I’m running for SFWA office

I’ve decided to run for a Director-at-Large position on the Board of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The following is the platform statement I posted on the SFWA forum to announce my candidacy:

I’m Eric James Stone, and I’m running for Director-at-Large.

This is not the first time I’ve thrown my hat into the ring for SFWA office: in 2011, Mary Robinette Kowal encouraged me to run for Treasurer when it looked like Bud Sparhawk might not run for re-election. He ended up running, and I was soundly trounced. I just hope Bud’s not going to run for Director-at-Large this year!

I’ve been an Active member of SFWA since 2004, having applied for membership less than a month after receiving the contract for my third qualifying short story sale. From 2008 until late last year, I served as a member of the Grievance Committee. At Bud Sparhawk’s invitation, I also actively served on the Financial Oversight Committee from 2015 to 2017. I strongly believe in SFWA’s mission of informing, supporting, promoting, defending and advocating for our members. Service through SFWA is one of the ways I have chosen to pay back the SF community that has given me so much.

The publishing industry has changed a lot since I joined SFWA, and I have been pleased to see the organization adapting to those changes. On the whole, I have been pleased with the direction SFWA has been headed under the current Board and its predecessors, and I thank them for their service. I fully support the recent changes in membership criteria to allow self-published authors and game writers to join. I also think the re-incorporation in California as a 501(c)(3) non-profit that can accept tax-deductible contributions was a necessary modernization of the organization. On a few occasions, I have had some concerns about due process and/or transparency and expressed my concerns to Board members. In all but one of those cases, I ultimately agreed with the Board’s actions.

I believe that SFWA should be an inclusive organization, and that members should feel welcome regardless of race, nationality, ethnicity, citizenship, immigration status, primary language, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, political ideology, or pretty much any other personal attribute. However, I also believe SFWA, as a private organization, is not required to tolerate members who are deliberately disruptive or who harass other members.

Some things to know about me:

  • My father was an immigrant to the U.S. from Argentina, so I grew up bilingual in English and Spanish, and spent over half my childhood living outside the United States.
  • I have a law degree, which may be either the result of or the cause of my concern for due process. (I let my law license expire long ago due to a career shift.)
  • I have worked in web development and/or systems administration for the past two decades, so I know my way around a computer and the internet.
  • I have spent several years as a financial clerk for my local church congregation, responsible for handling member donations, issuing checks, preparing for audits, and tracking down financial discrepancies.

If elected, I will do my best to work with the other members of the Board to represent the interests of SFWA members, expand the membership, and improve the state of the speculative fiction community.

Thank you for your support.

(I verified my eligibility with the Election Committee.)

Books I read in 2018

I read — OK, listened to — 45 books in 2018, so a little less than one a week. I started the first one in 2017 and finished the last one in 2019. I’ve omitted any books I started and decided not to finish, so I felt all of these books were worth finishing. I have also omitted unpublished books I read in critique group. The list is chronological, not ranked.

  1. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
  2. Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
  3. Artemis by Andy Weir
  4. Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle by Jeff Flake
  5. Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham
  6. Dawn: Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol.1. by Yoshiki Tanaka
  7. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
  8. Sins of Her Father by Mike Kupari
  9. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  10. Writers of the Future Volume 34 by Darci Stone et al.
  11. Sidequest: In Realms Ungoogled by Frank J Fleming
  12. Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
  13. Long Dark Night by Janci Patterson
  14. The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey
  15. Die Trying: Jack Reacher, Book 2 by Lee Child
  16. Tripwire: Jack Reacher, Book 3 by Lee Child
  17. Running Blind: Jack Reacher, Book 4 by Lee Child
  18. Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan
  19. Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan
  20. A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck
  21. Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy by Jonah Goldberg
  22. The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal
  23. The Singularity Trap by Dennis E. Taylor
  24. The Buried Giant: A Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
  25. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  26. Ubik by Philip K. Dick
  27. The Fated Sky: Lady Astronaut, Book 2 by Mary Robinette Kowal
  28. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
  29. Level Five by William Ledbetter
  30. Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Croshaw
  31. Kill Process by William Hertling
  32. Uncompromising Honor: Honor Harrington, Book 14 by David Weber
  33. The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
  34. Dungeon Born by Dakota Krout
  35. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  36. Primordial Threat by M.A. Rothman
  37. The Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette
  38. The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
  39. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
  40. A Town Divided by Christmas by Orson Scott Card
  41. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
  42. His Right Hand by Mette Ivie Harrison
  43. For Time and All Eternities by Mette Ivie Harrison
  44. Not of This Fold by Mette Ivie Harrison
  45. Zero G by Dan Wells

I also read a bunch of children’s picture books, but I’m not counting them.

I promised to give away copies of the books I read in 2018. I gave away copies of the first 20 on the list, but after the baby was born in late June, I just got so busy that the Amazon Giveaways fell by the wayside. I will do giveaways for the rest of the books on this list (which is one of the reasons I wanted to make this list).

Update on SFWA and the Writers of the Future Contest

On 12/10/2018, I published my blog post about SFWA and the Writers of the Future Contest. (I’ve since updated it a few times for various reasons, including an official response from the SFWA Board on 12/18/2018.)

On 12/11/2018, the SFWA Board issued an update to clarify the rule about contests:

Qualification Update: Publication Via Contests As Applicable to Rule III Sales

Short fiction and novels that are published as part of a contest, including publication in print or digital anthologies and magazines or online publication on a web site, can be used as qualifying sales under Rule III of the SFWA bylaws, provided they meet all requirements. The qualifying sales are subject to the same restrictions as sales to any other market (such as: no entry or submissions fee, no warnings by Writer Beware, no advisory by SFWA, appropriate minimum payment per word). The contract must show that the author is receiving payment for publication rights separately from any monetary contest prize that may also be received.

So, what does this mean, exactly?

A couple of years ago, SFWA added an alternative to the traditional route for qualifying for membership: Rule III. Basically, Rule III was a way to allow self-published authors to qualify by proving their earnings, since the publishing world has changed dramatically due to ebooks. The rule also allows proof of earnings from small presses and non-qualified markets. Since it requires proof of earnings, rather than just proof of publication, Rule III involves more paperwork in order to qualify, but other than that, it’s pretty much the same as far as I can tell:

  • For short fiction, three or more publications totaling at least 10,000 words, paid at the minimum SFWA professional rate (currently 6 cents a word).
  • For novels, a novel of at least 40,000 words, payment of an advance of at least $3000 (for traditional route) or earnings of at least $3000 during one year (for Rule III).

Since Writers of the Future pays 6 cents per word for publication, in addition to the prize money, that means publication in the Writers of the Future anthology could be used as a Rule III sale to qualify for SFWA, even though Writers of the Future is no longer listed as a qualifying market.

However, there are still a couple of questions unresolved:

  1. What exactly is an “advisory by SFWA”?
  2. What exactly are “warnings by Writer Beware”?

I was unable to find definitions for these terms on the SFWA website (which includes the Writer Beware website), nor in the bylaws or Operating Policies and Procedures Manual. Does the SFWA Board’s statement about concerns with the Writers of the Future Contest count as an “advisory”? Does Writer Beware blogging about the SFWA Board’s statement constitute a “warning”? Absent a further clarification from the Board, I think it’s reasonable to think that unless the specific terms “advisory” or “warning” are used in an official communication, those parts of the rule don’t apply.

But with regard to other contests, such as the New Visions Award, this clarification certainly puts writers in a better position than it appeared initially.

I want to shift gears a little now. In my previous blog post, I quoted the letter I had sent to the SFWA Board back in April. The part I’d like to discuss is this:

Now, when it comes to allegations of improper conduct in connection with the contest and/or publication of the anthology, I agree that SFWA has a duty to investigate the allegations in order to protect the interests of authors.

In a post months ago on the Codex Writers forum, I said:

(When it comes to abuses against authors in the contest, I think that’s a different matter, which would be best addressed by getting the contest to firm up the “firewall” and reform some of its practices, rather than by delegitimization.)

However, because my main focus was on countering the people who wanted to get the contest de-listed because of its connection to Scientology, I haven’t taken the time to address particular concerns people have that I believe can and should be addressed by WOTF, mostly because I felt it went without saying that of course they should be addressed. But sometimes it’s necessary to say what you think goes without saying, just so others can hear you say it.

The following is a partial list of reforms I think the contest should make, most of which come from concerns publicly expressed by past winners.

  • It should be made clear that authors who are gay, lesbian, transsexual, etc., are welcome to enter and that stories can feature characters who are gay, lesbian, transsexual, etc.
  • In author bios and in the workshop and awards show, people should be referred to with their preferred pronouns. (I’ve heard there was a problem this year with a proofreader changing pronouns in a bio, but that someone higher up at the contest resolved the problem to the author’s satisfaction. Hopefully, lower-level staff will have gotten the message in order to avoid such problems in the future.)
  • Winners with disabilities should be accommodated.
  • At the awards ceremony, winners should be allowed to wear formal attire that matches their gender identity or that they prefer to wear for other reasons. (I’ve heard they’ve recently changed policy to allow this.)
  • Winners should not be body-shamed for how they will appear at the awards ceremony.
  • The winner’s choice of a guest to accompany them to the awards should not be questioned.
  • If the expense of formal attire is a strain on the winner’s finances, the contest should provide or pay to rent formal attire for the occasion. (I’ve heard they’ve started doing this.)
  • During the workshop scheduling, they should make sure there is sufficient time (at least one hour) for meals, and maintain that amount of time even if other scheduled events change.
  • Because money is tight for some winners and eating in Hollywood is expensive, maybe look into either providing more meals for the winners or giving them a per diem stipend to cover meals.
  • I think the workshop organizers should be commended for how much they try to pack into the workshop. But different people have different energy levels and endurance, so the workshop should allow winners who need some extra rest to get it. (My wife was five months pregnant when she attended the workshop, and the workshop staff were accommodating to her. But people who are not pregnant may still need extra rest.)
  • Any media release forms should be properly filled out before authors are asked to sign them.
  • No author should ever be asked to participate in a book signing under misleading or false pretenses. I don’t think there should be a complete ban on signings at Church of Scientology events, because some authors might be fine with doing them. But the invitation to do the signing must make it clear that it is a Church of Scientology event, and that participation is purely voluntary.
  • In fact, that last bit goes for all book signings: it should be made clear to the winners that such signings are voluntary. If WOTF wants to require winners to do some book signings, it should be in the contest rules and in the contract. (Something like: Winners may be required to participate in up to two bookstore signing events within 50 miles of their home within 6 months of the release of the anthology.) Personally, I think I did about twenty signings between the two WOTF volumes I was in, but that was because I enjoyed doing the signings (and I was single and didn’t have a lot going on in my life at the time).

I’m sure there are other reforms that would also be good, based on public or private feedback that has been given to the SFWA Board.

I’ve had a chance to talk to the contest administrators about some of the items on the list above, and they would welcome any feedback from other past winners as to how to improve the contest, workshop, and awards ceremony, because their goal is to make it as great an experience as possible for the winners.

Similarly, it’s precisely because I had such a great experience with the Writers of the Future Contest that I want it to make changes, so it can be a great experience for even more authors in the future.

SFWA and the Writers of the Future Contest

UPDATE 12/28/2018: I’ve published a followup blog post.

UPDATE 12/19/2018:  The SFWA Board send me an official response via email yesterday. I’m adding it at the end of this post.

UPDATE 12/17/2018: After some thought, I have redacted portions of this blog post that dealt with internal Grievance Committee processes. I do not believe they violated the specific confidentiality rule in the SFWA Operating Policies & Procedures, but I know the committee prefers a general confidentiality about its work.

UPDATE 12/11/2018: SFWA has released a clarification on their membership requirements page:

Qualification Update: Publication Via Contests As Applicable to Rule III Sales

Short fiction and novels that are published as part of a contest, including publication in print or digital anthologies and magazines or online publication on a web site, can be used as qualifying sales under Rule III of the SFWA bylaws, provided they meet all requirements. The qualifying sales are subject to the same restrictions as sales to any other market (such as: no entry or submissions fee, no warnings by Writer Beware, no advisory by SFWA, appropriate minimum payment per word). The contract must show that the author is receiving payment for publication rights separately from any monetary contest prize that may also be received.

As far as I can tell, this means Writers of the Future Contest winners can still use publication in the contest anthology to qualify for SFWA; they just need to jump through a few more hoops to do so. I still have some concerns, but this seems like a good step.


Warning: Really long post ahead.

Last week, SFWA made a statement about the Writers of the Future Contest:

SFWA Statement on Complaints/Concerns Regarding the Writers of the Future Contest

The Board of Directors of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have unanimously decided to formally and publicly acknowledge the multiple complaints and expressions of concern made both publicly and privately in recent months by former Writers of the Future finalists who state that they have had negative experiences during or after the event.

As a result, SFWA has formally contacted the WotF administrators, in hopes of launching a private dialogue between our organizations, and ensuring that these concerns are meaningfully addressed. In this effort, SFWA’s goal is to protect the rights of creators, thus strengthening all of science fiction and fantasy publishing, now and in the future. SFWA advises all writers to research carefully before participating in any literary contest.
For more information on contests, please visit SFWA’s Writer Beware page located here: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/contests/.

This statement doesn’t mention another action that was also put on the website at about the same time: the rules for qualifying for SFWA were changed to exclude contest publications. Item 3 under Paid Sales used to read:

Contest prize money does not count toward determining the payment rate unless publication rights are required to receive the prize. (That is, only payments tied to publication are considered.)

It now reads:

By unanimous vote of the Board of Directors meeting in San Jose, California, on August 16, 2018, contest publications no longer qualify toward SFWA membership*, effective August 16, 2018. Current members in good standing who qualified via contest publications are unaffected by this change.

The asterisk is for the following new footnote below the Paid Sales section:

*Contests: Hundreds of literary contests, across a vast range of sponsoring organizations, offer paid publication as a prize for selected entrants. Determining whether each of these prizes, each year, meets SFWA’s standard of professional pay rates imposes a burden on SFWA’s employees and volunteers, beginning with its Membership Committee. Moreover, this burden is in the service of publications that never were envisioned by SFWA’s founders as professional qualifications. Like scholarships, fellowships, grants and guest-of-honor laurels, literary prizes are welcome at all stages of writers’ careers, and always to be encouraged, but they do not constitute publishing success in the professional marketplace, the arena which historically has been, and must remain, SFWA’s focus.

Back in April, when I became aware that SFWA was looking into complaints and concerns about the Writers of the Future Contest, I sent the following email to SFWA President Cat Rambo and the other members of the SFWA Board of Directors:

Cat (and other members of the SFWA board),

As a SFWA member who had Writers of the Future Contest sales as two out of his three qualifying publications — and whose wife just won the grand prize in the contest earlier this month — I have a very favorable opinion of the contest as an opportunity for new writers. I would hate to see the market disqualified on the basis of its association with the Church of Scientology.  As long as the publication of the anthology meets the criteria for qualifying markets, as outlined on the membership requirements page, I think it would be unfair to authors published in the anthology to disqualify their sales for reasons unrelated to the publication itself.

Now, when it comes to allegations of improper conduct in connection with the contest and/or publication of the anthology, I agree that SFWA has a duty to investigate the allegations in order to protect the interests of authors. That’s why I was willing to send a copy of my wife’s publication contract for review by the Contracts Committee. I would hope that any such investigation would allow the contest to respond to the allegations. Because I take the confidentiality of the SFWA forum seriously, I have not told anyone who works for the contest about the allegations that have appeared on the forum or the fact that SFWA is investigating, but it would be highly unfair for SFWA to take any final action against the contest without giving them an opportunity to defend themselves.

Thank you,
Eric James Stone

Last week, after the Board published the statement and updated the rules to eliminate contest publications, I sent the following email:

President Rambo (and other members of the SFWA board),

I have to say I am very disappointed with the statement about the Writers of the Future Contest published on the SFWA website.

I don’t really have a problem with what is in the statement itself, other than the gratuitous link to the Writers Beware page about contests, which looks like a deliberate attempt to tar the Writers of the Future Contest with the same brush as the scam contests listed there.

I do have a problem with what was left out: any acknowledgement of the positive experiences of some Writers of the Future finalists. You could easily have mentioned that the contest has been a positive experience for many, while still emphasizing the concerns SFWA has about the negative experiences. The fact that you did not leads me to believe that the board has decided to completely ignore those SFWA members who have spoken out about the good the contest has done.

Furthermore, it is clear from the separately published new rule against contests as SFWA qualifying markets that, despite what is claimed in the statement, the board has no real interest in working with the administrators of the contest to address the concerns that have been raised. [Redacted.] I understand the use of SFWA’s leverage to get markets to resolve issues. And, with this rule change that was obviously targeted at the Writers of the Future Contest, the SFWA board has elected to give up the best leverage we had for getting the contest to respond to concerns. What incentive is there for them to work with SFWA, since even if they correct the problems, they would still not be a SFWA-qualifying market?

And please don’t insult my intelligence by claiming that the rule change was based on the reasons given in the footnote about contests on the Membership Requirements page, rather than as a way to de-list the Writers of the Future Contest anthology as a qualifying market. What is the critical difference that makes an anthology that pays pro rates and has an open call for submissions a valid qualifier, and a contest with an open call for submissions that pays pro rates and publishes an anthology of the winners an invalid qualifier? All else being equal between two venues, why should one of them being a contest be disqualifying? If Neil Clarke renamed Clarkesworld Magazine to Clarkesworld: The Best Speculative Fiction of the Month Contest, with absolutely no other changes, then Clarkesworld would no longer be a qualifying market under the new rule. That outcome is ridiculous on its face.

The sham nature of this explanation becomes quite clear when one realizes the exact same justification could be applied just as easily to de-list all magazines as qualifying markets:

*Magazines: Hundreds of literary magazines, across a vast range of sponsoring organizations, offer paid publication for selected submitters. Determining whether each of these payments, each year, meets SFWA’s standard of professional pay rates imposes a burden on SFWA’s employees and volunteers, beginning with its Membership Committee.

You should be ashamed of yourselves for trying to pass off this rule change as merely a way to lessen the burden on the Membership Committee.

As for the historical argument that membership qualification based on contest publication doesn’t fit with what the founders of SFWA envisioned, the Writers of the Future Contest has been accepted as a qualifying market for almost two thirds of SFWA’s history, and it’s only in 2018 that the board realized it was against the founders’ vision? It’s been around as a qualifying market longer than electronic magazines. It’s been around as a qualifying market since before any current member of the board was published in a qualifying market. The second president of SFWA, Robert Silverberg, is a Writers of the Future judge and, to my knowledge, has never opposed the contest’s anthology as a SFWA-qualifying sale. And can you honestly claim to be basing your decision on what the founders of SFWA envisioned when you have recently changed the rules to allow self-published fiction and writing for games as qualifying work? (Note: I agree with allowing self-publishing and game credits to qualify. I am merely pointing out the board’s hypocrisy in using the historical argument.)


I therefore resign my position as a member of the Grievance Committee, effective immediately.

Eric James Stone

P.S. I plan to publish this letter on my blog later this week. If any members of the board would care to defend the integrity of the decisions and statements made in this matter, I am willing to publish their defenses along with my letter.

As of now, three members of the board have responded to my email. The first response was from Erin Hartshorn, SFWA Vice President:

Dear Eric,

I am very disheartened to see your resignation.

[Redacted.]  A few of the public complaints you might have seen include someone being misled about a signing venue; people who have been shamed about their body, attire, or choice of guest for the awards ceremony; and writers asked to sign release forms where the blanks had not been filled in beforehand. [Redacted.]

[Edited to remove reference to case that was not public.]

The vast majority of complaints we have seen, however, are ones where the writers simply want to know that what happened to them won’t happen to someone else. They’re not looking for restitution; they want the same thing that made you choose to join Griefcom — fair and honest treatment of authors.

I hope that you will reconsider your resignation, but I understand if you do not.

Thank you for your service.

Erin Hartshorn

The second was from Cat Rambo, SFWA President:

Erin’s summed up a lot of this, but I will add that this discussion has been going on for months at the board level, that it was based on feedback from many participants, and that it was not a step taken lightly or hastily, but one we felt necessary based on the multiple data points being brought to us.

Considering how scathing my email to the Board was, I think it’s to their credit Erin and Cat responded as graciously as they did.

Here’s my reply to them:

Erin and Cat,

I did see public complaints, as well as private ones shared on different private forums. And that is why, when I wrote to the Board in April about the WOTF Contest, I said:

Now, when it comes to allegations of improper conduct in connection with the contest and/or publication of the anthology, I agree that SFWA has a duty to investigate the allegations in order to protect the interests of authors. That’s why I was willing to send a copy of my wife’s publication contract for review by the Contracts Committee.


In the statement, the Board says:

SFWA has formally contacted the WotF administrators, in hopes of launching a private dialogue between our organizations, and ensuring that these concerns are meaningfully addressed.

That’s exactly the sort of dialog I presumed was quietly happening behind the scenes during the months in which the Board did not make any public statement about WOTF. At one point I did think about volunteering to carry on such a conversation on behalf of SFWA, since I have a good relationship with the WOTF Contest administrators and could approach them in a non-confrontational way. Now I really wish I had, but I thought the Board would be wise enough to handle things quietly until the issues were resolved, reserving public criticism of the contest and the possibility of de-listing from the Qualified Markets List as leverage to get the administrators to address the issues.

Erin’s summed up a lot of this, but I will add that this discussion has been going on for months at the board level, that it was based on feedback from many participants, and that it was not a step taken lightly or hastily, but one we felt necessary based on the multiple data points being brought to us.

And during those months of discussion at the board level, with feedback from many participants, and multiple data points, did any member of the board ever suggest that it might be a good idea to privately contact the administrators of the contest to get their feedback and point of view before taking any public action? If so, why did the board decide against it?

In my email in April, I said:

I would hope that any such investigation would allow the contest to respond to the allegations. Because I take the confidentiality of the SFWA forum seriously, I have not told anyone who works for the contest about the allegations that have appeared on the forum or the fact that SFWA is investigating, but it would be highly unfair for SFWA to take any final action against the contest without giving them an opportunity to defend themselves.

Instead, it looks like the Board voted in August to de-list WOTF (by de-listing all contests) without even having tried to resolve any issues, and then after several more months of silence issued a public statement critical of the contest right at the beginning of supposedly trying to open a dialog with the contest administrators.

If the Board’s goal was to convince the contest administrators to make changes, the chosen strategy was so incompetent that I have found it hard to believe the Board was acting in good faith.

Meanwhile, I have acted in good faith all along. I did not talk to anyone at WOTF about there being a SFWA investigation of the contest until today, after the public announcement from SFWA. And I did not mention anything about the specific concerns or complaints that I’ve only heard of through the SFWA forum or other confidential venues.

You said you hoped I would reconsider my resignation from Griefcom. I would be happy to withdraw my letter of resignation (and not publish it on my blog) if I were convinced that the Board wanted to resolve the issues with the Writers of the Future Contest in good faith going forward.

What would it take to convince me of that?

I guess it boils down to whether the Board now realizes they could have handled the situation better, and is willing to take action on that basis. Some steps I would suggest to show good faith:

1. The Board appoints someone who is not hostile to the Writers of the Future Contest to discuss the concerns and complaints with the contest administrators and make a good-faith effort to resolve them. I would be willing to serve in that capacity, but I’m sure there are plenty of other SFWA members who could do so as well.

2. A revision or addendum to the statement on the website, recognizing the fact that many SFWA members have had positive experiences with the Writers of the Future Contest.

3. A reconsideration of the rule against contests as qualifying markets. The goal of reducing the burden on the Membership Committee could be met by changing the rules to not count contest prize money at all. Contest anthologies could be qualified markets if they pay pro rates for publication, without counting prize money. The number of contests meeting that threshold would be very small. If you eliminate the prize money aspect, there’s no real difference between a contest anthology that pays pro rates and any other kind of anthology that pays pro rates. This would mean the reinstatement of WOTF as a qualifying market for now. Of course, if the attempts to resolve issues with the contest administrators fail to produce a satisfactory outcome, WOTF could be de-listed for that reason at that time. Alternatively, the Board could privately commit to revising the rule in order to reinstate WOTF if the issues are resolved in a satisfactory manner, allowing reinstatement to be used as an incentive.

These are not demands on my part; they are simply my suggestions as to what the Board could do if they are interested in working in good faith to try to resolve the concerns about the contest. Maybe you can think of alternative steps that would demonstrate that same level of good faith.


Despite my doubts about the good faith of the actions taken by the Board, I really hoped that maybe, having been called out on it, they might be willing to move forward in good faith. Unfortunately, to date I have received only one more email from a member of the Board. This was from Andy Duncan, Director-at-Large:

Eric, thank you for your service to Griefcom. It is much appreciated.

I have only two further points to make.

One,  you suggest that these complaints against WotF should have come to the Grievance Committee. I refer you to the Griefcom rules published on SFWA’s website, specifically the section titled “Cases Griefcom Will Not Handle” (https://www.sfwa.org/member-links/committees/griefcom/cases-griefcom-will-not-handle/). There, you find:

“Third, Griefcom will not handle any grievances of non-members, affiliates, or institutional members.”

By definition, the vast majority of WotF contestants are not yet eligible for SFWA membership. They are too new. Whatever their skill levels and life experiences, they are, professionally speaking, newcomers, novices, amateurs in the best sense, writing only for love. Should these newcomers have cause for complaint, the Griefcom option is closed to them, because they are not SFWA members.

Having been involved in many organizations over many years, I well understand and sympathize with the tendency for veteran committee members to see all problems and issues through the relatively narrow aperture of their own committee. The SFWA Board, by definition, must take a wider view.

Two, you write, “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

I cannot speak for the other individuals on the Board, but I candidly and freely admit that I am made of the same crooked timber as the rest of humanity, and therefore feel shame for countless things I have done and not done during my 50-plus years.

To take only one example, I am ashamed that for so may years, I viewed the field of science fiction and fantasy through such a privilege bubble that I could not even perceive the troubles faced by women writers, queer writers, writers of color, trans writers — indeed, marginalized writers in general. When complaints did reach my ears, I simply ignored them, believing that my track record of excellent experiences meant that others’ negative experiences were exaggerated, isolated, anecdotal, indeed non-existent. Many friends, colleagues, students and loved ones tried to tell me I was wrong; I did not hear them, either. For this, I am indeed ashamed, and will spend the rest of my career doing whatever I can to atone.

On the matter of our Board actions regarding WotF, however, I sleep well at night.

Yours, Andy

And my response:


By definition, the vast majority of WotF contestants are not yet eligible for SFWA membership.

True. Also, pretty much irrelevant. Let’s look at the complaints Erin mentioned in her email:

A few of the public complaints you might have seen include someone being misled about a signing venue; people who have been shamed about their body, attire, or choice of guest for the awards ceremony; and writers asked to sign release forms where the blanks had not been filled in beforehand.

Every single one of those complaints was from a winner in the contest, not merely a contestant. And every single one of those winners was, by virtue of their sale to the contest anthology, eligible to join SFWA as an associate member. If you go back and re-read the Griefcom rule you quoted, you’ll see that grievances by associate members are not excluded.

Of course, since you voted to exclude contest publications as membership qualifiers, you have made it so that future winners will not be eligible for SFWA associate membership as a result of their wins, thus closing off their access to Griefcom.

On the matter of our Board actions regarding WotF, however, I sleep well at night.

I can’t help but notice that, so far, no member of the board has bothered to deny that the rule change was intended to remove WOTF as a qualifying market, and that the publicly posted reasons for the rule change were merely pretexts. Is deceiving the members of SFWA about the board’s actions something you feel comfortable with? If so, I think that’s something the membership should be made aware of.


P.S. As the first and so far only (as far as I know) Hispanic winner of a Nebula Award, I appreciate your efforts to support diversity in the SF field. I have made it a point to encourage women writers, queer writers, writers of color, and trans writers whenever I can. During my time as an assistant editor at IGMS, I championed stories by writers from all of those categories. The issue of IGMS for which I was guest head editor had an equal number of stories by men and women. The charity anthology I edited had 17 stories by women, 12 stories by men, and 2 stories by writers I don’t know the gender of. The gender balance on the anthology you edited was very heavily skewed toward male authors, but maybe that’s one of those things you’re ashamed of now.

I’m probably beating a dead horse by now, but I have a few more points I’d like to make:

  1. Under thy SFWA Bylaws, the Board is given the power to determine eligibility requirements for membership, so I’m not denying they have the power to de-list all contests as qualifying markets. I am questioning the way they went about it.
  2. Even if you agree with WOTF being de-listed, I think you should be concerned about the process implemented by the Board. Imagine that one of your favorite publications was being targeted for de-listing, and the SFWA Board acted to de-list before even communicating with the editors about any concerns or complaints. Would you consider that a fair process? If it wouldn’t have been a fair process for Clarkesworld or Asimov’s or Strange Horizons, then it was not a fair process for Writers of the Future.
  3. I think that any reasonable person who actually wanted to “…ensur[e] that these concerns [about WOTF] are meaningfully addressed…” would have contacted the WOTF Contest administrators to discuss the concerns before taking the action of de-listing the contest as a qualifying market. The only reasonable excuse for not doing so would be some sort of urgent need to act immediately in order to prevent harm, but since the Board voted in August and failed to make it known until December, that excuse doesn’t seem to apply here. Since it is a stated goal of the Board to see that the concerns are meaningfully addressed, the fact that they do not appear to have exercised reasonable care in attempting to carry out that goal could mean they have violated their fiduciary duty as Board members.
  4. None of the members of the Board has answered the charge that the website gave pretexts for the Board’s action in removing contest publications as qualifying markets, while the real goal was to de-list Writers of the Future specifically. The Board’s actions don’t make sense if the objective was to get the contest to address concerns, but they make perfect sense if the objective was to de-list WOTF. Why would they have that specific goal? When I wrote to the Board originally, I was worried that some people might be targeting the contest because of its association with the Church of Scientology. If that was, in fact, the case, and the members of the Board were either in agreement with such an objective or willing to cater to such people, it would explain why the Board would de-list the contest before even going through the motions of resolving concerns about it, and it would also explain why they disguised the motives for their action in the explanation offered on the website.
  5. I regret that, due to my strong feelings about what I feel were unfair and/or unethical actions by the Board, I have ended up accusing some people who I have considered and would like to go on considering as friends. (Yes, I do have friends who do things I consider unfair or unethical. I can like them as a friend without condoning their actions.) But I can understand why they might hold being accused of being unfair or unethical against me.
  6. Finally, I’d like to call attention to something Cat Rambo wrote in her blog post “Promises for the 2018 SFWA Presidency” (some of which is satirical in typical Cat Rambo fashion, but I hope this part was not): “And finally, as always, when I screw up, I’ll admit it and say what I’m doing in the future in order to do better.” Cat, you screwed up. Please admit it and try to clean up the mess. I’ll be happy to help.

Update: I received the following official response from the SFWA Board on 12/18/2018. I don’t see any point in continuing to argue with them, so I’ll let them have the last word: 

Dear Eric,

The SFWA Board thanks you for your thoughts on the Writers of the Future Contest statement published on the SFWA website. We take all communications sent to the Board very seriously.

Our statement about the Writers of the Future Contest was initiated by numerous complaints. Much like Griefcom, the Board keeps such communications confidential, and we cannot comment on the scope or nature of information received and reviewed. The Board discussed these issues extensively over a period of six months. As you noted, our process was not conducted hastily.

Nor was this the only issue the Board confronted this year as part of an overall revamp of how we handle qualifying markets, something discussed at length during the two day Board meeting at the Nebulas this year. The decision to eliminate contests as a venue for qualifying for SFWA membership solved multiple contest-related problems while serving to reinforce SFWA’s mission to protect and enhance the careers of professionally motivated authors.

While we understand that you have a personal and passionate interest in the Writers of the Future Contest, the issues around it were not the only ones the SFWA Board sought to address in making the contest-related decision. As you also note, scam contests are problematic, particularly for aspiring and inexperienced authors. Writer Beware exists to provide information and resources for authors, so that’s an appropriate venue for cautions of this nature.

SFWA isn’t in the business of either praising or decrying the Writers of the Future Contest. There was no effort to discuss positive experiences anyone may have had with the contest, any more than SFWA officially endorses any contest outside of the Nebula Awards. The negative experiences relayed to the Board regarding the Writers of the Future Contest were considered appropriate for Writer Beware and so were referred to that venue as such.

As stated in the announcement, a letter was sent to the Writers of the Future Contest, outlining what the SFWA Board identified as problematic practices. We realize you would not be aware of this letter, as we did not consider it appropriate to release it publicly. If the administrators of the contest wish to address those issues, they are welcome to contact the SFWA Board.

However, SFWA has no stake in applying leverage to impel the contest administrators to respond. The Writers of the Future Contest and SFWA are entirely different entities. What they choose to do or not do is up to those administrators. Having members in common is no more relevant than SFWA having members in common with other writers’ organizations such as RWA or HWA. Nor would the SFWA Board attempt to impel changes in those organizations either. But if practices in those organizations were identified that SFWA found problematic for SFF authors, the Board might consider issuing an advisory.

The Board deeply appreciates your long service as the Short Story Griefer on the Grievance Committee and agrees that Griefcom is one of the most important services SFWA offers. However, we understand that due to your strong feelings on this issue that you cannot continue to serve in an objective capacity, free of any conflict of interest. We accept your resignation with gratitude for your service. Thank you again for expressing your concerns.


The SFWA Board

Fee-based legal immigration

Time for another of Eric’s Wacky Public Policy Proposals!

People pay smugglers thousands of dollars to get smuggled into the United States. This generates revenue for criminal operations, and puts people’s lives at risk. The presence of illegal immigrants in the United States also leads to employers paying low wages to people who can’t legally complain about it, lower tax revenues from wages being paid off the books to illegal immigrants, unreported crime, etc.

So, let’s have fee-based legal immigration in addition to our current legal immigration. Instead of people paying a smuggler $2K to $10K each to be smuggled into the United States, let’s allow them to pay a fee to the U.S. Government. Let’s price it at $5K each. The number of illegal immigrants each year is about 300,000, although it has been more than double that at some points. So that would bring in about $1.5 billion to $3 billion each year — which is about 25-50% of the annual U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement budget. Plus, there would be a one-time windfall of about $50 billion from illegal immigrants already in the U.S. paying to become legal.

Now, of course, you might point out that the $5K price is higher than the $2K for which someone could get smuggled across the border, so there would still be some people who prefer that option. But there are some ways to address this problem. First, along with making it possible for anyone who pays the fee to immigrate legally, we make employment eligibility verification mandatory, and raise the penalty for knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant to the point that few employers will risk it. That reduces the incentive for illegal immigration. Second, to discourage people from entering illegally and then only paying $5K after they’re caught, let’s make it $10K to legalize for those who come in illegally after this policy goes into effect. And, last but not least, we allow people and organizations to sponsor immigrants by assisting them with their fees: companies could pay to bring in legal immigrants to work for them, families could pay to bring in their relatives, charities could pay to bring in refugees or others who can’t afford the fees on their own. So why would anyone pay $2K to a smuggler to get across the border as an illegal alien when some charity will pay for them to immigrate legally?

Total charitable giving in the US is close to $400 billion, so on an annual basis this would involve less than 1% of the charitable donations even if charities paid all of the fees for the immigrants.

If the fee-based system were extended to cover all immigration, not just currently illegal immigration, then the fees for the current legal immigration of one million people per year would bring in an additional $5 billion each year, which would more than cover the current ICE budget.



Privatized Gun Registration

I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment. I believe people have the right to arm themselves for their own protection and as a check against a tyrannical government.

Therefore, I agree with those who say it would be a bad idea to allow the government to have a database of guns and their owners, because that would make gun confiscation significantly easier. And, let’s face it, there are plenty of liberals who would happily ban all guns if the political climate ever shifted enough that they felt they could get away with it.

On the other hand, the lack of searchable databases of gun owners hampers investigations after a gun has been used in a crime. See this story in GQ for an examination of the problem. (Hat tip to Stacy Whitman for the link.)

So, is there a way to bridge that gap? I think there might be: privatized gun registration.

How would that work?

A federal law would allow private organizations to become gun registrars. (The NRA could become one if they wanted.) A gun registrar would maintain a searchable database of guns and gun owners, that would allow the registrar to retrieve the identity of the owner of a particular gun based on its serial number, or to retrieve a list of all the guns registered in their database for a particular gun owner. This could be used in two ways:

  1. Police could ask the gun registrars to search for the owner of a particular gun that is in the police’s possession, and the registrar would be legally obligated to respond within a certain amount of time. This would allow police to find the registered owner of a lost or stolen gun (in which case the owner will presumably be happy to get it back), or the owner of a gun used in a crime (and therefore help the investigation of a particular crime). I don’t think this provision opens the door for gun confiscation, since the police would have the gun in their possession already.
  2. After showing probable cause that a person committed a crime involving a gun, police could get a warrant to ask the registrars for a list of all guns owned by that person (and maybe other people in the same household). I think the warrant requirement is a sufficient barrier to mass confiscation of guns by asking the registrar.

But what if the government comes in and seizes the registrar’s database?

Good question.

  1. The registrars will be required by law to have a system in place to destroy the database and any backups at a particular location if government agents try to seize the database at that location. (To protect against accidental destruction, the registrar must have the database in multiple locations. But if the government tries to seize all of a registrar’s locations, the database should be completely destroyed, with no way to recover it.)
  2. Even if a registrar fails to destroy their database, and the government seizes it, that registrar’s database only has the guns and gun owners registered through that registrar. People who own multiple guns and were concerned about limiting the knowledge of what guns they had would simply register different guns with different registrars.
  3. The registrars would be required by law to destroy all their databases immediately if a bill to confiscate weapons passes in either chamber of Congress, or if the President of the United States issues an executive order to confiscate guns. Thus, even if the politics of guns shifted to the point where gun confiscation became politically possible, the registrars’ databases could not be used.

Since a privatized gun registration system like this would avoid the danger of gun confiscation posed by a centralized, government-run gun registration system, I think it would therefore be reasonable to require gun owners to register their weapons.

However, since such required registration would subject law-abiding gun owners to an inconvenience (and would presumably cost them money for registration), it seems fair that they should get something in return for agreeing to such a system. Something like concealed carry permit reciprocity (a concealed carry permit from any state would be honored in any state, just like a driver’s license) might work.




The Responsible Market-based Universal Health Care Plan

Months ago, someone asked me what I would do about health care in the United States. My preferred health care policies stand no chance whatsoever of being made into law, but I’m going to explain how I would structure the system if I were in charge.
Warning: Not only is this a long post, but if you want to criticize or argue with anything I’ve said, then you must read not only my whole post, but also every source I link to. If you can’t be bothered to do the reading, I can’t see why I should be bothered with your comment.

The main principles behind my policies are:

  1. Using free-market competition to lower costs where possible
  2. Using self-interest to lower costs where possible
  3. Encouraging personal responsibility
  4. Respecting people’s liberty
  5. Providing universal coverage

This plan would also completely replace Medicare and Medicaid, and would do away with the tax exemption for employer-provided health benefits.

Part I: Pricing Reform

One of the biggest problems with our health care system is that pricing is generally opaque to the consumer. While I don’t agree with all of the proposed policies, I think this blog post on Market-Ticker.org has a lot of really good ideas about how health care pricing could be reformed on a free-market basis (i.e., without the government setting prices, which generally ends badly.) For example:

  • “All providers must post, in their offices and on a public web site…, a full and complete price list which shall apply to every person.”
  • “For a bill to be valid and collectible it must be affirmatively consented to in writing, with a disclosure of the actual price to be charged from the above schedule for each item to be provided whether good or service, prior to the service being performed or the good furnished, subject only to the emergency exception below.”
  • “No event caused by or a consequence of treatment can be billed to the customer.”
  • “Auxiliary services (e.g. medical or dental Xrays, lab testing, etc) may not be required to be purchased at the point of use.”
  • “Any test or diagnostic that carries no exposure to drugs or radiation, nor is invasive beyond a blood draw, may be purchased without doctor order or prescription.”
  • “Wholesale drug pricing in the United States must be on a ‘most-favored nation’ basis.” (Basically, this means drug companies must sell drugs to wholesalers in the U.S. at the lowest price they offer to wholesalers in any country. My brother Jonathan worries that this will result in significantly higher drug prices in poorer countries, so maybe rather than using absolute prices, we could use pricing relative to median per capita income in each country.)

(For more details about those bullet points, see the original blog post.)

I would also add some very specific patent reform and/or tax reform: shortening the patent term and/or increasing taxes on the profits for maintenance medications/treatments, and lengthening the term/decreasing taxes for cures. Right now, the incentives for medical research are to find treatments that people will have to take for the rest of their lives, rather than on finding treatments that permanently fix a medical condition. For example, I have asthma.  I have an inhaler I use twice a day that works well enough that I hardly ever have any asthma symptoms — unless I forget to use the inhaler for a couple of days.  That medication (Symbicort, in case you’re wondering) is a long-term revenue stream for the drug company that makes it.  And I’m grateful the medication exists. But I would be better off if there were a treatment that I could take to cure my asthma so I didn’t have to keep using an inhaler twice a day.  So we should change incentives to shift medical research toward cures for conditions, rather than control or maintenance.

Part II: Government-funded Catastrophic Health Insurance Policies

There would be catastrophic health insurance for all adults, with a high annual deductible adjusted annually for inflation. A plan like this one would work, although I would suggest some variations as follows: Twenty percent co-pay on everything above the deductible (but a percentage of your copayment would be eligible for a tax credit. More on that later.) The federal government would set minimum standards for what must be offered in these catastrophic health insurance policies (CHIPs) — basically, that they must cover all reasonable and necessary medical expenses, subject to the deductible and co-pay. Insurance companies could offer more than the minimum in order to attract customers. The market for CHIPs would be nationwide and subject only to federal regulation, not state regulation.

Once a year, each insurance company would be free to set their own prices for these CHIPs, but the price of any particular policy would have to be the same for anyone who wanted to buy it. The prices would be submitted privately to the federal government by a certain deadline, after which they would be announced publicly.  Rather than set one flat fee that the federal government will pay, the government will pay for the lowest cost policy that is available to you, plus five percent. If the policy you choose is less than what the government will pay, you get to keep the difference. If it’s more, you have to pay the difference. Since many people will want to receive that cash-back bonus, and since the insurers won’t know what prices other insurers will be offering, insurers will have an incentive to offer policies that meet the minimum standards at the lowest price they can.

Nobody would be forced to purchase a CHIP, but since it would essentially be free for everyone, only an idiot wouldn’t do so. To protect idiots, we could have the government automatically purchase a plan for someone if they don’t do it themselves, unless they specifically object to having insurance.

The vast majority (over 75%) of our national health care spending is on people with chronic conditions, many of which can be prevented or alleviated through lifestyle changes.  Therefore, insurers would be allowed to offer incentives for healthy living. For example, they could offer a cash rebate to customers who don’t smoke or quit smoking during the year, or for overweight customers who lose weight, etc.

Part III: Government-funded Pediatric Care

Absent mental impairment, adults should be responsible for their own financial and health care decisions. Children, however, have neither the judgment nor the funds to make proper health care decisions, and they shouldn’t suffer because their parents’ financial situation. Therefore, using a similar system as for CHIPs above, insurance companies would offer zero-deductible, zero-copay insurance policies for children, with government standards set for what must be included. The government would pay for the lowest-cost policy available that provided care within a reasonable distance. Parents could pay extra for things like the ability to choose particular doctors, etc. The important thing is that every child would have access to care under this system even if the parents have no money.

Part IV: Emergency Care

A free market for health care can’t really work in many emergency situations. Again, drawing on the Market-Ticker.org blog post:

“All true emergency patients, defined as those who are unable by medical circumstance to choose where their treatment is to take place and require immediate medical intervention to either stabilize their condition, prevent severe permanent impairment or death … must receive the same price for the same service as a person who consents to said service.”

Part V: Health Care Tax Credits

There would be a tax credit for a percentage of your health care expenses below the deductible on your CHIP, and another tax credit for a percentage of whatever your copay expenses have been on your CHIP.  The percentages would be variable on a sliding scale based on two factors: First, the percentage eligible for a tax credit goes down the higher your income. This means richer people get less of a credit than poor people with the same health care expenses. Second, the percentage eligible for a tax credit goes up the higher your copay expenses are as a percentage of your income. This means people whose copay expenses are higher relative to their income get more of a credit than someone with the same income but lower copay expenses.  These credits are meant to maintain the personal incentive for keeping costs down, while also preventing costs from exceeding a certain percentage of your income.

Part VI: Health Care Financing

Obviously, there will be some people who won’t be able to pay their bills up front and/or can’t afford to wait until they can get their money refunded via tax credits. This can be handled by allowing anyone to get a special credit card, usable only for medical expenses, with a nominal interest rate that is the same for everyone — and the interest will be considered a medical expense when it comes to calculating tax credits.  The government will pay tax credits directly to the credit card issuer first, then any remaining tax credit would go to the taxpayer. If, after tax credits, there is still a balance on the card, the taxpayer would be responsible for paying it off. If the taxpayer did not do so in a timely manner, the credit card company could get reimbursed by the government, and the government would add that amount, plus interest and penalties, to the taxpayer’s tax bill.

Part VII: Revenue

Since this plan involves the federal government spending money and/or losing revenue (mostly through tax credits), additional revenue would be needed, and the most likely source is higher income taxes.  Since employers that currently offer health insurance to employees would no longer need to do so, some of that taxation would be offset by higher earnings. Lower health care costs would also offset some of the impact. But yes, this plan would involve a tax increase.

Okay, so that’s the basics of my plan.

Now, some of my liberal/progressive/socialist friends will say it would be simpler just to have a government-run single-payer system, getting rid of insurance and just making all health care free. And they are right, it would be simpler. But it would also mean that the government would be setting prices for medical care, resulting in distortion and perverse incentives. (That’s not to say that the current system doesn’t also distort prices and create perverse incentives, but those are things I’m trying to reduce with my plan.) My plan uses market forces to lower costs, a process that is less likely to result in shortages than government bureaucrats setting prices. My plan achieves your goal of universal coverage in a way that could be supported by many Republicans, and based on past experience you might agree that a plan with support from both parties would be best.

On the other hand, some of my conservative/libertarian friends will object to the higher taxes and increased government regulations required to implement my plan. And, from a philosophical standpoint, they are right to do so. There should always be resistance to increasing government power. However, I would argue that, as a practical matter, this plan better implements conservative and libertarian ideals than Obamacare, the current GOP legislation, or the single-payer system liberals will attempt if Republicans fail to improve the health care system in this country. I would also point out that our current health care mess is the result of FDR’s WWII-era wage controls, and that Ronald Reagan favored universal coverage, so leaving people to fend for themselves on health care is not necessarily a conservative value.

So there you have it. I remind you of the ground rules for criticizing or arguing with this post: you must have read my whole post and all of the linked articles. If your comment shows you have not done so, I reserve the right to delete it.

Obamacare and Mortality Rates

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how many lives have been saved by Obamacare, and how many lives will be lost if it is repealed. So I decided to look at the mortality statistics for the United States before and after passage of the Affordable Care Act. The data for 2009-2014 is taken from the Age-Adjusted Death Rate table on page 22 of this PDF and the data for 2015 comes from the Key Findings on page 1 of this PDF. (I originally started writing this post before the 2015 data came in, and had to update the data before publishing.)

The ACA was passed in 2009 and took effect in 2010 (although parts were not phased in until 2014).

My chart starts in 1980 because that’s when the table starts doing year-by-year data rather than decade by decade data. It ends with the 2015 data because those are the latest available.

I included a couple of trend lines after 2009, to show what the age-adjusted death rate would be if it had continued to change at the average rate from 1980-2009 (30 years) or the average rate from 2000-2009 (10 years).

If the ACA were saving a significant number of lives, one would expect the death rate to decline faster than those trend lines.

Instead, as you can see from the graph, the decline in the death rate slowed after the ACA passed. If the death rate had continued to decline at the same rate as the previous decade, then about 175,000 fewer people would have died in 2015 (based on a U.S. population of 319 million in 2015).

Now, of course, I am not asserting that Obamacare is the cause of the slowing decline in mortality rate.  Correlation does not imply causation. There are a lot of things that can affect the death rate, and it’s quite possible that other factors — factors that by pure coincidence became more significant after Obamacare passed — have overwhelmed the impact of Obamacare. But if Obamacare is, on average, saving lives, that’s not showing up in the basic mortality statistics.

A Smattering of Post-election Thoughts

On November 4, 2008, I made the following blog post:

Congratulations to President-Elect Obama

While I didn’t vote for him, I wish him well in doing what is best for our country.

It was succinct, but heartfelt. No matter who is President, I want them to do what is best for our country.

With that in mind, I post the following:

Congratulations to President-Elect Trump

While I didn’t vote for him, I wish him well in doing what is best for our country.

Note that I’m not saying I will support him in doing what he thinks is best for our country. When I think he’s wrong, I will oppose him. When I think he’s right, I’ll support him.

Part of me is relieved that there’s at least a chance of getting a constitutional conservative appointed to the Supreme Court to replace Scalia.  Frankly, I wish we could go back to having both parties confirm qualified nominees even in the face of ideological differences. But the Democrats’ refusal to confirm Robert Bork set us down this path, and I don’t see a way back — short of significant numbers of liberals/progressives coming to realize that having a powerful central government unconstrained by the Constitution is a really bad idea and working together with limited-government conservatives to make the Supreme Court (and the rest of the federal government) far less important in our lives. So, for the foreseeable future, Supreme Court appointments are going to be highly partisan affairs. With that in mind, any bets as to how long it takes the New York Times editorial board to flip back in favor of filibusters for nominations?

I’m guessing it’ll happen in 2017.

Then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room.  You can’t always blame a candidate for who supports them. But Trump hired Steve Bannon as his campaign manager (and now wants him to be a senior advisor in the White House), and Bannon has deliberately courted the support of from “alt-right” groups. I don’t know if Bannon is personally an anti-semitic white nationalist — I find the evidence somewhat weak — but there is no doubt that after taking over Breitbart News, he made the alt-right his target market. To me, this is very troubling.  It’s one thing to be the main party one side of the political spectrum and end up receiving the support of some unsavory people because they consider you at least marginally better than the other main party. It’s quite another to deliberately court their support.

Going back to at least Reagan, Republican campaigns have tended to focus on freedom — that we can solve our nation’s problems by enhancing people’s freedom. Trump barely mentions freedom, and his proposed solution to most problems seems to be “Make me President and I’ll fix it” — which seems more like a cult of personality than a principled approach. Coupled with that, Trump’s seeming admiration for dictators who are “strong leaders” becomes even more troubling. His proposals at various times in his campaign for things such as forcing Muslims to register or even banning them from entering the country seem to me to be treading into very dangerous waters.

Of course, I was wrong about Donald Trump’s electability. So I may be completely wrong about how he’ll govern.

Shortly after I moved back to the U.S. in 1983, my family watched the TV miniseries The Winds of War, based on the novel by Herman Wouk. I remember thinking it was very good, but after 33 years I don’t really remember anything about the plot.

Except for one scene: As I recall it, some Jewish characters are trying to get out of Nazi-controlled territory, and they are with a group of non-Jewish Americans. The Nazi border guards say that the Americans are free to cross the border, but that, naturally, any Jews must identify themselves and be detained. One of the Americans then declares that he is a Jew, everyone in his company is a Jew, and they must either all be allowed to cross the border or they must all be detained. Unsure how to handle this, the border guards finally allow everyone to cross. (I probably have some of the details wrong, but I’m pretty sure that was the gist of it.)

The simple heroism in that scene has stuck with me even after the rest of the miniseries has faded from my mind.

That’s why, even before I saw others suggesting this course of action on social media, I decided that if Trump actually implemented registration of Muslims (or any other minority group, for that matter), I would would register as an act of solidarity. (I am under no illusions that such action would require the same level of heroism shown by people who protected Jews during World War II, but I feel it would be the right thing to do.)

I sincerely hope that in four years time, people will look back at the aftermath of this election and realize the fears about a Trump presidency were tremendously overblown, and that his election wasn’t a step down the road to fascism.

I sincerely hope that, as one Trump supporter told me, Trump’s extreme positions were merely for negotiation, and that he would moderate his positions and lead his extreme supporters to be more moderate.

But I will remain watchful.

Unlikely but Possible Outcomes for the Presidential Race

Obviously, our next President will almost certainly be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Most likely, that will happen because one or the other won enough states with enough electoral college votes to have at least 270.

And I’ve already discussed the unlikely event that McMullin wins Utah’s six electoral college votes and neither Trump nor Clinton has 270, so the election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, which would choose between Trump, Clinton, and McMullin. (There’s a similar scenario if Gary Johnson wins a state and McMullin does not.)

But I want to talk about some even unlikelier scenarios that are still possible:

  1. On Election Day, Clinton wins 270 votes to Trump’s 268 (or another very slim margin). However, one of Washington’s Democratic electors has already announced he will not vote for Clinton. It’s possible there could be more. If enough electors refuse to vote for her, that would take Clinton below 270 EC votes. The election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, to choose between Clinton, Trump, and whoever the defecting elector(s) choose to vote for. (Most likely: Bernie Sanders. Absent a huge post-election scandal for Trump, it’s hard to see how Sanders could win in the House, but it’s technically possible.)
  2. On Election Day, Trump narrowly wins in the electoral college, but one or more Republican electors announce they will not vote for him, reducing him below 270. The election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, to choose between Clinton, Trump, and whoever the defecting elector(s) choose to vote for. (Most likely: I’m going to say Mitt Romney, because he’s a known quantity and because he’s old enough that, if elected, he would not run for re-election, so he wouldn’t interfere with other candidates planning to run in 2020. Second most likely: Paul Ryan.)
  3. On Election Day, Clinton and Trump tie at 269. (Or announced defectors from one or both parties, or a McMullin win in Utah and/or a Gary Johnson win somewhere, will reduce both candidates below 270). Knowing that she cannot win in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Clinton decides to do what she can to block Trump and start a civil war within the Republican Party: she instructs enough of her electors to vote for Mitt Romney (or Paul Ryan) that he is in third place in EC votes (beating out Bernie Sanders, who would have almost no chance in the House.)  There are some possible sub-scenarios here:
    1. The Republicans in the House reject the attempt to manipulate them and choose Trump.
    2. Romney or Ryan (RoR) initially has enough support from Republicans to prevent Trump from winning 26 states in the House, but not enough to win 26 states himself.
      1. The Senate has flipped to Democratic control.  Since the Vice President is chosen by the Senate from between the top two EC vote recipients, Tim Kaine is elected Vice President. (Or, because electors didn’t defect from Kaine, he was elected in the normal way regardless of who controls the Senate.) Democrats have no incentive to get involved in the fight between Trump and RoR, because if the deadlock continues, Kaine will become acting President. As the deadline to Inauguration Day nears, the Republicans who support RoR have no incentive to give up, because they’re committed to blocking Trump. Faced with a choice between sticking by Trump and letting Kaine become acting President, or voting for RoR, Republicans in the House elect RoR as President. Trump voters are livid.
      2. The Senate stays in Republican control. Since the Vice President is chosen by the Senate from between the top two EC vote recipients, Mike Pence is elected Vice President. (Or, because electors didn’t defect from Pence, he was elected in the normal way regardless of who controls the Senate.) Trump’s supporters in the House are now willing to hold out as long as necessary, because they don’t object to Pence as acting President. However, Democrats figure out they have some leverage: they can offer their support for RoR in exchange for some concessions, while also foreclosing the possibility that Trump eventually wins enough support in the House. So RoR is elected President by a coalition of anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats. Trump supporters are even more livid, branding RoR and his Republican supporters as traitors.