Hillary Clinton, Considered in Herself

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/07/28/hillary-clinton-considered-in-herself/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=28527

Hillary Clinton with Barack Obama. (ABC/Ida Mae Astute, photo used under Creative Commons license)

So, before Hillary Clinton puts a cap on the DNC convention with her appearance tonight, let me talk a little about what I think of her as a presidential nominee, (mostly) independent of the fact of Donald Trump as her opponent for the office. And to talk about her as a presidential nominee, I need to talk a little bit about me as a political being.

And who am I as a political being? As I’ve noted elsewhere, among the various political labels that have been used over the last several decades, I’m probably closest to what used to be called a “Rockefeller Republican,” a person who is relatively socially liberal but relatively economically conservative. But that label doesn’t precisely describe me, either. I am both of those things, generally, but it doesn’t get to the root of my political ethos.

To get to that, I need to go back to high school, to a class I took called Individual Humanities. The class was the brainchild of teacher Larry McMillin, and it was a year-long class (interestingly, divided between the last half of one’s junior year and the first half of one’s senior year) that took a look at portrayals of the individual in Western Literature — from Oedipus Rex through Joan of Arc through Huckleberry Finn — to chart the development of the idea of the individual and what it means to be one, in the larger context of  western civilization.

The specific details of the class are something I’ll leave out for now, but the takeaway of the class — the summation of its goals — was to argue that one of western civilization’s great achievements was the development of the independently acting and thinking individuals who saw as their greatest life crisis service to their community. Which is to say: In our world, we get built to think for ourselves, and when that happens, we realize we can’t be in it just for ourselves.

And, importantly, this ethos and the benefits thereof are not the purview of one group or class. Everyone should be encouraged to develop into who they have the potential to become. Everyone in turn uses that realized potential for the overall benefit their community or communities.

Well, that sounds communist! Yes, I suppose if you wanted you could argue that “from each according to ability, to each according to needs” is an expression of this concept, but then again, so is “TANSTAAFL” as long as it’s applied alongside “Pay it forward”; even the concept of noblesse oblige holds its echo. Like the “golden rule” which is found in most major religions, the concept is adaptable to a number of situations. The important things: Development of people as individuals; recognition of the individual’s responsibilities to their communities.

This is, to my mind, a powerful, adaptable and moral ethos, first because it encourages each of us to find our full expression and to develop those gifts we have within us — to become us — and at the same time reminds us that these talents and gifts need to be used not only for ourselves but for the benefit of others. It’s not (just) self-interest, or even (just) enlightened self-interest; it’s realization of self and a commitment to others as the result of that realization. It doesn’t mean one can’t do well for one’s self; most of us are not built to be monks. It does mean you should see “doing good” as an equal or higher goal than “doing well.”

This idea of the enlightened individual in service to their community is a significant part of my own personal ethical toolbox; likewise, it’s part of my political thinking as well, and a thing I want to see in politicians.

Along with this ethos, I have a very large streak of pragmatism, which is to say, I generally think it’s okay to get half a loaf when the full loaf is manifestly not on offer. Should you go in saying “sure, I’ll take half a loaf”? No, go ahead and see how much of the loaf you can get — if you can get the whole damn thing, good on you. But if you get 80% or 50% or 25% or whatever, depending on circumstances, well, fine — that fraction can be a basis to build on. Applying “All or nothing” thinking to every situation is for amateurs, nihilists and fools.

So, let’s apply both of these concepts to Hillary Clinton. I think that Clinton has shown amply over the years that, whatever personal ambitions or her willingness to cash a check for speaking fees (and as an ambitious person who occasionally speaks for money, I don’t see either as inherently a problem), time and again she’s put herself in service. Not with 100% success and not without flaws even when successful, but there are none of us perfect, and the end result of her putting herself back into the arena again and again is that much of that service has had an impact. Her ambition and service are not just about her and what it gets her. She’s done much, and at a high level, for others.

As for pragmatic — well, look. One does not work at the levels she does and has for decades without it, and if there’s any ding on the Clintons as a political couple, it’s their willingness to make a deal. Again, I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing, even if one’s line for “acceptable deal” is elsewhere than theirs. This is definitely a “your mileage may vary” sort of thing, but I’m okay with the mileage I get out of it.

Independent of anything else, Clinton is an attractive presidential candidate for me for the reasons noted above. Service and pragmaticism go a long way for me. In the context of where the GOP is right now, and who they are fielding as their candidate this cycle, it’s not even a contest. In the case of John McCain and Mitt Romney, the two previous GOP presidential candidates, even as I disliked their overall policies and plans for the country, I could not say they had not acted in service to their communities and country, or that they didn’t have the ability to be pragmatic when being pragmatic was what was needed. I can’t say that about Trump. There’s nothing in his past actions that suggests he’s in this life for anyone but himself.

But Hillary Clinton is — is what, exactly? A criminal? Corrupt? Dishonest? Evil? Terrible? Awful? A bitch? Satan in a pantsuit ensemble? As I’ve noted before, a quarter century of entirely outsized investigations into her life and actions have come up with nothing criminal or found corruption that rises to indictable levels. As for the rest of it, whatever Clinton’s own personal characteristics, she also had the misfortune of stepping into the political spotlight concurrent to the GOP wholesale adopting the Gingrich playbook of demonizing the opposition. She’s had an entire political party and its media apparatus spending two full decades telling the world she’s a bitch, and evil, and a criminal. It’s still happening; the Republican National Convention resounded with the words lock her up, lock her up, lock her up. And yet she is still here. She is still in service. Now, you can see that as ego or delusion or the inability to take a hint. I see it as an unwillingness to yield the floor to those whose political playbook is simply “demonize your opponent,” with the rest to be figured out later.

(And make no mistake — should Clinton win the presidency, the fury isn’t going away. The GOP is all in this year with sexism and bigotry and hate, and at this point it has no other gear; it literally cannot do otherwise without entirely losing its primary voter base. This is what the Gingrich playbook has gotten the GOP. It’s made them fury addicts, and the withdrawal symptoms are as likely to kill them as not.)

Maybe ultimately the issue is that she’s not likable, i.e., she’s not the candidate you’ll have a beer with. Well, now there’s Tim Kaine for that if that’s important to you; he’ll have a beer with you, and if you have too many he’ll take your keys when you’re not looking, pretend to help you look for them when you’re ready to go, and then let you sleep it off on the couch. But honestly, I’ve never gotten that whole construct. One, I don’t need to have a beer with my President; I assume they have other things to do. Two, if that’s a controlling aspect of your presidential decision making, I mean, if it actually is important to you, then you’re the problem and you need to pull your head out and maybe have more relevant criteria, or at least put “beer buddy” as far down the goddamned list as possible.

And three, says who? I don’t need Clinton to be likable in order to vote for her for president, especially as I’m not likely to ever meet her and spend time with her and have late night phone calls where we gossip and share secrets. She’s not my friend. But I also don’t find her unlikable todayand I don’t remember that ever being the baseline of my opinion of her (she’s had unlikable moments, to be sure. Welcome to being human). But then, I also don’t tend to think women who express opinions, or who don’t feel the need to excuse their ambition or their place near the top of the power structure, are inherently unlikable. Let’s not pretend that in fact that’s not a problem, still, for a lot of people — and that this being a problem hasn’t been exploited by others.

(Also, you know. Maybe it’s a personal quirk, but I just don’t get that invested in politicians as inspirational figures. I’m perfectly happy with them being essentially colorless and efficient and boring. Maybe even prefer it!)

At the end of the day, without reference to any other aspect of this particular presidential race, Hillary Clinton offers more than enough for me to vote for her. With reference to other aspects of this race — namely, that Donald Trump’s candidacy is as close to being an actual existential threat to US democracy as we’ve had, possibly ever — voting for Clinton becomes not only a preference but a moral necessity. I can’t not vote for Hillary Clinton in this election. So it’s nice to know I would have been happy to vote for her, no matter what.


Reminder: Vote for the Hugos

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/07/27/reminder-vote-for-the-hugos-4/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=28525

MidAmeriCon II members, this is your timely reminder that voting for the Hugo Awards this year ends on Sunday, July 31, 2016, 11:59 PM PDT, so you have just a few days left to vote in all the categories. There is a lot of excellent work on the ballot, and also some mischief from a few bad actors, and all of it deserves your attention and what votes you decide to offer, up or down. My tip to you: Vote for what you think deserves awarding, and you’ll be groovy.

Here’s the link to the online Hugo Award ballot. And here’s the one for the Retro Hugo Awards (this year covering the year 1941). If you vote, you can change/add to/update your vote right up until the deadline. Happy voting!


Exiles of Embermark (and Me)

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/07/27/exiles-of-embermark-and-me/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=28523

So here’s news that’s kind of been an open secret for a while. Many of you know I’m part of the team that is putting together Midnight Star: Renegade, the sequel to last year’s mobile shooter game Midnight Star (it’s coming! Soon!). What you may not have known is that for the last several months I have also been part of the team putting together an entirely separate mobile video game, called Exiles of Embermark, from Gunslinger Studios.

And what is Exiles of Embermark? It’s a fantasy role playing game, and as with Midnight Star and Renegades, it’s designed specifically for mobile gaming and mobile gamers — folks who are playing quick sessions of a game in and around, you know, life, but who still want a game that’s got a deep world to explore and enjoy and get in trouble in.

My task with Exiles is world building and story architecture — helping Tim Harris, Gunslinger’s studio head, and his crew of merry coders, put together a universe that has rhyme and reason and rules, so you as the player and journey through it and have all manner of adventures. Basically, I’m an “idea guy” here, which is a hell of a lot of fun (I also do a bit of detail work, to be sure).

If you’re curious to learn more, here’s the Exiles tumblr, with a bunch of developer updates, concept art and other nerdy goodness (the specific update in which I’m mentioned is here). It’s your best source for everything Exiles.

I’m really excited about Exiles of Embermark — and excited that Midnight Star: Renegade is also on its way to you all — and excited that I’ve gotten to help create three awesome video games now. I mean, how cool is that? (Answer: It’s pretty cool.)

More to come about Exiles and Renegade soon. In the meantime: Prepare for awesome.


Big News From Tor Books

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/07/26/big-news-from-tor-books/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=28521

Involving my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden and others. Allow me to reprint the press release:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden has been named Associate Publisher of Tor Books, effective immediately. This award-winning 28-year veteran of Tor has brought numerous prestigious and bestselling authors to the list, including John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow and Charlie Jane Anders, to name a few. His vision has been instrumental in the development of Tor.

Devi Pillai, who led the US division of Orbit to its position as Tor’s fastest-growing competitor, will be joining Tor, also as Associate Publisher. “I’ve watched Devi’s work with admiration for a long time now; her qualifications are outstanding, and she’ll be a great addition to our team,” said Tor Books publisher Tom Doherty. “As we continue our 35-year commitment to adult SF and fantasy, Devi and Patrick will work alongside each other to oversee our numerous editors who work primarily in these twin genres,” he continued.

In addition, Doherty has named Linda Quinton Publisher of Forge Books. Previously she was Associate Publisher and Vice President of marketing for Tor/Forge. Forge publishes many popular and bestselling authors, including William R. Forstchen, Eric Lustbader, Douglas Preston, Patrick Taylor and Bruce Cameron. The company will announce a new head of marketing and publicity in the near future to fill the role Quinton leaves behind.

Kathleen Doherty, Publisher of Tor Teen and Starscape, has spent 30 years growing our YA and middle-grade publishing, first through book clubs and book fairs, and then by developing our program into a pair of full-fledged, NYT-bestselling imprints full of excellent YA and middle-grade authors. Kathleen has also been responsible for the tremendous school, library, and educational market growth that our whole house has benefited from over the past three decades. The company intends to increase the marketing support we provide to her excellent team.

“At a time when so many of our competitors are cutting back, consolidating imprints, and reducing staff, it’s wonderful to know that Macmillan enthusiastically supports our plan for growth,” says Doherty.

“We will shortly be announcing further additions and promotions within our editorial staff. Here’s to an amazing team that it’s my privilege to lead into a great future.”

I am first hugely thrilled for Patrick, with whom I have worked for the entire length of my novel-writing career. Hugely thrilled but not in the least surprised. He’s been at Tor for nearly three decades and has had a very large role in making it the success it has been to date. He’s a natural hire here.

I’m also hugely thrilled for Devi Pillai, and for Tor that they have managed to convince her to join the team. She’s generally considered to be one of the smartest people in the field and she’s done fantastic work at Orbit, hands down. They couldn’t have picked better.

And I’m hugely thrilled for me, and other Tor writers, present and future. It is in fact a big deal that Macmillan is investing Tor rather than standing pat, or cutting back. It’s important for authors, no matter who they are or how they publish, that the total ecosystem for publishing is robust and offers a range of options to get their work out in the world. So whether you’re self-pubbed, small-pubbed or large-pubbed (or some combination of the three), one of the largest publishing companies in the world deciding to grow its science fiction and fantasy publisher is an unambiguously good thing. I’m glad to be a Tor author today and look forward to continuing to be one for some time to come.


Quick Political Open Thread 7/26/16

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/07/25/quick-political-open-thread-72616/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=28517

Allow me to preface it by having an imaginary Q&A:

Q: NOOOOOOOOOOOO TRUMP IS EVEN OR AHEAD OF CLINTON IN THE POLLS

A: That’s not actually a question.

Q: WHYYYYYYY IS TRUMP EVEN OR AHEAD OF CLINTON IN THE POLLS

A: Because he got a bit of a convention bounce, it looks like.

Q: WE’RE ALL GONNA DIIIIIIIIIIIE

A: Still not a question, and also, go ahead and read this from Sam Wang at the Princeton Election Consortium (who, incidentally, has been pretty much spot on for the last few election cycles). It might calm you down.

Q: What are your thoughts about the Russians maybe hacking the DNC?

A: If it’s true, then obviously it’s troubling, especially as the timing makes it appear to be an effort to throw things Trump’s way. The circumstantial evidence is piling up that it was an act by Russian intelligence service but we don’t know for sure (and come on, probably never will know for certain), nor at the moment does it seem like the Trump folks are actively involved, even if they might be a beneficiary. So I’m not gonna blame Trump for this one.

Personally if I were the GOP candidate for president I wouldn’t want to have even the appearance of being Putin’s favorite boy. But Trump doesn’t appear to care, so.

Q: Thoughts on the contents of the DNC email dump?

A: Meh? As Vox notes, there’s not a whole lot of there there, although I understand the Dead-End Berners are het up about it, rather more than Sanders himself is (probably because unlike the DEBs, Sanders himself realizes that this point for the nation, it getting a half a loaf from Clinton is better than it being set on fire by Trump while racists and antisemites dance around the flames in a circle, holding hands). In any event Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is the appointed fall gal, and getting the boot, and apparently no one will really miss her, so, fine. Moving on.

Q: But corruption at the DNC! Favoritism! Dogs and cats living together!

A: Honestly? I kind of don’t give a shit. As I noted on Twitter, the DNC email stuff is venial sin stuff — people who were stupid enough to put things in email that they shouldn’t. Which is not exactly surprising — most people put things in email that they shouldn’t — but also not things that at the moment I care that much about. I’m rather more concerned about the Russians possibly trying to mess with our elections. While you can care about both of those, of course, I know which one of those I care about more. Your mileage may vary.

And of course outside of all of this is the fact that Trump, the worst presidential candidate in modern history, is still a presidential candidate. The DNC email nonsense doesn’t even move the needle in terms of Things That Would Keep Me From Voting For Hillary Clinton If Only To Stop Donald Trump.

Q: What about Wasserman-Schultz being made honorary chairperson of the Clinton campaign?

A: What, a face saving “promotion” with apparently no real power? You do understand how politics works, yes?

Q: Any thoughts on Tim Kaine as VP?

A: Seems okay. I understand some folks distrust his commitment to pro-choiceness, but inasmuch as he’s got endorsements from NARAL and Planned Parenthood it’s not blipping my own concern radar (please note, however, as someone who is not likely to get pregnant anytime soon, my own concern radar is not as finely calibrated as others). The two main knocks on him seem to be he accepted some gifts at one point and that he’s kind of boring. With the former let’s see where that goes, but with the latter, good. I don’t want drama, I want someone who is competent and knows how to do the gig. We have enough drama already.

Q: Will the DNC get messy?

A: Oh, probably, since the DEBs can’t let it go, and everyone loves drama.

Q: Any additional thoughts on the Dead-End Berners?

A: I hope they have fun now, because if they’re still at it after the convention, they’ll basically be admitting they’re happy to dance around the trash fire with the racists and antisemites. It’s nice for them to have the luxury of not caring if they consign others to the flames.

Q: That’s, uh, pretty harsh.

A: Not a question.

Q: Don’t you think that’s pretty harsh?

A: Nope! Or, actually, yes, it is, and? I don’t really have much time for the DEBs anymore, or the privileged stupidity of “Trump and Clinton are the same” or of “she’s just the lesser evil” (or, hilariously, that she’s worse than Trump, if you’re any flavor of liberal or progressive). Get it out of your system in the next couple of days, and then get with the fucking program already, people. It’s important.

Go ahead and chat politics in the comments, folks.


Tech With Value

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/07/24/tech-with-value/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=28513

I am a nerd, and I have disposable income, and those two things mean that I end up buying a lot of technology. I buy some for utility and some just because it’s shiny and I have relatively few defenses against shiny. This has recently led me to consider, out of all the tech that I do have in my house and on my person, which represents the best actual value — that is, what tech do I have that I get the most out of, relative to the price I paid for it?

(Caveat: for the purposes of this exercise I’m considering objects for which the computing aspect is a significant percentage of its utility. Yes, a car and a refrigerator are technology (so are eyeglasses and pants), but I am going to go ahead and skip them out of the discussion. I think you’ll probably understand.)

Let me start with the things that have offered me the least real amount of value. First, I nominate my desktop computers, which are useful but generally spendy, since I have a tendency to make them gaming-capable behemoths and yet spend very little time gaming anymore. These behemoths are nice for photo editing, to be sure, but on balance I overspend relative to actual utility. I live in hope when I buy these rigs, and reality eventually crushes that hope.

Second, my iPad Mini, which is a very pretty and reasonably powerful bit of kit, but which I mostly bought because a videogame I’m helping to develop was initially coded for it, and I needed to be able to look at the thing during development. Beyond that I hardly ever use it, partly because I’m otherwise mostly in the Google ecosystem but also because among the tablets I have my Nexus 7 has the best form factor for me (so of course no one makes tablets with that form factor anymore).

Third, televisions. We have several in the house but I watch relatively little TV these days, mostly because of time constraints, and what TV I do watch I end up watching on computer/tablet/phone more than the TV screen. Now, I’ll note this is just me, since in the Scalzi household both Athena and Krissy watch more TV than I do, and on the TV rather than on other hardware. So for the family overall, there is value. But if I were living on my own (God forbid), it’s questionable whether I would own my own dedicated TV set.

Having cleared out the tech of questionable utility value, what tech do I have that I think on balance has offered me very good value?

First I would nominate my smartphone, which is essentially as powerful as my desktop computer a few iterations ago yet is tiny and goes with me everywhere, pretty much allows me access to all information anywhere, and even has a reasonably competent camera. Plus, from time to time, I can even make phone calls with it, if I want, and sometimes I still do (I mostly text now, though, like other civilized humans). What keeps the smartphone from having the best cost/utility ratio is the form factor, which makes it not useful for, say, writing long-form, which is a thing I do (just thinking of writing this piece on a phone fills me with dread, much less a whole novel), and also because frankly phones aren’t cheap — with hardware costs and carrier charges over the life of the phone added up, it’s a couple thousand dollars per phone. There are ways to brings the cost down, but I don’t do them, for solid (and a couple not-so-solid) reasons. But at the end of the day I live so much on my smartphone that its utility runs very close to its overall price.

Second I would nominate my digital SLRs. These cameras are soooo not cheap (alas!), and while I recently did start getting paid for photography (Tor.com and Locus magazine used some of my photos and compensated me for them, which of course they should have), I don’t have any plans to make it a serious part of my professional income. So the question of cost/value here is an interesting one. I nevertheless think I get excellent value from the cameras, but the value is intellectual and existential — taking pictures makes me happy, and working on those pictures after I taken them also gives me pleasure.

Photography is a hobby of mine, basically, and doing it offers me a consequence-free creative outlet, which as it turns out is important to me. I’m a proponent of monetizing the things you love, to be sure. But over time I’ve learned it’s also important to have creative outlets that are just play. It’s good for your mental health, and it’s beneficial for other aspects of your creativity. The cost of the cameras for me is compensated by what I get out of taking and playing with the photos, and that’s something that has value independent of the financial value of the tech.

With that said, the single piece of tech I have that I think has given me the best utility return on investment, hands down, is the Chromebook Flip I bought last year. It cost me $280 or so when I got it (the version I have, with the 4GB RAM, is now down to $250), and in return I’ve gotten a super-useful little laptop that does nearly everything I need it to do. I can write longform, I can flip it over and use it as a tablet during readings and presentations, I can do (basic) photo editing and other tasks, and now that it has access to Android apps, that’s another value add. Its size and battery life have made it useful for travel, to the point where it’s my go-to travel laptop (my Dell Win10 laptop stays at home unless I need to do a marathon Word session).

And to be blunt, if I drop it, or leave it somewhere, or it gets stolen? I’m out $280, it’s replaceable for less than that now, and all the data I use on it is stored elsewhere. I wouldn’t say its disposable, but I would feel rather less put out than I was a few years ago when I accidentally left my Mac Air at LaGuardia and it somehow magically made its way to Brooklyn and then dropped off the radar completely. That was expensive stupidity on my part. Losing the Chromebook Flip, while it would still be stupidity, is within my budget.

The Flip isn’t perfect (How to make it perfect, Asus, in case you were wondering: 1080p screen 11.6-inch screen and backlit keys on the slightly larger keyboard), but this entry isn’t about whether tech is perfect, but whether it offers value for cost. This purchase really has. I really don’t think I’ve been more satisfied, value-wise, with a tech purchase. Something, perhaps, for you to consider for your own future tech purposes.


A Brief Review of Star Trek Beyond

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/07/22/a-brief-review-of-star-trek-beyond/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=28507

It was pretty decent! With the exit of Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci as director and screenwriters, respectively, the series appears to have made the executive decision that they don’t need to rehash previous plotlines. They’ve written a new one for this film, gave Simon Pegg co-screenwriting duties and let Justin Lin (previously of the Fast and Furious franchise) do his thing. And it works — the movie zooms, the script is good, and the nods to the previous timeline are brief and fitting. This is Star Trek Now, and it is good.

One complaint I do hear from longtime Trek fans is that the new Trek films don’t give enough lip service to Gene Roddenberry’s humanistic ethos, and I have a couple of thoughts on that. The first was that while that ethos was and is laudable, Roddenberry was as subtle about it as a sledgehammer, which is why TOS episodes sometimes now play like Very Special Episodes where learning happens (some TNG episodes play that way too, notably in the first couple of seasons). As a viewer I don’t actually want the Roddenberry Moral Sledgehammer. I’m not a child. The second is that as it happens Beyond is the Kelvin-era film that most overtly signals in the direction of that Trek ethos, both in what it says and what’s on screen. And for me it was the right amount — enough to know it’s there and important, not enough that you feel like you’re being lectured by a tiresome hippie uncle.

This is not a great film, or one that will held up as a highwater mark of science fiction cinema. But it is a zippy, fun time at a summer movie, competently and cleverly done, and in a summer of ponderous and ponderously long films, one that warps in, gets its business done in two hours and warps back out feels like a winner. It’s not the best Star Trek film (still Wrath of Khan), but it is the best third Star Trek film, handily beating Search for Spock and Star Trek: Insurrection by a far stretch. It also makes me excited that the next Star Trek film has already been greenlit. I like this cast and I like this version of Trek. I’ll be around for the next one.


Trump and the Convention and Where We Go From Here

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/07/22/trump-and-the-convention-and-where-we-go-from-here/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=28504

Original photo by Gage Skidmore, used under Creative Commons license. See original by clicking on image.

Some thoughts on Trump, and the GOP convention:

1. The convention, generally, was the worst-run major political convention in a generation, and that should scare you. How is Trump going to manage an entire country when he can’t even put on a four-day show? (The answer, as we found out this week, is that he has no intention of managing the country at all; he plans to foist the actual work onto his poor VP while he struts about as bloviating figurehead.) Trump lost control of his convention and his message twice, once with Melania Trump’s clumsy plagiarism of Michelle Obama, which ate up two days of news cycles before Trump’s people found someone to be their chump for it, and then second with Ted Cruz, that oleaginous lump of hungering self-interest, who rather breathtakingly took to the stage of a nominating convention in order not to endorse Trump, in the most public way possible. That bit of low-rent Machiavellianism ate up another day of news cycles.

In the end, all the GOP convention has coming out of it are two massive failures of message control and Trump’s cataclysmic nomination speech. With regard to that hot mess of a speech, Trump was always going to be Trump, and there was no way of avoiding that, but the other two mishaps were eminently avoidable — vet all your speeches for previously-used phrases (which is a thing that is commonly done in politics anyway), and don’t give your previous political opponent whose family you’ve insulted a primetime speaking slot when you know he’s not going to endorse your candidate, as Cruz never intended to, and which was a fact the Trump campaign knew. That’s the part that boggles my mind. Two unforced errors on the Trump campaign’s part, and they blew up his convention.

2. Not that there was much to blow up; the Trump GOP convention line-up was closer to that of a struggling MLM company sales rally hosted in Tulsa or Des Moines than that of a major political organization, and the messages offered to the faithful there were almost insultingly simple:

  • We’re all doomed by crime, immigrants and minorities;
  • It’s all Hillary Clinton’s fault, let’s jail and/or kill her;
  • Trump is great, Trump is the supreme leader, all hail Trump, details to come.

i.e., your basic fact-free racist appeal to authority, and at any point you might like to suggest a fact-based counter-argument (crime is near historical lows, immigrants are not major engines of crime, Hillary Clinton is largely not corrupt, as 30 years of intense scrutiny has shown, and Trump is mostly a scammy bungler who likes to screw over the people who go into business with him, etc), the rebuttal from the Trump folks is to just yell louder. YES HILLARY IS A CRIMINAL YES CRIME IS OUTSIDE MY DOOR RIGHT NOW YES THE IMMIGRANTS ARE COMING TO EAT OUR BABIES WITH CRUEL TINY SPOONS

Well, no —

CRUEL TINY SPOOOOOOOOOOOONS

And honestly there’s nothing much one can do to convince them otherwise.

Which means that even if Trump’s convention had gone off without a hitch (which is to say, to be clear, without the hitches that he and his people should have known better than to allow), it still would have been a factless embarrassment of bigotry and fear. The GOP convention this year was going to be a shitshow even without the unforced errors; the unforced errors just added farce to the tragedy.

3. So, let’s talk about that speech of Trump’s for a second, shall we. I didn’t watch it live (I decided instead to go see a Thursday night showing of Star Trek Beyond, which, trust me, from an entertainment point of view was the right call), but I caught it afterwards. I think if you were already in the tank for Trump, it was a fine piece of theater. If you weren’t already in the tank for Trump, though, it scanned as You’re going to die we’re all going to die you need me to save you you need me to save us all. And, well, no. I’m really not, and I really don’t. I don’t know that it will scan effectively for anyone else not in the tank, either. Things just aren’t that bad.

But that’s the Trump shtick: He doesn’t have policies or positions or plans (details to come!), but what he does have is the ability to yell and to confirm your opinion there’s something wrong. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin (See! Look! Attribution! It’s not difficult!), whatever your particular problem is, Trump is not the least bit interested in solving it, he is interested in making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. In this case that’s Clinton, who it’s evident that he doesn’t actually hate (or didn’t prior to this campaign), but when he pressed the “Hillary” button his voters spun up into an excited froth, so why not. It’s also immigrants, which I also suspect he doesn’t hate or care about either, except as a lever, and it works because there are a lot of racists, overt and latent, in his voting pool.

Trump knows what got him this far, and like the unimaginative businessman he is, he sees no need to “pivot” away from it, to try to bring in other people not already in the tank for him. I know this works, he says, why fuck with it? Which, actually, maybe isn’t a bad argument! His recent predecessors as the GOP candidate didn’t benefit from all from trying to pivot, did they? They didn’t win! Like the proverbial boy who keeps digging because there’s got to be a pony down there, Trump is betting there are even more white people he can scare into voting for him. He and the GOP are all in on the idea that there are still enough white people out there to win an election. All he has to do is scare ’em hard enough and make Hillary Clinton look crooked, which has been a GOP hobby for a quarter century running.

So, that was his speech: Scare the white folk.

4. Now, a brief interlude with the Trump voters, aka the scared and angry white people of America.

We’re not scared! Hillary’s crooked!

Guys, no. She might be good at getting out of scrapes, but no one’s that good, and not at the highest levels of scrutiny that she operates on, and has for decades.

Benghazi! E-Mail! Vince Foster! Whitewater!

Dudes. They spent millions and decades trying to pin something on her, and the best that they got out of it was that she was stupidly careless with her email. Which is not good! But it’s not a thing she should be jailed for. Or hanged from a tree for, which was a thing when spoken that Trump’s people only rather half-heartedly distanced themselves from. I could have told you she was stupidly careless with her email and wouldn’t have charged nearly as much, or taken that much time with it.

It’s conspiracy!

It’s really not.

Well, I just don’t trust her.

Of course you don’t. The GOP, as noted, has spent the better part of three decades trying to make her look crooked and evil; concurrently the GOP’s modus operandi, thanks to Newt Gingrich and his followers in Congress, has been to demonize and hate their political opponents. You can’t just disagree with anyone anymore — you have to despise them, and fear them, and scream for them at your political convention to be thrown in jail. You’ve had decades of indoctrination and now you think that’s normal, and that’s kind of fucked up.

Oh, so you can’t criticize Hillary! I see how it is, commie!

Sure you can criticize her, and disagree with her policies and positions and even dislike her as a person. Maybe try to do it without visualizing her as That Horrible Bitch Queen What Belongs in Jail, and while you’re at it, maybe stop visualizing Barack Obama as That Terrifying Kenyan Muslim Socialist Who is Coming For Our Guns, which is not accurate, either. Both of them, as it turns out, are pretty much bog-standard liberalish Democrats. You don’t like that? Okay, fine! You don’t need to go the extra step of demanding to salt the very earth upon which they walk, so nothing ever grows there again.

And while you’re at it, think about why it is that the GOP’s m.o. since Gingrich has been to hate and fear its political opponents, and how it’s come down to this election. Folks, as a candidate for President, Trump has no ruling principles other than hate and fear. He wants you to hate and fear minorities. He wants you to hate and fear immigrants. And most of all he wants you to hate and fear Hillary Clinton. Why? Because those are the buttons he can press to get to the presidency and that is all. If there were other buttons to be pressed, he’d press those. If it were Bernie Sanders in there instead of Clinton, he’d make you hate and fear him instead. It’s all he’s got, but then again, it’s all he’s needed.

5. Which is entirely on the GOP. Make no mistake about two things: One, Trump is where he is today precisely because the GOP has for decades worked on a principle of “demonize and obstruct” rather than working across the aisle to get things done, making it possible for someone with no recognizable Republican principles to bully his way to being the nominee; Two, no matter what happens with the 2016 election, the GOP is pretty much fucked. If Trump wins, there will be a dangerous occupant in the White House, one that has no guiding philosophy beyond his own narcissism and whose own personal inclinations lead him to admire autocrats, and if the GOP thinks they can manage that, I invite them to think on the primaries and the convention. The GOP doesn’t have managers in its ranks anymore; the last one, John Boehner, flipped Congress the bird and went home, and now there’s just hapless Paul Ryan, aka Hangdog Reardon, Ayn Rand’s saddest acolyte, minding the store. They’re not going to control Trump; they can’t even control themselves. They don’t see the value of it.

And if Trump loses? Then you can rely on the GOP to do what it did in 2008 and 2012: To figure the problem was that they weren’t “conservative” enough — “conservative” in these cases means “even whiter and older and scareder.” I mean, shit. The reason Ted Cruz did his Wednesday Night Knifework on Trump was to set himself up for 2020 when Trump loses, and let’s just think about that, shall we. First, Cruz is such a howling vortex of personal regard that he sees someone else’s party as the perfect place to launch his next campaign; second, Cruz — smug, grasping Ted Cruz — actually is likely to be where the GOP goes next. That should genuinely terrify any GOPer who still has sense, or who wants have a Republican in the White House this side of 2024.

6. Trump is still not likely to win — after everything, he’s still trailing Clinton, even if that margin is as slim as its ever been, and in the next few days we’ll see what, if any, convention bounce he gets — and now it’s Clinton’s turn at bat, with her VP pick and the Democratic convention. But let’s not pretend he can’t win, or that he might not be correct that there are still more white people to scare into voting for him. Ultimately it doesn’t matter to the GOP that their nominee is manifestly unfit to be in the White House, because Trump wins them a Supreme Court seat and (if they keep both houses) legislative repeals of all sorts of policies they hate. Whatever mischief Trump gets into as President, they figure he’s not going to veto anything they send his way. They’re probably right about that; all that is detail work, and Trump doesn’t care about that stuff. That’s the silver lining to the upcoming GOP disaster.

Now, I suppose we could try to appeal to true conservatives or GOP folks not to vote for Trump — look! Gary Johnson is there and has actual positions! — but let’s not bullshit about this. Trump wins if everyone else who is not an anguished conservative flirting with Johnson does not show up at the voting booth in November, and, bluntly, does not vote for Hillary Clinton for President. And yes, you few remaining diehard Sandernistas, that means getting the fuck over yourselves for once in your lives, realizing that this is not an ordinary election, and acknowledging you pretty much owe the entire world not to consign it to the flames over your entitled fit of pique.

(But I’m in a safely blue state! Can’t I vote for the Greens/Peace and Freedom Party/Wavy Gravy/etc? Ugh, fine, but only after you’ve extracted a promise from at least three swing state pals that they’ll vote for Clinton. It’s important, y’all.)

7. But not everyone who’ll vote for Trump is scared and/or angry and/or white, you say. Sure. Some people just won’t be able to countenance Clinton in the Oval Office for perfectly principled political reasons, and figure that Trump is the only one with a chance to stop her. I understand that. I am sorry for them, who I suspect are largely GOPers, that their choice against Clinton this year is Trump, and that the GOP right now is in a place where Trump was able to become the nominee, because most of the rest of the candidates for the 2016 GOP nomination were an appalling clown car of Dunning-Kruggerands. Whether or not that’s on them as party members, it’s still a tragedy for the country.

All I can say to them is what I have been saying: Look at Trump. Look how he got where he is. Look how he plans to get to the White House. It’s not through policy or positions. It’s through anger and blame and fear, and screaming that those who oppose you are going to pay. Look how he’s run his campaign. Look how his convention went down.

You can’t vote for that and say you didn’t know that was what you were voting for. And if he gets into the White House, you won’t be able to say you weren’t responsible for what happened next. You knew, and you will be.


The Big Idea: Melissa F. Olson

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/07/21/the-big-idea-melissa-f-olson/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/?p=28502

In today’s Big Idea, Melissa F. Olson considers vampires, not through the lens of sparkly teenagers, but through the one that involves waking, getting coffee, and going on with your life. How does that work, and how does it work in her novel Nightshades? Let’s find out.

MELISSA F. OLSON:

When people learn that I write about vampires, they often assume that I myself wish to be a vampire, or believe them to be real. At the very least, they take it for granted that I of course must love vampires. All of those suppositions, however, are wrong. What I really love is a dark, exciting, preferably gothic, thought experiment.

That’s what the concept of vampires is to me, and you can blame Bram Stoker for that. I don’t love Dracula—by now, the Victorian techno-thriller is much too dated, to the point of being practically alien in its depictions of human behavior —but like so many others I am fascinated by it.  I think of Stoker as the Dan Brown of his day: a mediocre (at best) writer who stumbled on an idea that was so universally gripping that it achieved literary near-immortality just by its creation. Parasites are interesting. Immortality is interesting. Putting the two together? Practically irresistible.  Stoker may not have been a legendary writer, but he was savvy enough to recognize a legendary idea when he saw one.

Still, the fact that Stoker wasn’t the world’s greatest writer has had interesting repercussions. As Neil Gaiman put it in his introduction to Leslie Klinger’s annotated edition of Dracula, “I suspect the reasons why Dracula lives on, why it succeeds as art, why it lends itself to annotation and to elaboration are paradoxically because of its weaknesses as a novel.”

In other words, by creating a novel that lacks clarity of plot and mythology, Bram Stoker created a “what if” playground that many writers just can’t resist visiting.  What if there was a creature that never aged, and that fed on human blood? What would the creature look like? How would he interact with humans? What would he feel toward them? How would they react to him?

These questions correlate nicely with my own personal guiding principle of writing fantasy, the mantra I chant whenever the geeky part of my brain starts running off on what would be super cool. Okay, I say to myself, but how would this really work?

If vampires were real (and no, I don’t believe that they are), how would that actually work?

This thought experiment is where I have spent the last five years of my life, writing the Old World series for 47North. A few years ago, however, a new thought occurred to me: what if vampires were real…and nobody really cared?

Oh, they might care in theory, at least for a little while. But I really do believe that if the government captured a “live” vampire tomorrow, there would be a month of social media uproar, and then everyone would just go back to their lives.

Because, you see, that’s what we do. We find out that an earthquake has devastated a country on the other side of the world, or the Hugos are rigged or Donald Trump is running for president, and we have a brief period of outrage (which is like a period of mourning but with more Facebook feuds), and then we go back to putting one foot in front of the other. One day in front of the other. Until the next outrage erupts, and the cycle continues.

But not for everyone.

In Nightshades, a “shade” is a vampire-like creature with preternatural strength, a need for human blood, and saliva that causes intense hypnosis in humans. A few years before the book’s events, a shade was captured alive in Washington DC. There was a public panic, and the director of the FBI created an offshoot agency, the Bureau of Preternatural Investigations, in order to appease the frightened citizens.

A little time passed, no more shades surface, and the uproar began to die down. Most of the world’s population simply went back to their lives, while Congress struggled to determine whether the captured shade is considered a citizen or not. In short, we all absorbed the new normal and moved on.

Except for those government agents who suddenly find themselves dealing with a new species and an apathetic public. When a shade near Chicago starts aggressively kidnapping teenagers, those agents who have to figure out how to handle the crisis, even after everyone else has moved on to the next thing. And the understaffed, uninformed, and desperately overmatched Bureau of Preternatural Investigations has to figure out how to hand a brave new world that the general public would sooner pretend not to see.

Nightshades isn’t about a hidden world, and it isn’t about a well-oiled machine of an agency that can confidently address supernatural threats. It’s about the moments right after vampires are first discovered, and how the new agent in charge of Chicago has to think outside of the box to handle it. I wrote it not because I love vampires, or think they’re sparkly and romantic, but because, damn, I am still having a great time in Bram Stoker’s playground of what-ifs.

—-

Nightshades: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBook|Google Play|Kobo

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.