On election nights, I want all those talking heads to shut up

All I need is a scorecard as the polls close.

Candidate A is now ahead of Candidate B while Candidate C is toast.

Instead, CNN, Fox and other the networks brought us an unending number of panels of people–most of whom I’d never heard of–telling me what it meant when Candidate A forged ahead of Candidate B.

I thought it meant that Candidate A currently had more votes. Since NCIS was pre-empted for this information, thought, “Dang, these panels that are shooting the breeze about what the night’s totals and trends mean better be good.”

Instead, they found one hundred ways to state the obvious:

  • “Well, Bob, what do you think Candidate X is going to do now?”
  • “Read the handwriting on the wall.”
  • “What wall is that?”
  • “The wall that says a woman can’t possibly beat two incredibly old white men with one foot in the grave.”
  • “That wall’s been around a long time.”

Was there anything new here, new enough to pre-empt Gibbs and the rest of the NCIS crew? No, there wasn’t. Who watches this stuff? I don’t. I mute the talking heads and check the voting totals from time to time.

Then I go and watch a taped episode of “Penn & Teller Fool Us” where the sleight of hand is more interesting than the candidates’ sleight of hand. And less harmful.




Does anyone know how the Russians are meddling in U.S. elections?

I haven’t seen any evidence of it, but then maybe it’s really subtle and/or maybe I’ve been brainwashed.

Some people say Russia is putting ads on Facebook that are filled with disinformation that purportedly makes Democrats look bad and Republicans look good. Okay, let’s suppose that’s true. My response tends to be, “So what.”

Seeing an ad, from Russia or anyone else, doesn’t automatically make me believe it, much less take any action. I still have freedom of choice, so I can’t figure out how Russian-placed ads (if there are any) are any more harmful/helpful than any other political ads.

Or, have I simply missed the boat here?

Now, if the Russians are hacking into our election software, that’s another kettle of borsch. Somebody messed up big in Iowa, but I don’t think the Russians caused it. My wife and I used to write custom software for a living: we were talking about this last night and we are truly happy that we didn’t write any caucus reporting software for anyone.

At my age, I’m cynical about a lot of things it’s probably pointless to be cynical about. But I’m not worried about the Russians trying to influence my vote. When it comes to cynicism, I’m more concerned about the U. S. government spying on me than the Russians: NSA, FISA courts, Patriot Act, oh my.

In terms of the election, the Russkies–as we called them during the cold war–aren’t even on my RADAR. Neither is Putin.  I’m more concerned about finding a viable candidate I like who can win rather than worrying about mudslinging no matter where it originates.

What about you? Can you decide who to vote for without the Russians’ help? I’m pretty sure you can.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the satirical novel “Special Investigative Reporter.”



When politicians eat crow, are they happy?

I’ve never eaten crow, figuratively or literally so I had to Google “eating crow” to see what it tastes like. One answer on a Q&A site said crow tastes a lot like an owl (well, that’s helpful) or like a duck without the grease. When I was in high school, a lot of my friends hunted ducks and they pleased my mother no end by ringing the doorbell and handing her a lot of duck corpses. I knew how to clean ducks, but I was in college, so mother got stuck doing it.

With that in mind, when the growing list of interwoven, atrocious news stories finally comes to an end, the politicians who end up eating crow might have a pretty good meal–a little gamey, perhaps–but not so bad. It’s too bad crow doesn’t taste like chicken since many of the politicians mentioned in recent news were either acting like chickens (scared) or running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

Have you noticed? Every day’s news is weirder than it was the day before. In fact, it all reads/sounds like satire, like some Peter Sellers or Jim Carrey or John Cleese movie.  There’s no way everyone out there is telling the truth or even knows what it is. That means, we’re going to need a lot of crows.

As it turns out, crows are smarter than a lot of people in Congress. What a shame to kill them, broil them and feed them to all the liars. How did things come to this?

I guess it’s our fault, the voters, that is. We elected these people. And now, look at the mess they’ve made. I have no idea how to fix it, though I do thinking that eating crow might seem like a reward opposed to, say, fear and trembling and/or jail time. Apparently, we haven’t been minding the store. Out employees–Senators and Representatives–have been doing what they want rather than listening to us. That’s insubordination at best.

Do you have a solution for the mess in Washington, D.C.? Term limits is my solution because it keeps people who are supposed to be working for us from becoming all-powerful millionaires at our expense. No doubt, their staffs keep crow in the freezer just in case.



How political should a novelist be?

If an author writes novels that attack societal ills and/or the effective or foolish programs politicians propose for solving them, chances are good that if the novel is contemporary the author agrees with the focus of his/her fiction. In fact, some activist authors are calling for more novels and poems that focus on the issues in the days’ news.

But what if an author isn’t writing those kinds of novels? Should s/he tell readers in speeches and blogs how s/he feels about the issues? Generally, I think not. I’ve crossed that line on this blog from time to time, and have usually regretted doing it because I’m not an activist author even though I have strong views about many things.

Why the regret? Mainly because the purpose of this blog is to discuss writing and to call attention to my books and the subjects surrounding my books. Since I’ve written three novels about a conjure woman, you’ll find me talking about hoodoo and some of the spells and herbs that are typical of a rootworker. Because those novels involve folk magic, I’ve also written a lot of posts about magic. Or, the silly stuff and important stuff going on in my life. (Like cat gravity and cancer treatments.)

So, even though I’ve crossed the line from time to time and posted here about political subjects that have nothing to do with my books, I really don’t think it’s my place to speak out here about the Kurds in Syria or a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Hope Clark (Funds for Writers founder as well as a novelist) made the point in her latest newsletter that she thought it was in poor taste for a publisher’s editor to make comments at a conference for prospective children’s book authors about her negative feelings about President Trump.

According to Clark, that editor risked:

  • “alienating members of the crowd
  • marring the good name of the publisher
  • tarnishing the reputation of the conference”

In this case, the editor was an employee and probably wasn’t authorized by her publisher to make political statements when she was there to talk about best practices for writing and publishing books for children. Employees in other fields have gotten in trouble with their employers for wearing buttons or tee shirts or jewellery that espouses a political or religious opinion because those beliefs might be construed by the public as the beliefs of the employer.

I used to enjoy watching the Oscars even though the program always ran too long and might reasonably have been called an actors-and-producers mutual admiration society. Be that as it may, I don’t watch the program any more because it has become too much (my view) of a political platform for hosts, presenters, and award recipients. When I did watch it, I wanted to know about the best movies of the year, not what the on-stage talent thought of the President or Congress.

Non-activist writers of fiction can easily get into the same quicksand by turning off the very people who love their books by going on and on about current issues. Current issues viewpoints are not why readers and prospective readers are reading a blog, attending a reading/signing, or listening to a speech at a convention. They want to know about the stories and, possibly, how to write stories of their own.

Why send away prospective readers who might enjoy your next novel by allowing immaterial political beliefs into the mix?








Turkish Delight Banned in the U. S.

Washington, D. C., October 13, 2019, Star-Gazer News Service–In response to the Turkish invasion of Syria to exterminate long-time allies of the United States, the administration has banned Turkish Delight until the Turks stop killing Kurds.

Wikipedia Photo

Banning Tsar Joe Doaks said that, “With Hallowe’en just around the corner, this action will hit Turkey in the pocketbook big time, forcing it to stop the invasion we greenlighted several weeks ago.”

While Kurdish spokesmen remain unconvinced the ban will save their lives or keep ISIS prisoners from escaping blown-up jails, the Administration believes new sanctions will “teach Turkey a lesson.”

“Don’t make us ban turkeys from Thanksgiving,” Doaks said. “If Turkey really wants to suck up to Russia, let them eat Borscht.”

DeepState, a policy thinktank outside the long shadow of the White House, said, “The U. S. can sanction countries around the world until the cows and coffins come home, but statistics show that such sanctions never stopped anyone from doing whatever they wanted to do.”

In a DeepState white paper released yesterday, experts said they found the Administration’s assertions that it had not abandoned the Kurds “laughable” even though two out of three comedians say “it’s no laughing matter.”

The Kurds, who have been U.S. allies longer than Turkey (neutral during most of WWII), said that “At present, we feel no need to ever trust the United States again, especially since the Turkish invasion will lead to more chaos in the region for years to come. When that happens, don’t come back to us with the lame ‘pull my finger joke.'”

Doaks blamed Wikileaks for telling the Kurds about the “pull my finger joke.”

Informed sources say that Americans no longer know “what the hell” Turkish delight is, so most trick-or-treaters won’t be harmed by the ban.

Story by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter






I worry about all the shouting these days

Politics has become very confrontational these days, so much so that the Congress would rather provoke the opposition with tirades rather than work together to actually accomplish something. Even a watered-down improvement in a major issue is likely to be better than inaction.

Most of us know that when a business meeting, city council meeting, or family discussion turns into exaggerations and shouting matches, nothing good will come out of it. Protestors and members of Congress seem to have forgotten this.

In a Facebook discussion yesterday, I got into a debate with somebody who said we are duty-bound as citizens to become counter-protesters whenever a group we despise holds a rally or a “parade.” I disagreed. When certain groups, and their opposites, meet on a city street, the result is shouting. By itself, that accomplishes nothing. Sometimes it leads to violence and property destruction. The news media has a field day and the group that scheduled the march gets a lot of publicity.

I would rather ignore them. Let them have a march that’s met with absolute silence. That hardly makes the news. I grew up in a county where the KKK had a march about once every month or so. Those who supported the KKK stood and watched them go by on the street. Those who didn’t support them stayed away. The result: the news media had nothing to report and nobody got killed or arrested.

Then, as now, anyone yelling verbal threats at the marchers (or getting in their faces) is committing a crime (assault). Is it worth getting arrested to tell members of a group one doesn’t like that they’re really full of it? That’s what they want you to do. That gives them news coverage and lends some of their opposition in jail. Who’s the winner here?

When this kind of thing happens, we all lose. Instead of dialogue that might lead somewhere, we maintain the angry status quo where nothing gets fixed.


The Time of The Tower 

On the current political and social climate. . .

“You can feel it in the air too. I know you can. There is an almost electric buzz that takes a seat in the back of the head, like an uninvited guest at a family reunion. It takes up space and makes you carry around maladaptive behaviors like a child’s blanket. It’s uncomfortable, it’s ill-fitting, and like that uninvited guest, it infringes on your plans and keeps you from being the person you truly are. And you just can not get it to leave. For those of us who are empaths, it buzzes harder, burns brighter, and every Tweet and every headline sting like daggers. That uninvited guest has taken a place on your couch after the reunion, slide their shoes off, and said they need a place for a while, do you mind if they stay?”

Source: The Time of The Tower ‹ Conjure and Coffee ‹ Reader — WordPress.com

I enjoy reading Conjure and Coffee even though the writer and I are in vastly different age groups and approach magic in somewhat different ways. I’ve highlighted this post about The Tower because whether you’re intuitive in any way, it’s likely that the upheaval in our country has an impact on you and even brings ominous thoughts about the future.

I prefer this Thoth Tarot image to that of the Rider-Waite deck.

Using the Thoth Tarot, I see the Tower Card as less apocalyptic than this image in the Rider-Waite deck suggests. Perhaps we face the destruction of outdated modes of thinking rather than the violent upheaval of mobs and armies. Nonetheless, many of us, empathic and otherwise, intuitively and logically and emotionally sense dangers all over the current times.

My worry is that the debate seems to be getting more polarized rather than one aimed at unity and consensus building. Sometimes I think the two major political parties are trying to outdo each other in pure craziness. If you dare to get in a discussion online about anything from a moderate perspective, you’ll be attacked by extremists on both sides of the issue. The scary thing is, all the people in each group sound the same, like they’ve been brainwashed and all they can do is repeat the programming from the mother ship or whoever they respect.

Okay, I’ve strayed off from the focus and intent of the “Time of the Tower” post because I see similar kinds of messages in the cards about more discord rather than less. How do we diffuse the rhetoric and the hatred and the “my side right or wrong”?

The phrase “blessed are the peacemakers” comes to mind, and I guess that’s better than arguing and trying to win.



All of you political PR flaks need to quit bugging me

God forbid you should ever donate to a cause because once you do, your in-basket will be filled with dire warnings such as DONATE NOW TO STOP WORLD FROM BLOWING UP.

Does this almost-SPAM really work?

I associate it with the kinds of pitches I see aired with late-night TV shows where actors who look as reputable as Hannibal Lector try to push “miracle” products that I can get delivered immediately at 99% off if I call now. “Operators are standing by.”

So now, it’s politics. The bogus theme I hate most is, “Hey, Malcolm, we need 100,000 signatures by midnight to stop [whoever] from doing [whatever].” Are you serious?  What’s with the deadline? This crap has been going on for years and suddenly I have to sign some silly petition with no legal standing by midnight?

And, “Malcolm, are you with us? A mysterious donor will triple match all contributions made in the next 15 minutes.”

I wonder how long it will be before this shrill rhetoric turns into outright threats. “DONATE OR DIE. Killers are standing by to rub out everyone who fails to support our nonviolent loving kindness campaign by high noon.”

When I see a lot of this schlock from the same place, I unsubscribe, assuming I can figure out how and can get through the barrage of questions I have to answer: “Don’t you love us anymore?” “Did we do something wrong?” “Do you think we’re just a bunch of assholes?”

Then, after I unsubscribe to something I never signed up for in the first place, guess how much good it does? Nada. Zip. The dire messages and pleas for money keep coming.

I figure e-mail SPAM and blog comment SPAM must work because they aren’t going away. I’m starting to think that I should use this technique to sell my books: “Hello, buy a copy of Conjure Woman’s Cat by midnight or I’ll put a hex on your ass.”

Okay, it was just a thought.

But seriously, you political bastards asking for money and signatures before midnight need to shut the hell up. Let’s see, if given the choice between donating to your petition drive or buying a bottle of Scotch, what should I do? I’m buying the Scotch because it tastes good while the petition drive probably isn’t going to do squat.

I saw an article today that said most cell phone calls will soon be from spammers. I can believe that. Most of the e-mail in my in-basket is SPAM. Thank goodness WordPress weeds out most of the SPAM comments on my blog. Everybody’s talking and nobody’s listening.

The reason is simple: those doing the talking are selling snake oil.





Polarized shouting matches won’t solve the school shooter problem

Yesterday, a friend of mine began a discussion of the school shooter problem with a measured status update that, rather than looking for simplistic solutions, clearly invited people to look at the culture and the nature of our society that are behind what might be called an epidemic.

While most of those commenting seriously tried to talk about why people with access to guns today are becoming school shooters when young people have, for years in this country, had access to guns (hunting, trap and skeet shouting, informal target practice) and–until recently–didn’t kill their classmates in mass shootings.

Other commenters didn’t like this approach for various reasons centering on beliefs that (a) so-called profiles of school shooters also described a lot of other people who “suffered the same problems” but didn’t become shooters, (b) the solutions–such as get the guns, arm teachers, put metal detectors at school entrances–were clear and, if approved, could be implemented before efforts at understanding today’s youth would get off the ground, (c) psychology is a “soft discipline” that most insurance plans don’t even cover, so how could it possibly be expected to solve what people believe is a law enforcement issue.

Some people said they thought the media–both news and social–helped fuel the problem by inciting copy cat killings, contributing to the so-called easy fix approach  through non-stop panels of experts, and by providing a fame of sorts to the shooters. Others speculated that non-stop texting and social media use made today’s youth more isolated while giving them the impression they were tied into a larger whole.

In his “Psychology Today” article “‘Profiling’ School Shooters,” George S. Everly states that  While the debate rages on gun control and is not likely to be resolved in the near future, renewed interest in “profiling” those who are at highest risk for committing violence has emerged. However, we must proceed cautiously as no predictive paradigm in behavioral science is perfect, especially “profiling.”

The emphasis here is not, I think, to come up with a formula that predicts who, amongst people suffering similar problems, will be the next shooter. To me, what’s important is considering conditions which appear to have impacted shooters to date and using them not as predictions but as issues to address in schools, families, and perhaps society itself.

Every’s list of primary factors, includes:

  • Males who were students or former students at the school–that is, they were part of the target school’s population.
  • Anger and revenge from people who had been bullied or felt they had been treated unfairly.
  • Individuals who were socially awkward and had few friends.
  • Media contagion as a motivator to frustrated and angry individuals.
  • Dysfunctional family situations.
  • Individuals who expressed frustration/anger through social media posts or some form of “art.”

My list oversimplifies the article, so I encourage you to read it. Whether or not such indicators are within the purview of school counselors is not for me to say. I suspect they are already overworked with a career-choice focus. Parents and parent associations might discuss these in relation to their own children, though we don’t expect a dysfunctional family to have a family meeting and vote to become functional.

Those who think rooms full of youths who are all texting others who aren’t there rather than interacting with those they’re sitting next to certainly have an issue to study. Why do kids do this? Does it isolate them and/or cripple their social skills of dealing with people more directly?

The legality of looking too closely at these indicators might pose problems, such as muzzling a free press, stifling free speech, or the school’s intrusion into emotional issues that parents think belong within the family’s discretion.

As a former journalism teacher, I think there is much the press can do to act with greater caution and restraint in its reporting. “Sitting on a story” for hours and hours during periods when no new information is available not only gives rise to inaccurate reporting and reliance on the opinions/speculations of experts, but ignores other news around the world. For shooters who are looking for their 15 minutes of fame, this endless coverage gives them more fame than they ever dreamt of.

Santa Fe school system photo

We saw how the Ferguson, Missouri violence was fueled in part by the lies told–and perpetuated by the media–about the Michael Brown shooting by people who claimed to be witnesses who weren’t even there. A lot of violence occurred based on those lies, and even after they were proven false, many people continued to believe them. A network I won’t name was taking phone calls after the Santa Fe, Texas shooting from people that did not appear to have been vetted who claimed to have been there. Were they really there? The network took their comments as gospel, something no good reporter would ever do. In this approach, the network wasn’t a news organization but another cog in the social media spreading viral information that could only incite more incorrect views on causes, and perhaps our next shooting.

Addressing these so-called indicators isn’t a quick fix. Personally, I am more interested in knowing what in society has changed that has allowed/facilitated this epidemic.  Some people think “getting the guns” is a quick fix, yet they seem to have no idea that much of the prospective legislation bandied about so far wouldn’t have stopped many of the shooters and/or would be unconstitutional. Trying to repeal or alter the Second Amendment is a process that–even if Congress starts the procedure–would take years and would probably fail. Not a quick fix. Others suggest metal detectors at school doors  which, of course, would have to be manned. So far, the costs appear to be higher than school system budgets. Not an easy thing to do even though it seems so obvious.

I don’t have the answer. And, it might be possible that even if we knew exactly what had changed in our society to create this problem, it might include a slough of so many things it would be hard to address. However, what doesn’t help, is intruding into a civilized Facebook post that’s looking for reasoned discussion with a single-quick-fix solution and then slamming those who don’t agree with it.

If this Facebook thread mirrors society as a whole, we’ll never stop the shootings. Meanwhile, as one survivor of the Santa Fe, Texas, shooting said in an interview, “It’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always felt it would eventually happen here too.”

Let’s hope public policy doesn’t become fatalism.


A friend of mine has continued some helpful resources:

The School Shooter: A Quick Reference Guide
Are mass shootings a white man’s problem?

Is seeking peace a naïve thing?

Many of us who protested the Vietnam War–and subsequent wars–think that some initiatives on behalf of peace are a waste of time. During the Vietnam War, some people suggested that if our troops would sit down with the Viet Cong and sing “Kumbuya” together, the war would end. Among other things, this view showed an ignorance of the region’s history and what brought all the players into the conflict.

Could any of the great wars have been avoided if–prior to the days the first shots were fired–people had worked harder for peace? Historical accounts tend to convince us that the answer to that question is “probably not.” If you’ve read historical accounts, you know that World War I was billed as the war to end all wars. Those who believed that were fooled, I guess.

On the other hand, if we believe that peace is unlikely, then perhaps it is. Our beliefs about peace being unlikely probably shape a lot of our words and deeds and keep us from speaking out against the so-called hawks doing the saber rattling whenever potential conflicts exist. If we remain quiet, then the so-called doves and those who haven’t made up their minds yet don’t consider the fact that the “proper response” need not be a military response.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities tells us that maintaining the Department of Defense costs us (as of 2016) $605 billion, including “Overseas Contingency Operations” in areas such as Afghanistan. Those who advocate social programs, reduced taxes in general, and (naïvely or otherwise) a peaceful approach to the world see these expenditures as a waste of money. We’re lured, I think, into the belief that we must spend that money to keep ourselves safe. Personally, I don’t think the Iraq war or operations in Afghanistan made any of us safer, much less more secure. I support our troops, but not those who sent them to such places.

If you read the news, it’s hard not to think that the world isn’t a very nice place. North Korea is threatening to blow us out of the water, ISIS is causing trouble wherever it can, and it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between the Russian government and the Russian mob. Almost every week, we hear of a new terrorist attack somewhere. It seems logical, doesn’t it, to buy more guns and spend more money on defense and covert activities.

But is all that logic a self-fulling prophecy that leads only to more unrest and less security? I think so. I don’t think it helps us to be naïve about the world and its dangers. I do think that if we assume war is the only answer, then that’s what we will have. We need to stop listening to the playground-style bullies who keep telling us the only answer is to “kick the shit out of” one group or another. That keeps leading to more or the same. We kick them. They kick us. We kick them. It’s lose-lose for everyone.