November 2008 Archives

Thanks

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These days Thanksgiving Day tends to get defined by reference -- as one bookend to the Holiday Season of mass consumption, as historical allegory, as jokes about turkeys -- but rarely is regarded head-on as the direct descendant of millennia of harvest festivals celebrating the realization of summer's promise in the form of autumn's storable crops. Inspired by such tangible evidence that my community probably would not starve to death over the winter, living in any but this time and place of incomprehensible bounty, who would not be moved to celebrate and give thanks?

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Elena's chopstick-fu is strong.

For my part, I am also glad that I and those I love will probably not starve to death this winter, but it's hard to muster the real gratitude for this fact that it probably deserves, given how remote a possibility that was to begin with. Had McCain won the recent election and doomed us to several more years of recklessness and inaction, I might have had to reevaluate that position sooner than I would like.

That sounds like a jumping-off point to discuss some things for which I am, in fact, deeply grateful. This is intentional.

Getting top billing on this particular list has to be the newest member of my family, Elena. Over the past couple of years she has brought a great infusion of happiness, adventure, and love into my life, and when we got married this summer, I became a very lucky fellow indeed. How lucky? I should only have to point out that she's been exceedingly patient with the fact that I've been here in New York for the past five weeks, and doesn't sound inclined to murder me when I get back!

Of course, I'm grateful for the rest of my family as well! They may not always understand me and some of the odd decisions I make and things I do, but they've reliably made up for it with more caring and acceptance than I could reasonably hope for. Also, they are pretty awesome folks in their own right.

I already alluded to the deep swell of relief I felt when McCain lost our recent Presidential election, and more than that, I am profoundly grateful that our incoming president is sane, competent, and appears to show actual and genuine respect for the human race. Fortunately, the feeling appears to be mutual. This has dramatically increased my optimism that homo sapiens is not facing imminent extinction (nor, even, reduction to a state where harvest festivals regain their original significance, if we play our cards right).

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Obama addresses approximately 105 cheering supporters last October. From The Big Picture's photo series on Obama.

And I am grateful for the apparently boundless curiosity of humankind. In addition to keeping me in a job -- yay for science funding -- it's that curiosity (about how nature works, sure, but also curiosity about ourselves, about our neighbors, about the future) and the harvest of creativity it inspires that will keep that bleak winter at bay.

One last time

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So the first polls close in a few minutes, but unless you live in Indiana or Kentucky, you've still got time to vote if you haven't already. On a day of record turnout across the country, you can almost accurately say that absolutely everyone else is doing it. Even in a totally safe state like New York, my sister apparently faced down a three-block long line to vote this morning. But don't let the lines scare you. Elections are one of the last truly participatory community events left in this country.

Hey, you don't have to take my word for it.

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Sparky the Rockstar and the Clockwork Shrimp command you to vote.
Sparky is not my work, but I did make the shrimp.

Now off to curl up with some cable news and some wireless internet. Hah, like I was going to get any work done today as it was. Sadly, I will probably have to pass on the enormous block party rumored to be in the works in Harlem tonight.

Endgame

Twenty-two months ago, in January 2007, Hillary Clinton declared "I'm in to win." Almost two effin' years. And in roughly 24 hours, we will almost certainly know the final answer and the madness will be over.

(Here's an interesting description of the state tonight of the Obama campaign national headquarters.)

Among the data-hungry set, tomorrow's going to be a feast. I'm going to spend more time than is healthy checking for updates at fivethirtyeight.com, for sure. Also firedoglake and TPM.

Of course, I've already voted. This is the part where you vote, and while you're at it take someone to the polls who might not otherwise have voted. I don't have to tell you how to vote, obviously, but let's be blunt: if you vote for McCain tomorrow, we will literally never stop laughing at you.

Not with you.

If you're reading this in Minnesota, there is also no excuse for voting for Norm Coleman. Bring five Al Franken voters to the polls with you if you can.

Okay, so tomorrow evening rolls around, hopefully you've got an election-watching party to attend. The founder of fivethirtyeight.com put together an hour-by-hour viewers guide at Newsweek to give an overview of what'll be important.

If you want something a bit meatier and more detailed, check out the American Prospect's 2008 Election Night Guide.

That's it. See you on the other side. It's rather nice to feel hope for this country of ours country again.

And don't forget to vote.

Live from New York...

...it's Dia de los Muertos? Well, probably not anymore, by the time I get this posted.

It's my twelfth night in New York, as it happens, but there have so far been no cases of mistaken identity. Although Elena apparently managed to take home a costume contest prize from a local club's Halloween party this weekend, so that might count.

Mostly, though, it's the election season -- and in particular, we're in the seventy-two hour home stretch leading to probably the most momentous election in a generation. As a liberal under thirty, it feels quite odd to be enthusiastically supportive of a candidate who's probably going to win. This feels big. It's a feeling I could get used to.

Needless to say (as it's being shouted from the rooftops as we speak) we're not out of the woods yet, and in particular the confident predictions you see everywhere are predicated on an anticipated surge of voters showing up at the polls. So for the sake of anything and everything you hold dear, do show up. In quite a few critical places, while we're probably out of the margin of outright theft, we're not out of the margin of the undecided voter.

This boggles the mind, if you think about it. Allow me to quote David Sedaris' column in the New Yorker this week, as I think he expresses it nicely:

Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,? they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!? Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?? she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it??

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

It's not astonishing though, by any means, that the election is close. The human brain is wired to be easily influenced by vague fears and prejudices -- we naturally accept even preposterous notions that conform to the general outlines of what we expect to be true, and we have a deep affinity for the comfortingly familiar. These are all traits likely to help keep one alive if living as a hunter-gatherer on the savanna, but not conducive to what we now think of as enlightened decision-making. In fact, these traits are so reliably ingrained and influential that exploiting them in a political context has felt like cheating for as long as politics has existed, and thousands of years ago the term demagoguery was coined to describe it.

For as long as we've had politics, there was always someone willing to use the appeal of the familiar against the other as a route to power. For the past thirty years or so in the United States, that has been the conservative movement. But they've been getting less and less subtle, and what is shocking is that anyone, having given the two seconds of thought to the problem needed to actually identify as "undecided" to a pollster, doesn't immediately recognize this. Thus, for most of this cycle, I really haven't spent much effort actually arguing, as such, in favor of Democratic candidates. Anyone bothering to use their brain to decide how to vote, is already going to vote the right way -- thus the trick has been to find the right emotional button to press, to jolt a person out of the auto-pilot of the familiar and get that person thinking for a moment.

Obama should really have been able to stand up and say, Hey, I'm better in every conceivable way than anyone the Conservatives could possible put forward, so vote for me. Instead his campaign has been about hope and change warm fuzzies, trying to give the electorate a jolt and change the terms of the familiar. It seems to have worked well enough, if only just.

This is depressing. But I basically agree with Tristero here:

Nor am I saying that Democrats and only Democrats always have the "right" answer to a problem - clearly they don't. I am saying, however, that it is absolutely impossible with the Republican party as it is now, and in its forseeable paleolithic palinized future, for Democrats to work together productively with the extremists at the top of (and throughout) the party except on the most circumscribed of issues. To get anything serious done, they will have to be fought. And that will not be pretty. I see no reason for Dems to back down and plenty of reasons to respond tit for tat, with interest.

You cannot "work with" the extreme right, but you can defeat them. Obama's tactic appears to be to ignore them and isolate them from the atrophied remnants of the "moderate" Republicans, which he will encourage. Fair enough, that's part of a strategy, but it's not sufficient. To defeat Bushism and other trends of the American extreme right will take, as it always has, concentrated . sustained, and effective resistance in addition to Obama's "divide and conquer" tactics. It requires us to denounce scoundrels like DeLay and humiliate buffoons like Boehner as well as a consistent, persistent, hounding of the media to do their job to expose these people for what they are.

These are incompetent frauds driven by a dangerously belligerent ideology grounded not in American values, but only sheer ignorance and fear. There is no reason to show them respect or kindness. They simply must be pushed away from the corridors of power, left to mutter in their plush think tanks and at their gun shows 'bout how Obama is using hypnosis, how the beginning of the end was fluoridated water, and how gay marriage is the only human factor that causes global warming.

So this isn't so much an endorsement as an exhortation. If you're reading this, I trust you to vote like a reasoning, thinking human being. Just make damn sure you actually get out there on Tuesday and cast that vote.

EDITED TO ADD: And this morning, even the New York Times asks, What is up with these people?

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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