Friday, March 17, 2017

A Contentious Politics Discussion



When our political roundtable panelists and I took the stage in The Commonwealth Club’s main auditorium, my main sense was one of relief that the day’s warm temperatures had not made the room too hot. But as we got into our discussion of recent political issues, things got heated nonetheless—first with the audience, where some folks apparently thought they were attending a GOP congressman’s town hall—then even between our normally reserved panelists.

You can see the entire program in the video above.

What caused the emotions to run so high and hot? It’s not that anyone said anything particularly outrageous or at all insulting; this was not Milo Yiannopoulos criticizing his cultural enemies. Someone saying, for example, that they don’t think Russia’s a big threat might be something you or I disagree with, but it doesn’t rise to the level of requiring a shouted response. But it happened, more than once, in what is usually a civil and even fun and intelligent discussion of recent politics.

Why did it happen? It’s certainly in the zeitgeist: people are agitated and angry about decisions being made in Washington, and depending on the side of an issue one is on, it leaves many people feeling either empowered or self-righteous or scared or some other feeling, any of which seem to give people permission to take a leave of their usual good manners.

What do you think? Does free speech entail allowing people you disagree with speak? What are the borders to that free speech? And what are the borders to civil back-and-forth?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Carrie Fisher, 1956-2016


I don't know if today's audiences are aware of just how big of an impact Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia made in 1977.

Yes, she was the beautiful princess in white waiting to be rescued by the men and then — what? She kicks you-know-what, saves the men, has a tongue sharp enough to cut diamond, and turns out to be a leader of the Rebel Alliance. Back in the day, people talked about her character as being revolutionary; she (and Star Wars creator George Lucas) subverted the roles and gender attitudes of the time.

Fisher will always be known for her Star Wars role, but she also made a name for herself as a writer, becoming a best-selling author and script doctor in Hollywood. She became a hero for an entirely different reason when she talked openly about her struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction.

Princess Leia was revolutionary. And the actress who portrayed her was funny, sharp, and pointed. 
And I'm scared to think what else can happen in the next four days of this crummy year.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Introducing My New Political Magazine, Zippererstrasse

One blustery fall day in 1983, the Soviet Union saw fit to shoot down a Korean passenger plane, KAL 007. That created an international crisis, and it was the talk of pretty much every news media organization, including a think weekly political magazine called The New Republic. I remember it well, because the KAL incident was the cover story of the very first issue of TNR that I ever received after a friend of the family gave me — a high school sophomore — a subscription because she knew my interest in politics.

She also got my political persuasion correct. She herself said she used to like TNR, but she had moved leftward and was more of a Progressive magazine person at that point. But TNR had me right from the start. It was waging a smart and feisty battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, arguing with Democrats, Republicans, and even its own editors and writers about the right policies. Hooked, I read TNR like scripture all the way through college.

The TNR of today is not the TNR of then. Sadly, there is a dearth of that feisty liberalism that believes it should be critiquing liberals as well as conservatives, subjecting every idea and claim to cross examination as the only way to ensure we come up with the best ideas, the best policies, the best proposals.

So my latest free digital magazine, the self-referentially named Zippererstrasse, is my experiment to try to revive that brand of liberalism. Please take a look. It's free (though you can of course throw tons of money my way should you be so inclined.)


Friday, February 5, 2016

To My Friends Who Are Bernie Beliebers

I have many friends who are supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders. I have many other friends who are supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton—as am I. I have a smaller but still nice set of friends who are supporters of various Republican candidates. The GOP candidates have been for the most part self-parodying, so I won't go into them here. But I have been troubled by the bullying, dream-fulfillment approach of some of the Sanders people. Yesterday, in an exchange on my Facebook page, I wrote the following:

For all the revolutionary talk, consider: the last progressive U.S. president to push through a big-scale change was FDR. He had help from a shattered economy (so lots of scared people) and, most important, huge majorities in the U.S. Congress. Sanders would have neither. 
Not only that, he would need to have rock-ribbed support from whatever Democrats are in the U.S. Congress, and he wouldn't have that. He hasn't even been a Democrat, fer cryin' out loud, and those congressmen and -women need to know that the president will be on the stump in their districts supporting them at re-election time, when you can bet there would be an extremely well-funded right-wing reaction that would make the tea party movement look like a bunch of marxists. 
Those congresspeople would have to know he would raise a ton of money for them to withstand the withering attacks of the right wing reaction. They would have to know that he would have a national messaging effort that could talk to the entire Democratic coalition and could reach beyond; Sanders has the hard-core left of the party, but hasn't gone beyond that. No, momentum isn't luring adults to his banner. 
I understand the thrill of thinking your candidate will lead a revolution that will change all. I wanted John Anderson in 1980 and Gary Hart in 1984. But I also know politics (as does Hillary, but y'all hold that against her), and Bernie has no more chance of (a) becoming president (sorry, the rest of the country isn't Iowa and New Hampshire) or (b) if lightning struck and he somehow got the nomination and his opponent was Ted Cruz or some other whackjob so he was able to win the general election, he wouldn't be able to put his "revolution" into effect. 
Other than that, party on, dudes. 
But also please understand that most of the vitriol that the Bernie Sanders crowd is throwing at Hillary Clinton is regurgitated lies straight out of the playbook of Karl Rove's GOP machine, and the debunkers are getting tired of debunking the stuff you all were supposed to be paying attention to all these many years.
And, serendipitously, right after I posted the above message, I happened to stumble across this article that illustrates just how unable Sanders will be to do the party support work I discuss above. In it, a longtime Vermont journalist who had many interactions with Sanders, recounts how Sanders got irate when he was asked why he didn't lend support to other progressives.
I asked about his unwillingness to endorse his fellow progressives. He said it wasn't his role. I suggested voters might expect him to weigh in. He disagreed, clearly annoyed at the persistent questioning. Finally I suggested that he had a larger moral responsibility to the progressive movement. At which point he jumped out of his seat, told me to go f*** myself and stormed out of the edit board meeting.
The writer, Mickey Hirten, then goes on to highlight reporting by others about Sanders' inability to reach out and support others. Read the full article and judge for yourself.

So when you hear stories about Hillary Clinton going around and raising money for other down-ticket candidates, think twice about just concluding that she's a political machine beholden to monied interests. She's building the best support in Congress she can get, because she'll need them to stick with her when things get tough. And things always get tough for every president.

If you support Bernie Sanders, good for you. I do not dislike the man, and I do agree that he is highlighting some very important things that are wrong with our country. That does not mean I have to believe he has the best plans for dealing with it, nor does it make me conclude that he has the personal abilities to deal with it.

It'll all come out in the primaries.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Make The New Republic Liberal Again

So The New Republic is up for sale. Again. The Facebook exec gave up on it, apparently after first the staff and then the readers gave up on it.

My suggestion? Someone buy it and make it a liberal magazine again. And I mean "liberal" in the real sense — a magazine where ideas are debated and argued and investigated.

Current owner Chris Hughes made it into a magazine that all too often was filled with the same leftwing conventional wisdom that comforts the people who already believe it but doesn't do anything to convince those who aren't already believers. Liberalism doesn't exist without vigorous debate; for all the "old" New Republic's failings (diversity certainly one of them), it was a platform for intelligent people to try to come up with the best way to address the country's (and sometimes the world's) problems through the process of thinking, researching, arguing, and reconsidering. The magazine's editorial offices were famous for the sometimes heated arguments.

Liberalism isn't about party lines and trigger warnings and microaggressions and political correctness. Those are for people who don't want to think. Liberalism is about the sloppy workings of a republic; sometimes it isn't pretty, it's often very noisy, but it is the best way we have of sifting out the good ideas from the bad, of exposing the fraud and the lies, and being sure we're as close to truth as possible.

Any buyers out there who still care about such things? Any readers till care about such things?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Science Fiction TV Preview

Excited about all of the new and resurrected science-fiction TV programs coming out? Read my SF TV preview—learn about some shows you might not have heard about, learn more about some you know about, and wonder why the heck I left out some you already know about.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday, September 4, 2015

What Tina Brown Taught Donald Trump

My theory on the connection between Donald Trump and Tina Brown. Seriously. Let me explain.

Donald Trump currently leads the Republican Party's primary presidential polls. People keep expressing surprise that he can hold that much popularity, despite his sometimes outrageous behavior and his straying from Republican conservative ultra-orthodoxy. But it's not that surprising, if you think about it.

Anyone else here old enough to remember when Tina Brown was editor of The New Yorker? When she took the reins of that legendary beast, some people were aghast—barbarians at the gate and all of that. She then proceeded to make changes to one of the most conservative (in terms of not changing) magazines in the entire country. New layouts, new sections, new types of articles, new contributors, new attitudes, and so on. People were impressed or nonplussed or angered, but the magazine went on. Eventually Tina Brown went on, too, to other jobs and others took the reins at The New Yorker. They were able to continue making changes, and the magazine is the better for it. It's an excellent publication, year after year. What Tina Brown might most be remembered for at the magazine is that she showed you COULD change it without destroying it.

For far too long, far too many GOP politicians at all levels have been terrified about touching certain third rails in the subway of politics. Raise taxes on the rich? Perish the thought. Gay marriage? WWJD! And so on. Trump has broken both of those taboos, plus others, and though many people are outraged or upset or nonplussed, he has shown that it can be done and it's not the Republican political kiss of death. Yes, he was able to do it because he's self-funded, but he has still pointed out that the GOP voter's emperor has no clothes, if you get the point, and I think we'll see other candidates in future years continue to break political taboos.

I'm not a Trump fan. Far from it. (Team Hillary Clinton 2016!!!) But I do find it interesting to watch what Trump is doing to the Republican Party that could be good for the party and the country itself, freeing it from a stifling policy conformism that hasn't been seen since the Comintern disbanded.

Maybe that will counterbalance to some small degree the damage Trump has done with his insulting racial and sexual comments.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tonight's Hugo Awards Are World Famous

The Hugo Awards are being given out tonight. And it's a big controversy — one that has the Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, and other non-genre pubs writing about it. See what the controversy is in my latest digital science fiction/science magazine, Galaxis. See page 16.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It's Out! Galaxis #5

The latest edition of my little digital free magazined devoted to science and science fiction is now out.

It's Galaxis #5, and it's a special science-fiction television preview issue, with a roundup of upcoming genre shows—Foundation, The X-Files, and more. We've also got an interview with author David Gerrold, a portfolio of Mandelbrot art, a report on the Hugos controversy, seasons 2 and 3 of our Star Trek: The Next Generation episode guide, and much more, including our big reviews section.