Even in an election year, we shouldn't have to rely on politicians to provide us with all the absurdity required to meet our entertainment needs.
Until a librarian friend provided me with a link, I had never heard of the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year.
Of course, oddness is in the eye of the beholder, so instead of a panel of judges who somehow became "experts" in oddness, the finalists are judged by the public at this website: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/WZMYH2G
You'll notice that the site is British, and it's quite possible that only British book titles are eligible for the honor. If that's the case, then somebody needs to come up with something similar for American book titles, because the nation that produced Donald Drumpf can't take a back seat to anyone when it comes to amusing oddities.
I always take voting very seriously -- even when I'm voting on something intended to be humorous. Thus I have to come up with standards by which to judge prizeworthiness. I reject book titles that are trying to be odd, like Transvestite Vampire Biker Nuns from Outer Space: A Consideration of Cult Film. When you try to exploit weirdness, then you shouldn't get a prize for it.
And what about books that I would very much like to read? Are their titles "odd," or are they perfectly normal titles about a surprising subject matter? I would like to read Soviet Bus Stops, because I've seen some photographs, and I was surprised at how much creativity went into bus stop design during the creativity-suppressing Communist era.
Likewise, it may not give you much fuel for polite dinner conversation, but Reading from Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus sounds fascinating, because different cultures have different attitudes toward the apparatus of defecation. The more scholarly and the less "popular" the book, the more useful it will be.
(Judging from movies and TV shows, our culture is apparently going through a revolting era in which it is supposedly "normal" for "all men" to wish sexual congress via that aperture. In case you're wondering why you have never had the slightest desire to do such a thing, there's nothing wrong with you. It's the other people who have gone off the deep end.)
In this context, Reading from Behind isn't odd, it's merely clever.
Too Naked for the Nazis is an account of a burlesque troupe trying to make an honest living under Hitler's brutal-yet-prudish regime. It's a good title, genuinely clever -- and yet odd enough to be a contender.
Behind the Binoculars: Interviews with Acclaimed Birdwatchers isn't so much odd as accurate in its promise that unless you are seriously dedicated to birdwatching, this book is going to be so extremely boring that it should be read aloud to interned terrorists to break their will.
(And please, no hate mail on this one: I recognize that if you are seriously dedicated to birdwatching, every page of this book may be golden, dripping with the wisdom and experience of those who have seen the rarest of birds, and therefore have a reason to be alive.)
Inadvertent double entendres are definitely in contention for an oddity prize. For instance, take the perfectly plain and descriptive title Paper Folding with Children. It promises to teach you how to guide children in a good rainy-day activity.
But it also suggests that perhaps the art is to fold paper and children together, which might be amusing but is also quite possibly illegal, depending on how tight you make your creases.
My favorite, though -- the one that got my vote -- is Reading the Liver: Papyrological Texts on Ancient Greek Extispicy. The art of reading omens and auspices in the entrails of animals played a serious role in history, and I think it would be fascinating to know, not simply that extispicy (or haruspicy, which I had thought was the more common term) took place, but what exactly you looked for in the animal organs.
I mean, the fact that one man's haggis or sausage casing or giblet is another man's revelation from God should give us pause, and as a fiction writer who may someday create a character who has to read omens in entrails, I really should learn about the process.
Not only that, this title promises that there are other volumes in the series. This book specializes in divine information that can be discerned from close examination of the liver; are there not other books possible, focusing on the pancreas, the spleen, the intestines large and small, or the various glands and bladders?
Are both kidneys considered in the same volume, or are there separate books on rectorenal and versorenal (or, if you prefer, dextrenal and sinistrenal) omen reading?
Best of all, this title is absolutely scholarly and has no humorous intent. What makes it so wonderfully odd, in my opinion, is the purity of its specialization. It's about reading the liver, and no other organ; it treats only Greek practices, and no other culture's; and its source material is writings on papyrus, and no other medium.
And if anyone is still doing extispicy in Greece, they are going to be ignored; modern Greek extispicy is clearly excluded from this book.
Before you vote, you may want to read more about the contest at this site.
Though it's not in contention for the prize, let me also point out one of my favorite children's book titles ever: The Bunny Burrow Buyer's Book: A Tale of Rabbit Real Estate. The book, by popular illustrator Steve Light, uses cut-outs and gatefolds to show how moving to a new burrow will greatly improve life for a rapidly growing family of bunnies.
For adults, the book is both a parody of and a tribute to home-remodeling and home-buying shows like Love It or List It. And the artist got to imagine extravagant variations in rabbit-burrow architecture and interior decoration.
I only regret that because of housing discrimination, I am not personally acquainted with any bunnies to whom I might give a copy of this eminently useful book.
After John Oliver's brilliantly funny explosion of the myth of Trump, and his rebranding of Trump with the original spelling and pronunciation of his family name, Drumpf, I really don't have anything to add.
Whether you love Trump or fear-and-loathe Drumpf, you really do owe it to yourself to watch Oliver's rant, which is worthy of Dennis Miller or P.J. O'Rourke in their prime:
(Not that I usually agree with John Oliver -- his take on the great jurist Antonin Scalia was so wrong-headed and mean-spirited that I couldn't finish watching it. And anyone who pretends to be telling the "truth" about science but doesn't fact-check the assertions of global-warming chicken-littles is either lazy or conformist or both. But I've fact-checked much of what Oliver says in this rant, and it's simply true.)
I am one of those who expected Trump's appeal to fade once people got sick of his lies and stupidity, his childish petulance and nastiness. Certainly his conservative following should have evaporated when it became clear that all his friends are liberals, as were all his opinions before he started to run as a "Republican"; and that a Trump presidency would almost certainly be a continuation of the Carter presidency -- except with a vindictive temper and without a spark of genuine Christian belief.
So ... why is the pan-contemptuous Trump, one of the worst, most repulsive human beings to be in serious contention for the presidency, seemingly bulletproof?
Why have so many Republicans staked their future, and the future of a country already in serious trouble, on the only candidate who has even more negatives and fewer credentials than Hillary Clinton? Why are religious people voting for a man whose life is the antithesis of what Christianity supposedly stands for?
There's no way that Trump rolled up those numbers in Nevada without capturing a high percentage of Nevada's Mormon vote, which makes me deeply ashamed of my own people, who can't seem to understand that a man who blithely talks about a religious test for entering the country or for being under investigation is the enemy of all religions -- especially when he has already expressed his contempt for and hostility toward Mormons.
Cruz undoubtedly feels the same way, but, unlike Huckabee a few elections ago, Cruz has looked at who owns the Republican Party in the Rocky Mountains, and so he's kept his disdain for Mormons to himself.
It's not that there aren't precedents for Drumpf's plan to curtail immigration based on a religious litmus test. President Rutherford Hayes (another Republican) actually tried to get foreign governments to block Mormons from emigrating from their countries to the U.S., on the grounds that such Mormons would be likely to break American anti-polygamy laws.
Scandinavian countries agreed to do what they could -- diplomat-speak for "nothing" -- and the British openly scorned the idea of limiting the civil rights of people who have committed no crime. A position that Drumpf himself might look at, when he actually attempts a tiny bit of research into American history, foreign policy, and constitutional law.
You know, the things he's going to hire other people to do for him, while he continues to spout off to the cameras and be famous, his fulltime job for the past year.
Still, despite the increasing fear and loathing that Drumpf's Hitler-like hate campaign provokes in people who actually believe in the American ideal, his campaign continues to have enormous and unexpected holding power among a group of people who think they are the grass roots of America.
And, in fact, they are.
To understand Drumpf, it helps to go back to the 1896 campaign, the subject of Karl Rove's excellent book The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters. It was William McKinley who broke the power of the party bosses and took his nomination campaign directly to the people. Our current primary-centered "people's choice" nomination process can truly be said to have begun with him.
But Drumpf has nothing to do with William McKinley. Instead, we need to remember McKinley's opponent, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan, an obscure Congressman, was a true believer in the cheap-money, "silver" side in the most heated issue of his day.
While other contenders for the Democratic nomination courted party bosses and counted delegates, Bryan went all over the populist heartland, giving speeches against the gold standard in coinage. In those days, before radio and television, speeches were the entertainment of the day, and Bryan was entertaining.
When the Democratic convention appeared unable to approve a nominee by the required super-majority, William Jennings Bryan made his famous "Cross of Gold" speech. Since the convention was already packed with pro-silver, anti-gold delegates, the speech was definitely well-received, and it took only a couple more ballots for the convention to shift to Bryan as the nominee.
It would be unfair to compare Bryan to Drumpf, because by all accounts Bryan was an honest man, a sincere Christian, and he actually believed the things he said.
But his one-issue candidacy, based on fear and hate (of northeastern financial interests) in the midst of a depression, definitely resembled Drumpf's one-issue campaign of fear and hatred of foreigners.
And while McKinley was actually quite moderate and really did not want to commit either to the gold or the silver side in the controversy (the wisest position, because both sides were hopelessly wrong in their beliefs about economics), it was a simple matter for his campaign to paint Bryan as an extremist who was completely unprepared for the presidency -- because it was true.
The Democratic Party, however, had been so taken over by the pro-silver faction that, just like Republicans wanting to purge the party of all RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), it was impossible for any moderate voices to get a hearing in Democratic Party leadership.
Bryan was a disastrous nominee -- not only in 1896, but also in 1900 and then again in 1908. Yes, three times the nominee -- that's how much the controlling faction of the Democratic Party loved him. And that was how thoroughly his "leadership" wrecked the Democrats as a national party for four presidential elections.
When a Democrat finally won (Woodrow Wilson in 1912), it was only because the Republican Party had split between its liberal and conservative wings (Roosevelt and Taft, respectively).
William Jennings Bryan was a far better human being than Donald Drumpf. (Ignore the parody of Bryan as "Matthew Harrison Brady" in the Lawrence and Lee play Inherit the Wind -- that was a well-written, utterly one-sided propaganda piece.) But his fanatical one-issue candidacy killed his party for many years.
And if Trump is nominated by the Republicans, he locks the party into his own image -- a party that celebrates stupidity, rudeness, cruelty, unfairness, and hate.
Yet most of his supporters do not fit that description, and would never choose to be friends with anyone who did. In fact, most of them are resentful of the big money con game that is Drumpf's true religion.
So why are they voting for a stupid, lazy blowhard they wouldn't enjoy having dinner with?
Here's why: Trump's supporters are the people who are fed up with having no voice in American government. Since our present government has almost nothing to do with actual democracy, they are completely correct.
These voters are keenly aware that the Constitution is no longer amended through constitutional processes. Instead, appointed judges now invent "constitutional" rights out of nothing but the latest fads of inconsistent, incoherent, and often unjust and inhumane "progressive" ideology.
The Equal Rights Amendment was rejected, so the Left abandoned the constitutional amendment process -- and now, when judges decide that the Constitution requires that women must tolerate the presence in public restrooms of any man who decides to put on a dress, anyone who thinks this has nothing to do with the Constitution, and is dangerous to women, is declared to be a bigot who should be fired from his job and permanently silenced.
It began in 1973, when abortion became a "right" despite never having gone through constitutional process. Since then, "right" after "right" has been "discovered" by conformists on the bench, who no longer even pretend that these "rights" are based on the actual written Constitution.
Never was this clearer than when the courts redefined marriage to mean something it has never meant, despite repeated rejection of the idea by solid majorities in state after state. There was no way that such a radical redefinition could win approval as a legal constitutional amendment. So the courts simply ignored the Constitution. Change approved.
Not only are democratic outcomes destroyed by judicial diktats, but also the academic and media elites treat the majority voters with open scorn, declaring the majority to be mentally ill or evil. If you oppose these diktats for any reason, your reasons are ignored and you are treated as if you wore a white hood or a swastika.
Worse yet, the made-up "rights" are treated by the courts as higher than the rights that are actually spelled out in the Constitution. The "right" to homosexual marriage now utterly trumps the Constitution's prohibition against the federal government establishing religion or interfering with the free expression of conscience. The "right" to kill unborn babies trumps freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, as both are banned within view of abortion mills.
Whatever your opinion on these issues, it is a fact that none of these judicial diktats was ever enacted through the consensus-building process spelled out in the Constitution. Nor is there any legal recourse to overturn the dictatorship of the judiciary.
Except two. The first is for the states to call a new Constitutional Convention, which is allowed for in the Constitution; but it would be an extremely dangerous process to embark on, because everything would be up for grabs, and while it is conservatives who want this convention, there is no guarantee that it won't be coopted by the very Leftist idealogues who have defied constitutional processes in the first place.
Thirty-two states have legally called for this convention. Three of those states have rescinded that call, and one house of Nevada's legislature has also done so -- but the Constitution doesn't explicitly allow for rescission. Many scholars believe that, once legally passed, such a call can't be rescinded.
The Constitution also places no limitations on the changes such a convention can make. Even if it's called in order to create a balanced-budget amendment (itself a bad idea), nothing stops the convention from enacting any change to the Constitution for which it can muster sufficient votes, voting by state rather than by population.
So we are either two or five or six states away from having such an all-powerful Constitutional Convention. And the advocates of the Convention declare that all they need is those two states, because regardless of later actions, thirty-two of the thirty-four required states have, in fact, voted for it.
But before you get all excited, please imagine what Obama's or Hillary's new, improved Constitution would look like, and then decide whether or not to leave bad enough alone. Democracy carries no guarantees. That's why the Left has openly rejected democracy as their preferred method of "reform."
For a list of states with a standing call for a Constitutional Convention, look at this site.
The second choice for legally undoing the dictatorship of the judiciary is the one that is represented by Donald Drumpf's campaign.
When the citizens of ancient Greek city-states grew tired of being ruled by a selfish oligarchy -- which is precisely what Drumpf voters, not without reason, believe our current government is -- they threw their support behind a Tyrant, who would strike down the oppressive laws of the oligarchy and govern in ways that were popular in the streets.
Nowadays we use the word tyrant as a pejorative, but, anciently, tyrants were the last recourse of oppressed citizens. And as the American majority is repeatedly stifled, maligned, and put down by judges, academics, and media who are perfect conformists to the dogma du jour of the Left, is it any wonder that these disgruntled and ignored voters make common cause with a would-be tyrant whose only real program is: "I will fix this."
Now, Drumpf won't fix anything, because he's a lazy, ignorant man with poor impulse control. In fact, with his short little fingers on the nuclear button and his mouth already making wreckage of international relations, the likelihood is that he will provoke stupid wars by acting as the bully that we never were, despite the false self-hating beliefs of Obama and his ilk.
Drumpf is running for tyrant. His supporters largely expect that he will take over the dictatorial powers devised by the Left and ram their conservative "restoration" down the throats of the Leftist elite.
He will not. He cannot. Congress and the courts will block him at every turn, and if he thinks he can use the largely conservative military to enforce his will, he is wrong -- their oaths are to the Constitution, and they take them seriously. Drumpf will get no help from them.
And since most bureaucrats in the permanent, unelected government are committed to anti-constitutional Progressivism, he'll find that the millions of government workers that he can't fire will not obey him.
Nothing he currently proposes will actually happen. He is like the kid running for student body president, promising soda pop in the drinking fountains and free candy bars at lunch.
But even if he gets real power, it won't help the people supporting him, because Drumpf is not a conservative at all. He has even more contempt for common people -- you know, "losers" who aren't as rich as he is -- than Obama and Hillary and all the pretended "liberals." He's a "liberal" himself. He has always been and still is a part of the oligarchy. Once in he's in office, those will be his buddies.
When Drumpf does the single most important action any President ever takes -- nominating someone to the Supreme Court -- he will not be guided by conservative principles. He will be guided by whether his elitist friends think the person is cool. If you think we'll get anyone of the quality of Antonin Scalia out of Drumpf, think again.
Drumpf doesn't like people with honor and intelligence, because he doesn't understand a thing they say, he doesn't get the way they make decisions, and he can sense that they regard him, correctly, as a moral and intellectual cesspool.
So he calls them losers and makes fun of them. Watch him do it every time he speaks of his betters in the Republican race (his "betters" being nearly all of the other candidates). He hates people with actual ideas and principles because he's ashamed of his own utter lack of either.
Nevertheless, these are things we'll only be sure of if Drumpf is elected, which is highly unlikely -- even if Hillary is indicted or convicted. Please remember that Bill Clinton was openly guilty of perjury and sexual harassment -- and the Left never wavered in their support of him. The Left will treat any indictment or conviction of Hillary the way they treat the Constitution -- with contempt.
The Democratic Party long since proved that they have no shame. Only Republicans resign from office because they are proven to be hypocrites. Democrats just declare that their enemies are a vast rightwing conspiracy, and their supporters increase in their fervor.
When Republicans diddle interns or sexually harass people who are under their power, they are hounded until they resign. When Democrats do exactly the same thing, they are reelected -- with the full support of the very lobbyists who pretend to oppose those crimes.
As someone recently put it in a Facebook meme, the problem isn't that "a vote for Trump is a vote for Hillary" (though that is probably true). The problem is that "a vote for Trump is a vote for Trump."
America's problems are real. We really are ruled by an oligarchy (though Republicans keep accusing the wrong people of being part of it) that has no respect for the rights of people who disagree with their insane ideology.
Already the oligarchy is criminalizing speech that opposes their dogmas; already the Bill of Rights is in tatters because whenever it conflicts with judicial diktats, the Bill of Rights is trodden underfoot.
So maybe that Constitutional Convention is our best shot at restoring democracy, despite its dangers.
Meanwhile, though, Drumpf is not the answer to anything. We should be as frightened of him as German voters should have been frightened of Hitler. And Republicans should see him as the destruction, not the salvation, of their party and anything it ever stood for.
Trump stands for nothing except for Trump. He only does what he thinks is good for Trump. You only like him because, so far, you haven't gotten in his way.
Trump supporters: It's time to shudder, shake off this fad, and regard your Trump bumper stickers the way people regard pet rocks and Beanie Babies -- "yeah, I actually fell for that for a while."
Give your vote to someone who can govern responsibly, with respect for democracy and the Constitution. Since Bernie Sanders has already declared that he intends to govern, like Obama, by executive order, that leaves us with a handful of Republicans and no Democrats who can be trusted with the defense of the Constitution.
on the art and business of science fiction writing.
Over five hours of insight and advice.
Recorded live at Uncle Orson's Writing Class in Greensboro, NC.
Available exclusively at OSCStorycraft.com