I have been writing a series of 500-word short-shorts around an Ambassador Barbarella, a.k.a. Darth Barbara, in response to WritersDigest.com’s writing prompts. Now that I have almost 20 “chapters”, I have collected them on a new page, accessible through the “Darth Barbara Saga” menu above, in case anyone wants to read them in sequence, although it is obviously far from complete. Keep checking on the writing prompts pages for future installments!
It has now been 12 months since the election of Donald Trump as president, and almost 9 months since his inauguration. In May, I posted an article by a friend, which was originally written to advise me on how to invest in these “interesting times”. Well, it turned out to be the most visited page on my site—much to my dismay, of course, to think that that was more interesting than my own writing!
So, my friend and I decided to do the responsible thing and actually hold up the investment advice up to scrutiny. Something all investment advisors should do, that is.
If you knew my friend, you would not be surprised at all by the massive, thorough, and detailed tome that arrived yesterday, full of triumphs, mea culpas, caveats, and solicited and unsolicited advice. Investment advice is only as good as its performance, so you be the judge!
Investing in the Age of Trump, 6-Month Review
First off, if I am now going to be a pundit, I need to do some disclosures. 1) I do not follow my own advice, and neither should you, because it would be unwise to do everything someone tells you to do. 2) Relatedly, this analysis/advice is specifically geared toward Jennifer’s financial situation, as a person who will be retiring in a few years and has modest retirement savings to complement a decent Social Security income, and has some serious medical expenses coming up. Your situation is likely different.
I am using the publication date of the original article, 5/11/17, as the baseline for the 6-month review, and the closing price on Friday, 11/10/17, as the 6-month mark. For the baseline for Trump Trade in general, I am using the closing price as of 11/9/2016, the day of the 2016 general election. I could use 11/10/2016 as starting point, to make it a neat 12-month comparison, or 11/9/2017 as the end point—and sidestep the embarrassing gold crash yesterday—but these dates were picked a few weeks ago, and probably will not make a huge difference in the end.
I am also ignoring dividends, mainly because I am feeling lazy. I don’t think it will make a huge difference in whether I was right or wrong; if it does, someone else can do the work to prove it, but, if anything, my figures will probably look better, since my advice leans toward value stocks anyway.
As you can see in the accompanying spreadsheet, I’ve made some good calls and blown some big calls.
I am writing little fragments for my planned book using randomly selected prompts from William Wallace Cook’s Plotto. The story takes place in a world where there are three genders, and the language has no personal pronouns. This exercise is a proof-of-concept to see whether such a novel can be written.
Plotto 212(b) A, having carried out successfully an enterprise instigated by capricious B, renounces her love.
Tshdpog wanted to ignore the urgent knocking on the door. The identity of the knocker was obvious. And the urgency meant only one thing. Mk was here, and was in danger.
The knocking became louder and more urgent.
Ignoring the knocks would be pointless. The deed was done, and Tshdpog needed to face the consequences. If the knocking became any louder, the sound will be heard by all, and there was no avoiding the questions, from people who did not understand.
With a sigh, Tshdpog went up to the door, and unlocked it. “Hush! Come in! Quickly!”
Mk’s eyes seemed to think that everything needed to be said as loudly and clearly as possible. The eyes of enthusiasm. Love. Loyalty. Eagerness of a bloodhound child.
“Is that it?”
Mk held up the package eagerly. “Yes.”
Tshdpog ordered coldly, “Mk needs to leave, now.”
“The searchers will be here. The searchers will follow Mk here.”
“The searchers do not know where Mk Is!”
“Mk’s whereabouts will be known, and Mk will be arrested. So will Tshdpog, unless…”
“If Mk loves me, Mk must leave. And go far away. Hide.”
“What? No! Mk must be with Love. Mk has brought the hand of Keetam to be with Love.”
“Impossible! If Mk is here, death will come to all here.”
Mk seemed to stop breathing for a moment. A cloud came across the face, which seemed to realize something. “Tshdpog does not love Mk…”
“That is not so. Tshdpog’s love is true, and Love is…”
“Tshdpog did not want the hand of Keetam to be with Mk, to seal our love, to…” Mk dropped the package onto the floor, and the content, a fragment from a desecrated statue, rolled out of the wrap. In the clutched hand was the Jewel of Promise, a symbol of love to the devout, a symbol of sacred heritage to the heretics. “Tshdpog has done this for the Emissary, fooled Mk into doing this for the Emissary!”
“You speak nothing true! Get a hold of Mk’s mind. Only, searchers will be here, and if…”
Mk’s eyes were burning with resentment and grief. Mk had truly believed in Tshdpog’s love. “Mk will leave, and will forever be banished.”
“No, listen to Mk. Mk will not speak of what Tshdpog has done, and what Tshdpog now has. And what Mk has now is hatred. Nothing but anger… Gods’ blessings.” Mk headed toward the door, hesitated for a moment, and left, before Tshdpog’s heretical greetings could send him off.
“May One God be with you…”
Tshdpog could not bear the guilt, for having used Mk’s love for the Belief.
Still, the jewel of sacred heritage needed to be extracted and taken to the Emissary in a hurry. Tshdpog began pounding on the hand of Keetam with a steel mallet.
Another response to a prompt on Writer’s Digest that I could not post. I did try deleting a few words that might have tripped up the filter, but to no avail, so they have been restored in this version.
It was a simple plan. 1) Get born of a virgin. 2) Start a new major religion. 3) Be martyred in the hands of a figuratively-rabid crowd at a rally for a literally-rabid demagogue. All I had to do was take the stage and drone on about love, peace, interracial reproduction, and pansexuality, and “the people” would do the rest.
The cheeseburger was not in the Divine Plan.
We arrived about an hour early, not having known that in Portland, Oregon, public transportation actually ran on time. I told my disciples to spread out through the crowd at the Convention Center, ready to agitate and be martyred with me.
I looked for a place to have lunch.
Really, I was ready for my sacrifice. I didn’t have the kind of doubt that had bedeviled my siblings and all those prophets that Father had sent to this world. I had no attachment to this world, like those who had chosen to become cult leaders instead.
But I was going to miss cheeseburgers. They don’t have cheeseburgers in Heaven.
I headed toward Murder Burger at the food court. They didn’t have a line, and surely they had cheeseburgers.
I was greeted with, “Welcome, Friend! Have you eaten here before?”
I sighed. This was one of those over-pretentious hipster joints. “No.”
The “friend” handed me an iPad. “Here is your freedom of choice. If you flick…”
“Whoa!” The phrase “peanut butter” had caught my eye. This infuriated me. Not only did my soon-to-be-literally-sainted mother have peanut allergies. So did many of my disciples, and we had a strict No-Peanut Doctrine. “Peanuts?”
“Of course!” He grinned proudly. “Sourced from our founder’s family farm in…”
“Don’t you know peanuts kill people?”
“Oh, no, these are organically grown.”
I rolled my eyes, and flipped through the menu, becoming increasingly confused. Where was the cheeseburger? “Can I get a cheeseburger without it?”
“Ummm… no, it’s in our grass-fed…”
“There are peanuts in your cheeseburgers?”
“Well, we don’t have ‘cheeseburgers’. You can add your choice of goat brie, walnut chevre, and…”
“Walnuts???” Now I was filling up with Wrath.
“Why, yes, they are…”
“Look, all I want is a cheeseburger! You hipsters have ruined beer! And salami! And pizza! And now you are ruining cheeseburgers?”
“Don’t ‘friend’ me, you devil-spawn!” I spread my arms in anger. “You are the ones who are destroying all that is Good and Right in Creation! This madness must stop! You and your pork-belly pastrami!!! You all be gone to Hell!!!”
The thing about angels is that they kinda’ just do what you tell them. By the time I realized what I had done, it was too late, and I was standing in the rubble of the Convention Center. Tens of thousands of attendees, all dead.
The cops came incredibly quickly, and whisked me away to the nearest Black Site.
Sorry, Mom; I thought you’d be sainted for sure.
Long ago, in our galaxy, on a temperate planet orbiting a modest star, a civilization arose. This was not the first civilization in our galaxy. Not by far. And ours was not the first galaxy to have a planet on which a civilization arose. Not by far. But this was the first of its kind in a way. Like many other civilizations, this civilization gave rise to more civilizations, and within a few thousand years the planet was thoroughly covered with civilized societies, large and small. Like many other civilizations, these civilizations waged terrible wars against each other, while struggling to maintain peace within themselves. Most civilizations in the universe, they come to a point where they realize they can kill off millions and destroy entire civilizations, and they begin to choose peace over warfare. Most civilizations in the universe, they come to a point where they realize they can kill off the entire planet, and they double down on peace, and do their best to eschew warfare. Not on this one planet. Somehow—and we don’t know what exactly happened, because all we have now are very scant archeological remnants—the civilizations on this planet chose to wage a war to end all wars, and they succeeded, by destroying not only all of the civilizations, but also most of the advanced life forms on the planet, through irradiation, climate change, and geological instability, which repeatedly churned up more and more radioactive isotopes from deep in the planet’s mantle.
Some advanced life forms did survive this catastrophe, including handfuls of the species that had destroyed the planet, in fortuitous shelters here and there. But, not for long. Advanced life forms need some degree of stability and/or regularity in their environments to survive. This planet could not provide that anymore, except in very small pockets for short periods of time. Radiation also made it difficult to pass on useful genetic innovations to the next generation. Most of the advanced life forms went extinct entirely. A few did survive, by devolving into single-celled organisms, when their circulatory cells found pockets of favorable conditions in which they could survive and reproduce.
One of these single-celled descendants—possibly of the formerly-civilized species—happened to mutate a gene that synthesized a silicon-boron compound that could protect the cells from radiation. This increased their chance of survival greatly, and other genetic innovations followed, such as the ability to harvest energy from electromagnetic radiation, and the organization of the compound into geometric shapes in which a small colony of cells could survive sudden changes in their environment, including complete desiccation, vacuum, and high heat. The most successful of these cells had a sixty-vertex shell, about 2 centimeters in diameter. Being descendants of intelligent species, these colonies developed the ability to move their shells in a rolling motion, and the ability to detect and move toward favorable conditions for reproduction. When such conditions were found, the shell would burst, releasing the individual cells of the colony, each of which had to very quickly and efficiently form a colony of its own, before the favorable condition dissipated again. Once the geology of the planet stabilized, these colonies were able to proliferate.
Over millions of years, these polyhedronoids came to cover the entire planet. Because all the essential ingredients of life they encountered became encapsulated in the shells, the planet’s crust was slowly depleted of these elements. Every time a few liters of organic matter chanced to pool somewhere, the polyhedronoids would descend upon the pool and almost instantly devour it, before any other life form had the time to give it a go. Eventually, there was no life left on this planet but the polyhedronoids, encapsulated in their shells, waiting for the next favorable condition, which would never again form on this planet.
As the star which the planet orbited, over a billion years or so, began to overheat, the planet lost its atmosphere, and the geological upheavals began anew. Being light for their size due to dessication, the dormant polyhedronoids were churned up off the planet’s surface, and carried into space by stallar winds, scattering throughout our galaxy. Billions upon trillions of them were released, and they traveled at incredible speeds across space. A few of them here and there found a planet on which there was a favorable condition, and there they did what they had done in their home planet, sucking up all ingredients of life in very short order. Even planets with advanced civilizations, like ours, were powerless against these mindlessly efficient, voracious invaders. After a couple of billion years, there was not a single planet left in our galaxy that could support life.
Now quadrillions and quintillions of these polyhedronoids are leaving our galaxy, and heading to others. We fear that they have acquired the ability to steer themselves in space, and some—a few trillion—are heading for your galaxy.
The planets on the edge of your galaxy that faces our galaxy, like your planet, of course, will be the first to meet these unwelcome guests. And your planet’s condition is very much favorable for the polyhedronoids.
Your only recourse is to destroy your planet before the polyhedronoids arrive. That is the only way you can help save life on your galaxy, although, we fear, this will only delay the inevitable.
We wish you luck.
Another entry for Writer’s Digest writing prompt.
(I’ve changed it to when they are adults.)
“So, it must be quite awkward for you,” said Father. I held my breath.
Harry didn’t see what was coming. “Sorry?”
My father took another bite of pudding, and immediately realized his mistake. He held up a finger while he finished the bite. “Being named, you know, like the famous…”
Harry still didn’t get it.
Mother did. She decided to intervene. “Dear, could you pass me the…”
“Oh! Ah. Here.” At least Father was able to read her mind. And easily lost his train of thought. His mind was a wrecking yard of old train cars still carrying their precious unfinished thoughts.
“This is the thing…” Harry held it out.
I jumped back. No way. There was no way. “No way, Harry. No. Way.”
“It’s all broken up now. It’s not a Horcrux anymore.”
“I don’t care. I’m not letting that anywhere near me.” Just to make the point, I stepped further away from him.
“Oh…” Harry looked quite crestfallen. Disappointed. Rejected.
Like the way I felt when he had rejected me. “If it’s really that harmless, why don’t you just keep it? Hang it on your wall or something. You know, like a trophy. Or give it to Ron. He’s the one who…”
“Yeah, well, he definitely doesn’t want it.”
“Then why me?”
I had no idea what that meant. All I had were some wild guesses. His b&*$@ wife probably thought I was dispensable. Or harmless. Or both. Just didn’t want such a dirty thing in their house, with a baby coming. Can’t just recycle the Dark Lord’s old junk. What could she do with it? I know—give it to the slut who’s always hated her.
Better yet, Harry thought I was dispensable. Persuadable. Bored with my menial job and wanted something “special” from the “special” guy who…
“Honestly, because I’ve asked everyone else.”
“You’re the last person I wanted to ask… and now, literally, you are the last person I’m asking.”
I frowned. What did he mean?
“I can’t keep it. I know… It’s just too tempting. It still…”
My frown deepened even as I started to understand. There was a rumor that What’s-his-name had imbued it with a lot more magic before deciding to use it as a Horcrux.
“I should not be near this thing. None of the people who know Dark Magic should be near it, and you are the last person I know who doesn’t know any Dark Magic. And…”
“And yet you don’t want any harm to come to me.”
Harry smiled thinly, and nodded. “I… I did like you.”
“Bullshit.” He was telling the truth, however.
“I mean, I liked you a lot. I’m so sorry… I wasn’t turning you down. I was just too shy…”
I took the locket. “Bullshit.” I believed him.
“Is it gonna try to kill me?”
I put it around my neck, and Harry flinched. He wasn’t sure.
[11/12/17: Please also see the 6-Month follow-up to this article!]
As retirement draws near, I have to be more thoughtful about how I invest my admittedly modest savings, and the election of Donald Trump has made this very complicated, to understate a bit. Like most leftists, I believe that his campaign promises will damage the American economy in the long run, by overheating the economy, and then bringing in a popped-bubble recession. However, it is clear that the stock market totally disagrees with me. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, for instance, has skyrocketed from around 18,000 in early November to around 21,000 today.
If that sounds like a ringing endorsement of his promise to “make America great again”, however, we need to also consider the fact that the price of safe havens like gold and Treasury bonds have recovered much of the initial crash after the election.
This means that there is a bit of a split-personality going on in the market. Like the rest of the nation, Wall Street is also divided along partisan lines in their assessment of the future.
So, how is a middle-class soon-to-retire professional to cope?
I have asked one of my more level-headed lefty friends, also nearing retirement, and wealthier than me, to tell me what to do, and this is what they sent me a couple of months ago. Since I have found it helpful, I am posting it here, with some updates and corrections they wanted to make, to reflect recent events and data.
Investing in the Age of Trump
Trump’s seeming inability to quickly implement the major components of his economic agenda–tax reform, infrastructure spending, and health care reform–that the pro-Trump half of the market is betting on is a big source of complication. From the anti-Trump perspective, in the long run, this is a good thing, since he won’t be able to wreck the economy that quickly. From the pro-Trump perspective, however, in the short run, all of these promises have already been priced into the market. If he fails to deliver soon, the short attention span of the market will turn against him, and this will not be good for the economy as a whole, whether you are for him or against him.
To be sure, we can’t go all-in that he’s going to succeed, and we can’t go all-in that he’s going to fail. A good anti-Trump portfolio has to take a balanced approach. In other words, if you haven’t diversified, now is the time.
Here are the possible scenarios we need to prepare for.
States is now on Paperback at Amazon.
I originally wrote this book in 2014, partly as a joke—I figured nothing was funnier than America becoming a Muslim nation—and I obviously had not foreseen any of the political turmoil that have taken place in the last several months. I suspected such a thing might be possible, which forms the premise of States, but I was still shocked to realize that, if I had written it this year, I would have basically made the same predictions about our nation’s future, except with conviction and, ironically, incredulity.
The book imagines that, through a tortuous path that is over-explained in the book, America breaks up, with the bulk of it then becoming an Islamic Republic. What would finally divide this great nation for good? What kind of Islam would it need to be, and what would it be like for Christians to live in such a place?
But, the book is really about what life in America would be like if we should go back to the “good old days” of conservative imagination, from the points of view of ordinary people who probably would not choose to live in such as place, but would make the best of it. The conceit, of a pair of Christian teenagers traveling through the Muslim nation, is just to provide an outsider’s point of view, and also to create enough drama to keep the reader engaged.
It is, now, a cautionary tale.
As with all my books, bisexuality figures prominently in the plot, as do gender identity, health care, religion, transportation, and food. I did cop out on race, I admit, but cultural diversity remains a theme.
The book is available on paperback for $7.99; it will be increased soon. Purchasing the paperback version is supposed to make you eligible for a free Kindle copy; I have not tested this feature, so please let me know if it doesn’t work. Kindle copy alone is $5.99, or free if you have Kindle Unlimited. Kindle Unlimited pays me by the pages read, so it’s a win-win deal for you and me. I occasionally run promotions with free Kindle copies of all my books; these are announced on Reddit. I’ve taken the book off iBooks, Nook, and Kobo; please let me know if you’d like me to reverse this.
I recently found out that the Ctrl-Alt-Right-Delete folks have been calling us leftists “snowflakes”. Of course, the fact that I found out about this means that it’s already way passé, but it did give me something to think about. Apparently, the right wingers think all the things that we leftists value about ourselves—our sensitivity, our flexibility, our considerateness—are shortcomings. Fair enough. The left is notorious for our chaotic messaging, incoherent strategies, and willingness to roll over for small victories. We are more concerned about not hurting each other’s feelings than we are about fighting together for what we believe in. By contrast, the right has perfected their art of lock-stepping and obstinacy, and that is, after all, how they swept this last election.
Still, there is an irony here. The right is currently spearheaded by the ultimate snowflake, a man who is more sensitive to criticism, more frustrated by opposition, and more fixated on trivialities than… Well, I can think of many categories of people who are stereotyped to be sensitive, but it would be an insult to every one of them for me to analogize our Whiner-in-Chief to them. This is why I’ve started tweeting with the tag #SnowflakePresident, along with many other tweeters, and every week we will surely have more reasons to do so.
At the same time, perhaps we have been going about this the wrong way.
What is wrong with being a snowflake? Snowflakes are gentle and fragile individually, but powerful in quantity. Snowflakes flutter about every which way, but can thoroughly cover the ground. Snowflakes melt away seemingly quickly, but can quench the thirst of an entire continent for months.
Snowflakes are beautiful both individually and collectively.
And each snowflake is unique.
So, much as the Ctrl-Alt-Right-Delete has worn the label “deplorables” with pride, perhaps we the left should wear the label “snowflakes” with pride. We do not agree with each other. We fall chaotically, clashing with one another more than we clash with our foes. We do not have a controlled message. Some of us stand up tall and some of us hide away meekly. Yet, in the end, we will cover the land; we will drench the land; and we will make the land rich with substantial, permanent waves of change.
Deplorability is an abstraction, a misunderstanding of a misstatement. And they are confined to a basket.
Snowflake Revolution will endure.
Even the Snowflake President is welcome to rejoin us, his original tribe, of course. Then being a Snowflake-in-Chief will no longer be an insult, but a label to be proud of. Something that will go down in history.
So, I tried my hand at being a Twitter troll for a few days. I’ve been posting incessantly, combing through trending topics, chasing after right wingers posting self-satisfied drivel, drafting some meme-candidates, and generally being a pest toward our Troll-in-Chief. And, man, is it hard work! I have a day job, a side job, a health thing, and other responsibilities, and I just can’t keep up with what it takes to be relevant here.
By the time I’ve spotted a trending topic of interest, it’s already on its way down, and, by the time I have a “clever” response, the time has past. Not only that, even if I am on time, I am quickly buried under dozens and hundreds of responses that are just as clever. All this means that, not having a following at all, I have to keep churning out junk, which means that even people who have deigned to follow me get sick of me very quickly. I don’t know how people do this.
Take @RealMikeDoughty, for instance. He is not only tweeting up to a dozen times a day, he is responding to a bunch of people who are tweeting to him, which means he is reading them. He even responded to me, a real nobody! He has posted 1,287 tweets since last October, which is like 100 a day. He is obviously keeping up with current events, and he has a weekly podcast to boot. Now, I suppose this is all he does, and he doesn’t have another job to deal with, so he has an advantage. Still, as much as I disagree with his point of view, this is pretty impressive.
I just can’t do it. I’m on a kick, so I’ll keep up for a while, but I will be done with all this pretty soon, leaving this arena for those who are better suited for it.
Hope you all enjoy it!