Yesterday, because I needed it for work*, and because my wife growls threateningly whenever I get near hers**, I went and got one of the latest iterations of the iPad. As advertised, it is a very lovely piece of kit; the retina screen is gorgeous to look at, the most recent iteration of iOS is perfectly snappy, and of course it has the sort of elegant design that makes you feel smarter just for walking around with it (which is of course entirely dangerous). I like it.
Also, the damn thing is still not the right size for me. I can’t really do anything with the thing with just one hand, typing on the thing means I am confronted with a too-large keyboard in profile and a too-small keyboard in landscape (not to mention that the people at Apple give us an onscreen keyboard whose layout continues to show that no one there apparently needs to type anything), the thing is just ever-too-heavy for long reading sessions, and ever-so-awkwardly sized for lying around in bed with. This is why, despite the iPad’s obvious charms and features, I suspect at the end of the day my go-to tablet will continue to be the rather more modestly-specc’d Galaxy Tab 2 7-inch tablet I bought in May.
Steve Jobs was famously of the opinion that the iPad was exactly the right size, but you know what? Steve Jobs was as capable of being entirely full of crap as anyone else on the planet. I am an almost exactly average-sized human male, and a seven-inch tablet is far better sized for almost every single thing I personally want to use a tablet for on a daily basis. This is why, among other things, the tabletized Kindles and Nooks have been so very successful, and why people continue to slaver over the idea of the iPad Mini, which allegedly will be released in October. Although I won’t be buying one of those — please note the actual purchased iPad — when it comes out (and I think it will), I will feel totally vindicated. Vindicated, I say!
* SHUT UP I TOTALLY DO NEED IT FOR WORK. No, seriously. The video game I am working on is being built for mobile platforms, and obviously the iPad is a target platform in that area. SO THERE.
** She doesn’t really. And I’m not just writing that because she is standing directly behind me now.***
*** She wasn’t really. It’s comedy, people! Keep up!
Here’s the thing about Mitt Romney: He’s a Republican candidate for president in the unenviable bind of not being able to run on any sort of record at all. He’s tried to run on his record as a businessman, but that’s been no good. The Democrats have done a pretty effective job painting him as a robber baron lighting cigars with the pensions of little old ladies, whose companies Bain & Company just liquidated for the LOLs. He can’t run on his record as a governor, because then the GOP base has its face rubbed in the fact that Romney gavesocialized medicine to gay people who could get married, and that just won’t do. He can’t go out there and articulate his economic plan, bolted on as it is by the good graces of his Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, because Ryan’s economic plan is frankly insane, the sort of plan you make when you apparently think that the oliganarchy of the Russian 1990s is something to aim for, not run away from.
Constrained as he is, he’s got nothing he can actually use to make a case for himself but himself — Mitt Romney, with that genial smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, that head of hair strategically left to gray at the temples, and that paternal aura of competence that says, hey, trust me, put me in the job and we’ll deal with all those silly fiddly details later. And you know what? With the economy still farting about and Obama still being as cuddly as a prickly pear, and Romney having a bunch of SuperPACs willing to shovel money until there’s not a swing state that’s not carpetbombed with ads, this had a reasonably good chance of working. But ultimately it only works if you actually trust Romney — or alternately, have no reason to distrust Romney — to make sane, responsible and intelligent decisions.
Which is why Romney blew up his chance to be president this week: He showed, manifestly, that he’s indeed capable of making horrible, awful, very bad, no good, terrible choices. First, by deciding that a foreign crisis, generally considered to be off-limits for bald, obvious politicking, would be an excellent time to engage in some bald, obvious politicking. Second, by making a statement slamming the president while the crisis was still in the process of developing and getting worse. Third, by blaming the president for an action he had no hand in (the press release from the under siege embassy) and which his administration had disavowed. Fourth, when after the facts of the events became clear, and it became clear that Romney’s statement had some serious factual holes in it, for doubling down at a press conference on assertions everyone knew by that time weren’t correct.
How appalling was Romney’s decision-making process in attacking Obama on the embassy attacks? So appalling that it took three whole days for the GOP to find a way to get its messaging to support Romney’s position (sort of). And in the meantime, everyone in the world was treated to diplomats, politicians and commentators on both sides of the aisle saying the somewhat more articulate equivalent of “What is this I don’t even” to Romney’s antics.
Was there a legitimate criticism to be made of the administration’s handling of the embassy attacks? Sure, although it would have been smarter not to release it on September 11. Did Romney make it? No. When presented with a fine opportunity to recraft and restate his criticism, did Romney take advantage of it? Quite the opposite, in fact. Has Romney’s refusal to walk back his initial screw-up compromised legitimate criticism about how the embassy attacks have been handled? Oh, my, yes. It’s amazing, actually. It’s as if at every turn in the crisis Romney had an opportunity to do something that wouldn’t make him look like a cat with a bag on its head navigating through a room full of bar stool legs, and chose instead the opposing course. It’s impressive in its way, but it’s a not a good way to be impressive.
What Romney has done here is in fact similar to something his predecessor John McCain did in 2008: Seize a moment in a crisis to take a bold step, without checking to see if one is in fact stepping into the abyss. McCain’s moment came when the economy started collapsing in on itself, and McCain decided to suspend his campaign, postpone the debates and generally attempt to make it look like he was already president already. This didn’t go over particularly well, as you may recall. It certainly puzzled me. For me it signaled the point at which Obama began pulling away with the election, because it made McCain look panicky and befuddled rather than decisive and in charge. As I wrote at the time:
I wish that this sudden, overwhelming concern wasn’t such a transparent attempt to continue to McCain presidential strategy of attempting to win the White House without being required to articulate coherently to the public or the press why he’s presidential material. McCain has missed more Senate votes this year than any senator not recovering from a massive stroke, so an active presence in the Senate is not something he’s put much of a premium on since beginning his campaign. He isn’t rushing to Washington to help, he’s running away from everything else. He is the Sir Robin of 2008 presidential election.
Fast-forward to 2012. Here is another crisis, of a different sort. Here’s another candidate, attempting to look bold and decisive, ending up looking like he has no idea what he’s doing and in the process stripping away the one item he has to base his campaign on: The illusion that he can be trusted to do the right thing. Here’s another place where there’s an excellent chance we’ll one day look back and say: This is where the GOP lost the presidency this time around.
Romney went Full McCain on this one. We see how well it worked for McCain. I suspect it’ll work just as well for Romney.
Often times reading a book is the closest you can come to an experience without being there yourself. But can writing the book pull off the same sort of trick? Let’s ask Sarah Beth Durst, whose latest novel, Vessel, took shape at first because of a yearn to travel — or at the very least, to be elsewhere than she was. It didn’t stop there, of course…
SARAH BETH DURST:
I chose to write Vessel because I wanted to walk across a desert.
Some people might have booked a plane ticket and packed a suitcase. But I don’t like being hot, I don’t like sand, and I’m about as athletically inclined as a garden gnome. Minus the beard.
I think of it like choosing the next travel destination on my armchair traveler itinerary. I’d written about the Arctic a couple years ago and immersed myself in a world of ice. This time, I wanted to live in a world of sun and heat and sand.
But not just any desert. It had to be a fantasy desert (because that’s the way my mind works — I was the kid who would always check her closet for an entrance to Narnia, who would always put “magic wand” on her birthday wish list, and who would always memorize where she put her stuffed animals so she’d catch them if/when they moved… I probably shouldn’t admit that last one). So my initial brainstorming went a little like this:
ME: I want to write about a desert.
MY BRAIN: Sure. So long as I can write in air conditioning.
ME: But I want more than sand. Beaches have sand. Sandboxes have sand.
MY BRAIN: How about wolves made of sand? And dragons. No, not dragons, sky serpents! Made of unbreakable glass! And gods and goddesses that walk the earth inside the bodies of humans! And a trickster god! And a young emperor in a glorious palace! And desert horses! And monstrous worms! Mwah-hah-hah!
ME: You know we need a story too, right?
MY BRAIN: Oh. Right.
I found the story one night. It was the perfect night: a crescent moon, a cool breeze, and me snoring (or, as I prefer to call it, “breathing”) on my pillow. Yes, as cheesy as it sounds, the key to Vessel came to me in a dream.
I dreamed about a girl dancing. She had long, black hair and silk skirts that flowed around her as she swirled. Her feet were bare, and she was dancing on sand with the moon above her. I was the girl. And I was dancing wildly, joyfully. As I danced, I knew that when the dance ended, I was going to die.
When I woke up, I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl. I didn’t know why she was dancing, why she was going to die, or why, knowing that, she would feel so joyful and free.
In answering those questions, I found my Big Idea.
In this desert land with wolves made of sand that hunt inside storms and sky serpents made of unbreakable glass that guard mountains, every clan has its own god or goddess. Once every hundred years, the clan’s deity claims a human body and uses it to work the magic that fills the wells, revitalizes the oases, and increases the herds. Without this infusion of magic, the clan will wither and die.
Liyana has been chosen to give her body to her clan’s goddess. She doesn’t want to die, of course, but she is willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of her clan and especially for the sake of her four-year-old brother. She begins the ceremony to summon her goddess…
… but her goddess doesn’t come.
Vessel is a story about losing your destiny and what happens after.
For me, for Vessel, the Big Idea didn’t come as a lightning strike. It came as sparks that fused together. I think that’s how the creative process works a lot of the time – or at least that’s how it works for me. You start with a stray thought, a whim even, “I want to write about a desert.” You prod it, twist it, stretch it, add to it, tear it up and sew it back together, toss in a few dreams, mix it up with bits of your soul… and then suddenly, magically, after a lot of typing and a lot of chocolate, you have your story, and you are walking across a desert with a girl who’s trying to save a goddess.