Archive for November, 2008

Nice election, we’ll take it

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Obama’s decisive win shouldn’t let us lose sight of just how badly in need of reform our electoral process is—and just how close we may have come to another stolen election. On Friday, October 31st, Mike Connell, GOP IT specialist and Rove protege, found himself in an Ohio court being accused by a member of the Ohio bar of stealing the 2004 election in favor of George Bush. Connell asked for several days to prepare his deposition, claiming he was too busy to testify until after Election Day; attorney Cliff Arnebeck told him that was like the robber saying he couldn’t show up in court because he was busy getting ready to rob the bank.  The judge ordered Connell to be in court on Monday; Connell showed up with a battery of GOP lawyers and denied all wrongdoing under oath.  But any ability he had for maneuvering was at an end.

And that’s where things stood when the whistle blew. Whether or not another game-changing scheme really was in the works, in hindsight Obama’s lead was probably too pronounced to allow for any believable vote-fixing that would impact the national results.  But the fundamentals of the process—the use of private contractors, the lack of any standards from state to state, the ability of local elections officials to influence results, the proliferation of unreliable electronic voting machines, etc.—leave the door open for future thievery.  And there’s been multiple reports of irregularities in the Senate races still being counted. So this remains an issue that the broader public desperately needs to wake up to. Still, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize the outstanding NGOs and journalists who worked so tirelessly to keep this issue top of mind in the run up to the election:  in particular, BlackBoxVoting, Brad Friedman, Mark Crispin Miller, Greg Palast, Velvet Revolution, and of course the folks at Rolling Stone.

Next steps with Russia

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Is Russia ever in a good mood? World leaders everywhere sent the U.S. president-elect their congratulations, but all he got from Russia was just a bit of sabre-rattling: Medvedev’s announcement that Russia would put short-range missiles near the Polish border if U.S. ballistic missile defense construction goes ahead there. Even so-called left-wing blogs have been taken in by this, chiding Russia for getting its relationship with Obama off to such a bad start.

As usual, they’re missing the point. The Russians are signaling that they’re going to bring a hard line to the negotiating table; they are, however, signaling that they are quite willing to negotiate.  And the overall terms of a modus vivendi are reasonably clear at this point.  We trade off missile defense and agree to give Russia substantial leeway within the former Soviet Union, with the exception of the Baltic States.  In return for this we get guarantees they won’t fuck with Eastern Europe/members of NATO, and we get their cooperation with Iran.

Some will call this appeasement.  I call it common sense.  Because (and this is the bit that the hardliners just can’t get through their heads)  . . . we’re fucking BROKE.  We don’t have the MONEY to get involved in a giant smackdown with Russia.  We used it all up on Iraq, which the same folks who wanted WWIII with Russia over Georgia were so excited about at the time (some people never saw a war they didn’t like).  Now we’re in the worst economic crisis in decades, and it’s about time we started cutting some deals.  And Russia’s a great place to start.

The Republican conundrum

Monday, November 10th, 2008

The latest counts reveal that Nebraska’s second congressional district (aka Omaha) has gone for Obama. This is the first time that a state has split its electoral votes (Maine is the only other state that even allows for this possibility). More importantly, it brings Obama’s EV total to 365. This is five EVs less than Bill Clinton got in 1992, but Obama is in a far stronger position than Bill ever was, and the Republican Party is in far deeper trouble.

And that’s putting it mildly. The GOP lost the twenty-something vote by a 38 point margin and is no longer competitive at the presidential level in the cities, while the McCain-Palin “real/fake America” rhetoric turned off educated voters in droves.  Acutely aware of just how shitty the numbers are, members of the (dwindling) GOP brain-trust met last week in Northern Virginia to try and discuss how they can be a more inclusive, “big tent” party. The answer, of course, is that they really can’t unless they can figure out how to deal with the millions of rabid Christians who comprise the backbone of what’s rapidly becoming a regional political party, centered on the Old South.  Fundamentalists are good at a lot of things, but compromise and rational negotiation are not among them, especially with Sarah Palin fully prepared to try to lead her soldiers to victory in 2012.  The prospects for the GOP look bleak indeed, particularly as America continues to become (a) less white, (b) less rural, and (c) less stupid.

Then again, the political landscape can shift in unexpected ways (just look at how it’s shifted since 04).  Obama could fuck up big time, and open the door for a Republican resurgence.  Or the economy could worsen into Dust Bowl proportions, which is always a good climate for extremist politics.  Or another 9-11 could convince the people that they must throw out the sinners who have seized control of the government and made God so #$# angry.  But in the meantime, it’s going to be a lot of fun watching the people who are so good at hating taking it out on each other instead of the rest of us.

Let us put our hands on the arc of history. . .

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

. . . and bend it once more to the hope of a better today.

—Barack Obama, Grant Park, November 4th

SF novelists/Diana Pharaoh Francis

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

I recently was invited to join, the brainchild of the inimitable Tobias Buckell, and a really cool convening of, well, a bunch of SF novelists. We give each other lots of cool counsel/advice (though I’m more on the listening end of things right now), and also members of the community post regularly for the general readership.

One person I had a chance to meet on there is veteran fantasy writer Diana Pharaoh Francis, who I previously knew only by reputation.  She recently posted an interview up there, which I thought was worth reproducing in its entirety.  Her comments on flawed characters are particularly interesting. . . enjoy . . .

Diana Pharaoh Francis’s latest book, The Black Ship, is the second in her Crosspointe Chronicles series. It a novel of adventure at sea, friendship, betrayal and magic, and was released on November 4th, 2008.

1) What was your inspiration for writing The Black Ship?

Well, there were a couple of things that led to writing this book. First, I meant for it to completely stand alone, so very little of the first book in the series, The Cipher, ends up in this book. A bit of it is there as backstory, but this book is really about Thorn and his big mouth and the trouble he gets into. At the same time, I wanted to tie into the unrest and political events that started showing up in The Cipher, but hopefully those flow naturally from Thorn’s story. Probably most importantly, I wanted to get my characters out onto the Inland Sea because it is such a marvelously strange sea. It’s a magical see where what was shallow a moment ago is now deep, where the currents shift in the blink of an eye, and it’s filled with magic and monsters. Many ships don’t survive. Exploring the sea, more than anything, is what pushed me to write this book about these characters. And once I met Thorn and Plusby and several others, I had to tell their stories.

2) What do you find most interesting about Thorn?

I’ve become very interested in flawed characters—in people who don’t always do things in their own best interests, or who are contradictory and sometimes dangerous to themselves. These flaws can be incredibly valuable, when you think about people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others. Yet those flaws can be dangerous, too. Thorn fascinates me because he ends up in a place where he’s torn between doing one version of right and doing another and he doesn’t know which is the more right thing to do, but he can’t do both. That and he’s snarky and sometimes rude and he was huge fun to write.

3) What is it about fantasy that attracts you?

I think it’s the possibility for real heroism, and that an individual can have an enormous impact on his or her world. That a person’s decisions matter to the larger world, and that honor is worth something, and so is sacrifice.

4) What sort of research did you do to write this book?

I did something incredibly bizarre. I set this book on a square-rigged clipper ship, even though I’d never been sailing. Ever. I didn’t know anything. So I did a lot of research on clipper ships, square-riggers, the commands that are used, the feeling of being on the sea, life aboard and so on and so forth. I went out to Washington to take a short cruise on The Lady Washington and asked a whole lot of questions. I read all sorts of sailing accounts and manuals and fiction about sailing. I looked for diagrams and slang, I looked for everything that might have anything to do with sailing anywhere. I watched The Deadliest Catch to see a cold, vicious ocean in action. The process was wonderful. I think that when people read this book that they’ll really feel like they are aboard a ship. At least I hope they get that.

5) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

I have so many favorites. Wow. Well, early on I read the Narnia books over and over, and of course the Madeleine L’Engle books. But I remember that the books that really jolted me into reading broadly in fantasy were Zelazney’s Amber books. I still don’t know what it was about them that appealed so much to me at that time, but after that, I became an avid reader of fantasy, almost excluding anything else.

As for favorites now . . . I love Carol Berg and Robin McKinley. I’m a fan of Marjorie Liu, Anne Bishop and Guy Gavriel Kay. But really, I’m a voracious reader and I have so many favorites that I couldn’t begin to cover them here.

6) Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

I have always been a storyteller, but I didn’t start writing until I got into college. Then I tried to write mainstream sorts of fictions. They were bad. My heart wasn’t invested in them. Eventually I began to write fantasy, which made me so much happier. As for how I got where I am now? Hmmmm. Where am I? Essentially I did some short stories and published a few of them, but I am really more a novel writer—short fiction doesn’t really come to me very often and it’s uncomfortable to write, not like novels. So I worked on a novel, then another one, and then another one. At the same time, I was getting my MA and my Ph.D.

Then one day a friend (Jennifer Stevenson) asked if I’d like to do a novel in a week. I said . . . “wha…?” She explained that a novel in a week is when you take time off from life. Most people can carve out a single week of life from work, family, and other obligations and totally focus on writing. The idea is to write as much as you can during that time. When you’re done, you’ll know if you’ve got the beginnings of something (or maybe a complete draft if you’re really kicking butt on the writing), or you’ll know if it’s not worth pursuing. Either way, you’ve only lost a week to it.

So I did this, and found that I was really rocking on a novel I liked. It turned out to be Path of Fate, my first published novel. I did the submitting rounds and it was picked up by Roc.

7) What does a typical writing day look like for you?

There’s no such thing as typical. I’m still working full time, and I have a family with kids, and so I end up squeezing the writing in wherever and whenever I can. I’ve become a lot better about getting more accomplished in shorter bits of time, but really, I’m always scrambling to keep all the balls in the air and hoping none of them shatter if they fall.

8) Where do you write?

I usually write in my office. It’s a room in the upstairs of my 1917 house. It’s painted purple and has a bank of five windows that looks out over the front yard and lets in a lot of light. It’s got wall to wall books and my ‘desk’ is an old kitchen table from when I was growing up. It is about eight feet long and about five feet wide. It’s also piled with papers and books, my computer, printer and scanner. On the walls are swords, a battle ax, a munch of maps, and a bunch of pics. I also have two lava lamps, one shaped like a space ship.

9) What is hardest for you as a writer?

You know, it really all depends on the day. Like many writers, my ego is sometimes fragile so some days it’s just hard to believe that what I’m writing isn’t utter dreck. Then other days, it’s squeezing out time to write. And then maybe it’s getting through a particularly tricky scene, or figuring out how to fix a scene that just won’t work the way it is. The hardest thing changes every day.

10) This isn’t your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

The Path books (Path of Fate, Path of Honor, Path of Blood) are traditional epic fantasy. The first focuses on Reisil and how she has to make a choice to do something she absolutely doesn’t want to do, even though everybody else thinks is a great honor. In the second book, she finds out that not everybody is what they seem to be, and that evil can be really seductive. In the third book, she finally comes into herself and must really embrace who she’s become.

The Cipher is the first of the Crosspointe Chronicles, and is about Lucy and Marten. They are both very flawed characters and must come to terms with their flaws. In the course of it, they do some pretty awful things, even though both want to be good peopel. I really like them both. This world is not your usual epic fantasy world and has a lot in common with Victorian England.

11) How do people find out more about you and your novels?

First, thanks everyone for hanging out with me. I appreciate it. To buy the books, head over here to Mysterious Galaxy , Barnes and Noble , or Amazon.  For more about me, a taste of the books, or random useful information, go to my website. Here’s a link for my blog, Mad Libs.

Why I won’t miss Michael Crichton

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Crichton, who died earlier this week of cancer, was a brilliant author who should have left it at that. But he used his enormous influence to become one of the primary skeptics of humanity’s role in global warming (in spite of his non-specialist status, and in flagrant disregard of the emerging scientific consensus), happily testifying before Congressional committees as to what bunk the whole thing was. The fact that he won’t be testifying anymore is good news for the planet. I wish the silencing of his voice had occurred because he had changed his mind, but it’s not something I can truly regret.  And if it had happened even sooner, I’d be just fine with that.

And I realize that will come across as harsh. But I’m tired of our tendency to turn obituaries into sentimental hagiographies, and I think it’s important that we testify. We’re accountable to future generations, for whom we hold this planet in a sacred trust. We owe the dead respect, but we also owe them the truth. And the truth of the matter is that Michael Crichton was a man who convinced himself that his mastery of fiction extended to fact as well.  He did this as our species enters its critical hour. He did us all a terrible disservice. And that’s why I decline to mourn.

The path(s) forward for Obama

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Ok, I lied. . . election coverage continues. . . North Carolina has been called for Obama. . .will someone pull me away from this #$# computer????

There seem to be three major precedent-models for Obama.

Model #1: FDR, 1932. Obama engineers a second New Deal while building a new progressive majority.

Model #2: Carter, 1976. Obama gets blamed for everything, and becomes a one-term president.

Model #3: Clinton, 1992. Obama hangs on to power while falling well short of his initial promise.

#1 is eminently possible, if he runs the government as well as he ran his campaign.  Seldom have both expectations and challenges been so high for an incoming president.

The national nightmare ends

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

As for Bush and Cheney, history will bury them. (The latter probably quite soon, I’m guessing.)

It was interesting to watch McCain last night: he looked like a burden had been lifted from his shoulders, and I found myself wondering once more what kind of campaign he could have run had he tacked toward the center. But the truth of the matter is that his running on the base was virtually inevitable when you consider that the GOP no longer has any senior political operatives who weren’t trained in the Atwater-Rove school—i.e., the Republicans at this point literally have no idea how to run a presidential campaign that isn’t based on crude “othering” techniques.  It’s significant that a lot of them thought that McCain’s central failing was that he wasn’t extreme enough and didn’t attack Obama to the extent he could have.  Watching that party struggle to find a coherent message for 2010/2012 is going to be very interesting.

And as for the president-elect, he faces historic difficulties, but it’s going to be incredibly refreshing to have a president who (a) doesn’t seem to be rife with insecurities, (b) doesn’t seem to have an anger management problem, (c) seems to have some insight into his own psyche, and (d) is actually smart and intellectually curious. Also, until this year I never thought I’d see a black president in my lifetime (save perhaps through the elevation of a VP selection), and I’m glad to be proven totally and completely wrong.

And to all readers of my blog who have been wishing I would shut up about the #$# election and write some more about Vin Diesel, thanks for bearing with me.  Now that the country’s taken a step back from what looked like an inexorable slide toward a police state, I plan on resuming normal programming….stay tuned…

The finish line

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Fresh (or not so fresh) from Obama’s last campaign rally, held last night in Manassas, VA, I can only say that getting out of the parking lot subsequently was as bad as any Ozzfest I’ve ever been to. But while I was staring at the lights of the car ahead of me, I was thinking of What a Long Strange Trip it’s been. Here’s my final take:

Best Move, Obama:  Refusing to go all-out nuclear/negative when the GOP attacks were mounting across early September and he was falling behind in the polls.  Not only did this spare the public the spectacle of an Angry Black Man (something that Obama has clearly given a lot of thought to), but it left him perfectly positioned when the economy began to wither and cool unflappability became an asset.

Biggest Mistake, Obama: Not offering up any major policy item as a symbolic gesture to the right. I’m thinking here of Bill Clinton’s welfare reform plank in 1992, so critical in portraying himself as a new kind of Democrat. It’s surprising to me that Obama, who’s been so adroit at trying to rise above the Blue State vs. Red State divide, didn’t go down similar lines, though his rhetoric has been highly effective at bridging the gap anyway.

Best Move, McCain:  Drawing blood with the Joe the Plumber/redistributor-in-chief attack.  Though what makes this such horseshit is that it’s actually the Red States who have their snouts in the government trough at the expense of the Blue States.  (Paying for somebody else’s crack habit is bad enough, but when that crackhead keeps on screaming about how you’re a fake American, you start to feel like you’re being used . . . )

Biggest Mistake, McCain:  Clearly Palin. It could have been such a brilliant move (and in terms of shoring up the base, it was), but she just wasn’t ready for prime-time and has hurt McCain with the undecideds.  He shoulda gone with Kay Bailey Hutchinson.  She may not be as telegenic, but she can hold her own in any press conference.

That’s all for now. If the election is largely fair, then Obama should have the whole thing sewn up by mid-evening with about 350 big ones.  If the fix is in, and it turns out that U.S. elections can be rigged even when they’re not close, then Pennsylvania is probably where things will start to unravel first.  I’m betting that all the bullshit/schemes are going to be overwhelmed by a massive Obama turnout, but we shall see.

Election Eve

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Make no bones about it, an American presidential campaign is the greatest show on Earth. Wednesday is going to have us all feeling like the circus has left town (and it had better, otherwise we’ll be facing the nightmare of a disputed election). It seems amazing that an African-American is now within a hairsbreath of the presidency; it seems all the more amazing that he’s managed to do so while decisively defeating the Clintons and battling the Right Wing Attack Machine to a standstill.

It might also seem incredible that the GOP is even remotely competitive in such a year as this, though (as I’ve noted before) a lot of that is due to the underlying electoral map.  But credit also goes to John McCain. The pundits are falling over themselves to declare what a shitty race he’s run; personally, I think it’s little short of a political miracle that he’s managed to convince so many voters that it’s neither constructive nor even possible to hold the party that’s governed America for eight years accountable for what it’s done. Had those eight years not made themselves all too apparent in the form of the economy cratering, it’s entirely conceivable that McCain’s early September lead would never have evaporated. Even if tomorrow’s returns realign everything on a seismic scale, it’s worth considering (in the words of the Duke of Wellington) what a “damn near run thing” this whole thing has been.