Pattern Recognition

Unsurprisingly, most writers are human. Along with our freakish sweat glands, unusual mating habits, ability to domesticate almost anything, and potential for wiping out the vast majority of life on the planet while we wave our genitals at each other, we’re also pretty well known for our ability to spot patterns – even where there are none.

Now for a writer, this is actually a really useful thing. People look for stuff that isn’t there. Your readers can practically invent a massive red herring based on a typo or a misused character name. Ask any diehard Harry Potter fan about Mark Evans, a complete and utter throwaway who just so happens to share the original last name of Harry’s mom; he was literally mentioned once and set off enough speculation that J.K. Rowling actually took the time to joss it herself while the series was ongoing. You can find similar examples in just about any fandom, especially ones where the series itself is ongoing or the existing canon is really thin (see: Dark Souls, where a guy named VaatiVidya got big enough to seriously make a living off of awesomely presented speculation; the game itself is almost nothing but implicit storytelling between boss fights, leaving you to fill in the gaps on your own).

Patterns also run rampant in politics. I think I may have noticed one recently, and it hasn’t really been picked up by the media yet: Beginning with Eric Fanning, President Obama’s pick to be the next Secretary of the Army, a lot of high-level people suddenly changed how they were doing things – meaning they either downgraded or stopped doing them all together.

To give you some admittedly biased background, Eric Fanning is currently still awaiting confirmation by the Senate. If confirmed, he’ll go down in history as the first openly gay person to officially lead a branch of the armed services. Unsurprisingly, some Senate Republicans aren’t super keen on him or the historical nature of his appointment, specifically Pat Roberts of Kansas. Dude doesn’t exactly have a friendly voting record towards gay rights and while I might be wrong, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the real reason he’s opposing Fanning’s nomination (hey, look, pattern recognition!). Senator John McCain, Roberts’ nominal boss on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has promised to hold hearings to try and get Fanning his fair shot, but I’m honestly doubtful that he’ll see a floor vote before it’s too late to mean anything.

I’m not very good at sports metaphors.

Obama has less than a year left, there are bigger fights looming, and all Roberts has to do is run down the clock. As a very conservative senator from one of the most conservative states in the country, it’s a safe issue for him and he has nothing to lose short of getting publicly shamed and/or verbally slapped down on the Senate floor by his target – something that hasn’t really happened since Joseph McCarthy and which probably wouldn’t mean nearly as much today as it did in the 1950s. It’d also be political suicide for Fanning to do such a thing either way.

But beyond all that: Eric Fanning was doing something called ‘acting’ in the job he’s nominated for. As Acting Secretary of the Army, he was basically doing everything he’s nominated to do, except not, because politics. Roberts cited this as his alleged reason for holding things up, McCain (and probably others) had to at least appear to think those concerns are valid, yadda yadda, we’ve now got another Acting Secretary while Fanning twiddles his thumbs and probably contributes in some kind of informal, questionably legal sort of way.

Except Fanning wasn’t the only one who was doing this. So was Beth Cobert of the Office of Personnel Management, before a badly timed Inspector General report got her. So was Brad Carson, of the Department of Defense’s Personnel office, before he quietly stepped down to the office’s deputy spot. So is John B. King Jr., who was just nominated to replace Arne Duncan as the Secretary of Education. Acting while nominated is pretty common, especially in the Obama Administration, and while these names and offices might not mean very much to you rest assured, they’re goddamn important.

And they’re not the only ones.

I’m too hungry to use a picture of actual dominoes right now.

All of which means a bunch of other acting people will have to come in and keep the seats warm. It’s like recruiting for the same job twice, except the second guy is a temp who doesn’t get jack squat. The alternative is to have the nominee partially do the job while officially being in another job without any recognition for the effort; this is what’s happening with Carson and it’s probably going to cause its own brand of trouble the minute someone needs a pet issue to yell about.

Last I looked, King is still Acting Secretary of Education, but if the pattern holds then he’ll step down soon and someone else will have to do the job while he goes back to being a senior advisor or acting deputy secretary or whatever other title they give him. In other words, a huge chunk of our government is basically going to be dysfunctional for another year or more so one senator can continue an apparent pattern of opposing progress for gay people.

That said, I’m sure there are ways to give the whole thing a positive spin if I were going to fictionalize it. I’m not sure I’d want to though. It’d be like actually writing This Town. I finished reading that book and had to burn my way through the entire Codex Alera before feeling normal again. Somehow I think it’d take more than Pokemon-wielding Roman legionnaires, inbred cave elves, psychic yeti, and Klingon werewolf samurai fighting the Zerg…

Maybe mix this with the Big Lebowski, the Blade Trilogy, and Thomas the Tank Engine…

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