I blame this squarely on the media. The media loathes Trump, which has ensured that vast numbers of increasingly-alarmist pieces have been written, attacking Trump and trying desperately to discredit him. Every little gaffe he has made has been converted into a towering mistake that dooms his campaign, only to have the media recoil in horror as Trump keeps going. Indeed, this has long-since passed the point of rationality. Trump’s intention of appointing people who actually knew what they were doing was roundly mocked, even though it was quite a sensible suggestion. The smartest man in the world could not hope to keep abreast of everything facing the US Government.

The words ‘racist,’ ‘sexist, ‘bigot’ and ‘fascist’ have long since lost their meaning, simply because far too many others – who are very clearly nothing of the sort – have had those charges hurled at them. It is very difficult to argue convincingly that Trump is a fascist when the word has been used so often that people are simply tuning it out. The media has cried wolf so many times that, like the villagers in the story, the population is no longer listening. If Trump is a monster, his rise owes a great deal to the media paving the way.

Before we go on, therefore, it is necessary to acknowledge that Trump has done the United States two vast favours.

First, he has soundly discredited the media’s claim to be arbiter of a political campaign, the ultimate judges of who is and who isn’t worthy to sit in the Oval Office. As I noted before, the media watched Republican candidates for ‘gaffes’ and then built a mountain out of a molehill, forcing candidates to either grovel before the cameras (and thus discredit themselves in the eyes of their voters) or withdraw from the campaign (thus depriving the GOP of candidates who might actually have appealed to their base.

Second, he has called attention to a great many elephants in the room. The constant problems – ranging from job losses to increased crime rates – caused by illegal immigration can no longer be ignored. Nor can the government’s reluctance to do anything about it, even though ‘illegal immigration’ is a crime by definition. Candidates who tip-toe around the issue of Black Lives Matter (with the obvious collery that white lives don’t matter) and Islamic Extremism have watched in horror as Trump pointed the finger squarely at the elephant, the problems that politicians prefer to pretend don’t exist.

And it has paid off for him. Trump’s constant rise in the polls is a reflection of just how much those matter to ordinary voters – and just how ignorant the other candidates are of ordinary voters. It is dangerously unwise to dismiss a man who has engineered a successful insurgency against a strongly-entrenched elite. Trump is many things, some good and others bad, but he is very far from stupid.

Trump does have his good points. He has considerable experience of business (he has had successes and he has had failures) and he is used to high-level discussions. He is smart enough to know when to delegate, when to hire someone more experienced to handle specific matters; he’s tough enough to keep going, rather than backing down and surrendering at the slightest hurdle. His tough persona will be a very definite advantage when dealing with foreign affairs – President Obama is seen as a feckless weakling and Hilary will be seen as more of the same – allowing him to negotiate from a strong position. And his blunt refusal to be politically correct will make it easier for him to identify problems and tackle them.

And, it should be conceded, he doesn’t have anything like the baggage that Hilary Clinton will bring to the White House.

It is hard to get a sense of just how capable he is, thanks to the media. Did Trump mess up in Colorado or did he deliberately allow Cruz to win an unopposed contest (calculating that he couldn’t win) so he could claim, with some justification, that the rules were rigged against him? A dangerous mistake or a brilliant political coup? Is his blustering style the mark of a bully, a braggart … or merely a strong negotiator making it clear that he will not be a pushover? (I’ve known hagglers who often deliberately overacted before allowing themselves to be talked down.) We simply don’t know.

Trump’s weaknesses, however, are legion. He is blunt, in-your-face; he’s a bad winner, let alone a sore loser. His experience of working with the elites is considerable, but he has never been a governor or even a senator. He can be incredibly crude and, while his refusal to allow his gaffes to define him is admirable, it is often off-putting. At base, Trump is capable of being inspiring, of speaking to the crowds in a way Hilary cannot match, but is there any substance under the style?

It is easy, absurdly easy, to carp and criticize when one is not charged with actually Doing Something about the problem. Anyone in opposition can gleefully harp on and on about the President’s mistakes, unaware – or uncaring – of the limitations facing the President. Trump is quite right to point to many problems in modern-day America, but can President Trump actually handle them? Trump – a businessman – has better reason than Obama or Hilary to know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, yet is he willing to do the hard work to create long-lasting solutions? Or, like Obama, will he opt for the ‘quick fix’ in the certain knowledge that future generations will have to pick up the bill?

His enemies have charged that he is a ‘racist,’ ‘sexist, ‘bigot’ and ‘fascist.’ Such charges have been ignored by his supporters, for the very simple reason that they too have endured such attacks. They know, at a very basic level, that such charges depend on the actual situation. ‘Bigotry’ requires irrationality. To hate the French on the grounds they eat frogs and snails is irrational (and stupid), to dislike and distrust immigrants because the crime rate goes upwards sharply after their arrival is rational.

The fundamental question, now that Trump has effectively secured the nomination, is … what now? Trump will have to grapple with issues of policy, rather than merely pontificating – there comes a time when mere demagogy is not enough. Trump will have to switch from crushing his rivals in the GOP to proving that he can best Clinton as a President. He will need to take his very vague – and sometimes contradictory – policy ideas and turn them into something reasonably concrete.

The best outcome is that Trump matures into a Reagan-like politician, selecting capable people for his cabinet (his choice for VP should make a good indicator of how he intends to proceed) and proves that he can work with Congress to address the concerns of his voters. It will not be easy, but it should be doable. If he will, of course, is a different question.

The worst outcome is that Trump will be blocked at every move – or threatened with impeachment more or less immediately. If that happens, Trump will probably follow Obama’s path and start issuing executive orders of questionable legality, turning the federal government against his critics. Trump would not need to be a Hitler-style dictator, in this position, to create a nightmare. Bear in mind that a sizable percentage of the country supports him – what will they do, one might ask, if Trump is effectively knifed in the back by the GOP before he can do anything? Obama has created very dangerous precedents for the future of the United States.

Or it could be something in between.

I don’t think I like Donald Trump very much. Bluster is one thing – and Trump is good at bluster – but actually governing is quite another. I will watch the next few months with interest.

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The elites – the RNC and the DNC – have no one to blame for the current mess but themselves (and the media).

It was a dangerous mistake for the GOP to work so effectively against the Tea Party – but really, it was merely the culmination of a series of disastrous domestic policy errors. The GOP has allowed itself to be cowed by the liberal media and, to a very large extent, unduly influenced by radical factions. Opposition to gay marriage, for example, was largely pointless. If I may use a playground analogy, the GOP wanted to join the ‘cool kids,’ which meant turning away from its roots. The failure to provide an effective basis for conservative thought – and the willingness to betray the Tea Party – alienated large numbers of republicans.

Worse, because the GOP was so completely immersed in the political elite, it lost touch with its voters. Party members elected GOP majorities into office – and then discovered that the GOP was unable or unwilling to push back against the liberal elite. Jeb Bush didn’t have a hope of winning because he didn’t speak to voters. The backing of the GOP elite was nowhere near enough to push his campaign into high gear. Their voters wanted a candidate who was not part of the establishment (or, at least, successful at convincing people that he wasn’t part of the establishment.) Jeb Bush is just as much an establishment figure as Hilary Clinton.

The GOP now has nowhere to turn. If the RNC supports Trump, he is unlikely to be grateful; indeed, he may see it as his due. Why should he be grateful when the GOP elite has worked hard to sabotage his campaign? In the meantime, the RNC will be tainted with Trump’s brand – the Democrats will accuse them of being Trump supporters. But if the RNC doesn’t support Trump – perhaps by running a third-party candidate – Trump will cry foul (and he will have a point.) Should Trump lose, under such circumstances, the elites will be blamed – and probably correctly. The GOP elite is screwed. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

On the face of it, the DNC appears to have done a better job. The establishment candidate – Hilary Clinton – has probably secured the nomination. But the DNC has good reason to fear for the future. If Hilary is indicted, the DNC will have to scramble to find a replacement at such short notice; even if she isn’t, she simply isn’t a very likeable candidate.

Worse, perhaps, there is no guarantee that Bernie Sanders voters will switch to Hilary, assuming that Sanders doesn’t attempt a third party run. (If he does, he will split the Democrat vote and probably hand victory to Trump.) The perception that the nomination process was rigged in Hilary’s favour (and that the DNC was prepared to use all sorts of dirty tricks to push Sanders out of the contest) will encourage Sanders voters to either stay home or cast their vote for Trump. Why should they not? The idea that Hilary can just claim the nomination without having to fight for it, particularly with criminal charges hanging over her head, is outrageous. And if the DNC chooses to accept her, it would be hard to blame their voters for walking away.

This is, I suspect, an inevitable result of the two-party system. The only thing holding both parties together is the awareness that one party splitting, while the other remains intact, will ensure that the intact party is dominant for the foreseeable future. America might well be better off if there were four or five parties, instead of two, but it is hard to imagine such a system arising without serious consequences.

Furthermore, the elites live in isolated communities and echo chambers. How many of them actually meet ‘commoners’ outside carefully-controlled media events? How many of them are actually aware of just how many problems face those who don’t get to swim in a slush fund of money, passed around by corporations who are hoping to influence the candidates? Their ignorance of the real world blinds them. They cannot hope to grapple with the problems facing the country because they don’t know what those problems are!

In short, perhaps it is time for the elites to step down and allow new blood to enter the political mainstream. But I doubt the elites will go quietly.

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The mainstream media (MSM) adds another nasty wrinkle to the growing political crisis.

Put simple, the MSM long since lost sight of its job – to report the facts. The media chose, instead, to shrill for the candidates it liked and deliberately slant its work against the candidates it didn’t like. There was no comprehensive vetting of Barrack Obama’s suitability for office back in 2007-8, while Sarah Palin was hacked apart by the media. Sober, responsible journalism is dead – the media establishment killed it.

It is ironic that the MSM, choosing to slander the GOP by turning Trump into their poster boy for the republican side of the election, actually boosted his presence. But that is not surprising. The media is trusted so little, I suspect, that every hit piece they wrote on Trump only boosted his support. Trump looked like the plucky little underdog who stood up to the big bad media complex – and it worked. One may argue that Trump is nothing of the sort, but it hardly matters. In politics, perception is all that matters.

In choosing to lash out at any GOP candidate who made a gaffe, a tiny slip of the tongue, the media cleared the field of prospective GOP nominees who could have bridged the gulf between the RNC and its voters. In doing so, they ensured the rise of Donald Trump …

… And if Trump really is the monster they claim, they are not long for this world.

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And now we come to the final question, perhaps the most important one. Why are so many people committing themselves to Donald Trump? And, for that matter, Bernie Sanders?

In some ways, this is an easy question to answer. In others, it’s very hard. And, if you don’t mind, I’m going to address it in a somewhat roundabout fashion.

The term ‘quantum of solace’ brings to mind the James Bond movie. But the term actually comes from a short story by Ian Fleming, a story that barely features James Bond. The morale of the story, made explicit at the end, is that any relationship can last, can survive anything, as long as the partners still have mutual feelings for each other. But when that feeling, that ‘quantum of solace,’ is gone, the relationship is over. Indeed, the partners become horrendously cruel towards one another.

And the relationship between the American population at large and the political elite has eroded to the point where that ‘quantum of solace’ is gone.

The people who vote for Trump feel a multitude of emotions. They feel that they have been disenfranchised by a liberal elite. They feel that their (very reasonable) concerns are mocked and disparaged, when they are not ignored. They feel angry and frustrated at having to do battle with a federal bureaucracy that seems to take an unholy delight in tormenting them. They feel that the rules are different for different people – and that they are on the bottom rung. They feel as though they are struggling desperately to remain afloat, knowing that one disaster will be enough to destroy their lives. And they feel as though they are blamed for each and every evil in the world, as if they have to bear the burden of this ‘original sin’ for the rest of eternity.

Their problems take many forms. It is low-educated people recoiling in horror at unrestricted immigration … because the immigrants are competition for scarce jobs. It is people being told, by politicians who live in gated and guarded communities, that no one ever needs a gun for self-defence. It is rioters on the streets being allowed room to destroy. It is people discovering that their teenage children cannot read and write because the teacher is incompetent, but they cannot have the teacher fired because of some absurd federal rule. It is men having to pay for the upkeep of children they did not sire, or fathers being told they have to keep paying child support while no longer being allowed to see their children. It is collage students being indoctrinated into social justice rather than trained for a proper career. It is people dying because the EPA has poisoned the water, knowing that heads will never roll.

It is people losing their jobs because they say the wrong thing and someone decided to take offense, it is blacks being allowed to hurl racist crap at whites while whites are not allowed the same latitude, it is watching helplessly as jobs are shipped overseas and prices rise, because some ‘green’ governor has decided to invest in so-called renewable energy that is far more costly than nuclear or coal-fired plants. It is regulations that ruin small businesses while big corporations dump on the little guy or replace him with automaton. It is minimum wage hikes that cost jobs. It is ordinary people losing everything, despite doing everything right, because of the banking crisis. It is a thug and a thief being beatified, after their deaths, merely for being black. It is …

I could go on, but why bother?

The arrogance and consension of liberals is maddening. Telling a person who is holding down two part-time jobs (and struggling to keep afloat) that he should ‘check his privilege’ is insulting beyond words. What privilege? Trump voters – or the people who would become Trump voters – have been savaged. Their reasonable concerns about immigration, for example, have been twisted out of shape and used to brand them racists. And yet they know damn well they are not racists! Their concerns are reasonable and yet they are ignored.

For far too long, the elites have been sneering at the common voter. “You can’t win,” they say. “And if it looks like you will win, we will change the rules just to make sure you can’t win.”

Why should they not vote for Trump? He’s the only one listening to them.

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It is not an exaggeration to say that the United States is facing the most serious crisis since the civil war.

The root cause of the problem lies in the massive expansion of the federal government and, not coincidentally, the belief amongst liberals that government can be used to reshape the country to their liking. Unfortunately, the more one demands from the government – and the more power one offers the government – the less it can actually do for you. The people who make decisions, therefore, become disconnected from the rest of the population and wind up viewing them as labels or numbers, rather than individuals. This has spurred the rise in demands for ‘social justice’ because ‘social justice’ sees people as groups, rather than individuals. And that is fundamentally unjust.

And so it spurs resistance. Anger is rising. The much-condemned growth of white nationalism is a response to the belief (real or not) that white interests are being sacrificed to please other groups. The average American is sick and tired of being told that evil white men are responsible for all the evils of the world, or that thuggish behaviour is somehow acceptable if the perpetrator can claim to be responding to provocation or grievances that have nothing to do with his helpless victims. In closing down free discussion, in hammering anyone who dares to speak up, the liberals have unleashed a tidal wave of incoherent anger that may be terrifyingly destructive, when it breaks free. The kicked dog, kicked once too often, is now growling warningly. It will not be long before he bites.

Indeed, Hilary and Trump, as I noted above, are symptoms of political decline. On one hand, we have the ultimate establishment insider, a former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State who hobnobs with Wall Street bankers and takes money from all and sundry, a woman who would be in jail if she was one of the little people. Her candidacy is a joke in very poor taste. On the other hand, we have a demagogue who promises much and may not be able to deliver. His candidacy is a joke in very poor taste.

And if either the RNC or the DNC had actually realised there was a problem before it was too late, the country might not have come to such a pass.

I wish I was sanguine about the future, but I’m not.

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