A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of the financial meltdown, it was revealed that the lobbying firm of Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager, had been receiving monthly consulting fees of $15,000.00 from Fannie Mae right up through August of this year, though Davis had claimed that his firm stopped being on the Fannie payroll long ago.  The press largely ignored the story.

On Friday of last week, a bipartisan committee in Alaska (ten Republicans and four Democrats) unanimously approved a report from a special investigator who had been looking into Sarah Palin’s firing of Walter Monegan.  The report concluded that Palin abused power and violated state ethics laws.  It stated these things explicitly.  Yesterday Sarah Palin blatently lied about this, saying that the report had concluded that she didn’t abuse power or violate any laws.  The press has had little to say about the report or Palin’s mischaracterization of its findings.

Yesterday it came out that William Timmons, the head of John McCain’s Presidential transition team, has ties to two men who were convicted of illegally lobbying on behalf of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War, and may have acted on behalf of the Iraqi government himself.  So far the mainstream press is largely ignoring this story.

Conservatives and members of the McCain campaign have been claiming in recent days that Barack Obama was given “a free pass” on his links to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and more recently on allegations that he “pals around” with 1960s radical William Ayers.  I don’t know what world they’re living in, but we’ve been hearing about Ayers every day for the past two weeks, and the Reverend Wright story dominated the news cycle for weeks during the primaries.

If Barack Obama’s campaign manager were a lobbyist and if his lobbying firm had been paid $15,000.00 per month by Fannie Mae right up through the end of the summer; if Joe Biden had been found to have abused his power as Senator and violated ethics laws; if the head of Obama’s transition team had ties of any sort to Saddam Hussein; if any of these things were true, Republicans would be in a frenzy and these stories would be all over the place, in newspapers, on the web sites of the major news outlets, on the evening news.  And rightfully so.  These are stories, and the news media should be following them.  But they’re not. 

Don’t talk to me about liberal bias in the press.  It doesn’t exist.  It’s a myth used by the right to cow the press into leaving their candidates alone and going after candidates on the left.  The press cares only about the next story, about how to fill up time in the 24 hour news cycle and how to sell advertising.  The dominant storyline recently has been the economy and how that has helped Barack Obama’s standing in the election.  But that story is growing stale, and the next narrative is going to be that John McCain is making a comeback.  He’s not yet, at least not in any meaningful way.  But they’ll start talking about it and the story will drive the news and the news will drive the polls. 

The Liberal Media.  It’s like the punchline of a bad joke:  It should make me laugh, but it’s really not funny.

Did anyone else see this story about the parking lot owner in North Carolina who posted a sign saying that Obama supporters and people with Obama stickers on their cars couldn’t park in the guy’s lot?  It’s kind of goofy, really.  I mean, it’s a private business, so the guy is free to do with his lot whatever he wants.  He claims it’s mostly a joke and he has no intention of having people who violate his directive towed.  But at the end of the piece he says something that made me shudder:

“In the same way I take offense at Mister Obama running for President, then they’re [his critics] going to have to stay offended or get over it.”

He takes offense at Obama running for President?  Did he take offense when Gore and Kerry ran?  Or did he just oppose them?  You may think I’m reading too much into the comment, but to me his words scream racism.

What about this?

Anyone else find that offensive?  I certainly do.  And for the record, this guy, whoever he is, has an inside track on this week’s BOW Award.

The lone service station in my tiny little town is owned by two of the sweetest, kindest, most generous people you’d ever want to meet.  Last week they put up a huge McCain-Palin sign outside their service garage.  This is a small southern town, but it’s also a college town and predominently Democratic.  A lot of my friends are now refusing to take their cars to the station for gas or repairs.  To me that’s just as wrong as that guy in North Carolina refusing to let Obama supporters park in his lot (although without the stark racism).  All I know is that whenever I’ve had trouble with my car, these folks have worked me into their schedule and gone out of their way to help me out, even though I have Obama stickers on the bumper.  So if they want to shout from the rooftops that they’re for McCain, more power to them.

We are in serious trouble as a nation, and one of these two men is about to be elected President.  The sooner we learn how to work together, rather than screaming at one another or talking past each other, the sooner we’ll actually find a way to solve the problems we face.

Today’s post, “The Quickening,” can be found at http://magicalwords.net .  Come visit the site and check it out.  I hope you enjoy it.

BOW Award

October 12, 2008

How do I give out a BOW (Buffoon Of the Week) Award this time around?  There have been so many acts of idiocy out there this week that I don’t even know where to begin.  And I’m so fed up, so angry, so offended, that I can’t find any way to make this post fun — which is something I shoot for when I write these things every week. 

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Thoughts on the Campaign

October 10, 2008

Been a few days since I wrote about any of the political stuff, largely because I’m utterly obsessed with the campaign right now and really don’t need additional reasons to focus on it.  That said….

Liars, Attackers, and Ayers!  Oh My!:  McCain, Palin, and the GOP continue to go after Obama for his ties to William Ayers, despite a) evidence that it’s not helping them in the polls and might even be hurting them, and b) the fact that there really is very little to the charges themselves.  William Ayers did some terrible things in the 1960s, and his comments after 9/11, though distorted and taken out of context, do call into question his judgment.  But once again we have the GOP trying to smear Barack Obama for something that others have done and said.  In this case, Ayers’ crimes (for which he was never convicted) were committed when Obama was eight years old.  Eight!  Ayers is now a distinguished professor of education at University of Illinois in Chicago, and he has served in the Administration of Chicago’s Mayor. 

But really, that’s not even the point.  John McCain and Sarah Palin would do well to ask themselves if they really want to play the guilt-by-association game.  Everytime they bring up Ayers, Democrats should bring up Charles Keating, whose illegal lobbying on behalf of banking deregulation resulted in John McCain being reprimanded by the Senate ethics committee.  Or Mark Chryson, the former chairman of the Alaska Independence Party, who is a close personal advisor of Palin’s and who not only advocated Alaska’s secession from the Union, but who also has ties to militia movements in several states.

Everytime they bring up Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Democrats should bring up the Reverend John Hagee, a virulently anti-Catholic preacher whose endorsement McCain actively sought early in the campaign, and then rejected later, when Hagee made offensive remarks about the Holocaust.  Or they should bring up Pastor Thomas Muthee, the preacher shown exorcising demons from Palin in that widely seen YouTube video.  (Imagine if someone had video of a black preacher exorcising demons from Barack Obama!   The GOP would be frothing at the mouth!)

Everytime the Republicans try to tie Obama to Louis Farrakhan (which they have done again and again despite the fact that there’s no connection to speak of) Democrats should bring up Jack Abramoff, whose illegal lobbying activities and the Federal investigations spurred by them, have already brought down several Republican Congressmen, and who has had connections with several associates of John McCain.

Guilt by association:  It’s a blade that can cut both ways.

One last note on this:  It seems pretty clear to me from comments made by both Obama and Biden that they were hoping McCain would use the Ayers attack in the debate.  They have both basically said in the days since the debate that McCain was afraid to make those charges to Obama’s face.  They’re calling him out, guessing that they can get under his skin and make him use the smears during the next joint event.  They must have a REALLY good response prepared.  McCain would be smart to avoid any mention of William Ayers or Jeremiah Wright at Hofstra next week.

It’s Getting Ugly Out There:  Reports from the campaign trail over the past week or so (coinciding with the McCain-Palin attacks on Obama’s “ties to terrorists”) indicate that Republican campaign events are becoming less like political rallies and increasingly like lynch mobs.  The mention of Obama’s name at some of these rallies has been met with shouts of “terrorist!” and “kill him!”  One crowd shouted racial slurs at a black cameraman covering the event.  This is enough to chill the blood, and McCain and Palin, instead of laughing it off or encouraging it, should have stopped the events then and there and made clear that while they differed with Democrats on the issues, they respected them as Americans.  They should have made it clear that slurs and threats of this nature have no part in American politics.  That they didn’t is disturbing to say the least.

The Disdain of McCain:  I would argue that the anger reflected in this mob behavior is not all that dissimilar from the contempt with which Sarah Palin spoke of Obama and his work as a community organizer at the GOP convention in Minneapolis, and also  the disdain John McCain showed for Obama at the debate in Nashville Tuesday night (the “That One” Debate).  I think that when it comes right down to it, John McCain can’t stand the fact that he’s losing to a junior Senator, a guy whose Washington D. C. resume is not nearly as long as his own.  McCain seems to believe that he deserves to be President, that he’s earned it, and that the fact that this whelp, this boy is standing in his way is intolerable.  Is there an element of race in this?  Absolutely.  But I think there’s far more to it.  There’s been a lot made of Obama’s “elitism”, but the truly arrogant candidate in this campaign is John McCain.  Did you listen closely to the things he said at the debate the other night?  How many times did he say “I know how to do this” or some version thereof?  He knows how to win the war in Iraq.  He knows how to fix health care.  He knows how to find Bin Ladin.  He knows how to cure the economy of all its ills.  Except, of course, that he doesn’t know any of these things.  We’re just finishing up eight years with a President who believes completely in his own infallibility, his own omniscience.  Do we really want four more?

A Book You Should Read

October 8, 2008

I finished reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s Ysabel just now.  I have been a fan of Kay’s books for two decades and while I haven’t read everything he’s written, I’ve read a lot of it.  For years I’ve been telling people that Tigana is the finest fantasy novel I’ve ever read (a difficult admission for someone who writes fantasy novels for a living).  In my opinion, Ysabel is better.  And for those who have been reading Kay for a while, there are gifts in this book that will bring tears to your eyes.  Do yourself a favor and read it.

New Interview with Me

October 7, 2008

I recently gave an interview with Travis Heermann, of The Write Line, who I met at WorldCon.  That interview is now up and can be found at http://travisheermann.com/blog/?p=58.   Check it out, and enjoy!

A Post About Anachronism

October 6, 2008

Today’s post was going to be put up at http://magicalwords.net, but we seem to be having some difficulty with the site right now.  I’ll post it there when I can, but for now, here it is:

I’m currently reading Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Kay is one of my favorite authors, and Ysabel may be his finest work yet. One aspect of the story that makes it so effective is the constant tension between ancient and modern, past and present. The story itself is an anachronism in its modern setting. This is a difficult thing to do, and, of course, Kay does it brilliantly.

Reading the book got me thinking about how we as fantasy authors blend setting and character and plot: a delicate balance that is so elemental in our genre. Specifically, it reminded me that while Kay uses anachronism as a storytelling tool, most authors need to avoid anachronism in all its forms.

What is anachronism?  It’s defined as “a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other.” Basically, for the purposes of this discussion, it’s anything in a story that does not belong, that jars your reader out of setting and narrative and character.

How does it manifest itself in fantasy writing? For the sake of simplicity, I’ll say that the anachronistic mistakes I’ve seen made by beginning writers fall into one of three categories: worldbuilding, language, and dialogue, both internal and external.

In terms of worldbuilding, authors need to be careful that they don’t establish a level of technology for one aspect of their story, and then undermine that decision by establishing a different level of technology for another. For instance, I’ve read stories (excellent in most other ways) that have characters using medieval weaponry, but then taking hot showers. I’ve seen authors write about preindustrial societies that have electricity or steam power. Sorry, folks, but you just can’t do that. Or rather, if you’re really determined to do it, you’d better have a REALLY good explanation for why it makes sense. These types of problems are simple to avoid, but they require some research and some logical thought. One book I’ve found useful is called Ancient Inventions. It’s by Peter James and Nick Thorpe, and it offers some basic discussion of when a wide variety of technological innovations came into use.

Anachronistic language is a bit trickier to deal with, but again care and research can help. The issue here is that most of our writing is done from a certain character’s point of view. This is true even if you’re writing in third person. You are still letting your readers view the world and the story through one person’s eyes (or, if you’re like me, many people’s eyes). These people are limited in what they can know by their experiences and by their cultures. So a medieval knight shouldn’t say that something is “as big as a bus” since he doesn’t know what a bus is. He shouldn’t say that someone is being “paranoid,” because paranoia is a nineteenth century psychological term that he couldn’t possibly know. And unless his world has the same Judeo-Christian traditions and cultural touchstones as ours, he shouldn’t curse by saying, “Oh Hell!” or using the name of Christ. A couple of other sources: for the sake of straight chronology — knowing when words entered the lexicon — I use Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition, hardcover) which gives a date for every word, and another book called English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh. Technically for my books, I shouldn’t use any word that entered the language after, say, 1400. But that gets VERY tricky. I limit myself to words that entered the language before 1600, and even that can be tough. But it keeps my worlds feeling real.

Finally, dialogue. Some of the same points that apply to prose apply to dialogue as well. You don’t want your lead character in a medieval fantasy calling his best friend “Dude” or “Dawg”. But here I tend to fudge a bit, because you also don’t want your characters talking to each other in stilted or obscure language, even if that language is entirely appropriate for a thirteenth century setting. So I have my characters speak using contractions and somewhat colloquial language. I love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but I find the dialogue tiresome because it is so authentic. In the end, I’ve decided that in the interest of keeping my books flowing and easy to read, I’ll sacrifice this small bit of authenticity.

The issue of anachronism in books is one that I could write about at greater length, but this is at least the beginning of a discussion. As I indicated at the outset in regard to Kay’s book, anachronism can be used as a literary device. But you’d better know what you’re doing before you try it. Otherwise, if you’re trying to build a coherent fantasy world and set your story in it, anachronistic writing is something to be avoided.  You’ve worked hard to submerge your reader in your world; the last thing you want to do is jar him or her out of it.

BOW Award Time!

October 5, 2008

First of all, a belated Birthday shout-out to my friend Mark Wise!  Sorry I didn’t do this the other day, my friend.  Hope it was a great day.

We’re into the silly season of this campaign, and today’s BOW (Buffoon Of the Week) Award is going to reflect that.  What do I mean by “silly season”?  Well, we’re less than a month away from election day, and despite what conservative commentators and pollsters on television might say, these are desperate times for the McCain-Palin campaign.  It’s not that they can’t win — of course they still can.  But the number of Presidential candidates who have been down this far (between 6 and 8 points in most national polls) this late in the campaign and have come back to win is pretty small.  So it’s time for McCain and company to “go negative.”  And it’s already begun.
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Let me start with this:  I have many friends and acquaintances who are conservatives and Republicans.  I disagree with all of them on most issues, but I believe them all to be thoughtful, intelligent people.  My mother-in-law and father-in-law are both Republicans.  I have tremendous respect for both of their intellects.  There are many on the GOP side in public life who I hold in high esteem even as I disagree vehemently with their issue stances. Chuck Hagel, Orrin Hatch, John Boehner, Dick Lugar, Chuck Grassley, Olympia Snowe; these are all intelligent people.  Dick Cheney is as close to a living incarnation of Lord Voldemort as we’re ever likely to see in public office, but I always used to respect his mind.  Antonin Scalia is a liberal’s nightmare, not only because he is so conservative on all questions of jurisprudence, but also because he is so freakin’ brilliant.

In short, not only would I never say that all Republican politicians are stupid, but I would go so far as to say that most are truly blessed with keen minds.

So how is it that over the past thirty years Republican national tickets have become the refuge for the inarticulate and the intellectually incurious?  How is that people like Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin to name just three, have managed to reach the pinnacle of power in their party, leaping past people who are far more deserving and infinitely more qualified?

Sarah Palin’s performance in last night’s debate was very Bushesque, and I don’t mean that in a good way.   She had a few answers ready, and no matter the question she was determined to use them.  How else do you explain a question on bankruptcy being answered with a discussion of energy policy?  Taxes and energy — that’s what she was ready to talk about, and she kept running back to them.  When she strayed from the script she rambled and stumbled and was clearly beyond her depth.  And despite her best efforts — her folksiness, her winks and snarky comments, her winning smile — she couldn’t hide this.  Yes, she “exceeded expectations,” but only because her performance in recent interviews had been so disastrous as to raise questions about her fitness to be governor of Alaska, much less as Vice President.  But when it comes right down to it, her performance last night was singularly unimpressive. 

Bush won in 2000 against Al Gore because in part, more people thought he was a regular guy.  He was folksy, too.  He had a quick, mischievous smile and could tell a joke.  Nevermind that he wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box.  Al Gore might have been smarter and better prepared for the office, but he was annoying.  He was that know-it-all kid in the class who gets the best grades but who no one likes.  Bush was the cool kid who got “Cs” on all his papers and tests but was a cut up in the cafeteria.  Same thing with Bush-Kerry four years later.  Same thing with Bush I vs. Dukakis.  Bill Clinton was probably the most brilliant person to run for President in the last half century — him and John Kennedy.  Clinton is a voracious reader, a lightning quick study, and a wonderful speaker, off the cuff or scripted.  He was charismatic as hell, which is why he won twice; but he was also always the smartest person in the room, which is why he left office with approval ratings in the sixties.

The fact is that Democrats tend to choose intelligent nominees, many of whom turn out to be lousy candidates (Clinton is the obvious exception), while Republicans tend to choose intellectual lightweights who are charismatic.  Sarah Palin fits the mold perfectly.  I find her pretty obnoxious, but I can see why people are drawn to her.  That is, until I start to think about the fact that this is a contest for President and Vice President of the United States.  Then I can’t see it at all.

For some reason Americans don’t like intellectuals.  And this goes back far beyond the Reagan years.  I remember my parents telling me about Adlai Stevenson, the brilliant governor of Illinois who lost to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956.  He was attacked for being “an egghead,” a strange epithet which seems to be the 1950s version of “elitist.”

Look, in case you haven’t noticed, things aren’t going so well right now.  The economy sucks.  We’re fighting two wars; one of them has been going on for way, way too long, and the other is going very badly.  Our planet is dying a slow, painful death.  Our nation’s standing in the world is lower than it’s been at any time since the War of 1812.  Isn’t this a time when we should be looking for someone really, really smart to lead the country?  Doesn’t it make sense to look for someone who is intellectually curious, who is a terrific communicator, who has a nimble mind?  I don’t want my President to be “plain folk.”  I want him or her to be smart as hell.  I don’t want the guy who graduated fifth from last at the Naval Adademy, or the guy who got drunk instead of studying while at Yale, or for that matter, the one who went to five different colleges in six years.  I want the one who aced his classes and made history by achieving academic honors in law school.  And I want the Vice Presidential nominee who is informed, who can speak intelligently about all the issues, who answers the questions he’s actually been asked.  To borrow a line from Aaron Sorkin, these are serious times and they demand serious people.  And I’m hoping for the sake of our country that Sarah Palin’s fifteen minutes of fame are just about up.