Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for September 2010

Furiously trying to finish a story for WotF

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My blog once again has been suffering this week, partly because I’m doing my best to finish a story in time for the 9/30/10 deadline for the Writers of the Future contest.  I have done a great deal, but I still have at least three or four more solid hours of work to go, providing the story continues to hold together — only then can I send it off with a clear conscience.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be eligible for WotF, as once a novel (not a novella, a full-fledged novel, something over 60 K words) is published with my name on it, I will be ineligible.  This could happen soon; I am holding a positive thought.  Which is why this particular quarter might be the very last time I am definitely eligible for the contest . . . and it’s why I am working as hard as I can to bring a story together, so I can say I entered every quarter I had something ready until I was declared ineligible.

I suppose I should give some context here.  My first entry into the Writers of the Future contest was the Winter quarter of 2002 — which is their first quarter, the end of December deadline.  And I have entered more often than not ever since, mostly entering stories I’ve written alone, but sometimes entering co-written stories.   I’ve never received an honorable mention, much less semi-finalist or finalist status, yet thousands of people enter the WotF contest every quarter, and I know the only way to win a prize (they give three) is to enter.  Which is why despite how frustrating it’s been over the years to never get any recognition at all, I have kept at it.

Basically, to be eligible for WotF, you have to have three stories or fewer published — full credit stories in magazines that have circulations of over 5,000 people, or at an online publication where your story has received 5,000 hits.  The places that are known to meet this criteria are those that are Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America-eligible also — some of those include the Grantville Gazette, the Intergalactic Medicine Show, Strange Horizons, Apex, Fantasy magazine, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s, and Analog.    As I have only one-half a story credit by that measure (I’ve sold three stories, all co-written with my late husband Michael; two of them do not count by WotF standards as they do not meet SFWA guidelines of 5,000 circulation or 5,000 hits), I would only become ineligible when I either sold three stories on my own (or six more co-written stories with Michael or anyone else), or if I published more than one novella (so far I haven’t any novellas), or more than one novelette (only one of my stories, co-written with Michael, is even close to that), all with a full credit.  But a novel, whether it’s co-written or not, will immediately disqualify me no matter what — and something I’m working on now may go over the 60K word count and be published sooner rather than later.

At any rate, that’s what I’ve been up to, along with researching two different, disparate stories (one being the fourth “Columba” tale, which I discussed last week); that leaves very little time available for my blog.

But as soon as I have something that interests me after I’ve completed the story for WotF, I’ll be blogging away again — no worries about that.  So watch this space, as I might just surprise myself.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 29, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Heartwarming Holocaust story of survival, love.

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Who said writing’s not important?

This Yahoo post, entitled, “After 62 years, Holocaust survivor reunites with lost friend whose passport led her to America,” is one of the most heartwarming stories I’ve ever read, and it all started with one essay.

Intrigued?  Well, read on . . . .

In 1947, Cherie Rosenstein was five years old and living in an orphanage in Paris.  Her name at that time was Maria Helena Chuchnowicz, but when she was placed in the home of Eleanor Bohne-Hene, she was quickly nicknamed “Cherie,” meaning “dear,” by Bohne-Hene’s daughters Monique and Catherine.  The nickname stuck.

Here’s a link to the story:

As the Yahoo story says:

The next phase of the plan was for Bohne-Hene to take Rosenstein to the United States — but America’s quota system blocked Rosenstein. So the little girl posed as Monique Bohne-Hene, her hair bleached blond to resemble Monique’s passport photo.

She boarded what she recalls as a “monstrous bird of steel,” which deposited her in her new home in Ohio.

Cherie Rosenstein was eventually adopted by Libby and John Moskowitz of Ohio, and was taught English by the couple.  How she got past all the difficulties of her unusual entry into the United States was related by her own essay, entitled “Child of the Holocaust” at the Dayton Jewish Observer and available at this link:

Here’s a bit of that:

The war’s end brought problems of staggering proportions: thousands of Jewish survivors with no homes, families or money. Palestine was the only place in the world to unconditionally welcome these homeless Jews. Because Palestine desperately needed people to populate, build and defend the land, Vaad Hatzalah chose this land to resettle its refugees and children, including those of my orphanage.

Since he was a close friend of Rabbi Silver and Rev. Schmidt, John Moskowitz of Cincinnati turned to them to help him and his wife find a Jewish orphan to adopt as their own.

When Rev. Schmidt went to Paris and visited my orphanage, pictures were taken of some of the children. Upon returning to Cincinnati, he showed the pictures to the Moskowitzes. I became the chosen one.

Just the thought of little Cherie (née Maria Helena) having to endure all that after her parents had died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp made me shiver, yet she survived.

And the story gets better, because Rosenstein has recently been reunited with her childhood friend and companion, Monique (Bohne-Hene) Valvot after trying for many years, unsuccessfully, to find her.  And it was Rosenstein’s own essay in the Dayton Jewish Observer that helped lead Valvot, who’d also been looking for any word of little Cherie, to find her, because Valvot saw the article on the Internet.

Behold the power of writing, folks, at its best.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 25, 2010 at 10:19 pm

eQuill Welcomes me, Michael, with Press Release

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Lawrence T. at eQuill Publishing has graciously welcomed me and my late husband, Michael, with the following press release, available at this link:

Here’s the release in toto:

e-Quill Publishing is pleased to welcome two new authors, Barb Caffrey and her late husband, Michael B. Caffrey. Both are talented writers and have a large following world-wide. They have agreed to list some of their works with e-Quill Publishing.

In addition, it is now much, much easier to find sample pages for our stories — as you’ll see if you follow this link to Michael’s “Columba” collection:

The other stories all have sample pages laid out in this way, so it should be much easier now for people to see a bit of Michael’s (and my) writing before you buy.  (“Try before you buy” isn’t just the motto for buying a used — excuse me, pre-owned — car.)

There even was a very wonderful comment someone left that said he (or she) had loved Michael’s “Maverick” story “Dark and Stormy Night,” that I hadn’t anticipated.  This commentator said he (or she) would recommend any of Michael’s writing, or mine (or, presumably, both of us together).

eQuill is still a very young e-book publisher, folks, so there still may be snags as to how to find sample pages; please let me know if you continue to have problems there, and I will keep Lawrence (the publisher at eQuill) “in the loop.”  (Because being out of the loop certainly won’t help.)  But as the “Columba” stories show, they are there, and I find that very encouraging.

As for anything else, there may be more good news to report in the upcoming days, but I do not want to jinx it.  Let’s just say that I’m glad my and Michael’s writing is starting to gain (or re-gain, in Michael’s case) a following, and happy am I that this is so.


Note: if you wish to read my or Michael’s stories in order to review them, please let me know.  I believe Lawrence will be putting something up at eQuill for reviewers to let him know down the line, but for now, as the company is new, there’s no real mechanism except to go through the individual author(s).  Just know that I will be glad — thrilled, even — to provide a copy for review.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 25, 2010 at 8:40 pm

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Research in progress to finish Michael’s fourth “Columba” story

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I’ve been quiet this week, folks, partly because earlier this week was the sixth-year observance of my late husband Michael’s death.  I don’t enjoy this — who does? — but I feel it’s important to do my best to remember his life, and what he meant to me (I do this every day, but try especially hard during this particular week), and re-dedicate myself toward this difficult, often frustrating and sometimes rewarding business of writing.

Michael left behind a fourth “Columba” story that is, at best, 1/3 finished.  I know the title, which I will not share right now, and I know the circumstances Columba and her husband, the Duc d’Sanchestre, were in after they attempted to cross to his demesne but ended up somewhere else instead.

Complicating matters, I don’t have any notes for this story or universe — none whatsoever, unlike the “Maverick” universe (where there’s two completed stories there I’ve finished, and two novels I’m working on), which has plenty — all I have is the title, my knowledge of Michael’s writing style, and the completed 1/3 (or maybe 1/4) I have of the story to work with.

What I’ve done is figure out the setting — Michael has set this well, but I need to know how I can continue to describe it as it doesn’t come naturally to me — figure out some of what’s about to happen next, and because I know these characters very well (even though I’ve never written them before, I’ve read these stories over and over as they are outstanding), I believe I’ll be able to start writing the fourth story (or at least my continuation of it) very soon.

Very few authors have attempted what I’m doing — what I’ve already done to a degree with Michael’s “Joey Maverick” stuff — most especially in the realm of trying to finish in the same style as the original author .  A husband-wife pair (or spousal unit pair, if you prefer), where only one is left to finish the work of the deceased, is even more rare — I know of Ariel Durant, the much younger wife of Will Durant, completing her husband’s work, and of a few SF authors (Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, perhaps Janet Asimov to a degree) working in their late husband’s universes by permission or actually finishing stories in their late husband’s style.

At any rate, it can be done, but it’s difficult and often frustrating — this is not the writing that comes easily to me, and it tends to block out everything else I want to do until I’ve gotten enough of it out that I can get back to my work — and that’s the main reason my blog is languishing at present.

Aside from that, I continue to submit stories, write more stories, and edit various things — so I’m doing whatever I can to keep my dreams alive.

I can only believe that Michael would very much approve.


Note:  Please, please go to eQuill Publishing and look for my late husband’s “Columba” stories — it’s not too late for his work to gain a following.

Here’s the link:

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 23, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Calumet County (WI) DA Ken Kratz — one of the World’s Worst People.

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Wisconsin’s District Attorney of Calumet County, Ken Kratz, must be one of the world’s worst people.  He sexually harassed a victim by sending her text messages showing his sexual interest in her — mind you, doing this to a young woman who’d sought help from his office due to being physically abused by her ex-boyfriend — and believes he has done nothing “ethically wrong.”

How he can live with himself after sending these racy texts — one of which called this poor abused woman a “hot, young nymph” — I just don’t know.

Read the initial story at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel here:

A few relevant quotes:

According to the police report, Kratz, 50, began sending text messages to Stephanie L. Van Groll, 26, after she met with him Oct. 20 regarding domestic abuse charges that had been filed against her ex-boyfriend. Van Groll reported the text messages to Kaukauna police two days later.

Kratz wrote in his first text that it was nice talking with Van Groll and that she should feel free to text him between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to copies of the messages included in the police report.

“You have such potential,” Kratz wrote in the initial text message. “See ya. KEN (your favorite DA).”

Van Groll thanked Kratz in a reply text message, but he continued texting her, sending 30 messages over three days, according to the report.

Yet Kratz did not quit — here’s one of his racy text messages to Van Groll:

“Im serious!” Kratz wrote in another text. “Im the atty. I have the $350,000 house. I have the 6-figure career. You may be the tall, young, hot nymph, but I am the prize!”

Listen.  This is so wrong — so very, very, very wrong — that I have a hard time containing my disbelief and anger.

First off, the way Kratz has handled this has been plain, flat wrong.  Yesterday he confronted a Journal-Sentinel reporter and was abusive over the invasion of Kratz’s privacy — and today, all he did was to read a prepared statement saying he was “willing to seek counseling” (I heard the statement on WTMJ-Radio, AM 620 in Milwaukee, WI) and that he didn’t do anything wrong — but that he felt it was “inappropriate” and “disrespectful.”

Not strong enough, Mr. Kratz.  And not nearly enough for Wisconsin’s victim advocates, who are calling for Kratz’s removal as DA (since Kratz defiantly said today he “will not step down” but only may seek some “personal time off.”)

Here’s a link to one article about that:

This article is important, because in it, you see that the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, American Indians Against Abuse and victim advocates statewide — all of them —  released this joint statement in reaction to Kratz’s abhorrent behavior:

Since Ken Kratz’s sexual harassment of a domestic violence victim has come to the public’s attention, he has had the opportunity to acknowledge and take responsibility for the full impact of his actions. He has failed to do so and must resign.

Absolutely!  But I’m going to keep posting their statement, which is lengthy, with my commentary in between.

Going on:

In his public statement, Kratz said his sexual harassment was a ‘lapse of judgment’. Rather, his conduct and failure to take responsibility show a lack of character.

Once again, absolutely!  I can’t think of a worse example of a public servant anywhere, because Kratz was elected to the position of District Attorney, not appointed.  Remember, he was elected — which is why I put this in “United States politics” as one of my categories for this blog.

Going on:

As former chairperson of the Crime Victim Rights Board, Kratz knew that subjecting a domestic violence victim to unwanted sexual advances violated the Wisconsin state constitution’s guarantee that crime victims should be treated with fairness, dignity and respect for their privacy. Moreover, once his misdeeds came to light, he should have understood the real issue—victims in his community will have legitimate concerns in coming forward to report abuse.


Now, do you see what the problem is with Kratz’s behavior?   Kratz knew exactly what he was doing — and he didn’t care.  Appalling!

And Kratz can’t try to tell me he didn’t understand the implication of his actions, because he’s a lawyer who’s worked on behalf of victim rights’ advocates for a long, long time.  (He had to resign from a victim’s rights board over this — and rightfully so.)

Going on, and talking specifically about Kratz’s resignation from the board:

Instead, he has attempted to minimize and mislead. Kratz said that stepping down from the Crime Victim Rights Board was a ‘self-imposed sanction’. This is not true. It is clear from released email correspondences that the Wisconsin Department of Justice required Kratz to resign as a condition of not disclosing the victim’s complaint.

Why am I unsurprised?

Going on:

His mishandling of this incident is consistent with his authorship of the appalling text messages. In both instances, he has shown an entitlement to his own position and power and a willingness to manipulate others for personal gain.

That’s for sure.

Going on — note that I broke the paragraph, not the various organizations who wrote this condemnatory and effective press release:

About one year ago, Kratz wrote to a battered and bruised strangulation victim, “I’m the atty. I have the $350,000 house. I have the 6-figure career. You may be the tall, young, hot nymph, but I am the prize!” He further demonstrated his willingness to emotionally exploit the victim by writing, “Hey..Miss Communication, what’s with the sticking point? Your low self-esteem and you fear you can’t successfully play in my big sandbox?” Later when authorities investigated the victim’s complaint, Kratz pressured investigators to not pursue the matter, characterized these messages as compliments and expressed concern only for his ‘reputational interests.’ Now, he feels he owes victims and citizens no further comment or explanation.

I’d call Kratz a Neanderthal, but that’s insulting the poor Neanderthals, who didn’t do anything to anyone — and couldn’t help what they were, for that matter.  (Innocent savages, mostly.)

This guy, Kratz, is a man who has abused his position for attempted gain at absolute best.  But in the process, he sexually abused and harassed this poor woman, Ms. Van Groll, which makes his offense a thousand times worse.  That it apparently is not illegal is no excuse — it is immoral, and is shockingly bad conduct.

And I know if I were living in Calumet County, I would already be starting to find out how quickly this guy could be recalled.  Because as he was elected, he should also be able to recalled if he refuses to step down — as so far, he has refused. 

Remember, Kratz did all this last year, in 2009.  He’s known about this for a year and done diddly-squat.  So it’s obvious he won’t go on his own.

Now, I heard Kratz’s press conference, carried live on WTMJ Radio — and I was quite displeased by it.  Seeking counseling is not enough, and saying it was “inappropriate” and “disrespectful” is also not nearly enough.

I am with these victim advocates, who conclude their statement with the following:

As Ms. Van Groll’s case demonstrates, domestic violence is a matter of life and death. 67 people died in Wisconsin last year during domestic violence incidents. A victim’s confidence in the system can make all the difference in whether he or she gets help and safety or becomes a murder victim. Sadly, this is a fact that despite claiming to have a ‘25 year career… as a vigorous advocate for crime victims’ Kratz is too self-interested—on many levels—to understand. He must resign.

(Emphasis mine.)

As I said before — how can this man live with himself?

Oh, one more thing.  Kratz is now going through a divorce.  (Is anyone surprised, except Kratz?  I think not.)

Do the right thing, Mr. Kratz.  Resign.  Now.  Or face recall.   Or possibly even be removed by the Governor of Wisconsin, Jim Doyle (WTMJ Radio reported around 6 PM this evening, 9/17/2010, that Doyle will be meeting with State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to see what can be done in this case, which sounded plenty ominous to me), something that has never before happened in my lifetime.

Because one way or another, Mr. Kratz, you will be out very soon.  Which seems to me to be a very good thing for the people of Calumet County — the victims in particular!

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 17, 2010 at 8:06 pm

State of the Elfyverse, and other writing stuff.

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OK, now for a quick update as to the state of the Elfyverse, AKA, “What else has Barb been doing along with readying her and Michael’s reprints — and Michael’s three great, but previously unpublished, ‘Columba’ stories — for publication at eQuill?”

Three more chapters were revised and posted to my writer’s group for AN ELFY ABROAD, the direct sequel to ELFY, in the past month.  I now have completed between 85 and 90% of this novel — but as it’s well over 250,000 words as it is, I know I will have to cut back somehow and/or split it into two books.  (It’s even longer than ELFY!)

Two more chapters were revised and posted to my writer’s group for KEISHA’S VOW, with two more chapters currently in progress but with nagging problems I haven’t yet solved.  (And as I tend to get blocked if I don’t solve ’em, I usually have to struggle for a while before I can go on.  I don’t know why this is, but I know it is my process, for better or worse.)  KEISHA’S VOW now stands about 50% complete with about 60,000 words written of a projected 110K novel.  (KEISHA’S is an ELFY prequel set in 1954 with many of the same characters from ELFY — just younger, or at least more alive, versions.)

As for CHANGING FACES, my non-Elfyverse novel that’s been in progress since 2002, it remains stalled out.  (Sorry.)  At 95K of a projected 110K novel for the fourth month in a row.)

Six stories and six poems are at various markets, while “Trouble with Elfs,” a reprinted version of the story published in 2007 at the Written Word online magazine (a tighter, better formatted version) is now available at eQuill Publishing.  Here is the link to my author page there:

At any rate, you all know I’ve blogged, submitted to publishers, submitted to magazines, submitted to agents, and then done the same again several times (rinse and repeat).  I am a serious writer, at least with regards to getting my work in print; I am also serious about getting Michael’s work in print (see my parallel post about Michael’s “Columba” stories, which I blogged about just before this here at the Elfyverse blog site).

Thank you for following along with my journey; it is not yet over, and is not yet complete, for which I give whatever thanks I may.


Note: I have not put “Bright as Diamonds” up as a reprint yet, though I believe I have the rights to it after all this time (five years since publication).  I probably won’t, either, unless for some reason enough of my short fiction sells that I want or need to put out a short fiction collection — and that’s looking optimistically way down the road.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 16, 2010 at 2:04 am

Michael’s never-before-published “Columba” stories up at eQuill

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This was a long time in coming, folks.

I’ve done my best to keep my beloved husband’s work alive since his untimely death in 2004.  It has been a struggle, but I’ve managed to sell a few things now and again — my story “Trouble with Elfs” sold in ’07 (Michael added 10% to it, so it’s credited as a collaboration), “A Dark and Stormy Night” sold in ’05 (this was his story, which I’d added 10% to round it out a little), — after our first sale to the BEDLAM’S EDGE anthology in ’04 (“Bright as Diamonds, released in ’05).

But all this time, I knew Michael had three completed fairy-tale fantasy stories set in an alternate United States of America — technically, in the demense of Illinowa, where Princess-Coronet Columba had a great deal of distress trying to separate herself from all the drama of being royal.  Columba, you see, wanted her own, independent life — she was a musician, and a mage, and a very strong woman, stuck in a life that wasn’t right for her.

Then she rescues a cat . . . and things dramatically change.  The cat isn’t a familiar, quite  — you’d have to read the stories at eQuill to understand what’s going on fully — rather, he’s the gateway to an unexpected romance between two lonely, complementary souls who are equal, but not the same.

Michael wrote these stories for me — the first, “Columba and the Cat,” was written in early 2002 after we became engaged to be married.  The second, “Columba and the Committee,” was written to celebrate our marriage in June of 2002.  Finally, “Columba and the Crossing” was written for our anniversary — our second, as it had been in progress for well over a year due to the vagaries of life (a move across country, some ill health for the pair of us, and trying to find work in a new, strange place).  A fourth, “Columba and the Cromlech,” was in progress at the time of Michael’s passing in September of 2004.

I wrote the blurbs, checked over the Columba stories, and am pleased to offer them now for the very first time to the public.   I also am pleased to announce that the fourth “Columba” story will be completed, by me, as soon as possible.

Don’t be put off by eQuill being an Australian e-book publisher, folks — they have a monetary conversion thing through PayPal that allows any currency to be used as far as I am aware.  (I checked this before I placed any of my or Michael’s stories there.)

Please check out Michael’s author’s page at eQuill and the stories available for sale now:

And if you wish to see my page at eQuill (so far only one of our stories is listed with me; the others are listed with Michael), it is available here:

Thanks, and as Michael always said, “Good reading!”

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 16, 2010 at 1:23 am

Additional blog for reviews

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The blog site Shiny Book Review is at the moment being shared by me and Jason Cordova; it is brand, spanking new, and we each have one book review up so far. More authors are to be added soon.

Check it out at:

The direct link to my review of Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth’s superlative THE COURSE OF EMPIRE is here:

The upshot of my review: if you haven’t read Flint and Wentworth as of yet, what on Earth are you waiting for?  (In other words, grab this book immediately.)

Note I will still be doing reviews at as I have been for so many years — I’ll just be doing them at the new site, also.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 14, 2010 at 2:12 am

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Remembering 9/11/2001

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It’s been two months now since I started my blog, but rather than talk about what I’ve managed to get accomplished in the past month, I thought it important to do something else.

Remember 9/11/2001.

We all know where we were on that tragic and senseless day; we all remember seeing the Twin Towers burn, the Pentagon get hit (but not critically), and remember the drama, heroism and self-sacrifice of the firemen and rescue personnel who flooded the New York city area afterward.

It’s now been nine years since that historic day, and yet, what have we learned as a nation?

We’ve learned that even the worst of tragedies can be exploited for political gain.

We’ve learned that crazy lunatics who call themselves “pastors” or “ministers” want to burn the holy books of other religions in order to somehow strike back at the terrorists who caused the Twin Towers to burn and fall.

And we’ve learned that the mainstream media will exploit even the craziest of idiots one way or another, while the diplomats and soldiers scramble to contain the damage the idiots can’t help but cause in their wake.

Somehow, I do not believe this is what anyone had hoped we’d be thinking about, nine years after the worst terrorist-caused disaster to ever hit the United States of America — and it’s sad, and beyond frustrating, that this is so.

The Terry Joneses of this world, who claim to be doing holy work, seem to be much more interested in the press clippings they amass rather than saving people’s souls or bringing anyone closer to the enlightenment of the Deity. That at least two other Americans have vowed to also burn the Koran, the holy book of the Muslim faith, on 9/11/2010 goes beyond shame, beyond any sense of retribution for what happened on 9/11/2001 — instead it appears to me to be all about the publicity, all about the fame, of those who would burn the Koran for gain.

Our soldiers overseas will have problems due to this — they are already having problems, from what Afghanistan Commanding General David Petraeus has said. And our State Department, which heads up our diplomatic branch, can only do so much to contain the outcry around the world — which is sad, considering we’re talking a very few crazy idiots who believe burning a holy work is a good idea.

But out of something this bad, this shocking, can come a slight silver lining. This week I heard representatives from both parties condemn this action in advance. President Barack Obama said that burning a Koran is a “recruitment bonanza for Al-Qaeda,” and conservative commentator and former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin said that burning the Koran is a horrible idea; that it’s unAmerican. They are both right.

Diplomacy is the art of the possible. Yet the Terry Jones of this world make it closer to impossible; what a shame, and a complete and colossal waste, that Terry Jones and these others must grandstand on such a day of mourning for the world. Because it undercuts the sacrifice of those who died on 9/11/2001 when others must grandstand for shock value — and it makes the United States of America look like a bunch of unschooled, uncivilized morons.

At any rate, remember 9/11/2001. Remember the sacrifice of our brave men and women who died that day, and the self-sacrifice of the rescue personnel who flooded the New York city area, and the national outcry of mourning. And do your best to ignore the idiots, while saying a fervent prayer that the yahoos who’d rather burn the Koran to make whatever statement they feel they’re making do not end up getting a bunch of innocent soldiers, diplomats, and civilians killed.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 11, 2010 at 12:29 am

Can Presidents be people, too? Or, why are all recent Presidents so “into themselves?”

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Today, President Obama spoke in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at a Labor Day pep rally down at the Summerfest Grounds (right next to Lake Michigan, located in downtown Milwaukee), and said that the Republicans are talking about him “like a dog.”  (See link at Mediaite, available here: )  President Obama went on for quite some time in this vein, which at first annoyed me because it felt self-absorbed.

I mean, here we are in the US of A sitting at 9.6% overall unemployment for the entire nation, last I checked.  Many people, including myself, are out of work.  Many people, including myself, are looking for work and can’t find any work at all — and yet, while President Obama discussed why he thinks nothing is improving for the nation (the Republicans are blocking many bills in the Senate on procedural grounds, something that is quite possible for them to do under existing rules, even if the R’s in question believe in the bill or bills), it seemed to me that the President saw this whole conflict as being all about him, rather than all about the nation.

Which made me wonder — can Presidents be people, too?  Or will they internalize everything to the point that they can’t quite reach out to the public — rather seeing things like the current US economy as their own, personal failings instead of something that can be fixed with prudent management?

This may seem like an odd question to ask, but think about it: our recent Presidents, from Jimmy Carter onward, have not really known much in the way of privacy.  There has been an exponential degree of media scrutiny, first from regular over-the-air television (1970s), cable TV (started in the ’80s), then the Internet (started in the ’90s), then the profusion of blogs that continues to this day (including this one) that mention the President, whoever the current American President is, and dissect his behavior (still, always, his behavior — maybe next time we will finally get a deserving woman **) from all angles.  And things that are the fault of the President are discussed, as well as things that couldn’t possibly be his fault — this is true of all Presidents in my lifetime, and probably true of all Presidents since the start of the US of A.

Now, it’s obvious that Presidential candidates sign up for the lack of privacy — they know their lives as they knew it are over, or they should.  (Gary Hart didn’t — witness his “monkey business” on the yacht named the same — but he should’ve.)  They know every single thing they say at any rally is taped, or photographed, or videotaped . . . with the expansion of cheap and readily usable technology, Presidential candidates have less privacy than ever before.  And anything the President says — anything a Presidential candidate says — is fair game for the media — for the television (cable and over-the-air), for the radio, for the Internet, for satellite radio/blog talk radio, etc.

Perhaps this is the reason why so many of our Presidents have seemed to be very “into themselves.”  These guys have pollsters dissecting every aspect of their public appeal (or the lack of it) — and remember, nothing is private or off-limits, or at best, very, very little.   So the self-absorption shown by Reagan (who’d been an actor), George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama is not new — but it definitely has grown in my lifetime.

But there’s an obvious reason for that.

Think about it.  If you had pollsters telling you every minute of every day what to wear (gotta have the flag pin; gotta have the power tie, etc.), how to act, how much to smile, how long you can sit with this person, how much time you have to spend with your family before going back out on the road, etc., you might be plenty self-absorbed, too. 

Further, much of the media, even the friendly ones, blame you for everything going on — or so it seems, because that’s what gets the most airplay.  The stories most people are commenting on now have to do with what Paul Krugman and Tom Friedman said on ABC’s Sunday morning program This Week with Christiane Amanpour, quoted at Mediaite under the heading “Paul Krugman and Tom Friedman are Fed Up: ‘Obama has had no Vision,’ available at this link — , to wit economist (and frequent New York Times op-ed writer) Paul Krugman’s comment:

But what is true on all of this is that Obama has had no vision. He has not articulated a philosophy. What is Obama’s philosophy of government? He wobbles between sounding kind of like a liberal. Then he says, well, the conservatives have some points, too. He concedes the message.

Granted, Paul Krugman is not making a personal attack against the President.  Krugman’s point is that the President’s administration has not articulated enough of a vision to the public to help anyone besides themselves understand what they’re trying to do.  (This is the kindest and gentlest way to explain things, not to summon up one of former President George H. W. Bush’s quotes.)

Then, Tom Friedman (aka Thomas L. Friedman), who also writes for the New York Times, said:

Look, I’m for more health care. I’m glad we’ve extended it to more Americans. But the fact is, there is a real, I think, argument for the case that Obama completely over-read his mandate when he came in.

He was elected to get rid of one man’s job, George Bush, and get the rest of us jobs. I think that was the poor thing. And by starting with health care and not making his first year the year of innovation, expanding economy and expanding jobs, you know, I think, looking back, that was a political mistake.

These are fair criticisms, to my mind, but to anyone sitting as a President they must run all together with the folks who are calling the President a “socialist,” or a “Nazi,” or those who believe the President has a different religion than the one he claims — especially with the 24/7 media.  And that might be why President Obama said that felt like he’d been talked about “like a dog” today — even though to those of us outside the Washington, DC fishbowl, it seems like the President is far more focused on himself than getting the economy taken care of, or the big banks loaning money to the littler banks (as was supposed to happen with those TARP bills), and as if the President is still running for the office of President rather than being the President.

Because being President has usually meant the person holding the office ignores a great deal of negative things said about him.  Otherwise, it’d take too long to get past the negativity — besides, negativity is easy.  (Check any history of the American Presidency if you don’t believe me.  Every candidate, even George Washington, the father of the US of A, had his detractors.)

Even so.  While I get plenty annoyed at the way much of the electorate seems to be ignored when we ask for fiscal accountability (please, tell us where our money is going!  This doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.), I recognize that the Presidential office is a difficult one to hold.  And that perhaps it’s easier for us to hate the officewielder than it is to demand accountability — it all runs together, and it shouldn’t.

I don’t know what the answers are, because it seems to me our technology has outstripped our compassion.   Presidents do need to be held accountable for their beliefs, and how well they act on their promises, and their legislative records, if any — but perhaps scrutinizing every little thing down to the last detail might someday be thought of as counterproductive.  Because just because these guys are our public servants, that doesn’t make them any less human.

So, can our Presidents be people, too?  Or must they always be icons?  Because if they must be the latter, I’m afraid the American public is doomed to eternal disappointment.


**Hillary R. Clinton won the Democratic Primaries (not the caucuses, but the verifiable primary vote).  She is the first woman in history to win one primary, much less a whole bunch of themmuch less get 18 million votes overall.  It is possible that someday soon, a qualified female candidate will win the Presidential nomination of her party, and thus I will finally be able to say his or hers, rather than his.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 6, 2010 at 10:45 pm