Electoral Collage

Hiding behind his ballot in the gym.
Hiding behind his secret. Ballot, that is.

A hot mess. That’s what Washington D.C. is today, this day before the 2016 presidential election. A complete, stressed out, finger biting, hair twirling, obsessively pen clicking, twitter refreshing, hot mess.

It seems that people are leaning on their car horns more today. Folks are walking into quick eat restaurants, standing in line for a minute, swiveling their heads around and leaving. If they stumbled into the dark relief of a bar, they might sit. I heard FBI director Comey was seen in a Tex Mex joint with a huge margarita. I hope it didn’t leak.

Everyone in town is doing their own personal Nate Silvering. They’re making state electoral count combinations and recombinations–moving states pink to red or purple to light blue–with dispatch and false authority that would wipe the smirk off that smirky Chuck Todd from NBC. This is the guy who’s been having intimate relations with the colors on the map since before there were two actual candidates.

Some are walking the streets, catatonic. Some because they think their candidate is going to lose. Others because they think the other candidate is going to win. There’s some serious negotiations with the political gods going on behind their deadened eyes.

Other levels of disbelief or worry or even hubris are worked out via chatter. Some are chirpy assessments of turnout and lines and campaign stop strategy. Why is he and she going to Michigan? Is it close? Naw, it’s because none of them voted yet. I heard from this friend, super liberal democrat guy, real good guy…

Some are just piling their worries in the laps of their companions. Some are wondering what they can do. Some are actually doing something, signing up and making last minute calls, knocking on doors, getting out the vote.

A group of people said they aren’t watching any more TV. They’ve sworn themselves off social media. You can tell since they are using social media to make that known. You don’t really quit in D.C. Not really.

But tomorrow, maybe as early as 10 p.m., eastern time, maybe much later, there will be some people in Washington that will feel as if they were kicked in the stomach. The blood will drain from their faces. Tears will well in some eyes. Fists will pound tables. Garments will be rend. Teeth will be gnashed. Profane words will be spoken. Loudly. And repeatedly.

And then, but not until then, we will know not just who will be President of the United States, but the status of our democratic system.

The peaceful transfer of power. I have confidence in my fellow Americans. And my prayers are stuck on us.


I Await A Guardian

The patronus of Severus Snape. It's a doe. It's pure love.

As the 2016 presidential campaign drags on

An intense cold swept over them all…The cold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest, it was inside his very heart. . . .He couldn’t see. He was drowning in cold. He was being dragged downward, the roaring growing louder.

Right. The damn dementors.

“They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil.”–Remus Lupin from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This is starting to sum up the emotional drain of this campaign. The swirling cold coarseness, the frigid hearts beating hate, the hijacking of all that can be good in our country and in our political system–yes, I feel my civic soul being sucked out. I must stop it before I am left with only the cynical soullessness of us-versus-them party politics.

I need a political patronus. Something to bring light to the darkness and to protect me from the shrouded rattling of the dementor breath and the stench of the race to the bottom.

First things first, I need a happy memory. A single, very happy memory.

I’m thinking about the times that I would vote with my dad. We’d go to the gym at our elementary school. Our school was named Norman Rockwell Elementary School. This is true.

One time in particular, I remember us waiting a very long time in line. The voting booths were big–to me anyway–metal contraptions with a curtain that’d close behind you when you pulled a big stick in the center. Your vote was secret. You would move small levers to mark your vote. They would register in the back of the machine on a counter when you moved the big stick back to open the curtain. It made significant mechanical noises and the curtain caused a little breeze. There was a little practice booth that I played with as we waited our turn. Dad let me go into the real booth with him. He picked me up after he made his choices and let me pull the curtain open. He told me I voted. It was cool. I participated in picking a president, a governor, a senator and likely members of the school board.

This is a happy thought. I am holding and concentrating on that first vote. I’m trying to conjure the charm I need to protect me from political misanthropy. I made a spark, but there is not enough joy to make a corporal patronus.

I was very happy, nay ecstatic, another time when I stood in another long line to vote. This was in 2008, and the line to vote at my local elementary school was blocks long. In Washington D.C., 75% of the electorate registered as Democrats. It was clear that this year, as in every year, the District’s three electoral votes were going to populate the “win” column for the Democratic candidate. Yet people stood in line so that they could cast their vote in a historic election for Barack Obama, our first African American president. Everyone in line was jubilant, with shared smiles and high-fives all around. People radiated hope.

Now let me work my patronus with this most happy thought. Sigh. Not much more than a spark. Still not enough. I need to dig deeper.

Let me go for a more recent happy political memory. I’m closing my eyes and feel the  joy at the dedication of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. There was so much work over generations to get the museum authorized and then opened. When former POTUS George W. Bush took to the podium, there was another rush of emotion. Of camaraderie and of warmth to the president who insisted that this museum would be on The Mall. Guaranteeing that the history of African Americans would be a part of the main promenade from Lincoln at the west end to the Capitol on the east and next to the big exclamation point of the Washington Monument. An important part of the fabric of America. And the current President (D) and the former President (R) came together with thousands and thousands of Americans—representing the amazing diversity of America—to celebrate.

I’m holding this memory tight and trying to get it to spark my patronous. There is the fuzzy outline, but no, not a full protective charm. Ugh. Don’t I have a pure, happy memory?

I’m smiling now. I’m standing next to The Big Guy for early voting. We had an errand, and I stopped to vote. He pulled out his wallet and registered on the spot and voted for City Council. And he studied the voter guide for the next election and cast his vote a second time. And he voted again in 2012, his first Presidential election. And I’m thinking about the future and about Baby Bear attending a political rally and calling his buddies out for not voting. They care about what happens. They care about our democracy. They think that they can do something, and they are right.

Expecto patronum. Google translates that from Latin to “I await a guardian.”

I see my patronus now. It is bright and shiny and protecting  me from the apathy and discouragement of political dementors. I look at it, and see that the guardian is me and every other American. It is the image of America. Now, time for my chocolate to complete the cure.

"Reality" Show?

It’s not funny anymore.

It used to be very funny. But not anymore. Not to me, anyway.

Many (including the Doc) were anticipating a glorious return of Tina Fey as the garbled, grammar-impaired former governor of Alaska after Palin’s (at times incoherent) endorsement of a presidential candidate blew up the Internet with flurries of “no she didn’t,” and “what the hell did she say?” and a bunch of snark about her and her family’s fortunes.

And deliver Tina Fey did. Down to the Liberace Vegas cardigan, Tina Fey continues to do a spot-on Palin spoof.

Ha! Ha! How goofy is she. Ha! Ha! What a pair. Ha! Ha! Is this real? Ha! Ha! What are the voters thinking? Ha! Ha! What a joke this entire election process is.

But it’s not funny anymore.

It’s very very serious.  We are so busy having out-of-the-body-politics-experiences, mocking people–candidates and voters alike–we aren’t seeing that we risk the very existence of our democracy.

WHOA, you say. Aren’t you going a little overboard? Maybe this political season is pushing you too much to a docu-drama.

Hear me out.

It’s not like the right to vote is guaranteed. There are plenty of places where people can’t vote. Or places in which people vote in sham elections. Despite high voter-registration rates, too few people vote in U.S. elections. Too few people know how our government works, even folks purportedly defending it. Our 240 year grand experiment in democracy is not a sure thing. And the way our Constitution is structured, it’s up to us to make it so.

It’s not enough to be entertained by politics and our presidential process. That’s not participation, that’s observation. Take this seriously, learn about the issues and the candidates and vote.

Let’s use political satire as a motivation. Okay?

Words Describe

shoveled walk with 2 feet of snow

The only thing that anyone is talking about today (and yesterday, and yesterday’s yesterday and, very likely, tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow) is the snow.

There is a lot of it, to be sure.

It is a big event. Much discussion has been had about the naming of this event.

People were a little concerned about originality–we’ve had Snowmageddon in 2010,  and The Snowpocalypse in 2009. So you can’t go there. Some weather media conglomerate decided to make it a named storm, a la a hurricane. That didn’t catch on. [hmmm, nobody mentioned snowicane]. I’ve decided to use the Blizzard of 2016–kind of old skool.

Other words that we use to describe this snow include snow storm, blizzard, packing snow, powder, drifts, avalanche, moguls, glacier, flakes and flurries.

But people hunkered down since the snow started in earnest yesterday afternoon have many other words that they are using for it. Some of these names are not appropriate for your eyes, my Loyal Reader.

The words come out in inches and then feet. They speak of closings and delays. Words to describe back breaking shoveling and the schadenfreude of seeing the city plow itself stuck in the snow.

We have many words to share our experience, giving lie to the myth of the great Eskimo snow hoax. You know, when some amatuer linguist spawned

…the familiar claim about the wondrous richness of the Eskimo conceptual scheme: hundreds of words for different grades and types of snow, a lexicographical winter wonderland, the quintessential demonstration of how primitive minds categorize the world so differently from us. — Geoffrey Pullum, Professor of General Linguistics

See, it isn’t true that indigenous people of the north have hundreds of words to describe snow. Turns out that, in fact, people who speak English have the same or more words.

Dr. Pullum is quite critical of the full scale and uncritical adoption of this myth.

The prevalence of the great Eskimo snow hoax is testimony to falling standards in academia, but also to a wider tendency (particularly in the United States, I’m afraid) toward fundamentally anti-intellectual “gee-whiz” modes of discourse and increasing ignorance of scientific thought. 

How we describe things matter. Science matters. Critically and objectively looking at data matters. Making things up because they are more interesting or make you look better is fiction. Not truth. Okay Iowa?

When Thinking Doesn’t Count

Ooogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas

Charles Blow writes today in the New York Times about head versus “heart.”

This underscores the current fight for the soul of this country. It’s not just a tug of war between left and right. It’s a struggle between the mind and the heart, between evidence and emotions, between reason and anger, between what we know and what we believe.

This conflict was captured in a tit-for-tat between Obama and Rush Limbaugh. In an interview with CBS this week, Obama complained about the “vitriol” coming from the likes of Limbaugh: “I think the vast majority of Americans know that we’re trying hard, that I want what’s best for the country.”

Limbaugh shot back on Friday, “I and most Americans do not believe President Obama is trying to do what’s best for the country.”

And there it was. Obama’s language focused on what people “know,” or should know. He seems to find comfort in the empirical nature of knowledge. It’s logical. Limbaugh’s language focused on what he thinks people “believe.” Beliefs are a more complicated blend of facts, or lies, and faith. And, they can exist beyond the realm of the rational.

And this is the part where I get really scared.

You see, I am a thinking person. I will look at facts. I will look at data. I will follow the trail. If I am worried about the provisions in the health care bill, I will read them for myself. And, I will change my mind when I am wrong.

Here’s the scary part. There are many–and truly not all–people who are strongly against health care (really insurance) reform who are just making stuff up. These people are making stuff up all the time. They are in an alternative reality. Where birth certificates from a sovereign state are suspect and there is a great and evil communist-nazi conspiracy.

And the left, we are going with logic. And facts. And thoughtful arguments. If people only understood–the President seems to be saying–they would support.

They have the boogie man. Boogie man wins over thinking man.

Keep an eye on the elections. Thinking people need a new strategy.

The People’s Choice

Aretha Franklin singing like a boss.

OMG! News flash!

Conservatives are WORRIED! Distraught, I tell you.

Perhaps even SHOCKED, that they disagree with Obama’s cabinet picks and/or his policies. And somehow, once they wake up, that the 66,882,230 people who voted for Obama are not going to be happy.

According to the WashPost

“It is disturbing,” said Roger Clegg, a conservative…”The transition team as described to me was made up of nothing but people on the far left. Though Obama is more moderate, that makes you wonder what kind of advice the president is given, and what range of choices he’ll be given when it comes time to make appointments.”

Oh no! Nothing but people that disagree with the current failed policies of the Bush administration.

Note to Mr. Clegg: Your side LOST!

A few months into the Bush presidency–you know the election when Bush lost the popular vote* and then came in running the place like he had a frickin’ mandate– I saw my friend David at the local bar and grill.

David: You know, I never, ever got the hatred and bile that people had for Bill Clinton.
Me: There was alot of hate and bile.
David: Yeah, there was. But now I get it. I really can’t stand the “W.” I now know how the other side feels.

Reminder to the other side–this is what it feels like.

Except that this new Prez-elect actually thinks it’s important to listen and acknowledge differences. That this new Prez-elect understands that he is a member of our national government, that was founded in 1776–that it did just not pop out of his head. And that this Prez-elect is the leader of a movement that has been embraced by the majority of the American voters.

Like in a democracy.

‘Nuff said.

*BTW–50,456,002 people voted for G.W. Bush in 2000. That’s more than a half-million fewer than voted for Al Gore. See more.

Rock the Vote!

The analysis of the caucus-goers on the WashPost chat tonight, included this exchange.

Q: [What about] the importance of the young vote in this election, especially for Obama’s 7 percent lead…Do you believe the young vote will be prominent in the general election?

A: The “entrance poll” says 57% of 18-29 year-olds supported Obama tonight, and that they represented almost one fourth of the caucus attendees. Both are striking figures. Clinton got 11 percent of the young; Edwards 13 percent. If that is a harbinger, then young people can have a huge impact in November.

I get excited to see young voters join in. The biggest impediment to democracy isn’t crazy partisanship. The biggest danger is indifference.

Thanks to all the 18-29 year-olds who can change both the demographic and the substance of this next election. It’s my future, but it’s your future longer.

Under International Scrutiny

According to China View–or Xinhua.net–The Hindu, and news websites world wide, Americans want the Bush presidency to be OVER. So now everybody in the world knows.

Enough! No mas! We say, “Uncle!”

But darn it, we got 721 days, 13 hours and counting, until the new guy* comes in.

So, it doesn’t matter if the people are sick of the administration. It doesn’t matter if a bit more than two-thirds think that the president disregards facts when making decisions. It doesn’t matter if 7 out of 10 Americans disapprove of the job President Bush is doing.

And the whole world can see that we–in this great democracy of ours–need to figure out within our laws how to make this president respond to the will of the people.

And it’s hard work. The president and his henchmen continue to spew their dream state point-of-view. We will march; we will protest; we will write letters to the editor, and to Congress. All the while, Congress is trying to figure out how to move this intransigent President away from bad policy and still support the troops we have asked to fight this war.

And as I write this, I find myself getting all patriotic. Standing up on a soapbox and saying,

“Look World! This is how we disagree in a democracy. It isn’t instant. It doesn’t happen in a coup. It happens according to the rule of law, the rule of our constitution.” And THAT’s how we do it downtown.

* “Guy” like in a generic, genderless sense.