Archive for September, 2008

End of an era

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

The failure of the bailout bill has set off all the usual recriminations, though as of this writing the market is regaining some of the ground it lost yesterday. The bill that went down to defeat yesterday was certainly rife with problems: as economist Nouriel Roubini (one of the few who saw the financial tsunami coming) points out, it lacked numerous safeguards and put far more of the public’s money at risk than is prudent. Nonetheless it seems virtually certain that some kind of bill will pass shortly.

But the underlying damage has already been done. Future historians are likely to mark 2000 as the apogee of the American Empire; the decline since then has been as swift as it was unnecessary.  Wed to their belief in American exceptionalism, the country’s leaders ran up huge debts to support wars that (as enemies like Bin Laden anticipated) undermined the state’s finances.  And the people showed even greater myopia, spending like there was no tomorrow even as they lapsed into endless blue state/red state culture strife.  The world economy has depended for way too long on the ability of the U.S. consumer to place him/herself in ever greater debt.  We’ve now reached the limits of that ability, and we’ve got a long way to fall.  We may or may not be heading for a second great depression, but we are certainly heading for a multipolar world (at first financially, but ultimately politically).  And the transition to it will be anything but pretty.

October surprise(s)

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

The possibility of an October surprise has never loomed so large over an election, partially because there are just so many possibilities this year. The following is by no means an exhaustive list, but I think it does cover the major categories.

1. War with Iran. This is far less likely than it might have seemed a few months back, as this article in the Guardian attests.  It would be sheer insanity for the U.S. to start anything, since Iran’s capability for retaliation (both in Iraq and in the Gulf) is considerable.  Nonetheless, it would be to McCain’s electoral advantage, and is impossible to discount altogether.

2.  Bin Laden found. Bin Laden’s capture/death would go a long way toward vindicating Bush II in the eyes of the American people, though (in stark contrast to 04) such an event wouldn’t automatically redound to the benefit of the GOP candidate. Nonetheless, this may be why the temperature on the Pakistani border has been increasing so dramatically (note I said “may“).

3. War with Pakistan.  Caught between the U.S. and its own militants, Pakistan may lash out in unpredictable ways.  There’s also the (remote) possiblity of an Islamic coup.

4.  Al-Qaeda launches attacks in U.S.   It’s no secret that Al-Qaeda would love to disrupt the U.S. election, and the internet traffic predicting such an event is growing (as it usually does at this point in the election cycle). There are too many intangibles here to anticipate how this would impact the election; also of note is that in 2004, second-tier U.S. officials discussed postponing the election entirely in the event of such an attack (for which there is no legal basis).

5. Catastrophic incident against a candidate.  I’d be reluctant to even mention this, were it not for the fact that Senator Clinton has already gone on record about the issue, and had not one plot already surfaced.

6.  U.S. dollar meltdown. This would seem to be more of a medium-term scenario than an immediate possibility.  But we are very much in uncharted economic waters now, and anything could happen.

7.  Bristol Palin’s wedding. Well, this surprised me, that’s for sure.  It’s not on the same level as the items above, but apparently it just might happen, and if so, it’d be a #$# media circus.  How many more plot twists can one election take?

Last night’s debate

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

The Romans understood that politics is a particularly weird/brutal kind of sport (check out Tom Holland’s brilliant Rubicon for specific analogies vis-a-vis chariot racing), and they wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest by our presidential debates, where a single false move could cost a candidate the election. Neither candidate made such a move last night; indeed, Jim Lehrer’s decision to open things up at the start paradoxically seemed to make both Obama and McCain more careful in navigating their way forward. Which made for a somewhat boring first 15 minutes as the two men gingerly maneuvered around each other, neither wanting to start debating the specifics of a bailout bill that changes with every passing day . . .

But hey.  I just read John Scalzi’s latest post, and he’s got all sorts of advice for those who would comment on the debate, in particular the injunction to STAY AWAY FROM VIOLENT SPORTS ANALOGIES.  (Yawn.)  Though I do think he raises a good point in wondering why the “real people” scored the debate so differently from the pundits.  John thinks that’s because the voters are concerned with “steak not sizzle”; I gotta admit that’s news to me.  Because I didn’t hear a whole lot of substance last night.  What we got was the standard thing we get in every debate:  two candidates eager to allow the American people to continue in their delusion that fiscal questions can be addressed without hard decisions vis-a-vis military spending and entitlements.

No, I think the gap between the pundits (who rated the debate as even) and the independent voter/focus groups (most of whom scored it for Obama) has nothing to do with what was said and everything to do with what was seen.  Obama simply looked more presidential; he looked McCain in the eye, he didn’t cringe when the other guy was talking, and his posture was confident throughout.  McCain couldn’t even make eye contact in the initial handshake, and that says volumes to the voters.  Palin said she watched Tina Fey impersonate her with the sound down; anyone who did that to this debate knows exactly who won, and why.

Debate countdown

Friday, September 26th, 2008

McCain’s done nothing so far but (potentially) gum up the works of the bailout package, and now he’s going to be heading to Mississippi after all. His dashing back and forth (along with his fake campaign suspension) may look like a far cry from statemanship, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of winning the debate tonight and regaining the momentum his campaign was enjoying only a couple of weeks back.  Here’s what to look for when the two candidates get in the ring:

Soundbites beat speeches:  Obama is going to have to curtail his tendency to come across as pedantic, and that’s not going to be easy for him.  McCain is definitely more likely to say the line that wins (or loses) the debate, particularly because:

Debates tend to turn on (often unscripted) moments:  something that Reagan knew all about (“I’m paying for this mike”).  An off the cuff response (or what looks like it) can be all that people remember twenty minutes (or twenty years) later.

Watch the emotion: Obama has the edge on this one.  If he can get McCain angry, he’s won.

What the hell are they discussing?: No debate has ever been held under stranger circumstances.  Obstensibly this is a foreign policy debate, but how far will moderator Jim Lehrer tilt the entire thing toward the economy?  (And yet, Pakistan and the U.S. were #$# SHOOTING at each other yesterday. . . proof that the prez will indeed have to worry about multiple things.)  And to what extent will the debate reference McCain’s actions across the last few days?

Keep an eye on Capitol Hill:  It’s still entirely conceivable that McCain can show up tonight able to “claim” credit for a bailout deal.  And if it doesn’t happen that way, it won’t be because he didn’t do everything in his power to ensure it.

Bottom line: it’s highly likely McCain will attempt some kind of surprise maneuver/ambush.  His campaign has been full of them so far, and tonight won’t be an exception.  This is gonna be interesting.

McCain’s campaign suspension: three thoughts

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

First of all, the “suspension” is nothing of the kind. McCain’s surrogates will continue to stump for him, the 527 ads like this one will continue, and so will the massive undercurrent of email invective insinuating that Obama’s a Muslim, that he hates Christianity, etc., etc. Sure, I know McCain can claim he’s not directly linked to any of this: but that’s the point.  You can’t just turn a presidential campaign OFF.  Except as an exercise in political theater.

Second, McCain’s move will take the oft-heard “Obama’s playing politics with the issues” argument to reductio ad absurdum levels, since it literally will no longer be possible for Obama to discuss the issues (ANY issues) without getting accused by the GOP of playing politics.  Meanwhile McCain can grandstand all he wants.

Third, while the suspension is an act of total cynicism, it may actually work.  But don’t look to today’s polls/tea-leaves to see whether it is.  We’re entering uncharted waters now, and God only knows how all the intrigue on Capitol Hill across the next few days is going to look to confused centrist voters.  They may yet hail McCain as a statesman.

A tied electoral college?

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008 has a fascinating article on what’s arguably the worst electoral situation of all: each candidate gets 269 electoral votes apiece. In which case the election would move to the House of Representatives, where each state delegation would get one vote, meaning that New York and North Dakota would be on equal footing and the political wrangling would be absolutely off the charts. And since the Senate picks the VP, we could even conceivably see a president from one party and a VP from another.  Assuming the country didn’t disintegrate into civil war in the meantime.

What’s of particular interest to me as a D.C. resident is the ambiguous role of the nation’s capital in such a scenario. D.C. gets 3 electoral votes, but has a non-voting presence in the House.  (well, they get to vote in committees, as long as their “vote” isn’t the decisive one).  So would D.C. be allowed to play a part in a House election?  Turns out it’s up to the Supreme Court.  And their verdict’s easy to predict.

Pakistan going critical

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Pakistan has now ordered its troops to kill any U.S. soldiers crossing the Afghan border. The media barely gave that a yawn, and the campaigns haven’t even registered it, because they’ve been too busy talking about mooses and pigs. Nonetheless, the situation over there is going critical. Ostensibly our ally in the war on terror, Pakistan has been playing every end against the middle for a while now; their Northwest tribal areas are the central bastion of the Taliban, not to mention (in all likelihood) Bin Laden himself. But those areas are about as remote and ungoverned as any place on Earth is, and the current Pakistani government enjoys no popular support whatsoever for encroaching on them.

Enter the Americans.  Who raided the Northwest areas in force last week (which was what triggered the shoot to kill orders), and who now face a classic Catch-22.  They can either (a) not go into Pakistan, and thus never win in Afghanistan (or catch Bin Laden), or (b) go into Pakistan and get shot at and potentially start yet another war.  Finesse will be called for, all the more so given that Pakistani politics in the wake of the fall of Musharraf is rapidly becoming anyone’s game to win.  And American encroachments hold the potential to radicalize those politics very quickly.  An outright jihadist takeover is an entirely plausible scenario.

In short, it’s hard to overestimate just how big of a disaster this could become.  Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world.  And it has nuclear weapons.  Bin Laden must be doing handstands in his cave right now.

Deleting your vote

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

As the candidates enter the final stretch, the big elephant on the table (no pun intended) continues to be vote fraud. In many ways, 2004 was just as problematic an election as 2000: in particular, there’s ample evidence that Ohio was stolen, and that if this hadn’t happened, Kerry would be in the White House (Remember all those exit polls that showed Kerry winning?  Well, they may have been quite accurate.)

The public’s denial on this issue runs deep indeed: who wants to admit that democracy isn’t just in crisis, but that it’s already failing? Scientists at UC released the results of a study last week showing how easy it is to hack voting machines; in fact, Diebold (the most notorious of the manufacturers of those wonderful gizmos) admitted earlier this year that its machines do in fact contain a glitch . . . but that safeguards will be in place to prevent it from impacting the 08 election.  (It’s tough to write that with a straight face.)

All of which is very worrying indeed, particularly given that the GOP has already started a massive effort to start fucking with the vote by disenfranchising as many people as possible.  Sure, it may be the Rovian tactics and the smears that get all the headlines, but let’s face it:  there’s no better way to win elections than to rig them.  Keep it up for a few more elections, and there won’t BE any more elections.  And I’m starting to think that’s exactly the way a lot of people want it.

Lehman, Merrill, and a little monkey business

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Lehman’s roadkill. Merrill Lynch has run for cover. And it looks like Washington Mutual is probably next, along with God knows who else. The best analogy I can think of to describe what’s happening involves a really big set of cookie jars, hundreds of hungry monkeys, and a complicated light system that only incrementally reveals who has their hand in which jar, and just how many cookies they’ve already consumed. The point being that we still don’t know how deep this goes, and if that isn’t an argument for a total reform of the entire joke that our financial system has become, I have no idea what is.

It will also be interesting to see if the disaster that the economy is becoming finally makes its way into the presidential campaign.  Both candidates have talked a lot about the economy, sure, but neither has even begun to level with the American people about just how bad this is getting.  The New Model McCain is unlikely to venture anywhere near THAT discussion, of course, but Obama is going to have to.  Explaining in precise terms how this is all part of the mess the GOP has created while avoiding pointing out to the average citizen how his/her own spendthrift habits is also part of the problem . . . that’s the fine line that Obama is going to have to walk.  As for McCain, he can only hope the attacks on Palin intensify while everybody forgets about all those pesky issues that actually matter.

Query letter time

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Today I’m participating in a Query Letter Project, orchestrated by fellow scribe Joshua Palmatier. The (very cool) idea being, of course, to showcase the letter that cracked open the door for each of us. I’ve written previously about the limits of query letters (at least for me), but they’re an essential, unavoidable part of the game.  So herein follows the iteration of the query-letter I was starting to use when superagent Jenny Rappaport answered my prayers.  Would this letter have gotten me anywhere if she hadn’t?  You be the judge.


I recently completed a 110,000-word science fiction novel, The Mirrored Heavens, and thought you might be interested in representing it.

October 1, 2110:  terrorist strike-force Autumn Rain’s destruction of the Phoenix Skyhook leaves Earth’s superpowers on the brink of total war.  Swept up in the race to stop the Rain’s next attack are:

Claire Haskell, the data-thief who must work with the man who was her first love, even as she starts to suspect that her handlers are shaping her memories of that love to serve agendas of their own.

Strom Carson, the operative assigned to hunt down his onetime mentor, a legendary assassin believed to be in league with the Rain and last seen on the Moon, deep in the wastelands of the lunar South Pole mountains.

Lyle Spencer, the mercenary who escapes from the ultimate prison with the secret of the Rain—only to learn too late that some things have no price.

I co-wrote Vancouver, BC-based Relic Entertainment’s computer game Homeworld (1999), which won Best Original Storyline from Eurogamer, and Game of the Year from PC Gamer.  In addition, I was a contributing writer on Homeworld 2 (2003), and have written business publications for a Washington, DC-based firm.

XXXX, I appreciate your consideration of this query, and look forward to hearing from you.


And here’s links to the other participants.  Definitely work checking out:

Paul Crilley
Chris Dolley
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Gregory Frost
Simon Haynes
Jacqueline Kessler
Glenda Larke
John Levitt
Joshua Palmatier
Janni Lee Simner
Maria V. Snyder
Jennifer Stevenson
Edward Willett